A total of 1,259 Gulf residents have applied to join a program that is aiming to establish the first human settlement on the planet Mars by 2023, with the majority coming from Saudi Arabia, a spokesperson for the Dutch company behind the ambitious project exclusively told Arabian Business.
The Mars One Astronaut Selection Program received more than 202,586 applications from people around the world seeking to be among the first to obtain a one-way ticket to live on the Red Planet.
Organisers said applicants come from over 140 countries, with the largest coming from the US (47,654), India (20,747), China (13,176), Brazil (10,289) and Great Britain (8,497).
A spokesperson for Mars One told Arabian Business a total of 1,259 residents from the six GCC countries applied to join the program. With 477 applications, the majority of would-be Gulf astronauts seeking to blast into space came from Saudi Arabia.
Bahrain registered 421 applicants, followed by Kuwait with 142 and Qatar with 122.
Just 52 UAE-based residents applied, and only 45 were willing to swop Oman for the Red Planet.
The deadline has now closed for applications and all 202,586 applicants will go forward to the Mars One Selection Committee, which will select prospective Martian settlers in three additional rounds spread across two years.
By 2015, six to ten teams of four individuals will be selected for seven years of full-time training. In 2023, one of these teams will become the first humans ever to land on Mars and live there for the rest of their lives.
The initial section process is expected to take several months, the company said. Any Gulf-based candidates selected to pass to the next round will be notified by the end of this year.
The second round of selection will start in early 2014, where the candidates will be interviewed in person by the Mars One Selection Committee.
The project was launched in April by Stichting Mars One, a Dutch non-for-profit foundation.
In the coming years, a demonstration mission, communication satellites, two rovers and several cargo missions will be sent to Mars. These missions will set up the outpost where the human crew will live and work and it is planned to have a human settlement on the Martian surface by 2023.
The US is already in the early stages of plans to land humans on the surface of Mars in 2036, Charles Elachi, head of NASA’s missions to the Red Planet, told delegates at the Arabian Business Forum 2012 in Dubai in November.
“We don’t have a programme [to send a man to Mars] but we are starting to plan,” Elachi, who heads up the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Pasadena-based NASA agency that constructs and operates robotic planetary spacecraft, said.
“Interestingly enough we can go to Mars every four years or so. Every 18 years they get very close. We are thinking not for 2018 but 2036 [for a human mission],” he added.
Elachi’s team at JPL successfully masterminded the landing of a one-tonne vehicle – called ‘Curiosity’ – in a deep crater on the surface of Mars in August 2012.
The rover has now begun a two-year mission to look for evidence that the Red Planet may once have supported life, but Elachi said plans to send humans to Mars is possible.
“It is a challenge as it takes nine months to get there. Imagine if you are sending three people for 18 months, how much food and garbage and water you have to take. It is a massive engineering challenge but it is it is feasible.
"We are in the early stages. 2036 – that is the target,” he said.
Lebanon-born Elachi still retains his ties with the Gulf region via a board position of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and the King Fahd University of Petrochemicals and Minerals, both in Saudi Arabia.
Last month it was the one-year anniversary of Curiosity’s landing on Mars and its findings have so far concluded that the planet could indeed have supported microbial life, the primary goal of the mission.
"The stunning thing is that we found it all so quickly," California Institute of Technology geologist and lead project scientist John Grotzinger told Reuters in August.
Now scientists hope to learn whether life-friendly niches on Mars are common and whether any organic carbon has been preserved in the planet's ancient rocks.
Curiosity is expected to be joined next year by another NASA robotic probe, called MAVEN, which will remain in orbit to assess how and why the planet is losing its atmosphere.