March 28, 2017

Going to Mars: Reality Versus Reality TV

The harsh reality that is Mars.

(Photos by author).

How is Mars One like Amway?

Last month, the Mars One project announced that its initial candidate pool of 600 candidates had been whittled down to 100. Excitement then swirled around the ‘net and the space community immediately following the announcement, as local media plugged the candidates selected for future Martian colonization.

But is Mars One a project destined to settle a brave new world, or a modern day pipe dream?

We’ve been tracking the progress of the Mars One effort with a skeptical eye. We’ll also lay our cards on the table and state that we’re more than a bit suspicious of how the Mars One saga is unfolding. Perhaps its not an outright scam, but a recent post on Quora by an early Mars One candidate who voluntarily withdrew on how they’re conducting the selection process and exhorting candidates to rally families and friends to the cause was an enlightening read.

The initial project pool consisted of 200,000 applicants worldwide. We have to admit that we were also immediately suspect of the initial entry fee needed for entry. The timeline for Mars One currently calls for first footfall on the Red Planet in 2025, with a colony of perhaps 20 settlers on Mars by 2035.

Many pundits have expressed doubts as to whether the colonists could survive what’s been billed as a one way trip. Certainly, radiation exposure, self-sufficiency and psychological factors are all non-trivial issues to say the least. One analysis out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave the colonists a survival chance of 68 days max.

But we don’t think there’s a real risk, as the project won’t likely get that far. It’s all about the rockets when it comes to deep space exploration, and no crewed vehicle currently exists to get humans to the surface of Mars. All plans for Mars One currently involve SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Heavy and the modified Red Dragon, none of which is yet contracted. The first Falcon 9 Heavy launch is set for late 2015, though it’s yet to be seen if SpaceX will be interested in casting their lot with Mars One.

And while the hoopla of the selection made its rounds, plans for building a communications satellite and surface exploration vehicle ground quietly to a halt. Mars One has likewise had difficultly drumming up network interest for the reality show that will presumably fund the six billion dollar project.

Don’t get me wrong… we’d love to see Mars One succeed. As a child of the 1970s, we expected to have a summer home on Phobos by 2015. And Mars One can at least be lauded for running an excellent PR campaign and bringing the idea of how we’d solve the problems of living on Mars to the forefront of public consciousness.

So, what’s the harm in hopes and dreams? Well, we’ve been here before. Space is hard, and we still need to keep our feet planted in reality as we reach for the stars.

We contend that we’ll only permanently move off-world when we can demonstrate the ability to ‘live off the land’ indefinitely without resupply. We can practice this already in places like Antarctica, which are way less harsh than Mars.  And the International Space Station is already built and in place and could serve as a fine test bed for extended duration missions during its final years of service.

Perhaps, Dennis Tito’s 2018 Mars Flyby mission is on the very grim edge of what we could do, though the clock is ticking to get the Falcon 9 Heavy up and running in time for this as well.

We’ll keep following news of the Mars One project, albeit with a skeptical eye… what do you think?


  1. [...] talks about living off the land on Mars, but the reality is, we can’t even do that yet here on Earth on a small scale. If we could at [...]

  2. [...] plans to colonize Mars in the next half century. Most proposed private Mars missions, such as Mars One, feature artistic renditions of SpaceX hardware. SpaceX also recently announced that a plan to land [...]

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