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Is The Mars One Project Dreaming the Impossible Dream?


Gordon Rowlinson

Starting a human colony on Mars is a Herculean undertaking. However that is exactly what the Mars One project proposes and they propose doing it in only 10 years. When Mars One founder Bas Lansdorp announced the bold privately funded venture in 2011, it captured the national attention. Starting a colony on Mars stirs our adventurous spirit and brings to mind comparisons to European colonists that journeyed across the Atlantic ocean in wooden sailing vessels to struggle to survive and colonize North America. We at the Quantum Muse, were touched by the project too and mentioned the project on this website in January of this year.

The Mars One mission is scheduled to start training crew in 2016, launch a cargo mission to Mars in 2024, and have a crew of four depart on a one way mission to Mars in 2026 and arrive seven months later. Every two years another crew of four will leave Earth for Mars. It can be argued that the people who sign up for a one way trip into a hostile environment means are crazy. OK. Maybe some are not playing with a full deck. But the bravery and the adventurous spirit of these people cannot be denied. 

The Mars One website proudly states, “The whole world will watch and experience this journey. We are all explorers.” The whole project is like bringing a SciFi dream into reality. Unfortunately cracks in the overambitious plan are already showing up. A study done in 2014 by scientists at MIT showed that the first group of colonists would start dying after 68 days due to lack of oxygen. The MIT researchers simulated the conditions of living on Mars and discovered the planned plant area of 50 meters was not sufficient to produce enough oxygen for the colony. MIT identified an area of 200 meters would be necessary to sustain the colony. MIT recommended machinery to extract oxygen from the Mars atmosphere. However the technology for such a system has not yet been developed. They concluded that with current technology, a permanent settlement on Mars is “not feasible.” Zounds! Where is Star Trek's Scotty when you need him? He'd solve that problem in five minutes and save the colony!   

In March of this year, a Mars One colonist candidate broke his silence and revealed that the selection process for colonists is influenced by how much money a potential astronaut bring in. “When you join the Mars One community which happens automatically if you applied as a candidate, they start giving you points,” Roche said. “You get points for getting through each round of the selection process and then the only way to get more points is to buy merchandise from Mars One or to donate money to them.” In addition, if media outlets offers payment to candidates for interviews, Mars One requests 75 percent of the payment. As a result, the elite candidates who have the most points, are merely the ones who brought in the most money.

The insertion of money in the selection process may be due to Mars One losing it's reality TV show contract. It was hoped that a reality show based on the project would generate 6 billion dollars. Landsdorp has stated that the project is pursuing another TV contract. 

The most glaring problem is that currently is no transport vehicle capable of sending four people to Mars. NASA is testing the Orion spacecraft. NASA plans to orbit Mars in the Orion and in the mid 2030s and land a man sometime after that. How can Mars One establish a colony on Mars in 10 years when it will take NASA 20 years just to orbit Mars? Planning to go to Mars with out a space transport vehicle is like planning to go across the Atlantic ocean to the new world without a ship. The Mars One schedule seems more than a little overoptimistic.

Bas Lansdorp, stated earlier this year, “Is it really a failure if we land our first crew two, four, six, or even eight years late?” No, but it will be longer than eight years. In February, Nobel Laurette theoretical physicist Gerald Hooft, a former advisor to the Mars One project, stated that it could take 100 years to get to Mars. "It will take quite a bit longer and be quite a bit more expensive. When they first asked me to be involved, I told them you have to put a zero after everything. But people don't want something 100 years from now.” What Hooft is saying that the project will have a final cost of tens of billions of dollars. 

It is quite possible that the Mars One project will be coming to a train wreck-like ending in a few years. By setting unrealistic goals, Mars One has misrepresented themselves to investors and played games with the brave candidates that signed up for the mission. What is needed is realistic goals and the recognition that this is a long range project. Why not set the stepping stone goals of: setting up a colony on the moon; then sending a spacecraft to orbit Mars; then sending a man to walk on Mars; and finally setting up a colony on Mars. Mars does not have to be an impossible dream. SciFi ideas can become reality.

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