Mars One Monthly - February

Mars One Monthly rounds up the past month’s reports about the people who want to go on a one-way journey to the red planet. While Mars One’s technical and financial prospects remain controversial, the candidates themselves are the most visible example of a global trend - the public’s increasing participation in space exploration. 

Jump to:

  • Mars One Candidates: Reports about candidates in the Philippines, Australia, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Canada.
  • Artists Inspired by Mars One: Reports about a Norwegian student film, the Paris Opera, a US documentary, and the Guardian’s head of documentaries.
  • Mars One News: No real updates, but Mars One leadership made public appearances.
  • News from Mars: Progress on ExoMars 2016 and 2018, Curiosity plays in the sand, Opportunity chills, astronauts rock, martian concrete, and more.

Mars One Candidates in the News

Manila Bulletin spoke with freelance writer Mimi Rañeses and aerospace contractor Jaymee del Rosario, the two Filipina candidates. Their responses reflect their chosen careers. Rañeses has a more creative, spiritual approach to living the Mars experience while del Rosario has more goal-oriented, scientific objectives. Yet both of them are inspired by the changes that human exploration of Mars will drive here on Earth. Del Rosario spoke at the Pandesal Forum while visiting the Philippines, The Standard reports. An aide to Philippine Science Secretary Mario Montejo expressed the senior politician’s support for del Rosario.

Australian Geographic spoke with sustainability expert Dianne McGrath, comedian/educator Josh Richards, and risk management analyst Rohan Lyall-Wilson. Australia’s pioneer heritage forms a common thread in their conversation. Australia’s Carte Blanche interviewed Dianne McGrath and Bas Lansdorp for “Ticket to Mars”. Josh Richards helped organize the International Space University’s Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program.

Cambridge News interviewed British astrophysicist Ryan MacDonald. "I'm fascinated by the scientific potential but it's the inspirational potential that really drives me.” He also described the effect Mars One has had on his life in a conversation with Varsity. MacDonald continues to evangelize the Mars One Project and posted his interview with Paragon SDC Chief Engineer Barry Finger to YouTube.

Swiss candidate Steve Schild spoke with Migros Magazin about his training regimen. He works with physical trainers anticipation of getting into the astronaut training program. Schild also spoke with Aargauer Zeitung.

Canadian educator and former journalist Karen Cumming spoke with the Hamilton Amateur Astronomers.

Artists Inspired by Mars One

Generation Mars depicts a reality TV show that offers to send contestants to Mars. The film, a production of students at the Norwegian Film School, crowdfunded over $3,000 to complete production. Norwegian Mars One candidate Robin Ingebretsen has been cast as an astronaut (h/t Steve Menaa).

Although French reviewers panned the theatrical production, Glam Adelaide gave the film presentation of the Paris Opera’s La Damnation de Faust a very positive review. In Goethe’s tale Faust sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for living a more interesting life. (You do better in one sentence) In the modern production, physicist Steven Hawking purchases Faust’s soul with the promise of a spot in the Mars One Project. Reviewer Kym Clayton calls the new spin “genius” and “beautifully filmed”.

Madame Mars has entered post-production. Filmmaker, cinema professor and former Mars One candidate Jan Millsapp produced the documentary which “tells the story of women and Mars – the challenges they have faced in their efforts to explore the red planet, the contributions they have made to our knowledge of Mars.” San Francisco State University’s Docfilm Institute has opened internships for students to help complete the film.

In a conversation with Docs on Screens, The Guardian’s Head of Documentaries Charlie Phillips talked about “If I Die on Mars”. He cited it as an example of how his group addresses stories that don’t make it into the newspaper.

Mars One in the News

Mars One did not announce any progress towards its astronaut training program last month. It did however, issue a call for volunteers to “contribute to our human mission to Mars.” In a TEDx presentation Mars One advisor Dr. Mason Peck gave advice for the first Mars settlers. The former Nasa chief technologist explained the rationale behind the one-way mission concept.

The Netherlands’ Nieuwsuur broadcast a three-part series “Leaders on Later” in which a trio of politicians commented on themes that the Dutch people will face in the future. Mars One CTO Arno Wielders initiated the discussion with a presentation about the exploration of Mars. The responses spanned the spectrum from an endorsement of larger ESA contributions to scepticism about the business case to criticizing American policy.

Neil deGrasse Tyson told New Zealand’s Stuff.co that his opinion of Mars One shifted after meeting Bas Lansdorp. “He's actually really thought it through. He's using off-the-shelf technologies and has got a list of people who want to go, so even if I am still skeptical, at least somebody is thinking about it.” A podcast of Tyson’s interview with Lansdorp and candidate Ryan MacDonald is on the Star Talk Radio site.

