Mars One Monthly - July

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. 

[This edition includes the missing June report. I got swamped at the end of May and just couldn't pull the recap together. Thanks for bearing with me.]

  • Mars One Candidates: Welcome your red-headed overlords... or read about the outreach and media appearances by candidates around the world.
  • Artists Inspired by Mars One: A film about a one-way astronaut's struggles, an experimental documentary about India's Mars One candidates, and a playwright will bring Mars to Broadway or go bust trying.
  • Mars One in the News: Bas Lansdorp releases a few more details about Round Three, Wieger Wamelink's Mars agriculture research, and a Nasa official praises Mars One with faint damns.
  • News from Mars: Mars Express finds new roles to play, Maven dips deep into the Martian sky, and Martian weather patterns. Plus volcanoes, dunes, dust storms, and more discoveries by Earth's robotic minions on Mars.

Mars One Candidates in the News

In an interview with Australia’s “The Morning Show”, Josh Richards revealed that Mars One is in fact a grand ginger conspiracy for total domination of the Universe

Josh had a lengthy conversation with Tmro ("tomorrow") about the Mars One Project. The hosts of the weekly space webcast pressed him about the schedule and budget, but also recognized the value of Josh’s outreach efforts. The following week, Tmro’s comment round-up focused almost exclusively on Josh's appearance. One commenter teared up when Josh explained how Mars One suddenly meant people outside of the USA or ESA-member states had a chance to go into space. Another said that every time a Mars One candidate appears on Tmro “they gain more respect from the community”. The hosts also spent a lot of time discussing how much they appreciated the outreach that Josh and other candidates conduct. (Someone named Martian Colonist also said nice things in the comments)

Josh also spoke with the Science Over Everything blog during the American leg of his Cosmic Nomad tour. The Halogen Foundation posted a video of Josh’s presentation at last year’s National Young Leaders Day.

South African quantum biologist Adriana Marais kept up her relentless outreach schedule. She joined a panel discussion at the Women’s Forum Mauritius to discuss bringing more women into science, engineering, and other fields of innovation. South African television network eNCA interviewed Marais for its feature on the MEDO Space Programme. It engages South African girls in science and mathematics by asking them to design a cubesat which will be launched into orbit. Marais pointed out that only 7% of African scientists and engineers are women, an imbalance that programs like this hope to redress. 

Bizcommunity interviewed Marais ahead of South Africa’s Youth Week. She explains how her passion for physics developed and led her on a path to the field of quantum biology. Marais addresses the need to inspire youth - especially South African youth - to bring more wisdom and imagination to solving problems on Earth and beyond. 

In between all of this Marais:

Oscar Mathews took part in Nasa’s Hera X analog mission. The three story habitat mock-up sits in a building at the Johnson Space Center. Four-person teams (usually volunteers from outside the space program) simulate a space mission to help Nasa’s planners evaluate procedures and study small group dynamics. The Hera X mission simulated thirty days in a journey to explore an asteroid. The crew received congratulations from icons of the Apollo and Shuttle programs.

American planetary science graduate student Zach Gallegos discussed his work in space exploration with the Daily Lobo. In addition to his studies, Gallegos is a member of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity team and proposed two Mars landing sites at a Nasa human exploration workshop. Gallegos recently began growing plants in preparation for life as a Mars settler (fair warning to other Mars One candidates - he likes jalapeño peppers).

British scientist Ryan MacDonald spoke with the Scienceish podcast. The conversation ranged from his early interest in science and space to the one-way journey. MacDonald also spoke about Solar System exploration with students at Perse Preperatory School (via Twitter).

Quantum computing doctoral student Ben Criger spoke with the Waterloo Chronicle. He discussed the challenges he will face in the next selection round. Criger’s appearance at the University of Toronto’s TEDx event has been posted to the TEDx Talks YouTube channel.

Several candidates attended the Mars One VIP event in early June.

History Channel’s Ancient Aliens interviewed Sue Ann Pien for its episode “Destination Mars”. The show explored the possibility that life might have evolved on the red planet and looks at what it will take for humans to survive on Mars.

Canadian teacher and former journalist Karen Cumming spoke about her experience as a candidate with The Toronto Star. The new conversation sparked by Mars One has let Cumming conduct education and public outreach events around Canada.

CCTV-America’s Full Frame spent a week covering Mars news. The segment featuring SETI Institute planetary scientist Nathalie Cabrol included an interview with entrepreneur and Mars One candidate Jaymee del Rosario.

Laurel Kaye defended Mars One’s ambitious goals in an interview with with Duke University’s campus newspaper. Now a PhD candidate in physics at the University of Oxford where she works on the Cherenkov Telescope Array, Kaye said that even if the project takes time to get off the ground, its impact will be worth it.

