Mars One Monday - March 2

Ice or water may have carved this valley in Arabia Terra. Credit: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Mars One Monday rounds up the past week’s reports on the project to send people on a one-way journey to Mars.

In case you missed it last week, in "Mars One can pivot to success without going to Mars" I looked at what Mars One could accomplish if their documentary is only a moderately successful TV series. Mars One could still end up with the world's third largest astronaut program at the same time that commercial space launch vehicles and space stations enter service. 

Pros on Mars

Shifts in government policy may give Mars One more credibility as the concept of space settlement may become the official policy of the United States. Two space advocacy organizations, the National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation, formed the Alliance for Space Development. Its charter is to “influence space policy towards the goals of space development and settlement.” By the end of 2015 it wants Congress to incorporate development and settlement into the Nasa Space Act. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher plans to introduce the required amendment this year. (You can read a detailed review of the ASD’s goals on The Space Review.) Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin advocated settling Mars during his Senate testimony arguing that a settlement approach would be better than Apollo-style missions. (Here’s the Senate webcast.) Meanwhile the Huffington Post reports that Shuttle-era astronaut Ron Garan believes humanity’s first off-world settlement should be on the Moon rather than Mars.  

News from Mars One

Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp responded to the reports that the 2018 lander mission and the documentary series are in trouble. He told NBCNews that the lander mission is still on schedule and that development of the behind-the-scenes documentary is underway, although without Endemol.

Lansdorp appeared on the BBC World News along with Mars100 candidates Maggie Leiu and Ryan MacDonald. Among other things, Lansdorp explained that the $760,000 listed on the Mars One website is for charitable donations and does not reflect the much larger amount of money raised from investors.

Media Commentary on Mars One

Coverage of Mars One is becoming more layered. Now that the general media are picking up on the Mars100 story - and repeating the broad criticism of Mars One’s plans - the science/space media can't write the same general stories. Instead they are digging into more detailed explanations of the obstacles to space settlement. Over the past week these journalists have interview experts in different aspects of space exploration to discuss the psychology of long-term space travel, the effect of the 24.5 hour martian day on human circadian rhythms, the reproductive issues of the martian environment, and more. Most of the coverage is still negative, but it raises important issues that even the space agencies must address before committing to deep space exploration.

Chair of the University of California Davis’ Earth and Planetary Science Department and the Curiosity rover science team member Dawn Sumner told northern California’s Capital Public Radio that creating sustainable life support systems and dealing with Martian dust would be some of the biggest challenges for Mars One’s settlers. Nevertheless, she believes getting people to “dream about things that are really hard” can inspire others to do amazing things. Sumner expressed her admiration of the adventurous people who “pave the way for the rest of us” in a Sacramento Bee report on Mars100 candidate - a UC Davis graduate - Kristin Richmond.

Canada’s National Post wrote about the psychological aspects of living on the red planet. Most of the story was based on statements from planetary scientist Pascal Lee. His experience conducting arctic expeditions gives him an insider’s perspective on the “psychological erosion” that a small group of astronauts will experience in the confined space of a Mars settlement. (The article also includes a video interview with Canadian candidate Karen Cumming.)

Space journalist Amy Shira Teitel’s critique on The Nerdist identifies a timing issue in Mars One’s plans. The high costs of developing the technology will happen long before revenue from the televised landing on Mars. She reviews the Apollo program’s budget history to illustrate her point.

Although it doesn’t refer to Mars One, the Atlantic’s article “Jet Lag is Worse on Mars” raises another issue Martian settlers may face: the longer Martian day. The human circadian system works on a 24-hour cycle, but experiments Harvard sleep expert Charles Czeisler has conducted since the 1970s show that people struggle with the 24 hour, 39 minute cycle of Mars. Light therapy experiments on the International Space Station may produce solutions in the next few years. You can read one of Czeisler’s papers on Plos One (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000721)

Forbes columnist Bruce Dorminey wrote about the reproduction issues future Martians will face. Research in low Earth orbit has found that microgravity and radiation can lead to deformities in fruit flies and tadpoles, but nobody knows how human embryos will develop in the 0.4g on Mars. University of Texas social psychologist Sheryl Bishop recommends sterilizing the first settlers until enough medical research shows there are no reproductive risks. She also suggests fertility decisions be a communal decision rather than an individual choice.   

