The Mars One project aimed at starting the first permanent human settlement on the Red Planet has reduced its pool of prospective colonists to 100 candidates. According to the non-profit company, the selection was winnowed down from the original pool of 202,586 applicants of people from all walks of life from all over the world. However, questions remain about the viability of the project.

The third-round selection was from 660 second-round candidates and includes 50 men and 50 women, consisting of 39 from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa, and 7 from Oceania. It was based on online interviews with Mars One Chief Medical Officer, Norbert Kraft, that were intended to determine their understanding of the risks of the mission, team spirit, and motivation.

Announced in 2012, the Mars One project aims at landing four colonists on Mars in 2025, where they would remain for the rest of their lives with additional colonists sent as Earth and Mars come back into the right launch position every 18 months or so. Living in habitats set up previously by unmanned rovers, the colonists would live off the land for their raw materials while being the focus of a reality television show beamed back to Earth.

Despite the progress made by Mars One's candidate selection, the project has attracted a great deal of skeptical comment. The company says that it can start its Martian colony for US$6 billion, of which only about US$760,000 has been raised so far. Such an amount, even if raised, is extremely modest for a manned Mars mission involving multiple rocket launches and the development of a number of technologies, such as Mars-rated spacesuits and highly sophisticated robots to build the outposts.

Mars One has said that it plans to raise the money by means of a tie-in reality television show, but recent reports indicate that this has fallen through. Astronaut Chris Hadfield also expressed reservations and suggested that the applicants needed to ask hard questions about the technology and reasoning behind the project. In addition, an MIT study calculated that should a successful landing be made, the outpost's life support system would fail within 10 weeks of the first landing.

Another point is that Mars One has shown remarkable optimism about third-party suppliers and off-the-shelf technology to solve problems that even NASA finds daunting, such as building a spacecraft capable of getting to Mars on a very low budget, building a manned spacecraft capable of a powered landings on Mars, and constructing life support systems capable of keeping a permanent settlement alive for an indefinite period of time. Yet despite this, the company not only remains firm after 5 years of work, but boasts in its materials that this is a one-way mission with no hope of the colonists ever seeing Earth again. This raises the question of whether the lack of a return option is a technological limitation or a selling point for a television drama.

This question is reinforced by the selection process. The company claims that over 200,000 people have applied, but this was cast into doubt when only 2,782 video applications were counted on the Mars One website. The application process requires an application fee and a video, where they candidate explains why he or she is suitable for the mission. Though a sense of humor is requested, no technical or other qualifications are requested beyond reasonable health.

The 100 Mars One candidates are a long way from the Apollo missions, where the astronauts were top-flight, trained to the ninth decimal place test pilots in peak condition – some of whom had PhDs. The current round includes actors, former ballet dancers, liberal arts students, a NASA flight engineer, and a quantum biologist, with ages ranging from 19 to 54. The latter means that if the 2025 launch date holds, the first colonist could be 65-years of age on landing.

According to Mars One, the next round of selection will include demonstrations of their suitability and teamwork at an Earthbound copy of the proposed Mars One outpost. Candidates not selected can reapply when new application rounds open this year.

The video below introduces the third round candidates.

Source: Mars One

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