Dianne McGrath had a wide-ranging discussion about food sustainability with the Bond Appétit podcast. Dianne, a sustainability consultant talked about the alarming rate that modern society wastes food and some of the simple things people can do to reduce food waste. Early on in the conversation Dianne explained how space exploration - and the settlement of Mars in particular - can help solve problems here on Earth.

Dianne also spoke with students at Methodist Ladies College, an all-girls primary and secondary school, about her experience in the Mars One Project (via Twitter).

Other candidates in the news:

Artists Inspired by Mars One

Seat 25 is an independent film about a woman accepted on the first expedition to Mars. It tells the story the impact her decision has on her relationships here on Earth. As production wraps up, the film makers have begun submitting it to film festivals around the world.

Theater director Craig Hane retired from the production house he founded to develop a play based on Mars One, reports Hometown Life. He hopes to bring the science fiction play to Broadway - or go bust trying.

Two Indian artists have collaborated on “The Common Task” an experimental film based on Mars One. Video artist Pallavi Paul and sculptor Sahej Rahal intersperse Mars One candidate interviews with other visual elements to explore the many questions raised by a one-way journey to Mars. The Deccan Herald’s report repeats some of the candidates’ comments but does not review the film itself.

Mars One in the News

Mars One announced a few more details about its astronaut selection process

  • One hundred candidates will self-organize into ten teams of ten people.
  • Indoor and outdoor challenges will test candidates.
  • Each day judges will eliminate ten-twenty candidates.
  • Forty remaining candidates will endure isolation challenges.
  • Thirty candidates will submit to a “suitability” interview.

The press release does not indicate when or where the selection round will take place although it does say that a production crew will film the selection process “for audiences across the globe”. Presumably Mars One intends the resulting documentary to demonstrate the market potential of an infotainment-financed Mars program to Bas Lansdorp’s investors.

Most of the media coverage simply paraphrased the press release (Spacedotcom, TVA Nouvelles, Science Post, Scientias). The few reports that went beyond the press release continued the media's skepticism. Universe Today’s “These are the 40 who might die on Mars” cited planetary scientist Zachary Gallegos as an example of the “serious background” many candidates have, but went on to dismiss Mars One’s thinly sketched plans. China Topix was more direct: “Mars One Scam Still Up and Running; Announces ‘Tests’ for Martian ‘Colonists’

Agence France-Presse interviewed Mars agriculture researcher Wieger Wamelink. He discussed how his team grew several vegetables in volcanic ash, an analog to Martian regolith. The AFP closed with comments from European Space Agency life support expert Christophe Lasseur who dismissed Wamelink’s research as “not a priority”. A few media outlets went a step beyond repeating the wire report. Wamelink described his team’s latest work in an interview with Universe Today. Fears that heavy metals in the volcanic ash would render the vegetables inedible proved unfounded. Bas Lansdorp explained that the need for a sustainable food supply drove Mars One’s support of Wamelink’s research. For more detail on Wamelink's research, check out his Mars One Exchange articles.

In response to a question about Mars One from PC Magazine, Nasa Deputy Administrator Dava Newman replied “They don't have the funding, they don't have the backing, they don't have the technical team assembled. The vision's great, though!

News from Mars

Elon Musk teased his Mars plans. “We’re establishing a cargo route to Mars,” Musk told the Washington Post. He expects the scientific community to design around the ability (and certainty) to reach the red planet every two years. One week earlier at the 2016 Code Conference Musk said that colonists could start arriving on Mars by 2025. (He also talked about rocket reusability, a shared philosophy with Jeff Bezos, and Falcon Heavy before the conversation shifted to Tesla, artificial intelligence, hyperloop, the neural lace, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.)

The Humans to Mars Summit (H2M) convened in Washington, DC, in May. Sponsored by the big aerospace contractors, the summit brought industry insiders and Mars advocates together for three days of presentations and networking. Dwayne Day critiqued the conference in his article for The Space Review. For all of the conversations about the technology of a Mars program, Day argues, none of the sessions adequately addressed the rationale. “The only consensus,” Day writes, “is that we need a consensus, not what it should be.”

Clemson University biologist and professor of philosophy Kelly Smith wrote about the ethical limits of the “Prime Directive” in The Conversation. He criticizes Mariomania, the desire to protect Martian life at all costs, as both morally and practically indefensible. Better instead to work out principles that account for the complex trade-offs involved with planetary exploration. An extreme, rigid standard will only get shattered by decision-makers with different goals.

