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A Dutch non-profit foundation that hopes to start colonizing Mars in 2025 has hired Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Surrey Satellite Technologies Ltd. to run concept studies of unmanned precursor spacecraft that could fly as early as 2018.

If the youthful Mars One organization succeeds in the first step of its plan, students from the grade-school level on up could see their experiments on Mars before the decade is out, and companies willing to sponsor the mission could be the first to recruit the best and brightest participants in the competitions the foundation hopes to run for payload space on Mars.

The first privately funded mission to Mars already has drawn 200,000 applicants from potential Mars colonists and contributions from 80 countries. Contributors may get to vote on competition winners and other decisions if the project takes off, according to the organizers.

Relying on a mixture of crowd-sourcing, merchandizing and philanthropy to raise funds, Mars One is paying Lockheed Martin $250,000 for its work, while Surrey will receive €60,000 ($83,000). Lockheed Martin will analyze how it can use technology developed for the 2007 Mars Phoenix mission to build a low-cost lander to deliver the technology payloads, a camera and student experiments to the surface for Mars One.

This would be nothing less than a suicide mission. To read more, click here.