Mars One astronaut selection starts today

Posted by Jason Thomas

The search to find the first humans to set foot on another planet begins in earnest today April 22, when Mars One launches its much-vaunted astronaut selection programme in New York.

Appropriately, you can follow the event live on YouTube and post questions for the organisation's top brass to answer at the event, which will be moderated by Emily Lakdawalla, Senior Editor at the Planetary Society, via Twitter. Appropriate because the selection process, which will also double as the main revenue stream for the estimated $6 billion needed for the project, will take the form of a series of worldwide reality TV events where viewers will vote for their favourite contestants to take the one-way trip to Mars in 2023 – which will also be televised.

Big Brother was never like this. Instead of deciding which is the least vacuous and self-centred attention seeker, the world will have its say on something important - choosing its first interplanetary colonists. Over 1,000 people had already expressed an interest when the organisation officially began taking applications in January. Thousands more have applied since.

The presumably lucky applicants will face a gruelling four-stage elimination battle, culminating in a simulation of the beyond-claustrophobic conditions they will face both on the journey and when they arrive – all watched by millions of people worldwide.

Surprisingly, the criteria Mars One are looking for in their initial applicants aren't medical, engineering or even aerospace backgrounds. Rather, the ideal candidates will have the right psychological, social and personal characteristics to function in a small group in difficult and cramped conditions for the rest of their lives.

All the other abilities and qualifications needed, like medical and engineering degrees and horticultural skills will be taught and acquired after selection. The Foundation decided this based on the results of the 17-month long Mars500 experiment in Russia, which finished in 2011.

If it sounds audacious, it's because it is. But so was the Mars Curiosity landing. Mars One plans to send four people to found a colony and live on the Red Planet a decade from now using existing, or nearly-existing, technology. And four more every two years after that. None will return.

The preliminary launches begin in 2016 when it is hoped SpaceX will begin ferrying the equipment the colonists will need when they arrive. Indeed, Bas Lansdorp, Mars One's co-founder said there will have been so many successful missions to Mars that by the time the first colonists launch it will be safer than the first landing on the moon in 1969.

And they will certainly be better prepared and equipped than the Pilgrim Fathers.
To watch today's event, which begins at 17.00 BST, 12.00 EDT and 16.00 UTC go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJNGH4NZJ4U, where there is already a buzz of excitement. And to send your questions on Twitter use #MarsOneLaunch.