Buzzfeed spoke with several space industry insiders about the low odds that Mars One - or even Nasa - will reach Mars. Space historian John Logsdon thinks Mars One looks “shaky” while political scientist Alan Steinberg believes Nasa’s announcements about the human exploration of Mars are “theater” that ignores the reality of the space program’s budgets and limited popular support.

Kent News spoke to local science teachers about Mars One. Science educator Becky Parker directs the Langton Star Center, home to the student-built Lucid Earth-orbiting cosmic ray experiment. She cites radiation, microgravity, and the logistical limits of spaceflight as reasons why astronauts might not survive the journey to Mars. Garry Linley is a physics lecturer at MidKent College compared life on Mars to living inside an X-ray machine.

USA Today editorial comes down hard on Mars One, saying it is “so utterly lacking in practicality and financial backing that it has a near-zero chance of getting off the ground.” Mars One advisor and former Nasa Chief Technologist Mason Peck rebutted their position by expressing his confidence “that we have the know-how and the ingenuity to plan a successful colony.”

Utah State University professor Stephen Whitmore, a technical lead on Nasa’s Orion project, wonders if a human mission to Mars is beyond an entrepreneur’s ability. Whitmore told the Herald Journal that an entire infrastructure needs to be built between low Earth orbit and Mars before humans can begin settling the red planet.

Mars One Candidates in the News

The post-announcement wave of media coverage continues. The volume of reports this week force me to focus on English-language reports and even then, I’m only recapping reports that add something different to the usual why-go-what-about-your-family interviews.

US political consultant Sonia Van Meter’s was interviewed by WGN Radio, NY1, and Jezebel. The Jezebel interview is well worth reading because Jia Tolantino refreshingly rejects the why-are-you-abandoning-your-husband theme most reporters adopt. Van Meter also appeared on Comedy Central's Nightly Show (Don Cheadle was considered the space expert for his role in Mission to Mars so watch it for the entertainment value).

Van Meter also joined Mars100 candidates Dan Carey and Oscar Matthews, all from the Washington, DC area, on public radio’s The Kojo Nnambi Show. Among many other topics during the hour-long show, the candidates gave some insights into the selection process. Carey described the tough questioning of the Round 2 interviews while Van Meter explained how personality rather than technical expertise was a priority. Matthews’ military and engineering experience fits the classic image of the Nasa astronaut, but he explained how the Mars One Project’s fundamentally different profile requires a different set of qualifications. Science writer Marc Kaufman provided the balancing view. Kaufmann was respectful in his critique, but clearly believed that the schedule, budget, and inexperience of Mars One made the project too risky and unrealistic.

Florida Today interviewed Nasa engineer George Hatcher at his home near the Kennedy Space Center. Hatcher, who is completing a PhD in planetary science, planned his career with the goal of going into space. The reporter focuses on the family aspect of Hatcher’s one-way decision, but produces a better story than most boilerplate “how can you leave your family behind” Mars One stories. Hatcher also explained to the Orlando Sentinel how taking part in the Mars One program has deepened his appreciation for life on Earth.

Cairo Scene interviewed Egyptian candidate Mohammad Sallam who describes his surprise at the media attention. Sallam’s career has been musical rather than technical - “they are looking for settlers, not scientists,” Sallam said. The interview covers his motivations for leaving Earth, his experience during the selection process, and Sallam’s expectations for his new life on Mars. Al Arabiya also posted a brief interview with Sallam.

Fox News Latino spoke with Yari Rodriguez about being the only Latina American in the Mars100. “It’s an honor to be representing both Mexico and the United States,” she said. What they didn't discuss is the fact that Rodriguez is an engineer at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory's Air Traffic Control Systems Group with several co-author credits to her name. She was also interviewed by local media, including the Boston Herald and, along with Chris Patil, WBZ-TV.

De Montfort University spoke with alumna Alexandra Doyle. She had to work full time to put herself through the university’s Law program before pursuing an acting career. “I think that if you put a decade’s worth of training into this, and we land [on Mars], why would you want to just turn back?” 

Entrepreneur Magazine spoke with California candidate Jaymee Del Rosario, the founder of a company that distributes raw materials to the aerospace and defense industry. She explained to Entrepreneur that her experience with engineering materials will have immediate benefit to the Mars settlement.

High school teacher and former journalist Karen Cumming spoke with the Globe & Mail. When she asked Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield for advice, he told Cumming to relentlessly ask Mars One hard questions to ensure it isn’t a publicity stunt.