The $38billion Mars dream

Dutch non-profit foundation Mars One wants to establish a human settlement on Mars as "a stepping stone of the human race on its voyage into the universe".

It is pressing ahead with plans announced last April despite its naysayers. In January, former German engineer and astronaut Ulrich Walter, who has spent nearly 10 days in space, said the odds of reaching Mars alive were just 30 per cent, making the attempt unethical.

Mars One estimates on its website that it would cost US$30 billion (S$38 billion) to set up and train a colony of 24 settlers. It aims to raise the sum partly by selling television rights to broadcast the entire mission.

The colonists are to be selected by a global audience, with groups of four departing for Mars every two years.

The 1,058 shortlisted candidates, who must be 18 or older and be "intelligent, creative, psychologically stable and physically healthy", include 297 Americans, 22 Chinese, five Japanese, one Singaporean and one Malaysian.

They have each been asked to submit a doctor's report by March 8 certifying their health. Mars One says each applicant will then be interviewed by a selection panel.

A number of crew will be given extensive full-time training from next year to 2024 in remote outposts on Earth to learn to withstand solitude, cultivate food, repair habitats and learn critical medical procedures. At least one astronaut will be trained in the geology of Mars, a barren planet prone to dust storms with an atmosphere of poisonous carbon dioxide and temperatures rarely above zero.

Because of their different orbits around the Sun, Mars' average distance from Earth is 225 million km, with the closest being 56 million km. It would take a spacecraft seven months to fly there, according to Mars One.

It plans to equip the colony with solar panels, devices to produce oxygen and water, and greenhouses for crops. Settlers would undertake research and have books and television for entertainment.

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