By Shane McGinley
1,259 Gulf residents have applied to be part of the first human settlement on the Red Planet
The Dutch company behind plans for the first human settlement on Mars by 2023, in which 1,259 Gulf residents have applied to join, has signed up US defence contractor Lockheed Martin who work on its first unmanned vehicle to send to the planet to scout for possible locations.
Mars One aims to launch a robotic lander and a communications satellite, to send to the Red Planet by 2018, it announced on Tuesday. Lockheed Martin, which has worked with NASA on its Mars missions, will build the lander, while the communications satellite will be built by UK firm Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL).
The aim of the unmanned lander is to provide proof of concept for some of the technologies that are important for a permanent human settlement on Mars, the firm said.
In September, a spokesperson for the Dutch firm behind project told Arabian Business 1,259 Gulf residents have applied to join the program, with the majority of applications coming from Saudi Arabia.
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).
With 477 applications, the majority of would-be Gulf astronauts seeking to blast into space came from Saudi Arabia, a spokesperson for Mars One said.
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 a new home on a new 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.
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.