Durban - What would it be like to be the first humans to set up house on the third planet from the Sun, and never return to Earth?
A crew of physically and mentally fit adventure-seekers will find out in just over a decade, when they make their one-way trip to Mars.
Dutch billionaire Bas Lansdorp, whose Mars One Mission will make this possible in 2031, was in Durban on Friday, speaking at the South African Council of Shopping Centres Congress.
Lansdorp feels the only way to save Earth would be to send people to live on the Red Planet. Some people thought he was crazy, but more than 200 000 have applied to join the venture. This has since been whittled to 100 000, and only the best teams of four will blast off into space after undergoing outpost simulation tests.
So how will the astronauts survive on the dry, dusty planet?
“They will go back to basics, rely on solar power, grow their own nutritious food indoors and extract resources from rocks in space. There will be a water management system because we know that Mars had an ocean,” said Lansdorp.
And what kind of political system will govern the colony on Mars?
“We will train our teams for more than 10 years, and will work with them so there is chemistry among them. We can’t control and enforce anything from Earth on Mars because it is so far away. We might tell them you need to be a democracy but after 10 years they may decide on a monarchy or dictator.
“As long as they agree, and we send responsible people. I think they have better odds at doing well than we have here on Earth,” said Lansdorp, who believes life expectancy will be much higher on Mars.
“That’s not because Mars is better for your health, but because we will be sending healthy people. Of course, the chance of an accident is much higher because it is a risky mission. There is also a 3% chance of dying from a tumour caused by radiation.”
On the question of childbirth, he said they did not yet know whether a foetus would develop normally, given the lower gravity, but research indicated that it would probably be fine.
However, the first couple of years in an outpost would be very dangerous, and having a toddler running around would not be ideal. With a group of 30 to 40 people, at some point it would be inevitable, but they would need to decide responsibly on the right time, he said.
For Arianna Marais, the South African physicist who was among the first to sign up for the programme and was also at the congress, going to Mars would be a dream come true.
“I hope this mission, however dangerous or treacherous, will inspire people to think differently, regardless of the outcome. I can’t predict how it’s going to work out but that’s how it is when you are venturing into the unknown.
“What we will do is prepare as well as we can, think about as many possible outcomes as we can, and hopefully inspire people on Earth to get out of their comfort zone and get into the next rocket to come and join us,” Marais said.