Mars One Monday - March 30

After 134 months Opportunity passed a milestone: roving the equivalent of a marathon. This image is the rover's view through Marathon Valley to its ultimate destination on the floor of Endeavor Crater. Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ/Arizona State Univ

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

News from Mars One

In the absence of any hard news from Mars One, the he-said-she-said battle between Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp and Matter journalist Elmo Keep continues. Keep posted a “point-by-point” rebuttal to Lansdorp’s video response to Keep’s original article “Mars One Finalist Explains Exactly How It‘s Ripping Off Supporters”.

Keep quite rightly calls out Lansdorp for his claim that 200,000 people applied to become Martian settlers as well as for his claim that the candidate selection process has been similar to Nasa’s. People who signed up for the Mars One email list, Keep claims, received acceptance emails into first round. She also points out that people like astrophysicist Joseph Roche passed two rounds of screening despite providing one-word responses on the application. Keep concludes her piece with an extended quote from Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield who explains why astronauts must have the right stuff.

At the same time, Keep is certainly guilty of selectively interpreting Lansdorp’s statements and twisting facts to fit her Mars-One-is-a-scam theme. For example she cherry-picks statements about Mars One’s business model Lansdorp made to the press and in the video in order to make Lansdorp appear inconsistent even though the investment money and the television revenue are two sides of the same coin: investors give Mars One money in the expectation of returns from the broadcast revenues. Keep also continues to conflate the “supporter points” awarded to people in the Mars One Community with the selection process. Any honest review of the Mars100 candidates profiles would show that Mars One is not a pay-to-play program.

I’ve said it before: Mars One can only blame itself for its PR nightmare. Rule number one in PR crisis management is to stop making things worse. Continuing their vague, opaque approach will only dig Mars One’s leadership deeper into the PR hole they created. Mars One will only turn things around by taking an open and honest approach with the press:

  • Open the applicant files to a respected journalist - it doesn’t have to be Keep - and accept whatever story gets written. 
  • Explain the exact criteria used in each selection round. When that differs from Nasa’s process, explain why it wasn’t necessary at that stage. Make it clear when Mars One will apply Nasa’s gold standard of physical and psychological evaluation.
  • Eliminate the appearance of a conflict of interest by reforming the Mars Community’s supporter points program. At the very least remove the Mars One candidates from the program. 
  • Publish a detailed explanation of the financial relationship between the candidates and Mars One. The astronaut trainees will become employees of Mars One - which means any revenue or intellectual property they produce will belong to Mars One. No candidate will accept a job offer unless these details are clear. Mars One might as well make it public. 

Most importantly Mars One must stop talking about doing things and actually get things done. That will give the press something to report other than Lansdorp’s vague - and easily criticised - promises.

News from Mars

The Planetary Science Institute's Marsdrop concept illustrated. The combination of parawing and small satellite technology could open up new opportunities for exploring Mars. Source: Planetary Science Institute

The Planetary Science Institute unveiled their Marsdrop concept for expanding the exploration of Mars. CubeSats piggybacking on traditional Mars missions would separate as the orbiter or lander arrives at Mars. A parawing - a steerable parachute - deploys after re-entry gliding the CubeSat to a landing in terrain that traditional landers could never reach. The PSI has already rested the re-entry capsule as well as the parawing technology. They are now exploring the range of instruments that a Marsdrop could deliver to the surface.

The Curiosity science team announced that the Sample Analysis of Mars instrument had detected nitrogen released as nitric oxide. As with any Nasa press release, it immediately discusses the potential link to life on Mars.

The Opportunity rover has driven a marathon distance 134 months after landing on Mars. The endurance milestone coincides with Nasa’s decision to drop funding for the rover’s operations. Complicating matters for Opportunity’s defenders are the persistent memory glitches. Despite a reset of the rover’s on-board memory, another amnesia event occurred last week. Opportunity didn’t lose any data, but JPL project manager John Callas was “a little disappointed” that the amnesia event happened so soon after the reset.

