This is just a sneak peek from Emma’s feature in SCENARIO 1:2015. If you are not a current subscriber to SCENARIO or a member of The Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies, then subscribe or get in touch with us here.
A storm of red dust settles over your home. Behind closed walls, you live on with the reserves of food and drink stored by you and your cohabitants before the storm arrived. However, once you venture outside again, you can’t feel the heat of the sun’s rays on your body or take a walk through a green forest. This is because you are wearing a spacesuit, and you are on Mars.
Living on Mars will soon become reality to a select few – at least if we are to believe the Dutch organisation Mars One, which expects to send off the first four people in 2024. The goal is to establish a permanent settlement.
Unlike earlier space projects, Mars One is not state-financed. It is a privately owned not-for-profit venture, and the people behind it believe that it is realistic and economically feasible to make the manned Mars trip now, because the future Martians won’t get a return ticket.
The participants will thus not ever return to Earth. Their decision to live on another planet will be final.
Home to Mars
Quite ordinary people will be trained to become future Martians. When the Mars One project opened the floodgates for applications in 2012, more than 200,000 people registered, according to the organisation. At the time of writing, the field has been narrowed down to about 700 candidates, and the final selection of the four participants will be documented in a TV show. The revenue from this show is part of the financing, and contributions from private citizens and funds are also accepted.
In order to be able to establish a new colony on a planet so far away, the participants must go through a lengthy training process on Earth, where Mars One counts on building prototypes of the base within the next year. The 700 finalists will be tested in these prototypes, and based on their performance, the group will be further narrowed.
The challenges will include how they cope psychologically, and in particular how they will react to the other participants, both in everyday life and under pressure.
Kristian von Bengtson from Denmark works as a space architect for Mars One. His job is to design the future homes of the participants on the red planet, and he will use the training in the base on Earth to study how the final design will be developed. He tells us that the participants, when they arrive on Mars after a seven month journey, will be met by an environment consisting of rocks and a bare surface. It will be impersonal and grey. From this basis, they will on their own create the framework for their future lives and build the rest of the base, where only few parts are prefabricated and sent off beforehand. About the design process, he says: “It is a process that moves from ideas on paper to a situation where everything has been tested.”
At the University of California, psychologist and NASA advisor Dr. Albert Harrison takes part in the development of Mars One. In 2011, he wrote the book Psychology of Space Exploration, where he and a number of other scientists described what astronauts experience and react to while in space.
He claims that one particular challenge for the Mars One project will be for each participant to get along with the other participants, who will become their life partners, and also to live in hardship and deprivation.
“They must be able to handle the fact that they in the future will be apart from the people they have left behind on Earth. It is human to change your opinions and decisions. It is very likely that some of the participants will feel massive regret later in life,” Harrison says.
He is also aware of the anxiety that may arise if Mars e.g. is shrouded by a sandstorm for a month and the base must live off its reserves. Or if one of the participant’s loved ones becomes sick back on Earth and he or she must watch, incapable of acting. The Martians may feel depressed over their new lives, euphoric over being the first people on Mars, or they may turn bitter towards the project and life on Mars. These are all psychological factors that you need to keep in mind, Harrison says. He thinks that Mars One has a good foundation with a knowledgeable team of experts consisting of technicians to sociologists, psychologists, and others.
The participants must thus learn to live with each other. If everything goes according to plan, the first four participants will become eight when a new team is sent off in 2026. The reason why you can’t go to Mars more often is that Mars and the Earth must be in particular positions relative to each other in order minimise flight time. In addition, there isn’t room for more than four people in the capsule that will take them there.
The base they are to live on must be built to house the lives of the participants from when they arrive until they die.
The prototype that Kristian von Bengtson is working on at the moment consists of six round modules of five bysix metres. The modules are connected by corridors wide enough to allow movement in spacesuits. This will be necessary if there is a breach in the base, leaking air out into Mars’s atmosphere.
Normally, the ventilation system makes sure to filter the Martian air, making allowing people to breathe indoors and walk around in underpants – just as you would on Earth, says von Bengtson.
So far, the six modules stand in a line on his drawing. From the two middle ones, twin 25 meter long round air tubes stick out, made from a material that can be folded and inflated. The participants must work to inflate them along with the robots they have with them when they arrive on Mars. These tubes will contain bedrooms, living quarters and the like. The six modules hold storerooms, water and energy storage from solar cells.
When a new team of four participants are sent off, they will bring one more inflatable tube and a module that will be added to the already established base. In this way, Mars One ensures that the colony can be expanded.
How the tubes will be furnished is Kristian von Bengtson’s greatest task.
”The task is to find how best to furnish bedrooms, common quarters, kitchens and such, and how you make sure it is easy for participants to settle in. They will have books, computers and maybe television up there if it turns out that this makes for good everyday lives when we test it during training in the prototypes here on Earth,” he says.
At the moment, the outer framework is the most important, since they will be used as the very basic homes in 2015, when the training processes really start. This is also when von Bengtson will get a chance to see what furnishings are most meaningful.
Image via Mars One