Mars One Monday - November 23

A perspective view of Valle Marineris' canyon walls, the legacy of ancient tectonics and floodwaters. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Mars One Monday rounds up the past week’s reports about Mars and the people who want to go on a one-way journey to the red planet. Mars One’s technical and financial prospects remain controversial. Yet the candidates themselves are the most visible example of a global trend - the public’s increasing participation in space exploration. 

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Mars One in the News

While on tour promoting his book about climate change, Bill Nye offered some blunt talk on Mars One to IFLScience. “Mars One is absolutely not viable,” the president of the Planetary Society said. “Hair-brained, you can’t do it. He wants to do it for $4 billion dollars, which you can’t do.” Nye went on to suggest: “If you want to try it, go to Antarctica for a couple years and don’t even breathe the air. Take your own air for two years and see how much fun it is.”

Writing in Pacific Standard Magazine, essayist Hal Niedzviecki used his conversation with Mars One candidate Christy Foley as a foil to examine our relationship with the future. The desire to settle Mars in Niedzviecki’s view reflects modern discontent with the loss of certainty in post-industrial society. With no concept of time or “the future”, people living in pre-industrial societies lived with a reassuring certainty that modern society replaces with the never-ending pursuit of progress. In the end, Niedzviecki argues, Mars One and similar projects are “housed in the empty-calories-empty-promises aisle of the grocery store”. 

News from Mars

A rover's eye view of the Utah desert, captured remotely by the Canadian Space Agency. Credit: Canadian Space Agency

The Canadian Space Agency and Western University are in the middle of a student powered Mars analog mission. Space agencies use planetary analog projects to test technology and procedures in advance of space missions. Analog projects also serve an educational role, giving undergraduates hands-on experience with an end-to-end “space mission” before they enter the workforce. A virtual team of 35 undergraduate, graduate, and post doc students from Canadian universities direct the CSA’s Mars Exploration Science Rover as it explores the deserts of the American southwest. The students plan the rover’s daily operations and analyze the data it beams back home. The CSA’s scientists and rover engineers mentor the students and control the rover. 

“This project is a teaching mission,” the CSA press release says, “designed to offer the most realistic experience of exploring Mars available on Earth.” The London Free Press interviewed Western University professor Gordon Osinski about the project and its value to the participating students. “The ultimate goal is for one of those students to be doing an actual mission on Mars one day,” Osinski said.

The Mars Society hosts the Canadian rover at its Mars Desert Research Station in the deserts of southern Utah. Every year dozens of six-person teams visit the MDRS to conduct analog missions that may help future human missions to the red planet. It is also home the Mars Society’s University Rover Challenge. Undergraduate teams from around the world descend on Utah every June to pit their rover designs against the desert terrain. The Daily Titan wrote about California State University Fullerton’s new Mars rover team. They plan to use virtual reality headsets and touch-free controls to guide the rover.

In actual Mars rover news, Nasa’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity will examine active sand dunes that move through Gale Crater one meter every year. Scientists hope the rover’s side project will help explain why Martian dunes look so different from dunes on Earth.

Valle Marineris, one of the largest canyons in the Solar System, came under renewed scrutiny from the professional space explorers. The European Space Agency used recent images of Valles Marineris taken by the Mars Express Orbiter to explain how tectonics and floods shaped the canyon billions of years ago. American scientists used the HiRise camera on Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to capture images of Martian dust devils spinning across the canyon floor.

A pair of dust devils spinning across the canyon floors of Valle Marineris. The larger one is about 100 meters in diameter. Credit: Nasa/JPL-Caltech

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