Two small channels (top of crater) once carried water into the low-lying floor of Jezero crater. the channel at the lower right drained the crater. Credit: Nasa/MSSS/ASU/GSFC

Scientists associated with Brown University combined data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s CTX and Crism instruments to study the remains of lakes in Jezero Crater. Twice in Mars’ history water flowed into the crater, carving channels and leaving behind delta-like fans of clay deposits. This is one of the reasons Nasa is considering Jezero Crater as a landing site for the Mars2020 rover.

It was a stormy week on Mars as spring approaches in the southern hemisphere and the first frosts form in the North. Check out the week’s Martian weather report from Malin Space Science Systems.

Arizona State University’s Red Planet report includes updates from the rover teams, but also highlights recent developments in science and engineering. Italian scientists studied evidence of water in the equatorial region of Arabia Terra. JPL will stream a briefing about the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator’s upcoming test in near space.

Mars One in the News

Cracked editor Kristi Harrison wrote a eulogy for Mars One that fact-checks the project’s most strident critics. Rather than a scam, she argues, Mars One was a risky idea that failed - an essential part of innovation and progress.

The president of Italy’s Institute of Astrophysics, Dr. Giovanni Bignami, called Mars One “all a fake” in an opinion piece he wrote (in Italian) for L’Espresso calling Mars One. He explains that sending humans to Mars requires an entire infrastructure. Besides the non-existent Saturn-class rockets, Bignami cites the Earth-Mars communications system a settlement will need. Round-the-clock high bandwidth communications requires at least four orbiting communications satellites and a global network of large radio dishes here on Earth.

CTV’s review of Mars One quoted Canadian astrophysicist Paul Delaney. He doesn’t think the concept of traveling to Mars is far-fetched, but that doesn’t make Mars One’s plans are credible.

CNBC and Engadget ran reports on Mars One that follow the usual format: quote Lansdorp’s vague promises, cite the MIT study, quote a space industry expert’s criticism. Now the forumula adds the Keep-Lansdorp exchanges.

Mars One Candidates in the News

Biologist Chris Patil and aerospace engineer George Hatcher explained in a Motherboard interview that questions about Mars One’s success or failure don’t matter. It’s the attempt - and the conversations it creates - that justify Mars One’s existence.

Radio show Science Friday’s report “That one-way ticket to Mars you were hoping for may not be such a good idea” was a lot more balanced than the headline implied thanks to comments from a Mars One candidate. Biologist Chris Patil asked the harshest critics to calm down and for the press to take a more measured approach to its coverage. Questioning Mars One is fair, Patil argued, but the fact that every detail isn't in place shouldn't be held against them. MIT's Sydney Do followed Patil and explained his team's analysis of the Mars One mission architecture. He explained that the permanent nature of the Mars One design requires a steadily increasing supply of spare parts and consumables that isn't sustainable.

Sabrina Surovec and Dianne McGrath spoke with the Boombox podcast. Their fifteen minute discussion addressed the ways a permanent settlement on Mars would serve as an example for civilization. A diverse, multicultural group of settlers with a low-impact, low-consumption way of life could transform the way we live here on Earth. The thirty minute panel discussion following the interview looked at the pros and cons of the Mars One plan.

Israel-based Empire State Tribune spoke with Florida candidate George Hatcher about Lansdorp’s video and the two-year delay. Hatcher expressed his relief that he gets two more years with his family.

Najeeb Najeeb spoke with the Des Moines Register about the recent controversy. He said that the only money he’s given Mars One is $4 for a t-shirt. He concludes that even the candidates who didn’t make it to the Mars100 have had their lives changed for the better.

South African quantum biology PhD candidate Adriana Marais has been named one of the world’s fifteen most-promising female scientists. The award, sponsored by UNesco and the L’Oreal Foundation, provides grants to early-career scientists.

Other candidates in the news: