Mars One: What’s in a Number?

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MarsOne_logoAny group that attempts to colonize Mars will need to be very, very good with numbers. They will need good mathematical skills to figure out trajectories, entry paths, landing velocity, consumables per person, and a whole host of things that will determine success or failure.

So, if you see a group dedicated to Mars colonization that is playing fast and loose with the numbers, be wary. Be very, very wary.

Which brings us to Mars One and its ebullient founder, Bas Lansdorp.

“In the 5 month application period, Mars One received interest from 202,586 people from around the world, wanting to be amongst the first human settlers on Mars,” the group boasted in a press release published on Monday.

Two hundred thousand people. Wow, that sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Actually, it does, with an emphasis on the “in”.

You’ll note that they say “received interest”, which is not the same as actually signing up. Only 2,783 people have paid a fee and posted a public video in which they explain why they should be selected for a one-way trip to the Red Planet, which makes them eligible for selection.

The actual number of applicants is higher because some people paid the feel but requested that their videos not be made public. Just how many? Mars One isn’t saying, but it does give the following breakdown:

“Mars One applicants come from over 140 countries; the largest numbers are from the United States (24%), India (10%), China (6%), Brazil (5%), Great Britain (4%), Canada (4%), Russia (4%), Mexico (4%), Philippines (2%), Spain (2%), Colombia (2%), Argentina (2%), Australia (1%), France (1%), Turkey (1%), Chile (1%), Ukraine (1%), Peru (1%), Germany (1%), Italy (1%) and Poland (1%).”

Of the 2,783 applicants with public videos, 1,004 are Americans, including 871 men and 133 women. That represents 36 percent of the total.

A partial, unscientific search of the public video database shows the following totals by country: India, 205; Canada, 182; United Kingdom, 122; Russia, 110; Australia, 81; Brazil, 79; Mexico, 67; Germany, 45; China, 43; France, 39; and Japan, 18.

In terms of the 2,783 applicants with public videos, the gender ratio is very uneven: 2,442 men, 341 women. In other words, that segment is 87.7 percent male.

So, what’s the next step for the unknown number of applicants who forked over money to Mars One? The group’s press release explains:

From this applicant pool, the Mars One Selection Committee will select prospective Martian settlers in three additional rounds spread across two years. By 2015, six-ten teams of four individuals will be selected for seven years of full-time training. In 2023, one of these teams will become the first humans ever to land on Mars and live there for the rest of their lives.

The current applicants will be screened by the Mars One Selection Committee. This process is expected to take several months. Candidates selected to pass to the next round will be notified by the end of 2013. The second round of selection will start in 2014, where the candidates will be interviewed in person by a Mars One Selection Committee.

Aspiring martians who have missed Round 1 or could not meet the age restriction can join subsequent Astronaut Selection Programs. Mars One will commence regular recruitment programs as the search for follow-up crews continues.

As you might have guessed, I’m skeptical that this project will ever get off the ground. But, my judgment is by no means infallible. I’ve been wrong before.