THE ultimate reality TV show has been devised in Holland where 704 candidates will embark on a mission to establish a colony – on Mars.
A Dutch foundation, led by businessman Bas Lansdorp, is behind the idea and has struck a deal with a subsidiary firm of Endemol, maker of Big Brother. “We want to send the first four settlers to Mars in 2024,” Mr Lansdorp said, adding that “additional teams will follow.”
The candidates have signed up saying they are prepared to leave Earth forever and Mr Lansdorp’s foundation, Mars One, plans to train the winners for eight years in preparation for their life on another planet.
Life there may take some getting used to. It is freezing cold, racked by dust storms and pitted with gorges miles wide.
It would take six months to travel there and those who win the contest to become settlers will not be able to return to Earth for at least two years.
Mr Lansdorp said the financing for the mission will come from broadcasting rights to screen the show. He is in negotiations with US company SpaceX to use their seven-man Dragon V2 space vehicle, which has been signed up to fly astronauts to the International Space Station in 2016.
The plan is for Mr Landsdorp to begin unmanned cargo flights to Mars in 2018 to construct buildings necessary to support the colonisers. The goal is that in 2025, when the first four of a planned total of 24 settlers touch down, they will find a “reliable living environment.”
“There will be a living unit for each, along with inflatable greenhouses for lettuce, tomatoes and courgettes,” Mr Lansdorp said. “Water will be provided by extracting ice particles from the Martian soil and some of it will be broken down to provide oxygen. Solar cells will generate electricity.”
The cost of the project is about £4 billion. Mr Landsdorp said major TV channels already spend around half that figure on the Olympic Games. “Wouldn’t a settlement on Mars be more exciting than that?” he asked.
The plan is for the show to document how would-be settlers cope with the kind of catastrophes they will be trained to try to overcome: meteor strikes, blocked toilets and depression, to name but a few.
The project calls for 25 teams of four to battle it out, with the six best starting survival training in 2015. “Those who can win over the viewing public also have what it takes to become colonists,” he says. “Would you want to live on Mars with bores?”
Some 200,000 people sent their applications in to Mars One. Pamela Nicoletatos, 41, of Rotterdam, is one who made the final group. She is married with two sons and is already taking courses on astronomy, geology and medicine to prepare. “My husband and sons want to apply too,” she said, “but only for later missions. The team will become a second family to me.”
“The most difficult thing would likely be the lack of stimuli,” says Hanns-Christian Gunga, a space medicine expert. “In such an isolated colony, there isn’t much to observe beyond the constant humming of the life support systems.
“Extensive exercise is vital because otherwise muscles and bones will begin to atrophy. Bone material begins to deteriorate from the first day in space.”
A 40-year-old space traveller who spends three years in the weightlessness of space, Nasa estimates, would return with the skeleton of a 75-year-old.
Mr Lansdorp, who made his fortune from wind energy, has ploughed everything into Mars One, saying: “We will make this a goer. It will be the ultimate reality TV show.