Scientists propose source for Martian plume spotted by amateurs, New Scientist reports. Several years ago amateur astronomers spotted a fuzzy plume rising above the rim of Mars. Similar events were found in images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Now scientists propose that space weather could create the plumes.

Mars explorers could build brick houses from the Martian regolith, the Daily Press reports. College of William & Mary researchers used volcanic ash chemically similar to soil on Mars. Binding the ash with hydrogen-enriched polymers let the scientists create bricks mechanically similar to architectural bricks with an added benefit. The bricks absorb radiation.

Carnegie Mellon University undergraduates designed a green house for Mars. The students attended the Mars Studio, a pair of cross-disciplinary courses conducted by the School of Architecture.

A father-son team based their game’s environment on the Mars Society’s analog research station, the Daily Sentinel reports. The Mars-advocacy organization operates the Mars Desert Research Station in the deserts of southwestern Utah. Volunteer crews test technologies and procedures that future astronauts may use when they explore the red planet. Synaptic Switch co-founder Robert Madsen joined one of the crews to get an insight into what Mars exploration would really be like as he and his son develop MarsCorp.

News from the space agencies:

The Curiosity rover has collected weather data every day since it landed on Mars in 2012. Credit: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/CAB(CSIC-INTA) 

Spanish researchers have documented two Mars-years of weather on the red planet. Scientists with the Centro de Astrobiología developed Curiosity’s weather station, the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station.The data has confirmed weather and seasonal patterns observed by earlier rovers. For example, Martian air pressure drops 25% as the carbon dioxide atmosphere freezes during the northern and southern winters.

Nasa’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity's investigation of Marathon Valley is coming to an end. The cleft in Endeavour Crater's rime contains clay-bearing rocks and exposed bedrock that gave the scientists a glimpse at different aspects of Mars’ geological history.

Scientists may need to rewrite the volcanic history of Mars. Data collected by Nasa’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity revealed the presence of an unexpected mineral called tridymite. It forms on Earth during high temperature, explosive volcanic eruptions like Mount St. Helens. But Martian volcanoes were thought to form more like Mount Fuji. Scientists must either develop new theories for low-temperature tridymite formation or find evidence of a more violent volcanic history on Mars.

Mars Express has unfinished business at Mars. The European Space Agency’s Mars orbiter was supposed to relay communications for the Beagle rover, but a technical glitch silenced the rover. The Mars Express mission team will reactivate the Melacom communications system to monitor the Schiaparelli lander as it descends to the Martian surface. “It’s perhaps fitting that ESA’s newest mission to Mars is being supported by ESA’s oldest,” ESA’s Mars Express mission manager Patrick Martin said in the press release.

Wind-sculpted ripples on Martian sand dunes look nothing like dunes on Earth. "Earth and Mars both have big sand dunes and small sand ripples, but on Mars, there's something in between that we don't have on Earth," said CalTech graduate student Mathieu Lapotre explained in Nasa’s press release. The discovery happened during the Curiosity rover's exploration of the Bagnol Dunes. Ancient ripples preserved in sandstone could give planetary scientists another way to study the thinning of the Martian atmosphere.

Scientists found evidence of volcanic eruptions beneath ancient Martian ice sheets. Using images from the Crism instrument on Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientist found flat-topped domes similar to sub-glacial volcanoes on Earth. Billions of years ago the region was covered in ice sheets which retreated as the Martian climate changed and its atmosphere thinned.

The Mars Express webcam has found a new purpose: science! The webcam originally used to document the separation of Beagle from the orbiter has been used for public outreach. One of the only cameras in the Mars system able to take a picture of the entire planetary disc, its archive documents ten years of climatic change. Now scientists are mining this archive to learn about the seasonal and long term dynamics of the red planet.

Nasa’s Maven mission began its fifth “deep dip” campaign. Mission controllers sent commands to lower the spacecraft’s periapsis (the lowest point in its orbit) by 29 kilometers into a region thirty times thicker than its standard orbit. A solar storm hit Mars as the deep dip campaign began which will give the scientists an interesting view of the atmosphere’s dynamics. Interesting side note: the Maven mission controllers are University of Colorado undergraduate students.

European nations confirmed their participation in Nasa’s Mars 2020 rover mission. Nasa Administrator Charles Bolden signed agreements with his counterparts in the French and Spanish programs to provide critical instruments for the rover. 

The European Space Agency has several updates for the ExoMars 2016 mission. The spacecraft will enter orbit around Mars in October, simultaneously releasing the Schiaparelli lander for its descent to the surface. Mission operators have been testing instruments during the interplanetary cruise phase.

Other news from Mars: