Image: Artist's depiction of Mars One astronauts
Mars One / Bryan Versteeg
Artist's depiction of Mars One astronauts and their colony on the Red Planet.
By Senior Writer
updated 1/25/2013 6:06:03 PM ET 2013-01-25T23:06:03

Mars One wants to land four astronauts on the Red Planet in 2023, and it's come up with a creative way to fund this ambitious undertaking.

The Netherlands-based nonprofit plans to stage a global reality-TV event that follows the colonization effort from astronaut selection through the settlers' first years on the Red Planet. Mars One thinks revenues from broadcasting rights and sponsorships will cover most of the one-way mission's estimated $6 billion cost.

The cameras will be turned on soon. Mars One released its basic astronaut requirements earlier this month — you must be at least 18 years old, intelligent, in good mental and physical health and committed to the project — and the televised astronaut-selection process will kick off later this year, officials say.

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SPACE.com recently caught up via email with Mars One co-founder and general director Bas Lansdorp. Lansdorp talked about Mars One's business model, the major challenges facing the project and its long-term goals, which include landing new crews on the Red Planet every two years after the first pioneers touch down. [Mars One: 'Big Brother' on Mars? (Video)]

SPACE.com: How did you come up with the idea to fund a Mars colonization effort by staging a global media event?

Bas Lansdorp: It was triggered when I saw the revenue figures of the International Olympic Committee. When my co-founder Arno Wielders and I saw these numbers, we contacted Paul Römer, a well known Dutch media expert, and discussed the media value of putting humans on Mars. After that we talked to many different experts in the field, all of whom are convinced the media value is far greater than the cost associated with our mission to Mars.

SPACE.com: How long do you think people will continue to watch this effort? A few years? A few decades?

Lansdorp: The Mars One mission is of far greater effort and consequence than simply planting a flag. This is Earth’s mission and it involves people from all over the world.

Anyone over 18 years of age can soon apply to be one of the first astronauts. After Mars One experts exclude unsuitable candidates, we will solicit the audience’s help in democratically electing Earths first ambassadors to a new planet — the most important election in the history of our species.

The audience will remain engaged during the training of the elected candidates and will participate in their lives as they travel to and land on Mars through live telecasts and bi-directional communication. The astronauts, who are granted this incredible opportunity by the audience vote, will remain interactive with their supporters on Earth, sharing as much as possible what it is like to live on Mars.

Every year, new candidates for the Mars mission will be elected and every two years new crew members will arrive to Mars. Humanity will have become a multi-planetary species.

This is a story that people will follow for decades.

SPACE.com: What would you say to people skeptical that this business model can work?

Lansdorp: I would say: "Would you not watch humans walk on Mars?"

SPACE.com: How big a colony do you hope to eventually create on Mars?

Lansdorp: I would hope that at some point the colony is large enough to become self sustaining — but this will take many, many decades. Fortunately, Mars One will not be the only one working toward this goal. Several ventures, private and public, will play their roles in bringing humanity to a new planet. [The Boldest Mars Missions in History]

To answer your question: I hope Mars One will establish a settlement of four people on Mars. The first group will be the hardest to accomplish, both from the technical and the financial point of view. I am convinced that once this first crew of four is there, many, many will follow.

SPACE.com: What is the biggest challenge Mars One will have to overcome to be successful?

Lansdorp: A human mission to Mars is one of the most ambitious projects that one could imagine. Three major challenges. In the short term: financing the funding gap between expenditures on the hardware and revenues from the the media event. In the medium term: successfully passing through phases where things do not go as planned — which there will be in a project of this magnitude.

In the long term: finding and training a crew that can successfully perform the first three years of the mission, between departure on Earth and the landing of the second crew.

SPACE.com: Have you already heard from a lot of people interested in becoming Mars One astronauts?

Lansdorp: In the first seven months after we announced our plan in June 2012, we received about 1,000 emails from people interested to go. In the last week we received another 1,000 emails and over 30,000 people subscribed to a mailing list that updates them on any news on the selection procedure.

SPACE.com: What would it mean to humanity if Mars One is successful in creating a Red Planet colony?

Lansdorp: I believe that it will truly change the outlook of our entire species. If humanity can send humans to Mars, is there anything that we cannot do?

I hope that the international approach of Mars One will bring the people of this planet a little closer together at a time when there is so much conflict and suffering. The Mars One mission will demonstrate how a diverse team of people from various backgrounds and countries can train for and then go on a challenging mission together. This endeavor will increase awareness of both cultural differences and similarities and with that, respect for who we are.

And if on Mars we do find life — that would change our entire perspective on the universe.

SPACE.com: Do you have any interest in going to Mars yourself?

Lansdorp: Yes, and 15 years ago I started my idea for Mars One because I wanted to go to Mars. But 15 years ago I was 20 years old. Now I have a wonderful girlfriend. I doubt she would ever leave Earth for Mars. But we’ll see?!

I will certainly experience a strong mix of jealousy and joy when the first four people leave Earth on humanity’s greatest expedition yet.

Follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

© 2013 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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