What kind of people want a one-way ticket to Mars?

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Early on a Saturday morning, about 60 planetary malcontents gathered in a narrow auditorium on the campus of George Washington University. They’d come to hear about a plan to build a self-sustaining colony in space, and they hoped to be among its first settlers, leaving the rest of us to live and die on Earth.

The components of Mars One's colony are scheduled to arrive by 2021. The hardware includes two living units, two life-support units, a second supply unit and two rovers.

The components of Mars One’s colony are scheduled to arrive by 2021. The hardware includes two living units, two life-support units, a second supply unit and two rovers.

“How many of you would like to take a one-way mission to Mars?” asked the balding engineer on stage. His face was a peachy monochrome, with sharp, craggy features set like a mini moonscape, and he had slightly pointed ears. On his lapel, a sticker read: “GREETINGS! MY NAME IS: Bas.”

When nearly everybody raised their hands, Bas Lansdorp’s lips curled into a grin. These were his constituents, the folks who had pledged to serve as guinea pigs for a bold and strange experiment. Just the day before, he had been on CBS This Morning, patiently explaining his idea. “I just want to make sure I understand that correctly,” the dumbfounded host had said. “If you go on this mission, you are going and not coming back.” But here at the first-ever Million Martian Meeting, in August 2013, Lansdorp saw only believers. “Wow, this is a really easy crowd!” he beamed.

Most of the armchair aliens shared a demographic, the young-man Marsophile: guys with tattoos across their necks and arms, goatees and mustaches, variations on the Weird Al look. But there were also older women in the room, and kids too young to drive. What brought them together was an abiding belief in Lansdorp’s central message, that humans should be expanding onto other planets, and they should do so now. . . . “The technology to get you back from Mars simply doesn’t exist,” Lansdorp said, stirring up his audience, and it may not exist even 20 years from now. “We need to do this with the stuff that we have today, and the only way we can do that is by going there to stay.”

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