Mars One Monday - April 13

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

Recurring slope linea as seen in this image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRise camera form during the summer months. Liquid brines beneath the surface may be one explanation. Credit: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

News from Mars One

Mars One hasn’t released the results of Paragon’s life support system study, but it did issue its monthly newsletter. After recapping some Mars One's accomplishments, it suggested talking points for the project's supporters including: the astronaut selection process “will become much more thorough” now that the Mars100 have been selected; MarsOne has picked a company (unnamed) to produce its documentary series and negotiations with broadcasters are under way; and that investors will finance Mars One's development based on expected returns from entertainment and patent royalties.

Does Mars One have competition? MarsPolar is a privately-financed project… to establish a human colony on Mars by 2029 with a strangely familiar set of objectives:

  • Establishing an astronaut training program.
  • Send a communications satellite and lander to Mars, leveraging existing technology from Lockheed Martin.
  • Send people to Mars using a combination of space station technology and Space X heavy launch vehicles.
  • In the short term they are relying on donations, but will turn to investors and “future business income” opportunities to cover the development expenses.

There's a reason it sounds so familiar. The organization’s founders are former Mars One candidates. Apparently they think they can do Mars One better than Bas Lansdorp and his team. (h/t @carmartian)

Commentary

Mars One’s business model - financing space development through entertainment and patent royalties - has a lot of merit even if the execution hasn’t gone so well. It’s easy to see how former Mars One candidates, frustrated with the way things have been going, would think they could do better. But can they?

MarsPolar will face the same critics and withering scepticism that have kept Mars One on the defensive: nobody knows how to land multi-ton vehicles on Mars; nobody knows how to deal with the radiation, gravitational, and chemical environment on Mars; getting to Mars will cost much more - and take much longer - than enthusiasts want to believe. On top of that, MarsPolar will face the same unsupported accusations of fraud that have followed Mars One since its founding.

Taking the young Mars enthusiasts at face value, they think they can do a better job of it. But establishing credibility won't be easy. The MarsPolar development outline, with its 2029 deadline, is just as unrealistic. Mars One can at least point to advisors like former Nasa Chief Technologist Mason Peck - even if many, like Robert Zubrin, have distanced themselves from the project. If MarsPolar can set and achieve smaller, more reasonable goals maybe they can earn the benefit of the doubt.

News from Mars

Giant Leap: the Race to Mars and Back was a one-day workshop hosted last week by Future Tense and Lockheed Martin. Panel discussions included human factors, space taxation, and space bureaucracy. For the tl;dr crowd, Future Tense storified the event. A longer piece on Space.com reported on the human factors panel and the discussion about the isolation and monotony of long duration missions. A Slate article timed for the workshop reviewed what scientists know about potentially harmful perchlorates in the Martian regolith, explaining the kernal of truth behind overblown reports of a “toxic” Mars.

British astrophysicist Chris Impey wrote a Salon article with the link-baity headline “There will be sex in space” in which he explores humanity’s settlement of Mars. Although he calls Mars One’s plans “fantastical and hopelessly ambitious,” Impey says human settlement is inevitable. He then looks at the genetic implications of long term settlement, cybernetics, and bio-hacking. The article itself is an excerpt from Impey’s popular science book “Beyond: Our Future in Space”.

Scientists prepare for human missions to Mars by conducting analog research. They find sites or build facilities that mimic aspects of a Mars mission with hopes of learning lessons useful for future missions. The New Yorker’s story about Mars analog research focused on the Hi-Seas station in Hawaii but also looked at lessons from historical voyages of discovery. A planetary scientist explained how to compare surface features on Mars and Earth to science fiction site io9.

The latest science from the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity finds that brines could form in the Martian surface. (Note that there’s a difference between “could form” and “have formed”) Scientists based their calculations on a Martian year’s worth of weather and surface data. Brine forming within the Martian surface would explain the “recurring slope linea” spotted from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

A view through Artist's Drive, the valley Curiosity is passing through on its way up Mount Sharp. Credit: Nasa/JPL-Caltech

Other news from Mars missions

Mars One in the News

Seattle Weekly ran a balanced in-depth article about Mars One that was more than the usual rehash. Journalist Nina Shapiro interviewed Mars One candidate Carl LeCompte for the local angle, but also spoke with Norbert Kraft and Gerard ’t Hooft. Comments from former and current Nasa Mars explorers - and science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson - don’t focus on Mars One’s issues but provide the establishment view on why we need to send people to Mars.

ABC Brisbane conducted a show on Mars exploration. Director of the Australian Mars Society Shaun Moss spoke about his plan for settling Mars outlined in his book The International Mars Research Station. Mars One candidate Dianne McGrath talked about how she is preparing for the one-way journey. QUT professor Martin Castillo spoke about the commercial applications that Mars-centric technology could provide here on Earth. 

The sci-fi play Pioneer is based on Mars One. After hearing the mounting criticism, however, playwright Jack Lowe decide to make Pioneer about the second attempt at a one-way mission to Mars. The play won the Fringe First award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 

South African business intelligence developer Kobus Vermeulen joined SciBraii’s The Science Inside podcast as it talked about space. During his 20-minute segment Vermeulen talked about his motivations for going to Mars and the problematic relationship he and his fellow candidates have had with the media. He revealed that knee surgery may affect his chances to advance beyond the Mars100. In the second segment, SciBraii talks to Nasa Deputy Chief Technologist Jim Murphy about the space agency's plan for exploring Mars - and the technological challenges that must be met. Developing the EDL systems, Murphy said, will be an "enormous change in technology and capability."

Francesc Bracero dismissed Mars One as science fiction in his La Vangurdia editorial. (In Spanish)

Mars One Candidates in the News

American filmmaker Mead McCormick appeared in ReasonTV's retro-pop culture take on Mars One:

American physics undergraduate Laurel Kaye spoke with Duke University's campus newspaper The Chronicle. She addressed the criticism raised in Elmo Keep's articles and made the case for Mars One. She believes the closed-minded attitude of many critics misses the point. The inspirational aspect of Mars One - irregardless of its success or failure - is reason enough to support it, Kaye argues.

Former candidate Max Fagin returned to Vassar to tell students about his love for space exploration and how, even if he isn’t in the Mars100, he plans to help move humanity beyond Earth. (Miscellany News)

Other candidates in the news:


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