Mars One Monthly - August

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. 

  • Candidates: Arrivals and departures, joining astronaut programs, celebrating H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, and outreach.
  • Mars One in the News: Planetary protection and Mars One, Scandinavian Airlines features six candidates, and Chris Hadfield's mixed critique surfaces.
  • News from Mars: Nasa renews its Mars fleet, ExoMars adjusts course, water may be scarcer than thought, the genetics of colonization and more.

Mars One Candidates in the News

Mars One announced that two alternate candidates have joined the Mars100. Both German, Wolfgang Burger and Ludwig Deglmann replace two people who left “for personal reasons”.

Italian doctor Pietro Aliprandi was one of the candidates to withdraw. He explained on his blog that “The reason for this tough, almost insurmountable step is as simple as effective: love.”

South African quantum biologist Adriana Marais spoke at a Heavy Chef event in Johannesburg and addressed study abroad students at iExperience. Her father, Theo Marais, wrote an e-novella “Messages from the Deep” inspired by her experience with Mars One. Elle Magazine South Africa included Marais in its feature of fifty women who inspire a new generation of women to pursue innovative careers.

Canadian IT analyst Andreea Radulescu is one of 3,300 people applying for the Canadian Space Agency’s astronaut program, the Toronto Star reports. She may be in a better position than most of her competition. In April Radulescu graduated from the Project Possum astronaut training program (along with fellow Mars One candidate Hampton Black) . Possum, an acronym for Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere, trains people to conduct research on suborbital spaceplanes. Given the delays in Virgin Galactic’s and XCor’s development programs, Radulescu and her fellow astronauts will participate in technology development projects like evaluating prototype spacesuits.

Christian Knudsen spoke at Bibliotek et Frederiksberg and conducted a Mars base workshop for kids.

Clare Weedon spoke at Wells in Woking’s Party in the Park. The event celebrated the 150th anniversary of H.G. Wells’ birth. Wells wrote many of his science fiction novels when he lived in Woking - where he set The War of the Worlds’ Martian invasion. The science fiction themed Party in the Park attracted more than 20,000 people. Earlier that week Weedon spoke about Mars with students at the Hoe Valley School.

Dutch tech site De Ingenieur wrote about Cody Reeder’s outreach videos. With nearly 630,000 subscribers and more than 64,000,000 views, Reeder’s YouTube channel features entertaining demonstrations of science and technology. De Ingenieur particularly liked the way he extracted platinum and palladium from dust left on freeways by automotive catalytic converters.

In between welding and plasma cutting classes, sustainability consultant Dianne McGrath spoke with GoodFood’s Zoe Meunier about Australia’s progress towards a more sustainable food supply. Among the trends she discussed: the use of insects as a low-impact protein source. Next month McGrath will address the topic of food waste at Fine Food Australia 2016’s Talking Food Stage.

Austrian Günter Golob explained to Kleine Zeitung that joining Mars One is not about leaving but about discovering. But he will miss Carinthian Kasnudeln (a potato-and-cheese dumpling).

Astrophysics doctoral student Hannah Earnshaw spoke at St. Augustine’s Church of England High School, Inspire Magazine reports. The school was conducting a day-long conference about faith and science called “God and the Big Bang”. Earnshaw also addressed faith and Mars exploration on her Tumblr page as well as in a interview with TWR-UK.

Heidi Hecht interviewed economic consultant James Howard about the political and economic aspects of settling Mars. Transportation costs would dominate the economics of any physical trade between Earth and Mars. Financial transactions between the two planets - whether using traditional currencies or cryptocurrencies - run into significant impediments due to the light speed lag times.

Josh Richards was in Israel to support the International Space University’s Space Studies Program. In between his responsibilities as a teaching assistant, Richards spoke with a kids at Space Camp Ireland and conducted a special performance of his Cosmic Nomad comedy act.

Brad Moore spoke to students in Amsterdam about Mars One.

Yari Golden-Castaño spoke to the Massbay Community College’s STEM summer program.

