Mars One... intends to establish a human settlement on Mars in 2023. They need astronauts. Anyone on planet Earth can apply if they meet the basic requirements… The selection process will begin during the first half of 2013. Mars One experts and viewers of a “global, televised program” -- think reality TV where the prize could be a trip to a dry, dusty world -- will choose from among the applications… “The people of Earth will have a vote which group of four will be the first Earth ambassadors on Mars,” the Mars One website says. Subsequent teams will be sent in two-year intervals. In 2016, the company plans to begin rocketing supplies to Mars, including spare parts, two rovers, and living units that can be assembled into a base once humans arrive. But it’s a one-way trip for all involved: Once on Mars, there’s no coming back.So, viewers will vote the "winners" off Island Earth so we get to watch them commit suicide at launch, in flight, attempting to land, or definitely in no time flat on the surface of an incomparably alien, lifeless, bitterly cold, irradiated planet surface without any hope for return. Who can doubt that the "winners" will be the most qualified competitors, and not the hottest numbers, nor the biggest publicity whores, nor simply the biggest assholes who we hope to have a hand in killing by voting them into this death trap for frying? While this sounds to me like a profitable ratings winner, it is certainly no way to have a viable space program.
Much is made by the "Mars One" folks of the fact that they do not mean to burden taxpayers with the costs of this Mars-shot, so I guess it really comes down to the money-making after all, anyway.
If I may be serious about even this for a moment, let me say here and now yet again: There never has been and there never will be any such thing as a "private" or "for-profit" space program.
Public dollars always underwrite the "private" contractors in such arrangements. And though a good case can often be made for such public-private partnerships (Lunar Lander, anyone?) nobody should be under the illusion that randroidal market forces are or ever could spontaneously crystallize into an interplanetary NASA or United Federation of Planets or whatever libertechian moonshine drives this incessant nonsense talk of the glorious space hotels and asteroid mining and terraforming frontiersman of the capitalist space pirate utopia just around the corner.
Unless the Moon or Mars or the asteroid belt are made of zero-weight sooper-soma or all-purpose unobtainium there is no way to profitably monetize a space program by getting at their mineral wealth. Incredible up-front infrastructure costs aside, there is simply no substance actually available on earth, however costly, however rare, however hard to get at, that cannot be more cheaply gotten to here on earth than getting it to earth from off-earth. Paradigm shattering discoveries and profitable technological spin-offs from a viable Mars program are almost inevitable as a general matter, but remain much too unpredictable in the specificities of their domains of application or in the determination of their relative winners and losers to entice the necessary levels of investment by individual firms in such a program -- only national or planetary scale governments stand in the broad relation to economic prosperity to justify such public investments.
There is no extraterrestrial site more hospitable than the least hospitable place on earth, and there are no techniques available to make that the least bit less true that wouldn't be incomparably better spent making the least hospitable places on earth more hospitable first. So, there will be no extraterrestrial colonies to re-enact brutal "Age of Discovery" exploitation fantasies with, or to relieve overpopulation pressures with, indeed there will be no escape hatches via space from any of our difficult political or environmental problems.
And it should go without saying that Low-Earth-Orbit momentary zero-gravity amusement park rides for celebrity tech CEOs and digi-bazillionaires do not constitute a real space program.
Please do let all that sink in for a moment, all you libertopian SpaceX Space Cadets.
Shunting all this Heinleinian flim-flammery to the side, the only reasonable justification for a trip to Mars remains as always the collective accomplishment of so daring an endeavor, the discovery of new knowledge, and the eventual establishment on Mars of a scientific research station, and the only way to ensure those ends would be an international public investment in a governmental space program, national or international.
And, in case you are wondering, I am an enthusiastic champion of such a project. But precisely because I am serious about NASA and international space science I have no patience at all for privateering, profiteering, skim and scam artists, pop-tech journos and celebrity CEOs blathering on about private space programs and profitable extraterrestrial exploitation in an endless avalanche of deranged, deluded, distracting articles and press releases.