If you thought the Mars One mission (a.k.a. the one-way ticket to the Red Planet in the name of reality TV) sounded oddly appealing, you were hardly alone. Newly released numbers from the Dutch company organizing the project show that the contest has already garnered almost 80,000 applications from over 120 countries around the world. ”These numbers put us right on track for our goal of half a million applicants,” Bas Lansdorp, the founder of Mars One, said on Wednesday. They also put Landsdorp and company on track to bring in a boatload of cash in the form of application fees. While the fees vary by country, these figures mean that if everyone paid the maximum fee, $75, then Space One could make up to $37.5 million on applications alone.
It also means that as many as half a million people are willing to spend the rest of their lives on a barren planet, hundreds of thousands of miles away from Earth. Announced almost exactly one year ago, the Mars One mission aims to select 28 to 40 candidates by 2015 to train for a one-way trip to Mars, scheduled to take off in September 2022, approximately a decade and a half before NASA plans its own manned mission to Mars. The final crew will be only four people, and the mission’s organizers hope to raise the $6 billion or so needed for the trip while whittling down the candidate pool in what can only be described as a global reality TV event. Sounds pretty crazy right? Not to as many as 500,000 people, it doesn’t.
Truth be told, we find ourselves on the forefront of a new and very different kind of space race. Unlike landing on the moon, the ambition to land on Mars is hardly confined to NASA. As the space industry continues its shift from being a completely government-funded enterprise to a private-public partnership, we’re seeing all kinds of new companies rise up to fill the demand of space travel. From Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which recently made another successful test flight, to Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which recently made its first successful delivery to the International Space Station (ISS), plenty of people want to get into the space business. And in business terms, trips to Mars are in high demand, and the supply is virtually non-existant.
Think of it like a new iPhone. The line is wrapping around the block with people willing to do almost anything to surrender themselves to the new product. Now, the folks at Mars One—possibly one day at Virgin Galactic and SpaceX—get to pick which customers get to enter the store first. Unlike an iPhone, however, you can’t take a trip to Mars back to the store.