For decades, Mars has entranced humans, including Matt Damon. Our cosmic neighbor, located some 34 to 249 million miles away, is an enticing destination in part because of its mysterious history—but mostly because Earth is an especially terrible place to be right now.
On Wednesday, February 15, UAE vice president Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the Mars 2117 Project, which is exactly what you think it is: the UAE wants to establish “the first inhabitable human settlement” on Mars by 2117. Building a city on Mars in a century sounds a tad ambitious, considering UAE has yet to send an uncrewed spacecraft to Mars.
But recent history is rife with overly ambitious, half-baked plans to colonize Earth’s little brother. Here are some of the more noteworthy past (and present) plans to send humans to Mars, ranked by descending levels of absurdity.
7. NASA’s “Journey to Mars”
Let’s face it, NASA has successfully landed four rovers on the Red Planet—if someone’s going to put boots on the ground there, it’s probably going to be these guys. Musk fans can knock the granddaddy of American spaceflight all they want, but NASA has the track record of successful Martian orbiters and landers to back up its vision to send astronauts to orbit Mars by the 2030s. In 2018, NASA will take a significant step toward this goal when it debuts its Space Launch System (SLS)—the agency’s massive rocket that may bring people to Mars one day. Currently, NASA is considering whether or not make this first launch a crewed mission.
6. Elon Musk’s Martian Waterpark
In case you haven’t heard, Elon Musk is very rich. As someone who grew up in the Hamptons, I know that rich people can afford to have bonkers-ass dreams and convince people they’re good ones. While SpaceX has seen some enormous success, and its plan to send uncrewed landers to Mars in the next few years seems very doable, Musk’s ambition to send crewed missions to Mars in the next 10 years is a bit ambitious. But even that seems reasonable considering his ultimate goal of sending thousands of everyday people to and from Mars on a rocket that hasn’t been invented yet.
That said, could Elon Musk finally get to play Martian overlord by the 2060s? I’ve seen more impossible things happen in the last two months alone.
Also, telling people they should be prepared to die to fulfill his pipe dream is pretty shitty marketing.
5. UAE’s Mars 2117 Project
This would be...cool? But also humans are terrible so I kind of hope this doesn’t happen. Maybe the best thing is for Mars to remain barren.
4. Dennis Tito’s Mars slingshot
Remember when multimillionaire Dennis Tito became the world’s first “space tourist”? Turns out that dude actually set up a not-for-profit organization to send a middle-aged man and woman in a slingshot around the Red Planet, called Inspiration Mars. The website no longer exists, which is convenient since no one understood this mission. Obviously, plans remain unclear.
3. Sir Richard Branson, who doesn’t want to feel left out
Not to be outdone by the likes of Musk, this capitalist merman is planning a Martian mission of his own. “Mars is a big place. When we colonize Mars [Musk] can have the west end, and we’re gonna have the east end,” Branson told Mashable in an interview last year, adding that he figured East Mars and West Mars would “share the water.” It is unclear whether Elon agrees.
Though Branson has spent the last decade promising commercial space flights soon through his company Virgin Galactic, he’s still got little to show for it, except some very expensive failures. Most notably, in 2014, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed, killing one pilot and severely injuring the other.
Basically, Branson has a long way to go before he should even be dreaming about a Martian colony.
2. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Martian Vacation
At a White House event last October, the 42-year-old vapist announced that he had signed up for an unspecified mission to Mars, which made everyone uncomfortable. His reps later clarified that his Martian ambitions were in jest, probably because too many people suggested we leave him there. Suffice to say this planned Martian vacation has little credibility.
1. Mars One, WYD?
I don’t know how to describe Mars One’s vision, other than it is most definitely a scam. The Netherlands-based endeavor seeks to send its first crews to Mars by 2031, with the ultimate goal of beginning a long-term human colony on Mars soon after. Despite these lofty ambitions and an extremely narrow time frame, according to its website, Mars One is still in the “early mission concept phase.”
To add another ingredient to this cocktail of terribleness, Mars One as reportedly scammed its own contenders, making them buy Mars One merchandise to increase their chances of being selected for the eventual trip.
Even if every reasonable person is wrong and Mars One does launch, its mission seems doomed to fail, at least according to an infamous report from MIT in 2014. According to the researchers, the Martian colonists would probably starve—and the project itself would run out of money.
Dying alone in space and getting scammed? That’s a rough way to go.