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More than 2,700 pay up for a chance to take a one-way trip to Mars

Planet Mars.
Detlev van Ravenswaay | Picture Press | Getty Images
Planet Mars.

The Mars One venture says more than 200,000 people registered their interest in taking a one-way trip to the Red Planet, but only a fraction of those are officially in the running for the trip.

To be precise, 2,782 people have paid their registration fee and submitted public videos in which they make their case for going to Mars in 2023 — with no guarantee that they'll ever come back. That's calculated simply by adding up how many pages of videos are listed on Mars One's website (278 pages, at 10 videos per page, plus two extra).

Some paid-up applicants may have asked that their videos be kept private, and that number would have to be added to 2,782. But the Dutch-based venture's founder, Bas Lansdorp, told NBC News last month that Mars One won't disclose how many applicants in all have paid the fee.

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Without paying that fee—ranging from $5 to $73—applicants won't be considered for the second round, which involves providing Mars One with medical data and meeting with a selection committee. The application period ended on Aug. 31. Mars One said second-round candidates would be notified of their status by the end of this year and undergo their interviews starting early next year.

The field is supposed to be winnowed down further over the next year or two, through two rounds of reality-TV competitions. Revenues from that programming, plus sponsorships and other marketing arrangements, would go toward the multibillion-dollar cost of sending the first four-person crew to Mars. There's not yet been word of any TV deals, however.

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Mars One plays off the fact that it's far easier logistically to send astronauts on a one-way trip to Mars than to make a round trip. The concept has been compared to the way Europeans settled the Americas centuries ago: The first settlers didn't expect to come back home, but instead created a new home in the New World. Not everyone succeeded: For an example, just look up the Roanoke Colony.

In a news release announcing the end of the first five-month recruitment campaign, Mars One said 202,586 people registered their interest in the trip. Registrations came from more than 140 countries, with Americans making up the biggest contingent (24 percent). The other countries in the top eight included India (10 percent), China (6 percent), Brazil (5 percent) and Great Britain, Canada, Russia and Mexico (each representing 4 percent).

Those figures include people who registered on the Mars One website but didn't complete the application process. Among those people is at least one journalist who signed up just to see how the process worked.

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"Aspiring Martians who have missed Round 1 or could not meet the age restriction can join subsequent astronaut selection programs," Monday's news release said. "Mars One will commence regular recruitment programs as the search for follow-up crews continues."

Mars One isn't the only venture taking aim at the Red Planet: Inspiration Mars aims to send a man and a woman flying over the Martian surface in 2018. SpaceX's billionaire founder, Elon Musk, has said he'd like to see thousands of space pioneers settling the Red Planet—and he aims to go someday himself. NASA, meanwhile, intends to send astronauts on two-way trips to Mars and its moons in the 2030s.

—By Alan Boyle, NBC