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When will we land on Mars? British astronauts join space race to the red planet

But while Nasa’s plans to put a man on Mars by 2033, Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp aims to beat them to the red planet, and is recruiting his own team for a trip as early as 2024 including 30 Brits


Venus may be our nearest neighbour, but it is Mars which has always held the real fascination for the citizens of planet Earth. HG Wells began it over a century ago by terrifying readers with the threat of a Martian invasion in his book The War of the Worlds.
Since then movies like Invaders From Mars, Ghosts of Mars, Mars Attacks! – and even Mutant Swinger from Mars – have added to its mysterious attraction.
Now, finally, man is seriously preparing to set foot on our near neighbour.
Not one but two rival missions are underway, in what is being called a race to the Red Planet.
Last month America’s national space agency Nasa began testing the Orion spacecraft it hopes will carry people to Mars by 2033.
Built, in their own words, “to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before” in a test launch on top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, the Orion capsule travelled twice round the Earth, flying faster and further than any rocket since the moon landings, before safely splashing down in the Pacific.
The plan is for Orion to eventually launch on Nasa’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System – the most powerful rocket ever flown.

Karen Robinson/The GuardianMaggie Lieu one of three hopefuls for the Mars One Project
Maggie Lieu one of three hopefuls for the Mars One Project
 
But while Nasa’s playing the long game, Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp aims to beat them to Mars, and is recruiting his own team for a trip as early as 2024, with more than 30 Brits in the running to be among the planetary pioneers.
It will be fraught with danger. The first men and women to land on this deadly planet face temperatures as low as -62 degrees and lethal levels of radiation.
So treacherous are the conditions that some scientists have warned one small mistake could kill the entire team. Others believe the mission is doomed. They predict that even if the astronauts survive the hazardous landing, they will die from suffocation, starvation and dehydration.
And there would be no coming back.The seven-month journey is one way.
Those who survive the first few weeks in that brave new world will have to remain on Mars, 140 million miles away from family and friends, for the rest of their lives. They will be confined with their crew in cramped conditions as they work to establish the first human space colony.

GettyMars One CEO Bas Lansdorp holds a press conference
Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp holds a press conference to announce the launch of astronaut selection for a Mars space mission project
 
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the world’s leading scientific centres, doubt those plans will work. Last year they published a detailed report on the dangers awaiting the astronauts. As well as suffocation and starvation they warn the crew will have to battle low air pressure, a shortage of spare parts if their equipment fails and catastrophic side effects if they try to grow their own food. Growing crops on Mars would produce explosive amounts of oxygen, creating an enormous fire risk. The researchers wrote: “Crop growth will produce unsafe oxygen levels and will require some form of oxygen removal system – a technology that has not yet been developed for spaceflight.”

NASAArtist concept of the Orion spacecraft
Artist concept of the Orion spacecraft

Mars One CEO Lansdorp contested the findings and denied the journey was a suicide mission, but he did admit his firm had not found the best solution to some of these deadly problems.
He said: “I’ve talked to very knowledgeable people who tell me our technologies will work.
“The major challenge of Mars One is keeping everything up and running. We don’t believe what we have designed is the best solution. It’s a good solution.”
The first attempt to land on Mars ended when a Russian probe crashed onto the planet and was destroyed in 1971.
However, Nasa has since managed to land several unmanned “rover” vehicles on Mars with two, Curiosity and Opportunity, currently searching for evidence of ancient life there. Nasa has now made a manned mission to Mars its top priority in the belief that humans may one day need to find another planet to call home. Nasa administrator Charles Bolden has said the agency should devote every penny of its £11.5billon budget on sending a manned mission to Mars.

mars one mission
Mars One mission
 
However, even the huge sums Nasa plans to spend on the mission will not be enough to bring the astronauts home.
The huge cost of taking a second rocket to launch on Mars to bring the crew home means they will have to
stay there.
However, Bolden has warned the technology to put humans on Mars does not yet exist. So, in what sounds like science fiction, they first plan to trap an asteroid and put it into orbit around the moon by 2025 to use as an extra-terrestrial training ground for Mars scientists to practice on.
Professor Suzanne Bell, from Nasa’s human research programme, told the BBC’s Focus magazine: “There’s no human with the perfect skillset for life on Mars: some kind of pilot-cum-farmer-cum-doctor. But if we can teach a candidate to teach themselves, to adapt and evolve, then they’ll have the tools they need to survive.” By the time Nasa begins that training Mr Lansdorp hopes to have his crew of four astronauts
actually en route to Mars. And unlike the scientific goals set out by Nasa, he seems more intent on turning the Mars One mission into a reality television show to offset the £4billion cost.
He believes he can still make a tidy profit, exceeding the £5.3billion generated by the 2012 Olympics in London, from sponsorship deals, television rights and broadcasting the landings to four billion internet users worldwide.

Science Photo Library / GettyMars exploration, artwork
Mars exploration, artwork
 
Mars One aims to launch an unmanned demo mission to land on Mars in 2018, followed by a robotic rover in 2020 and the first cargo missions in 2022. If that all goes according to plan they aim to launch an entire community on Mars, with teams of four astronauts making the one-way journey every two years with supplies for the settlers.
Whether Mars One can meet those goals is a different matter. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, is among those to have voiced doubts the mission will ever reach Mars. “I don’t think there’s much that indicates the Mars One corporation really knows how to get four people to Mars by 2024, even if they don’t bring them back,” he said.           
But he does agree that if it actually happens, it must – at least at first – be a one-way trip.
He said: “What are you going to do when you bring them back that can possibly compare to the value of them staying and helped to work with the next group. When we’ve got 100, or whatever it is, then we start bringing people back.”
Despite the doubters and obvious dangers, there’s no shortage of volunteers for the one way trip. More than 200,000 from around the globe applied to go, some with husbands, wives and children. By November last year they had been whittled to a shortlist of 663, including 31 Brits.

Karen Robinson/The GuardianRyan Macdonald one of three hopefuls for the Mars One Project
Ryan Macdonald one of three hopefuls for the Mars One Project
 
One of these is Ryan MacDonald, 20, an Oxford University student from Derby, who remains defiant about the dangers.
“I’m not signing up to die on Mars, I’m signing up to live on Mars,” he said. “I can’t imagine anything more exciting. I want to inspire a new generation of scientists just like the Apollo moon landings did.”
Another British applicant, Maggie Lieu, 23, an astrophysics student from Coventry, said: “Being selected for the long list was surreal, but it gets more real every day. My family are more scared now. But my mum was like, ‘you’re not going to use your Mini when you go’ can I have it?”
One person who will not be joining Mars One’s maiden voyage is Mr Lansdorp, whose became a father for the first time in 2013 after launching the project.
He said: “I am not the kind of person who can be locked in a small room for 30 months with other people. But I really hope I will take my family to Mars one day.”

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