Mars One Monthly - October 2016

Mars One Monthly rounds up the past month’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. 

TL;DR? Jump to

  • Analysis: Elon Musk’s Interplanetary Transport System and Mars One
  • Candidates: California team building, public speaking, and media interviews.
  • Artists: New Zealand's best song is Mars-inspired as are books, albums, and rock operas.
  • Mars One: Organizational changes plus the usual criticism.
  • News from Mars: Nitpicking Elon Musk's presentation, subsurface extremophiles, Martian lakes, and more news from the red planet.

Analysis: Elon Musk’s Interplanetary Transport System and Mars One

If all goes to plan, SpaceX will launch hundreds of people to Mars within a decade. Credit: SpaceX

You might have heard that Elon Musk introduced his Interplanetary Transport System last week. The media coverage leading up to and immediately following Musk’s speech was almost universally giddy. Within days, however, more critical coverage appeared as industry experts weighed in (more on that in the News From Mars section).

What you don’t hear is analysis of the impact on Mars One. That is largely because the industry press and mainstream media wrote Mars One off. But could the Interplanetary Transport System restore credibility to Mars One’s plans?

One criticism Mars One faced from the beginning was the inadequacy of its budget: you can’t develop a big rocket, much less settlement another planet, for $6 billion. But Mars One never claimed they would develop an end-to-end settlement infrastructure. Musk expects the Interplanetary Transport System to reduce Earth-Mars transport costs below $140,000 per ton. Mars One would not bear the burden for developing the entire infrastructure, just the cost of delivering people and hardware to Mars.

Another criticism of Mars One came from ethicists. The one way nature of Mars One’s business model, they argue, is inherently wrong since the effects of microgravity, radiation, and long-term isolation would render it a suicide mission. Musk’s reusable architecture takes that argument away. A return trip to Earth is always an option should the hardships of life on Mars prove too much.

In a way Mars One may have helped Elon Musk. Mars One’s vision reinvigorated the conversation about humans on Mars and extended it beyond the United States. But the sheer scope of its plans suffered from a near absence of technical detail. Elon Musk’s plans come across as more credible in both technology and scope. SpaceX is a rocket company staffed by engineers who build rockets. They built prototypes of rocket engines and fuel tanks. In addition SpaceX only has to address the challenges of getting to Mars and back. The responsibility for figuring out how to live on Mars belongs to the company’s customers.

Mars One could be one of those customers. It funded preliminary studies in life support systems and supports research on Martian agriculture. But is it too late? Mars One’s leadership has done little to build its credibility in the space industry. In fact the organization seems to have spent the past few years on life support, doing little more than issuing press releases. Mars One’s greatest strength is its pool of astronaut candidates, but they have waited nearly two years for the next selection round.

Elon Musk’s Interplanetary Transport System makes the case for Mars One stronger. But can Mars One take advantage of the opportunity? Or has its time passed? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Mars One Candidates in the News

The International Astronautics Conference held special significance for the Mars One candidates. Adriana Marais and Josh Richards were among the candidates who attended the IAC. Josh Richards joined TMRO for a group discussion of Elon Musk's announcement. In his latest Mars Mission Update Ryan MacDonald reviewed Elon Musk's proposal.

Josh Richards, Peter Degen-Portnoy, Yari Golden-Castaño, Daniel Golden-Castaño, and Sara Director will host “Moving to Mars” a panel discussion about the Mars One program. Boston’s Museum of Science will host the event on October 5.

Several candidates gathered in California for team building exercises. British astrophysics graduate student Hannah Earnshaw recounted the meetup. Robert Schroeder, Mikolaj Zielinski, and Zaskia Antelo followed that up with a visit to the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station (Twitter).

South African quantum biologist Adriana Marais delivered education outreach presentations at the Wykeham Collegiate girl’s school and at the independent Epworth School. Fair Lady magazine featured Marais in its October issue. 

American actor and teacher Brad Moore (now living in Belgium) was featured in Gazet Van Antwerp (registration required).

Danish systems engineer Christian Knudsen spoke at Tedx Aarhus about how space colonization will help all of human society develop. (Twitter)

American biologist Chris Patil will speak at the Long Now Member Summit.

Australian sustainability consultant Dianne McGrath spoke to kids attending the Life on Mars workshop at the Victorian Space Science Education Centre (Twitter). McGrath also joined the Mojo Radio Show and The Bucketlist Guy podcasts to talk about food sustainability and settling Mars.

South African mathematics student Divashen Govender spoke about traveling to Mars at SAYTC Youth and Adventure Travel Conference 2016.

Nasa engineer George Hatcher explained why Mars is the perfect target for human settlement in this video from Laboratorio de Comunicaciones Científicas (video in English).

American architectural project manager Kay Radzik Warren joined the Nothing Important Podcast. She explained why the time is right to send people to Mars.

Reginald Foulds, once a helicopter pilot for the Pakistani Air Force and now an Emergency Operations Officer for the Ontario government, spoke with Geo News. Foulds also addressed the International Conference on Space in Islamabad.

MIT systems analyst Yari Golden-Castaño spoke about her work on an Earth-Mars laser communications system in this Tech Republic interview.

American planetary science graduate student Zach Gallegos spoke his preparation for Mars with the Daily Lobo. He believes his academic background and experience working on Nasa’s Mars missions will give him an advantage in the upcoming selection round.

