Mars One Colony Rendition
Artist's rendition of a Martian colony, from Mars One Mars One

Recent headlines claim that an exodus of China-based expats are leaving the country. Now, several hundred of them are looking to go as far from China as possible: Mars.

According to the China Daily, more than 600 applicants from China are all vying for a spot on a Dutch space project that plans to send humans to the Red Planet to live permanently. For just a $11, a fee which is adjusted according to an applicants home nation’s GDP, Chinese citizens can apply to join a space mission to Mars.

The project, launched and funded by a Dutch nonprofit organization, called Mars One, is casting an international search for four suitable humans to take to the planet in 2023.

According to the Mars One website, aside from other medical and physical requirements, characteristics of the ideal astronaut include resiliency, adaptability, curiosity, ability to trust and creativity/resourcefulness.

Bas Lansdorp, a co-founder of the Mars One project, expects to see more than 500,000 applicants. Applicants who pass preliminary rounds of screening will advance until the group is whittled down to a pool of 24 to 40 candidates, all of whom will be fully trained. The final decision on choosing the first Mars settlers will be made by a TV audience vote.

Lansdorp made a pit stop in Shanghai, promoting the project and getting the Chinese, a population of 1.3 billion people, excited about potentially being one of the selected four astronauts. Lansdorp says he picked the Chinese city as the second destination, after New York, because he believes people are still riding the high of the nation’s most recently completed space mission, featuring the first female Chinese astronaut, Liu Yang.

The project, which will cost roughly $6 billion, will be funded by televising the trip, a goal that Lansdorp is confident the company will reach.

“There will be 4 billion Internet users by 2023, much more than for the Olympic Games,” Lansdorp said, noting that organizers for the 2008 Games in Beijing and the 2012 Games in London earned $1 billion per week.

The project has already been met with criticism by those who claim the project is essentially a suicide mission, seeing the trip as a one-way ticket to Mars, a place not habitable for humans.

“They will die there if they cannot return. This is like euthanasia. And if we watch this live show, it’s cruel,” Pang Zhihao, a Chinese space expert, told the China Daily.

Pang also noted that the climate on Mars is obviously much different than on Earth. Sandstorms, for example, he said, can last up to half a year and are six times stronger than some of Earth’s most damaging typhoons.

Still, this hasn’t deterred all from applying.

“I think the chance to be part of the project is a cool way for me to change a dull daily life. Besides, the air on Mars must be much cleaner and easier to breathe,” Ma Qing, a 39-year-old bookseller, said to the China Daily in defense of those looking to apply.

“You know your country is polluted when people think the air will be more breathable on a rock planet with no atmosphere,” Erik Crouch, of the news blog the Shanghaiist, commented.