Mars One, the Dutch nonprofit that plans to send humans on a one-way trip to colonize Mars, is taking the next step in its long (and, some would say, impossible) journey: A crowdfunding campaign that will raise money for concept studies of a lander and satellite for a demonstration mission intended for just four years from now.
The Indiegogo campaign launched last month shortly after Mars One announced a new partnership with Lockheed Martin to build the lander, based on Lockheed’s design for the NASA lander successfully used on Mars in 2007.
"We believe that the Lockheed Martin announcement has, more than before, established us as a serious player in Mars exploration. It’s more credible to ask people for money after you’ve made such an announcement," says Bas Lansdorp, CEO of Mars One. The amount of money—$400,000 is needed for the concept studies—also seemed well-suited for crowdfunding.
Of course, it’s only a tiny amount of the $6 billion the team estimates will be necessary to get humans to Mars. Most of that money would come from media broadcasting rights as citizen astronauts are selected and, if all goes as planned, start living on the red planet.
But Lansdorp says a crowdfunding campaign was important to the team to get more people involved. "The most important reason for us is crowd participation," he explains. "We really see this as a break with the history of space exploration, and especially Mars exploration, because in this mission anyone can participate in some way."
"For the U.S., Mars exploration is pretty common. But all of Asia has never sent an experiment to Mars," he explains. "Now, suddenly we allow anyone, everywhere in the world, to send something to Mars. That’s a complete break with Mars exploration in the past."
A future, larger crowdfunding campaign will allow universities to compete to send a full experiment to Mars on the 2018 mission, which will be unmanned. Mars One hopes to send four human colonists to the planet by 2025, selected from a pool of more than 200,000 people who have already applied.
To anyone who says sending humans to Mars is impossible—because of radiation, microgravity, technological limitations, or any number of other reasons—Lansdorp asks for 30 minutes to make his case.
"Of course we meet a lot of critics. Every time you tell someone this story for the first time, they’re very surprised, because the space agencies are talking about a much longer timeframe. But I’ve never met a critic who I’ve talked to for half an hour or so who I couldn’t convince that this is actually possible."
Most people he talks to, he says, criticize aspects outside their own expertise. An engineer, for example, might say the technology is possible, but radiation is a problem, while a radiation expert might say it’s possible to shield the astronauts, but impossible to raise the amount of money necessary.
"If we have some time to talk to people and explain the details of our plan, and as long as they’re commenting on their own field of expertise, I’ve never met someone who could not be convinced that this is possible. It will be very difficult of course—there are thousands of hurdles on the road between now and landing on Mars—but there are no hurdles that we can identify that we cannot take."