Mars One has inspired excitement, disbelief, and ridicule in equal measure. If founder Bas Lansdorp can raise the money, Mars One could yet inspire a generation
“We have, or will acquire, the basic knowledge to solve all the physical problems of a [manned] flight to Mars.”
Nasa legend Wernher von Braun, “the father of rocket science”, wrote those words in 1954, almost 60 years ago. Today, a manned mission to Mars still remains a distant dream.
But perhaps not for much longer.
If Dutch upstart Mars One defies the odds, and it’s a big if, four members of the public will land on Mars in 2023. They will be celebrities, their lives documented from the moment they were chosen as candidates for the mission. A prebuilt habitat will be waiting for them and they will look back at the tiny blue dot in the sky and realise the magnitude of their decision to take Mars One founder Bas Lansdorp’s one-way ticket. Perhaps they’ll send a tweet.
That all remains hypothetical. The Apollo Moon missions remain Earth’s greatest triumph in human space exploration. Sadly they proved to be the peak of, rather than the foundation for, manned spaceflight beyond Earth’s orbit. No successor to the programme materialised, and in the mid-90s, with the Cold War receding into distant memory, the Clinton administration hammered the final nail into the coffin of manned space exploration.
The old guard, the national agencies and aerospace industry, continued to push the limits of engineering, ingenuity and science with unmanned satellites, probes, and rovers; Curiosity’s innovative sky-crane landing system is a recent example. But the space age that inspired a generation was dead.
Private companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic have fired the starting gun on a new era of space exploration. One in which wealthy individuals are setting the agenda and refusing to accept the idea that space exploration should be left to robots.
Not only does SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon space rocket now supply the International Space Station, but with every test of their vertical takeoff and landing Grasshopper rocket, SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s dream of dying on Mars, but “not on impact”, comes inexorably closer.
Credit: Kadhim Shubber/ Wired.co.uk