Mars One CEO: 'If There's a Terrible Accident, We Won't Show It Live on TV'

Mars One
An artist's impression of what the Mars One settlement will look like Mars One

According to Bas Landorp, the co-founder and CEO of Mars One - the company that wants to send a team of volunteers on a one-way trip to the red planet, and make a TV show out of it - the NASA Curiosity Rover's discovery of methane emissions on Mars, makes it more important than ever to send humans to our planetary neighbour.

"These kind of discoveries help to make a good cause for a human mission because look how little a Rover does when compared to two people with pickaxes and a laboratory on Mars, he says. "There's so much more humans can do than the Rover, that's why it's so important to explore the planet."

"The search for life on Mars will be much more efficient with humans on the planet."

The Dutch entrepreneur set up Mars One in 2012 with the primary aim of taking humans to the red planet by 2025. The plan is to send a team of four volunteer astronauts to establish a colony, with four more to follow two years later. However, there is no return flight - the first humans to set foot on Mars would also be the first to die there.

There was an open application process for anyone who thought they could take on such a challenge and the project received over 200,000 replies which are now being whittled down to find the final four who will, in theory, become the first humans to set foot on Mars. "I'm proud to say this was the most popular job application of all time," Landorp says.

People from 140 countries signed up for the chance to be chosen for the first mission, sending in short videos in which they explained why they wanted to go on the mission, as well as filling out a long online form describing themselves, their achievements and what they hoped to gain from the project. The Mars One website explains that they are looking for people who "show five key character traits: resilience, adaptability, curiosity, ability to trust others, and creativity/resourcefulness."

Melissa Ede, a transgender taxi driver from Hull, England, who is about as far away from the usual North American ultra-normal stereotype of an astronaut as it's possible to imagine, is one of the lucky few to make it through to the second stage of the selection process. Explaining her reasoning for signing up she said: "I can make history. One of my childhood dreams was to be in history books alongside people like Joan of Arc". Vinod Kotiya, a married father of one from Delhi, who has also reached the next stage says he has always dreamed of being an astronaut. "You don't have to have a PHD, anyone can join," he told Live Mint. However, the chance to make his mark is also clearly part of the appeal: "I'm going to be part of history by doing this. It will be a great achievement. In my lifetime on Earth what can I do? I have to do this job, and someday I have to die here; it's better to die there and contribute in the history of human survival."

Landorp explained that he is not heavily involved in the selection process: "I haven't been very involved with picking the volunteers. We're working with a man who has selected astronauts for NASA so I'm happy to leave it in his capable hands."

The entrepreneur is aware that the mission - which is estimated to cost just $6 billion, considerably less than NASA's estimate - seems farfetched and unachieveable to many, not least Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield who recently questioned both the mission and the reasoning behind it saying: "It's not a race, it's not an entertainment event."

Could the whole project turn out to be the world's most elaborate prank? "I think that anyone who hears about a private enterprise from Holland who want to go to Mars does not think it's real, which is a very logical reaction," Landorp says. "But if people spend five minutes on our website, if they look at our contacts: we have Nobel prize winner as an ambassador, a former NASA chief on our advisory board. These people are not there because it's an April Fool's joke."

Unlike Richard Branson, who has said he will be on the first commercial flight of his Virgin Galactic space ship, Landorp has not volunteered to go on the first mission of his project, ruling himself out as unsuitable: "Certainly I thought about it. When I first started Mars One I was aiming to be on the first mission. But I realised I am not the right type of person. We need to find the best of the best and I am definitely not one of them."

He also said he has yet to get his girlfriend to sign up: "Maybe I'll go when there are 20 or 30 people there. I'd want to bring my family too - I have a son but I need to convince my girlfriend to come with me."

The project will cost an estimated $6 billion, a good part of which will be raised by the proposed reality TV programme which will "exclusively follow the selection and training of the world's first one-way astronauts to Mars" according to a Mars One press release.

However, Landorp was quick to distance himself from this term: "First of all, I don't like the term 'reality TV'. In principle it's a good term but nowadays it means the Kardashians and Jersey Shore and of course those aren't real.

"I prefer to compare the mission to the Olympic games. We select the best of the best for a near impossible task. They will do things that almost no one else can do - just like the Olympics," he continued.

Landorp conceded that there are dangers attached to the mission: "Exploration will always be dangerous and it will be our responsibility to only show things to the audience that we think are fair to the other stakeholders. If there's a terrible accident, we won't show it live on TV."

However, he emphasised that Mars One is, "not a death mission, it's an exploration mission. These people are going to live." He also compared the mission both to those who first emmigrated to America - "That was a one way ticket on a boat, they weren't preparing to return to Europe - and also to the risks of climbing mountains: "The risk will be between climbing Mount Everest, where the fatality rate is 2.5% and climbing K2 which 25% of people don't come back alive from. Somewhere in between those two will be our human mission to Mars."

"There is no progress without risk and I am ready to accept that risk," Landorp concluded.