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Can Martians save Earth?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

50 men and 50 women are in the running for a one-way ticket to Mars. The Dutch non-profit behind the project, Mars One, hopes to send out the first crew in 2024, with hopes of forming a human settlement on the red planet.

While the whole thing seems a bit unfathomable to me now, if the Mars mission succeeds, it could provide us Earthlings with some valuable lessons:

1)Cooperation is key

The first crew will consist of 4 people from different nations, with new crews of four arriving every 2 years. Mars One describes the undertaking as an “international, intergenerational effort.” Crews will undergo a 7-8 month journey just to get to Mars, during which astronauts will be living in 20 cubic meters of space, using only wet-wipes to wash, and eating freeze-dried food (note to self, do not apply for this).

The ability of these crews to get along is pivotal so they can support each other on the physically and psychologically demanding journey, and of course upon arrival to their new planet. When more crews arrive, it will be fascinating to watch what sort of government and decision-making processes develop. Whatever happens, cooperation throughout will be vital.  Just like it is here on Earth.

2)Sustainable technology has great potential

The Mars settlers plan to be reliant on solar panels and recycling. They will attempt to grow food (in addition to some that they will have brought with them in storage). The need for reliable, sustainable technologies on Mars will hopefully spur further investment and innovation in processes that would also be valuable on Earth. We need as many reasons as possible to speed up our own transition to renewables.  

3) Embracing the unknown can lead to huge discoveries  

For many of us, the idea of leaving everything we know for a one-way mission to Mars is unappealing, to say the least, but the huge response to the project shows that many Earthlings would disagree. In fact, over 200,000 people applied to be part of the first crew.

Mars One frames the journey as a continuation of mankind’s legacy of exploration. From Marco Polo to Columbus, we have a history of pushing the limits of the unknown even when no return is promised.

3)We can come together in pivotal moments

An interesting aspect of the Mars One business model is that it plans to receive a large portion of its funding through broadcasting and media. There were preliminary discussions with the producers of Big Brother to create a reality series about the mission, but the idea appears to have been dropped. There are now plans for a documentary series following the selection and training process, as well as footage from Mars. Like the Olympics, the Mars mission has the potential to unite viewers and give the global community a reason to come together. Something earthlings have done before, and will need to do again to accomplish the big goals like ending extreme poverty.

4)We can conquer the odds

There are many, many reasons why this project could fail. The mission has been criticized for its lack of solid funding (the cost of the first crew is estimated at $6 billion and some experts consider that a low estimate). Questions have also been raised about Mars One’s claim that all the technology required for the mission, already exists.

An MIT evaluation of the mission plan, suggest that new technologies will need to be developed, and they estimate that the first Mars settler would suffocate in 68 days. They don’t go as far as saying that the idea is destined for absolute failure, but instead emphasize the need for new technology.

If the mission is able to overcome the odds, it would be added to a list of other developments once thought impossible, including “flying machines” and landing on the moon. And if we do our jobs as global citizens, ending extreme poverty.

So, do we really need to wait until the Mars mission for these lessons to take shape on Earth? I don’t think so. We have plenty of opportunities for cooperation, development of sustainable technologies, as well as endless possibilities for new adventures here on Earth.

I’m all for Mars One continuing to develop this mission over the next ten years, and I can’t wait to see what happens. If we are lucky enough to watch the first crew take off for Mars in 2024, let’s make sure that global citizens have created a world which the astronauts will be sad to leave behind.