Mars One Monday

Humanity's future home on Mars? Source: Mars One

Humanity's future home on Mars? Source: Mars One

Mars One Monday, my recap of the past week’s news surrounding the one-way mission to Mars, resumes after a brief hiatus. 

Although Bas Lansdorp has attended several events in the past weeks, Mars One itself remains quiet. Word has gotten out, however, that Mars One sent its 705 candidates an information packet in advance of interviews that begin in December. The packet contains basic information about the red planet which Mars One will use to test the candidates’ ability to assimilate information.

The Pros Keep Reaching For Mars

Media coverage of Mars slowed after early November's excitement over the cometary encounter, but Nasa's Maven mission reached a key milestone when it finished commissioning and began its science mission. Part of Maven's responsibilities will include relaying signals from Mars rovers to Nasa's Deep Space Network. Maven's Electra radio relay collected 550 megabits of data from Curiosity including the picture at left.

Nasa’s Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan believes that Mars is part of human destiny. And yet Nasa’s big-budget plans aren’t without critics. As the space agency rolls a test version of its Orion spacecraft to the launchpad, the San Diego Union Tribune questioned the vision and strategy of the human spaceflight program.

Nasa and Esa aren’t alone in wanting to go to Mars. The head of India’s space program, K Radhakrishan described India's plans beyond the Mars Orbiter Mission. Whether another orbiter or a lander, the mission will launch in the 2018-2020 timeframe. China’s space agency unveiled concept designs for a future Ruby Rabbit Mars rover for a possible 2020 landing and 2030 sample return.

Don't Let The Riff-Raff In

News Corp’s story “Mars One expedition: Is reality TV compatible with science?” swept through Australia’s media - or at least the Murdoch-owned bit of it. Most of the article is built around comments made by Dr Charley Lineweaver, an exoplanetary scientist at Australia National University. Lineweaver focuses his critique on the “reality TV” approach rather than the technological challenges. “I’m no fan of Mars One because of the marketing and non-scientific nature of it,” Lineweaver said. “I would say I would be more excited about a human colony on the far side of the Moon doing real science than having a bunch of good looking women and men flirting on Mars.”

Amazing Hubristic Fantasy

The lack of details from the Mars One organization and big-picture hand-waving from Bas Lansdorp make it easy for journalists to make editorial decisions that make Mars One look like anything from a triumph of entrepreneurialism to an outright scam. Australian journalist Elmo Keep is definitely a sceptic. She called Mars One an “amazingly hubristic fantasy” in her Matter article “All dressed up for Mars and nowhere to go”. Keep layers legitimate criticisms of Mars One’s thinly-documented plans with unrelated events like the recent Virgin Galactic accident. Of course, the technical critcisms are valid and neither Lansdorp nor Mars One chief medical officer Norbert Kraft helped their case with their poorly worded responses in Keep’s interviews. More unfortunate is the way Keep chose to portray Australian candidate Josh Richards. Rather than portray his diverse background and search for meaning as a strength, Richards comes across as a dreamer aimlessly drifting through life. To her credit, though, Keep gives Roberts the final word. His belief that settling Mars can inspire the best in humanity may be the best argument for Mars One.

Mars One Candidates

Local media continue to interview Mars One candidates, although few go beyond the stock questions asked in countless other interviews.

Next Avenue, a PBS publication focusing on senior citizens, has a unique take on Mars One: the oldest candidates may be the best candidates. Interviews with 8 Mars One candidates over 50 years old, identified several advantages for sending older people on the first expeditions:

  • Older people have more experience
  • Older people have already adjusted to their shortening lifespan
  • The death of someone towards the end of life will have less impact on future expeditions than the death of someone much younger
  • It may raise the value our youth-oriented culture places on older people

Wim Dijkshoorn, a Dutch anthropology student, believes his academic background gives him insight into the needs of Mars One crew selection. As opposed to a short term lunar mission, Dijkshoorn told Nieuws.nl, permanent settlement requires a broader range of backgrounds. He suggested (in Dutch) that the first expedition should include a doctor, a technologist, a leader, and… an anthropologist. (Funny how that works out)

Leberry followed up an earlier interview with French candidate Berrichon Laurent Calmon. When asked about the recent MIT study that questioned Mars One’s survivability, the technology teacher admitted some concern but believes “a solution could still be found. Who thought a few years ago that you could call the other side of the world from a cordless phone?” [Via Google Translate]

TV station KRQE spoke with New Mexico State University grad student Zachary Gallegos. A member of the team running the Curiosity rover’s ChemCam instrument, Gallegos is well-aware of the challenges posed by the red planet. "I have a healthy fear of it. It doesn't worry me."

First News interviewed British candidate Lewis Pinault but wants British schoolchildren to ask questions of their own. The educational news service reposted an interview with Pinault from last year in order to inspire better questions. Look for the latest interview in a couple of weeks.