There are many teams who aim to conquer the world, but only a few that aim higher. Mars-one is an initiative to build a human settlement on Mars by 2023. Although the team is not backed by any government or rich organization, the three men and one woman team of Mars-one is dead serious: they believe it is technical possible and economical viable to reach the next planet with 11 years.
There are some challenges to overcome, but this initiative has some things going for it. First of all, it is very good that they added a year to their goal. This makes the ambition concrete. Secondly they created a plan based on a few smart decisions:
- They decided to make it a one way trip: people are going to Mars, but not coming back. This is an extreme example of applying the first agile principle of delivering something early: we have the ability to go one way so let’s do that first. Although you may loose some potential astronauts, this decision greatly simplifies the technical design. And the way back will become easier to realize a few years after they established the first base, since they can search for resources from Mars to use.
- They decided to go for existing technology. Using existing technology is always a good idea. The alternative is hoping that somehow technology will improve. Hope is not a strategy, and it is frustrating to wait for external events. Apparently existing technology is much more advanced than the moon rockets and space shuttles we all have seen.
- They have decided to go for a media/crowdfunded business model. Rather than trying to find one sponsor, they use a mixture of different approaches and hope to convert the potential media attention into funding.
- Out of necessity perhaps, they are forced to look outside their own organization and talk to people. This helps with any idea and team, but teams from large organizations can be afraid to do this.
So what is the status of this idea? The team has started working on it in early 2011. They have gathered suppliers, advisers and endorsements (including one Nobel prize winner and 24.000 facebook likes) and have built a very complete website. Under frequently asked questions they provide answers to detailed questions including the cost, the impact on the environment on Mars, and how you apply to go to Mars. I am not applying, but will follow this closely to see how far this 4-man team can get. If they make it, it will be a good example that it is ok for a small team to have great ambitions.