2013

April 22: Mars One begins seeking volunteers for the $6 billion trip, to be financed through sponsorships, crowdfunding, intellectual property revenue and the sale of broadcasting rights. More than 200,000 people from more than 140 countries apply, including at least two who shot their mandatory videos nude. Initial screening culls the field to 1,058 (sorry, naked folks!); medical and other criteria narrow it to 705 finalists.

Who volunteers for this?
A look at the 705 finalists

2014

Dec. 8: The next round of crew selection begins with 660 candidates remaining because 45 withdrew.

Mars One Chief Medical Officer Norbert Kraft begins interviews with each candidate via a 15-minute video chat. Read related article.

“The biggest obstacle is cost. Unless they have been able to raise substantially more money than they have publicly indicated, it is hard to see how they could even come close to achieving this timeline. As well-funded companies, like SpaceX, have learned, engineering space systems is tough and timelines tend to slip.” — Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars.

2015

Feb. 13: About 50 men and 50 women learn they’ve made it to Round 3. Group challenges will test survival skills and math ability, but they’ll also reveal how candidates deal with adversity — and with each other.

Some will be chosen for training in simulated Mars habitat Outpost Alpha (possibly in the Arctic). This will be their first opportunity to experience a taste of what their life on Mars might be like.

By the end of the year, the group will be winnowed to six teams of four. They will begin rigorous training, such as learning to operate and troubleshoot equipment, medical and dental skills and a bit of space agriculture. Training will continue until the first team leaves for Mars.

“It’ll never happen that way, because going to Mars with humans has never been done before, the costs are unknown, there are unquantified risks and it’s really dangerous. … You cannot attract investors and make a business case for it. But a nation can.” — Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, when asked whether a private business could put people on Mars, in a 2012 interview with the Verge.

2018

Mars One plans to send equipment to Mars to test whether many of the systems necessary for humans would actually work there. A communications satellite will be launched into orbit around Mars to establish a relay link between Earth and the Martian surface.

2020

A rover and trailer will go first, like a robotic scout team, to find and prepare a place for the settlement. The ideal spot is flat and sunny, with soil that contains a lot of water. A second communications satellite will be launched into orbit around the sun so that signals can travel between Mars and Earth even when the sun is between them.

2022

A full-scale cargo mission will lift off, with another rover, two “living units,” two life-support systems and a supply unit. They’ll use the first rover’s signal as a beacon to find the right landing spot.

2023

The rover will cart the cargo to the spot it has prepared, deploy the inflatable parts of the living units, and connect the hoses that transport water, air and electricity around the settlement. It will feed soil into the system that will extract and store water. Another system will mix nitrogen and argon from the Martian atmosphere with oxygen from the water to make breathable air.

People won’t start their journey until the living quarters contain 3,000 liters of water and 120 kg of oxygen and have a livable barometric pressure. Martian air doesn’t contain enough oxygen for humans, and the air pressure is too thin.

2024

The first Mars One crew will blast off toward Mars, with a pit stop in Earth orbit to transfer to a transit habitat and lander. They’ll make the seven- to eight-month trip in a tight space with no showers and only canned and freeze-dried food.

Mars One sketch view of transit vehicle.

Mars One sketch view of transit vehicle.

The plan is to use a landing capsule similar to SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, which CEO Elon Musk called “less than ideal” in an interview at MIT. “That’s a long time to sit in something with the interior volume of an SUV,” he said.

2025

If all goes as planned, the first humans arrive on Mars, where the average temperature is minus 81 degrees F and gravity is 38 percent of that on Earth. The rover picks them up and takes them to their new digs. They can shower. After a few days, they will deploy more solar panels, install hallways between landers and set up food production. When the cargo arrives, they will incorporate it into their existing settlement.

2025

The habitat will provide living space for four people, with every square inch fully utilized, but what it finally will look like is uncertain. Interior design is still in the planning stages, but below are some early Mars One concept sketches.

Mars One concept sketch of landers and inflatable sections.

Mars One concept sketch of cross-section of inflatable living sections.

2026

Mars One expects that the second crew of four will begin the trip, and cargo for the third crew will be launched. The process repeats every two years.

Mars One concept sketch of landers and inflatable living sections as more colonists arrive.

2030

The Martians will have to be their own repairmen, doctors, dentists and farmers. They’ll need spacesuits to walk outside. They will be strongly discouraged from having children because so much about life there is unknown. But the Mars One hope is that these pioneers will eventually establish a true community, and that future generations can not only visit Mars but also return home.

Mars One concept sketch view of the Martian colony in 2031.

“If they somehow do this, and they send people to Mars, and something goes wrong and they all die, what does that do for the future of the expansion of humanity? At the same time, if we don't get off this planet and start putting people on other planets, we’re going to run out of resources here.” — Seth Shostak, director, Center SETI Research

Sources: Mars One, NASA, SpaceX with illustrations from poster by Kristian Von Bengtson. Graphic by Bonnie Berkowitz, Jessica Contrera, Richard Johnson and Emily Chow. Published Feb. 11, 2015.