Cosmologist, author, former Mars One candidate Jan Millsap explains “Why We Are Not Ready For Mars”. The TL;DR is that people are shits so we shouldn’t go to Mars until we learn how to play nice.

Mars One in the News

Seti Institute senior scientist John Rummel spoke about planetary protection with Mars Exchange. The Mars One advisor explained how protection works in two directions: protecting Mars from Earthly contamination and protecting Earth (and its astronauts) from Martian contamination. Planetary protection is a growing concern among the world’s space agencies - especially as the number of private initiatives like Mars One grow. The Nasa Advisory Council last week asked the space agency to include planetary protection when it reviews non-governmental space missions.

Italian graduate student Aureliano Rivolta wrote in Space Safety Magazine about the safety factors involved in a one-way mission to Mars. Based on a much larger study, Rivolta’s piece concludes that “either not enough studies have been performed or there simply isn’t enough data available” to truly understand the risks. 

They will settle on Mars – in ten years time” appeared in Scandinavian Airlines’ inflight magazine Scandinavian Traveller. The article demonstrates the varied backgrounds of the Mars One candidates by featuring American software engineer Peter Degen-Portnoy, British astronomy PhD candidate Hannah Earnshaw, and Indian physics teacher Bhupendra Singh, Australian science teacher Natalie Lawler, and music entrepreneur Sabrina Surovec.

Trinity College Dublin just posted a video of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s analysis of Mars One (from 2014). He explains the overall mission concept and the fact that 200,000 people registered with Mars One. “To me that’s the most significant thing about the whole project,” Hadfield said. “That that many people expressed that level of interest in it.” From that point on, however, Hadfield was much less positive about Mars One - and Mars exploration in general. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” Hadfield said. Given the current level of technology astronauts would die before any ship arrived at Mars. “Eventually we will get there,” Hadfield concludes, “but I don’t think it will be the Mars One model that does it.”

News from Mars

Water may once have filled the Gorgonum Basin. Wind eroded the soft sediment to expose bedrock in these unusual patterns. Credit: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Nasa extended all of its Mars missions through the 2018 fiscal year. A panel of scientsits examined all nine of the space agency's active Solar System Exploration and Mars Exploration missions (including participation in European missions). Among the key findings of the Planetary Mission Senior Review 2016:

  • Mars Express: The panel was most critical of Nasa’s participation in this European mission. The $3 million budget barely sustains data collection and archiving with “almost no funding left for actual science research.” The proposal submitted to PMSR-16 “lacked hypothesis-driven science questions and descriptions of how scientific investigations would be carried out.” Since continuing to fund Nasa’s participation in Mars Express may have more to do with America’s relationship with Europe than with purely scientific objectives, the panel suggested that Nasa’s administration should evaluate future extended missions.
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: The panel gave MRO’s fourth extended mission proposal its highest rating. The “compelling breadth of science” and provide “significant opportunities for ground-breaking science and new discoveries”. The panel cited the widespread use of MRO’s Planetary Data System archives among the a broad community.
  • Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution: Maven will continue to explore the Martian upper atmosphere in the orbiter’s first extended mission. The panel pointed out that Maven’s unique instrument set complements Europe’s Mars Express and Trace Gas Orbiter, creating opportunities for “synergistic measurements”.
  • Odyssey: Nasa’s longest-lived Mars orbiter will enter its seventh extended mission with a new orbit that catches the Martian surface at sunrise and sunset. This will give scientists a fresh perspective of Mars and new insights into the interaction between the atmosphere and the surface.
  • Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity: The panel praised the mission for balancing the degradation of the rover’s systems with achieving science goals in the second extended mission. It did express a concern that the most impactful science - reaching the clay/sulfite boundary higher up Aeolis Mons - cannot be achieved until well after 2018.
  • Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity: The “well focused” and “very compelling” proposal for the plucky rover’s tenth extended mission offers “significant opportunities for ground-break [sic] science and new discoveries at Endeavour Crater”. The crater formed during the relatively wet Noachian epoch and could generate new discoveries about ancient Martian habitability. The panel was concerned that the mission’s reduced budget “nearly eliminated” participation by early-career researchers. This must be a recurring concern because the panel forgot to replace “Victoria Crater” with “Endeavour Crater” when they copied the statement from its 2014 report.

