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Mars

Mars One, a Dutch organisation led by entrepreneur Bas Lansdrop, has ambitious plans to build a human settlement on Mars, and earlier this month began accepting applications from budding astronauts. For any adventurous individuals hoping to apply, there are strict criteria they must fulfil. Applicants must work well as part of a team, be resilient and adaptable, have something useful to offer the new colony – not to mention being ok with the idea of spending the rest of their lives millions of miles away from Earth! Those chosen to undertake the historic trip will undergo intensive physical and psychological training, before a planned settlement date of 2023.

There’s no return journey for multiple reasons. Partly, it’s a logistical issue, with a voyage home beyond the project’s budgetary scope. But it’s also a question of health. Gravity is far weaker on Mars than on Earth, and this will have various effects on the astronauts’ bodies, including muscle degeneration and reduced bone density. This would make it impossible for humans to readjust to conditions on Earth after years spent on Mars. So if you go, you are never coming back!

Despite the confidence of Mars One, experts have been quick to point out the plan’s many issues. Unlike Earth, Mars lacks a strong magnetic field, leaving it exposed to solar wind – charged particles from the Sun that would put the settlers at grave risk. Further dangers include the extreme temperature variations on Mars’ surface; the absence of liquid water, essential for life; and the fact that Mars’ does not have a breathable atmosphere. Some scientists have noted that, while putting people on Mars seems possible, creating the conditions necessary for survival is far more difficult, and it seems unlikely that any pioneering settlers would thrive in such an unfamiliar and harsh environment.

But long before anyone steps onto Mars’ dusty red surface, Mars One has another significant hurdle to leap: finding the vast amounts of money needed to finance such a significant expedition. Plans to partially fund the trip through a global reality television deal have many experts sceptical of the mission’s viability, while others have noted that, even if the company raises the money it needs, its budget is significantly less than space agencies like NASA estimate is necessary. Despite this, Lansdorp expresses confidence that his company’s dream could one day become a reality. “Exploring our world, and now beyond is what humans do,” he told the BBC. “It’s in our genome. The settlers’ dream of going to Mars will come true.”