Mars One Monday - June 15

Nili Patera is an ancient martian volcano with a 2-kilometer deep caldera. Wind-swept dunes constantly shift across the surface of the caldera floor as seen in this HiRise image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It's a detail from a larger image scientists use to monitor the dune dynamics. 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: My article “Martian Motivation: Mars One candidates’ grassroots education outreach program” is the product of interviews with candidates in the US, UK, and Australia about their work to inspire kids’ interest in science and math.

News from Mars One

Nothing new from the Mars One organization this week.

Mars One in the News

In “Dreams of a Red Planet” Daily Dot editor Ramon Ramirez finds that he admires the Mars One candidates, calling them “idealists” with “a legitimate sense of duty” who are “ideal ambassadors.” He based his opinion on conversations with three of the Mars One candidates: political consultant Sonia van Meter, physicist Ryan MacDonald, and ER surgeon Leila Zucker. His conversation with Bas Lansdorp, on the other hand, doesn’t leave the same impression: “Mars One has me convinced that voyaging to a desolate planet inhospitable to human life is a pursuit that requires more planning - and a more trustworthy leader.” Ramirez takes the media to task - himself included - for blindly repeating the Mars One talking points and credits Elmo Keep for bringing “much needed skepticism” to Mars One coverage.

Mars Society founder and Mars One Advisor Robert Zubrin dismissed Mars One’s media-based business model entirely during his appearance on The Space Show.

Frankfurter Allgemeine built its Mars One article (in German) around an interview with candidate Robert Schroeder. It casts Schroeder in a generally favorable light, balancing his electronics expertise and work on the Cyano Knights payload project with the naive goofiness of his videos. The paper is much more critical in its comments about Mars One itself, citing the usual combination of MIT, Joseph Roche, and Gerard t’Hooft. It also calls out Mars One for its refusal to answer questions about the TV production, the concept studies and its merchandise-based financing.

Mars One Candidates in the News

And then there were 94. British candidate Maggie Lieu withdrew from the Mars One program last week. She did not elaborate on her reasons for leaving the program.

Commentary: Many will jump on this as the latest sign that Mars One is hopeless, but Lieu may simply have decided that pursuing her PhD in astrophysics requires more focus. Life happens. Hers is the sixth departure from the Round 3 candidate pool. Life will carry more away while the intense attention from media - and Internet trolls - will drive others to abandon their candidacies. Even more will drop out when Mars One finally schedules the candidates for their stay at the simulation habitat. The question is whether Mars One is prepared to handle the departures. As the media holds each one up as the latest example of Mars One's impending doom, will it give in to its churlish impulses and lash out? Or will it find a way to keep its alumni involved with the program after it leaves?

South African quantum biologist Adriana Marais spoke with staff at Durban’s Independent newspaper. She has joined Africa2Moon as a spokesperson for the effort to launch Africa’s first lunar probe and inspire African students to pursue science-related careers.

The latest issue of Oxford University’s student magazine The ISIS includes the article “One Way Ticket to Mars”. It includes comments from Sonia van Meter, Chris Patil, and Laurel Kaye that are reasonable and balanced - and probably even more so in the context of their conversation with the reporter. The article also includes extreme comments about death and alien abduction from other, unnamed candidates.

Commentary: The reporter probably went into the project wanting to profile the kind of people who would sign up for a one-way journey to Mars. The unnamed candidate's comments about "alien abduction" defined one end of the spectrum, and would have shaped the reporter's decisions about how to portray the others. This highlights the importance of media training - and a more rigorous selection process. Kaye, Patil, and van Meter are well-spoken, professional representatives of Mars One, but their open assessments get undermined when the media speaks with less careful (and more flaky) candidates.

News from Mars

The green splotches in this Nasa image indicates the presence of glass deposits in the central peak of Alga Crater. The image combines topographical data (grey) from the HiRise camera and spectral data (color) from the Crism instrument on Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/University of Arizona

While Nasa’s PR policies link every press release to the journey-to-mars or the potential-for-life themes, recent research from Brown University and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter opens possibilities for finding ancient life on Mars. Glasses formed in ancient asteroid impacts here on Earth preserve organic molecules and plant matter. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Crism intrument has detected glass deposits in Martian craters as well as in the Nili Fossae region - a candidate landing site for the Mars2020 rover mission. Impact glasses may become priority targets for the rover’s sample collection.

Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin in 2002 holding a dinosaur fossil found while simulating the geological exploration of Mars. Credit: Mars Society

The Mars Society announced that its Mars researchers discovered the most significant find of dinosaur fossils. A 2002 expedition to the society's Mars Desert Research Station found the fossil site while simulating geological EVA's. Robert Zubrin cited the distances and terrain traveled, the spontaneous decision making, and off-mission observations as proof that human exploration surpasses traditional rover-based exploration. 

Commentary: Zubrin also took a swipe at plans for astronauts to stay in orbit around Mars when he said “now that professional paleontologists are on the scene, those finds are being followed up in a way that is light years beyond the capabilities tele-operated rovers.” Nasa Administrator Charlie Bolden may claim “a new consensus is emerging around NASA’s goal… for sending American astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.” But Zubrin’s comments are further evidence that the Mars advocacy community is far from united.

The Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (Hi-Seas) completed its third Mars exploration into the psychological impacts that come with long-term confinement. A “habitat” perched on a volcanic peak served as a simulated Mars outpost where six volunteers lived and worked for eight months. The Guardian reported on the crew's initial responses to being home.

Nasa’s Insight mission will include two CubeSat-based communications satellites. Shortly after launch the Mars Cube One satellites will separate from Insight and cruise independently to the red planet. If all goes well, the CubeSats will instantly relay Entry, Descent, and Landing data from Insight to Earth.

Nasa’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator completed its second test flight. The Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (Siad) worked as planned, dramatically increasing the test article’s cross sectional area and generating drag in the upper atmosphere at speeds approaching Mach 3. The Supersonic Ringsail parachute tore apart soon after inflating, but achieving full inflation may qualify the test flight as a success.

Other news from Mars:

Correction June 15: Maggie Lieu was the sixth member of the Mars 100 to withdraw, not the second.