Roll up, Roll Up for a one way ticket to Mars…. See Mars and die. Hardly inspiring straplines for would be space adventurers, but the very concept that Dutch Company Mars One is selling to volunteers for its space programme. It’s stated aim is to create a permanent colony on the Red Planet by 2027. Yet despite the promise of never seeing earth again the company had over 200,000 candidates for this adventure of a lifetime (all be it a short one). That initial 200,000 has just been whittled down to just 100 potential candidates and latest tests will cut that number down to just 40 or so who will make the trip.
So how serious is this bid to establish a permanent colony on Mars ? Is this the real life, Is this just fantasy ? Mars One wants four astronauts to land on Mars every two years throughout the mid 2020’s. Hopefully surviving and increasing the colony size as they go. But is this a real attempt to put human beings on Mars or just a self seeking, publicity scam. The idea that the programme will be partly funded by a fly-on the wall reality show does not fill one with confidence. The rest will come from private investors and crowd-funding. Now the 2020’s may sound a long way away but by space flight standards it is just a short hop, and the costs seem to be a little bit hit and miss as well. NASA is currently predicting that its two way mission (yes they plan to bring their astronauts back!) will cost somewhere in the region of 75 billion Euros. Now that’s even bigger than my current overdraft and not a figure to be sniffed at !
Yet Mars One are predicting costs of only 5 Billion Euros for its one trip of a lifetime. Somewhere somebody has either got there sums wrong, or they are living in that fantasy land normally reserved for inmates. Which ever is the case both seem as far away as the red planet itself when we consider that to date the project has only raised in the region of 575 thousand euro. Hardly enough to cover my fees for this article, let alone a trip to Mars. As well as the shortfall in funding the company, whilst pushing ahead with the human aspects has not move forward with the technology. To date no aerospace company has been announced as a partner in the venture and they plan to use existing technology to get the victims….sorry volunteers to their destination. This is existing technology which has struggled to re-supply the International space station and sent unmanned craft crashing spectacularly into the surface of Mars. Certainly former ISS Commander Chris Hadfield has his doubts, declaring that the mission may not deliver on its promise, leaving people a little disillusioned. He also raised concerns about the volunteers themselves. With no requirement to have experience or education in science or engineering he doubts that they will have only a limited grasp on the full extent of the risks that they will be undertaking. Although personally one-way trip to Mars rather sums up the risks all to succinctly to this unscientific mind. A mind that also understands the concept of they must be fucking mental.
So far the media has been supportive and has gone along with the basic concept, but now some of the “volunteers” are beginning to raise their own concerns. Including how those being selected may be being selected on the basis of their contribution financially to the programme. Volunteer Joseph Roche, or rather Professor Joseph Roche a PHD in physics and astrophysics is concerned that on selection potential astronauts are randomly allocated points, and further points with each success in the selection process. Thereafter points can only be obtained by buying Mars One merchandise or by donating money. A rather strange and mundane process given the billions of euro that will be required to fund the programme. No number of T-Shirts will ever bring in the figures that have been talked about to date. Selection procedures have been criticised as totally inadequate and not based on any commonly accepted astronaut procedures previously used. Indeed initial selections were said to have been achieved via 10 minute skype interviews. No rigorous psychological or psychometric testing was part of the initial appraisal with the programmes Chief Medical Officer. Even some of the academics who initially were wheeled out as supportive of the programme have changed their tune.
I must confess that I will be watching the next 10 years till 2027 with interest, given how much the programme will likely cost and how many people will be scared shirtless from the prospect of dying alone on a cold red rock, it will be interesting to see if Mars One can pull this off. I personally however do not see this happening, which is a shame as I am a 100% devoted space nerd. The sad fact is that it has be decades since human kind has left low earth orbit, the big question is whether anyone can be bothered anymore. The days of the cold war are long since gone and we don’t have a terrifying Soviet Union to compete with, what is our incentive for going on a years journey to a planet so cold and barren? Risking radiation sickness, starvation, suffocation or worse…no Starbucks coffee.
My answer is simple. Hope. In a point in time where everything seems apocalyptic with Donald Trump polishing his big shinny red button and the environment reaching crisis point, people need a symbol of hope. The moon landings of 1969 was a memory my father never forgot, a time in which the fears of nuclear war were put aside to dream of humanities destiny. Whilst we would not profit directly from the achievement of a company such as Mars One, a shared moment where we can gaze upon the stars once more and know that we have a place amongst them is a dream is one we cannot afford to lose. I have over the course of this been rather negative of Mars One (I like to call it critical feed back) but I do support such an endeavour, whilst people have had their doubts about the company its founder has invested his life and fortune into this venture. A move which business people (especially the thrifty Dutch kind) rarely do without a serious goal or vision.
Whilst there is every chance this will fail, Mars One is certainly one worth watching over the next few years.