As Nasa’s Mars 2020 Rover progresses towards launch, the space agency has asked aerospace companies to propose a future Mars orbiter. Nasa approved the final design and construction of the Curiosity-based rover which will collect geological samples for a future sample return mission. The orbiter mission under consideration could include an Earth-return segment to bring the samples back.

The European Space Agency executed the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter’s first of four deep space maneuvers. The fifty-two minute burn modified the spacecraft’s trajectory for intercept with the red planet. Over the next three months a second eleven-minute burn and two brief trim maneuvers will align the Trace Gas Orbiter for orbital insertion around Mars.

Genetics could determine the success of Mars settlement plans astrobiologist David Warmflash wrote at the Genetic Literacy Project. Small populations isolated from the larger gene pool are susceptible to various kinds of genetic drift like the founders effect and bottlenecking. Warmflash cites anthropological research that estimates a planetary colony would need 10,000 to 40,000 settlers to ensure long-term survival. 

Nasa researchers published “Frontier In-Situ Resource Utilization for Enabling Sustained Human Presence on Mars” (PDF). The report reviews the state of ISRU research and suggests ways the use of Martian resources can enhance future human activity on the red planet. Current technology may be up to the job, but significant research still remains before human expeditions to Mars can reduce their dependence on Earth resupply. In an interview with Space’s Leonard Davis, the report’s co-author Robert Moses said that “Until we demonstrate that we can do[water extraction] reliably on Mars using resources there, then there's no compelling foundation for extensive ISRU and pioneering there.”

LANL geologist Nina Lanza explains how the discovery of manganese-rich rocks on Mars raises possibility of an oxygen-rich atmosphere in the red planet’s distant past. Earth has an oxygen-rich atmosphere because plants break down carbon dioxide. But atmospheric oxygen on Mars may have little to do with life. As the planet’s magnetic field shut down, radiation would have ripped water molecules apart.

Nasa’s Ames Research Center hosted the 3rd International Conference on the Exploration of Phobos and Deimos. Sessions discussed the origins and properties of the Martian moons as well as future robotic and human missions. A presentation from one of those sessions looked at conducting telerobotics on the Martian surface from a habitat on Phobos.

The American Geophysical Union’s GeoSpace blog reviewed the latest research on Martian water. Studies of recurring slope lineae (RSL’s) raise doubts that aquifers lie beneath the red planet’s equatorial regions. It is entirely possible, although there is little data to support it, that RSL’s are the result of dry landslides. At this point, the polar regions may be the best place for future human missions.

Blue means no water. Researchers could not find evidence of water in the "gullies" of Mars. The false-color image is based on data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's spectrometer.

Data from Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter let scientists determine that water does not create “gullies” on Mars. Although superficially similar to water-carved gullies on Earth, the scientists could not find any evidence of the hydrated minerals that water would leave behind. By ruling out water as the driver of gully evolution, planetary scientists can now focus on other possible sources such as the sublimation of carbon dioxide.

A separate study using MRO data found that, even near the equator, nightly temperatures can drop low enough for carbon dioxide to freeze out of the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide would sublimate back into the atmosphere the next morning. This regular freeze/sublimate cycle, rather than water, could drive many of the erosive processes seen on Mars.

Another study RSL's in Valles Marineris raises more questions about water’s role on Mars. Scientists with the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory found thousands of RSL’s within the canyon. “As far as we can tell, this is the densest population of them on the planet,” LPL scientist Matthew Chojnacki said. The question is how would water get to the top of the ridges and peaks within the canyon. Shallow subsurface water ought to sublimate away and mechanisms for the extraction of atmospheric water are very speculative. Further research is needed.

Nasa launched an effort to reduce risks astronauts will face in deep space. The Baylor College of Medicine will manage the Translational Research Institute and coordinate Nasa-funded research into biomedical, environmental, cognitive, and environmental factors to reduce health and performance risks.

Other news from Mars: