For over forty years, Earthwatch has been sending ordinary people to extraordinary places in the company of top scientists to conduct hands-on research in over 50 expeditions. On Thursday, the international nonprofit organization announced its most ambitious and extraordinary public expedition ever aimed at sending volunteers to Mars in search for water and life. With its US$1.25 million ticket price, it seems too good to be true, and probably is.
According to Earthwatch, the purpose of the expedition is to measure environmental conditions and look for evidence of Martian microorganisms on Utopia Planitia on Mars. The organization says that the outing will lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, take 300 to 600 days to get to Mars, depending on orbit, spend four days (including an orientation day) on the planet, and, unlike the Mars One project, another 300 days to get home. The fact that the itinerary says you don’t meet your fellow expedition members until you reach Mars and that the trip includes a “recreational day” on day 305 makes us suspect that this is somewhat tongue in cheek, even if April 1st is still a few days away.
Accommodations on Mars will allegedly include a cabin constructed of "vintage space junk," and food will consist of "freeze-dried space delicacies." The expedition’s website also talks about the opportunity to climb the slopes of Olympus Mons, the Solar System’s tallest mountain, though how you’re supposed to travel the thousands of miles from Utopia Planitia for the day trip is a mystery.
One clue that Earthwatch might not be entirely serious about this trip to Mars is that it says that the leader of the expedition will be “intergalactically experienced” researcher Dr. Marvin Martin of the "Intergalactic Science Coalition," whose resume includes fieldwork in not only the Sahara Desert and the North Pole, but also the Moon and the Martian moon Phobos. Also his name and the fact that his photo includes a silly Greek helmet usually associated with a certain cartoon Martian who gives Bugs Bunny a hard time are something of a giveaway.
Not surprisingly, Earthwatch is very coy about little essentials like when or how the expedition will travel to Mars – aside from somehow making the trip in a Space Shuttle, which will be news to NASA, since they've all been sent to museums.
But if anyone's willing to pony up the required $1.25 million, we'd be keen to hear if Earthwatch follows through with the expedition.