News from Mars

IMG A perspective view of Noctis Labyrinthus from Esa’s Mars Express orbiter. The fractured landscape formed as the volcanic Tharsis region bulged billions of years ago. Credit: Esa/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The road to the red planet can be bumpy. January was no different as good news alternated with bad news. Mars fans started the year disappointed that Nasa had to suspend the Insight mission.

The European Space Agency began building excitement for the launch of ExoMars 2016. An interview with principal investigator Francesca Ferri explains how the Atmospheric Mars Entry and Landing Investigations and Analysis experiment will study the Martian atmosphere using engineering data from the Schiaparelli lander. The Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector will detect neutrons emitted by hydrogen atoms as deep as one meter beneath the Martian surface, leading to a planet-wide map of subsurface water. The mission’s Trace Gas Orbiter water-detection instrument was swapped out at the Baikonur Kosmodrome

ExoMars 2018 progressed as the European Space Agency chose payloads for the Roscosmos/Esa joint mission. While the mission’s rover searches for signs of life, the lander’s instruments will conduct a range of geological, geomagnetic, and atmospheric observations.

Nasa’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity passed the longest night on the Martian southern hemisphere without incident. Parked on a north-facing slope in Marathon Valley, the long-lasting rover catches the brief day’s sunlight to power on-going observations of the surrounding geology.

Nasa’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity continues to explore the Bagnold Dunes. Curiosity’s exploration of this site let mission scientists use the rover’s scoops for the second time since its landing on Mars. While engineers troubleshoot glitches in the rover’s arm, Curiosity continues to monitor Namib Dune for movement. New pictures of the Namib Dune’s downwind, or slip, face reveal signs of the mini-avalanches that drive the dune’s progress across Gale Crater.

It may be a while before humans set foot on Mars, but that is the ultimate goal for the world’s largest space agency. Glamour Magazine interviewed four women training to become Nasa astronauts. Their careers could take them all the way to the red planet. More immediately, they are members of the Astronaut Selection Program’s first class evenly balanced between male and female candidates. Although writer Ginny Graves recognizes that fact, she presents the astronaut candidates as four extremely talented people training for the most demanding job on two planets.

The Planetary Society reported that Nasa may pick the site of the first human landing on Mars during the next US presidential administration. “Once we know the site,” the article quotes Nasa’s head of planetary science Jim Green, “we can then design to it. When you design to anything, you then can do a cost estimate.” Among the factors that will determine the final selection are whether in-situ atmosphere processing and water mining will be part of the mission profile.

But there must be a cloud for every silver lining. Nasa’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel questioned the space agency’s plans for sending astronauts to Mars in its annual report to Nasa Administrator Charlie Bolden. The ASAP said that Nasa’s published plans do not “validate whether NASA would be capable of achieving such an ambitious objective in a reasonable time period, with realistically attainable technologies, and with budgetary requirements that are consistent with the current economic environment.” Nasa’s leadership responded that the pace of technological change makes locking in a reference design premature. But the ASAP concluded that “a well-designed mission […] would go a long way toward gaining the needed support from future administrations, the Congress, and the general public. If not, then perhaps NASA should be working on a different mission[….]”

If Nasa runs into trouble, they may need to get help from Iron Man. The tech and space blogosphere went nuts when Elon Musk said he was almost ready to reveal his plans for Mars. Speaking at the StartmeupHK Venture Forum in Hong Kong (watch it on YouTube), Musk sees 2025 as a reasonable target for landing people on Mars.

Meanwhile researchers here on Earth keep plugging away at the challenge of deep space exploration.

Scientists at Northwestern University developed a form of concrete that does not need water. Published as an arXiv preprint (1512.05461) Made from a mixture of simulated Martian regolith and molten sulfur, the concrete is stronger than Earthly concretes made with cement, sand, and water. There is one catch: sulfur-based concretes are flammable. Fortunately what little atmosphere Mars has is mostly carbon dioxide.

Concerns over the contamination of Mars by Earth life is one of the obstacles human missions must overcome, but it may not be as difficult as once thought. New research from Antarctica finds life on Mars less likely to exist, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The Canadian-led project studied one of the coldest and driest regions of the southern continent, the University Valley. With below-freezing average temperatures and an ice-cemented permafrost, University Valley has many similarities to the Phoenix landing site near the Martian north pole. Their research (open access ISME Journal doi:10.1038/ismej.2015.239) found that “bacterial counts from University Valley were 4−5 orders of magnitude below” lower-elevation regions of Antarctica. 

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