Why I want to live in space: Mars One book to show human side

With its upcoming book of essays and applicant letters, the nonprofit trying to colonize Mars seeks a deeper, more communal understanding about what it may be like to travel to the Red Planet and never come back.

Mars One

Despite the understandable delays and roadblocks to its original timeline, the colonization initiative Mars One has succeeded wondrously in one of its less tangible goals: planting seeds in our collective subconscious.

For instance, what would it be like to live out your last days on the Red Planet, surrounded by only a handful of others in close proximity? What are the psychological effects? What will the limitations of the confirmed live stream be, and what happens when something inevitably goes wrong? These are questions the public is now seriously considering, thanks to the mission's open application process and its insistence on a one-way trip to get Earth's Mars colony up and running sooner rather than decades from now, when a return trip may be possible.

To continue compelling the conversation about not only the technical and scientific hurdles involved with a one-way trip to Mars, but also these psychological and philosophical conundrums at its core, Mars One will publish a book of essays and applicant letters titled 'Mars One: Human Factor," announced CEO Bas Lansdorp Tuesday. Mars One Chief Medical Officer Norbert Kraft -- a doctor whose specialization is in examining and developing countermeasures to the isolating effects of space travel and life in orbit -- will edit the book, to be published in 2015 by Dallas-based publisher BenBella Books.

Mars One launched in May of 2012 with the ambitious plan to have a colony up and running by 2023. It has since revised that timeline with the goal now set at sending the first four humans by 2024, with four more going over every 24 months after that. That delay, and the torrent of criticism over the mission's technical feasibility, has not deterred Lansdorp's team from making progress. Last month Mars One announced a partnership with Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology to build a lander and communications satellite to be sent to Mars in 2018, likely with a Falcon Heavy rocket currently being prototyped by Elon Musk's transportation outfit SpaceX.

But with nothing substantial to show for its progress beyond crafting partnerships and making headlines, the public's focus has honed in on Mars One's extensive and transparent application process, which as of December of last year whittled down a pool of more than 200,000 to 1,058 applicants from 107 countries. Specifically, the interest is in the people who have signed up and openly resigned themselves to death on Mars, especially considering the fact that Mars One hopes to raise a significant amount of the projected $6 billion needed for the mission by licensing the final selection process as a reality TV show.

"There are many tough, philosophical, and scientific questions that need to be answered." --Norbert Kraft, Mars One chief medical officer

The mindset of these individuals who have decided that they're okay with spending their last days -- and, far worse, risking a disastrous malfunction in the equipment or one's own mental well being that will be live streamed to billions -- is not just important to public interest or Mars One's internal psychological qualifications. The motivations of the final four will form the basis for what can be accomplished on Mars scientifically, and what will become the written history of the success and failures of our first martian colony. Mars One, with "Human Factor" and Kraft at its helm, is embracing this dual purpose.

"There are many tough, philosophical, and scientific questions that need to be answered about our upcoming selection of the four heroic individuals that will lead us on our mission to Mars," Kraft said in Lansdorp's official announcement of the book. "We're pleased to be able to provide a real-time look at many of these issues being raised by the inquisitive minds of our community," he added.

It's not clear how the book will be split up between essays -- to be supplied by prominent academics, journalists, historians, and scientists -- and the applicant letters that will shine light on the thought processes of those interested in a Mars ticket.

But with the pool still large at more than 1,000 individuals, there is no shortage of interest in those that made the cut. Story after story has begun popping up about heads of families and ambitious students who have yet reached drinking age that are now in the next round and must more realistically contend with the possibility of selection.

Adding some black humor to the whole episode is the Utah finalist whose wife has threatened divorce if he were chosen -- he'll be relieved if he's not selected, he admitted -- and the slew of younger applicants who see their age and working potential as all the more reason they should be chosen.

So needless to say, while the essays in "Human Factor" may adequately illuminate the existential factors at play, substantial value lies in the applicant letters and their telling illustrations of the ambitious few willing to risk their lives and forgo their futures in the name of discovery.

While Mars One is expected to have the book on shelves by spring of 2015, it will ship out autographed copies by end of year as part of its ongoing Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign as a perk for a $100 pledge that will be available throughout the remaining 19 days of the campaign.

About the author

Nick Statt is a staff writer for CNET. He previously wrote for ReadWrite and was a news associate at the social magazine app Flipboard. He spends a questionable amount of his free time contemplating his relationship with video games while continuously exploring the convergence of tech, science and pop culture.

 

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