Artists Inspired by Mars One

Kiwi singer-songwriter Thomas Oliver’s song If I Move to Mars won the Apra Silver Scroll Award for excellence in songwriting, the New Zealand Herald reports.

Medium Theatre Company’s production One Way Red opened at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. A series of five minute performance installations follow a young woman chosen for a one way journey to Mars. She must counter skepticism about the project and prove she has the right stuff to leave Earth. The review in DC Metro Theater Arts said that the production weaves "a delicate and haunting sequence of scenes that explores what it’s like to take a trip into the unknown, from which you can’t come back.” Colgate University hosted a performance and actor’s workshop.

Guelph Today spoke with Canadian DJ Kid Koala (Eric San). His collaboration with Icelandic singer-songwriter Emiliana Torrini, to be released this Fall, explores the isolation of deep space travel and was inspired by the Mars One concept.

Dutch journalist Joris van Casteren’s new book “Mensen op Mars” delves into the Mars One Project. Cutting Edge’s review says that he treats the candidates “with humor and an open mind."

One Way Trip to Mars is a rock opera by songwriters Peter Alexander and Johannah Harkness. It opened over the weekend at the Chocolate Church Arts Center (Maine, USA). Paolo wins an international contest for a one-way trip to the red planet and leaves his wife Cassandra behind. A nuclear war breaks out and the space agency sends Cassandra to Mars to save humanity. “It’s really a story of love and consciousness,” Alexander told the Times Record.

Mars One in the News

There were some financial moves at Mars One last month. DGap reports that InFin Innovative Finance signed a letter of intent with Mars One to acquire Mars One Merchandise Plc. The organization will be renamed Mars One Merchandise AG and Bas Lansdorp will become its Chairman. Moritz Hunzinger, a well-connected but controversial German PR consultant and acting CEO of InFin, will serve as CEO. The British government only just approved the incorporation of Mars One Merchandise in March of this year. It has the exclusive worldwide merchandising license from Stichting Mars One, the organization’s Dutch non-profit arm. According to the filing, Bas Lansdorp and Suzanne Flinkelflogel comprise the Board of Directors. Shareholders include: Arno Wielders (1600 shares), Stichting Mars One (2642), Ultra Plus Technologies (6000), Suzanne Flinkelflogel (1200), Brian Versteeg (400), Norbert Kraft (1600), Anchroisk Holdings (6000).

CNN International’s “CNN Inspirations” will focus on the future of space exploration. Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp will join Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and astronomer Tom Kerss. The program airs October 7 with rebroadcasts over the weekend. 

Speaking at a Capitol Hill Briefing on the exploration of Mars, the former head of Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate said that despite the early enthusiasm Mars One “appears to have no technical backing.”

The Verge credited Mars One with driving the conversation about Mars "almost as much as SpaceX." This was in a preview of Elon Musk's address to the IAC. It reviewed possible backers for the SpaceX Mars transporter. 

Lancaster University lecturer Richard Tutton has interviewed Mars One candidates for his research. Writing in The Conversation, Tutton described the optimism shared by Elon Musk and the Mars One candidates. They believe taking humanity to Mars would help unify our fractured civilization here on Earth.

News from Mars

SpaceX's rendering of the ITS approaching Mars. Elon Musk's presentation slides did not explain every technical detail, fueling criticism. Credit: SpaceX

The gushing coverage of Elon Musk’s presentation quickly turned critical as the media recovered its objectivity. Space entrepreneur Jonathan Goff’s quick critique is worth reading. A founder of suborbital rocket company Masten Space Systems and space robotics company Altius Space Machines found several things to like about Musk’s plans but also raised several questions. Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin shared his opinion with space journalist Leonard David. Zubrin seems to like Musk’s plans but wants to make it look more like his. National Geographic set the historical context of proposals for the human exploration of Mars from Wernher von Braun’s collaboration with Walt Disney to the Mars One Project. Space historian John Logsdon said that Musk’s plans are “hand wavy” and “on the edge of fantasy” in Spacedotcom's article. Going to Mars is not the only way SpaceX could profit from a Big Falcon Rocket in this brainstorming piece from science fiction author Charlie Stross.

Organisms living miles beneath the Earth’s surface may direct us to life on Mars, the New York Times reports. Extremophiles have been found within South African gold mines and in American oil deposits. As scientists expand our knowledge of the extreme environments in which life thrives on our planets, it raises the chances of finding life elsewhere in the Solar System.

Atlas Obscura cited Nasa’s ham-fisted effort to co-opt artists support for its Journey to Mars as an example of the fading prominence of space art. Renderings of planetary landscapes once drove the popular imagination and contributed to support for the American space program. Free images from space telescopes and planetary rovers and the commodification of online media contributed to the decline.

Lakes may have existed on Mars hundreds of millions of year later than once thought. Data from American and European orbiters let scientists map the extent of shallow valleys and lakes in Arabia Terra. The scientists then used crater counting to determine when the water features formed.

Nasa reviewed its efforts to develop in situ resource systems. The video above shows a prototype mining robot designed to collect simulated Martian regolith for resource extraction. Nasa researchers are also growing plants in regolith simulant. The research is similar to that conducted by Dutch scientists at Wanginengen University.

Other news from Mars: