While NASA may be reining in its exploration of the solar system, private startups are looking to pick up where the agency has left off. SpaceX’s Dragon Capsule recently made history as the first commercial spacecraft to visit the International Space Station, bringing needed supplies after the retirement of the Space Shuttle and questions of reliability within the Russian space program. Another startup, Mars One, has its sights set a little further out into the cosmos, and wants to bring at least forty human beings along for the ride.
Founded by Dutch entrepreneur Bas Landsdorp, previous head of an alternative energy company, Mars One lacks some of the of the glitz of better-funded space companies (like the potentially trillion-dollar asteroid-mining venture Planetary Resources), but the firm’s goals seem well-planned and achievable – namely, landing four astronauts on Mars by 2023 to set up the planet’s first human colony.
The first of the Mars One landers is set to arrive on the Red Planet as early as 2016, carrying supplies and over 2500 kilograms of food. Two years later, the lander will be joined by a robotic exploration vehicle, which will help survey the site and serve as a heavy lifter for the human explorers, set to arrive in 2023. On the ground, multiple landers and supplies will be waiting for the brave Martians, who will prep the site for the arrival of the second round of explorers in 2025.
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The company’s vision includes a Mars Transit Vehicle, to be assembled in orbit around the Earth and consisting of propellant stages, a Transit Living Module, and the Lander – the only component of the Vehicle that will reach the planet’s surface. Once on the ground, the Lander becomes one of the colony’s Living Units, which have inflatable living spaces, ‘wet’ areas, and connections to other Units. Another crucial elements is the Life Support Unit, which provides energy via solar panels, water extracted from the icy Martian tundra, and oxygen converted from surplus water storage.
Seem ambitious? Maybe so, but the firm has already identified several potential suppliers for the technologies needed by the mission, and should be ready to start testing a replica of the colony by next year.