Mars One

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Introduction

Currently, humanity is preparing to send people on a one way journey to colonize Mars via the non-profit Mars One. The pioneering spirit of humanity insists on new vistas of exploration and expansion, but for this to be successful it must be balanced with wisdom. As the first 100 candidates have been chosen and are undergoing extensive training and evaluation, critics warn that the right mix of passion and intelligence is required. However, the Mars One team has their own agenda. 

Mission Plan

The greatest cost in any space mission is the return journey, and this fact led Mars One to determine that a colonization effort would be not only cost effective but adventurous. Mars One emphasizes, the most complex, expensive, and risky part of a mission to Mars is the return trip. It requires developing bigger rockets that need and launch capability on Mars. Permanent settlement is not easy but it is far less complex and requires much less infrastructure sent to Mars than return missions. (Mars One)

Currently the technology needed for the mission is being developed, with the projected first supplying vessels to leave in 2020. This first supply mission will deposit the materials the crew coming in 2026 will need to survive, and begin to set up their colony. The projected mission plan includes:

2017-Start of Crew Training.

2020-Rover Mission Launched.

2024-Cargo Missions Launched.

2025-Outpost Operational.

2026-Departure Crew One.

2027-Landing Crew One. (Mars One)

The 2020 mission will not only be preparation for the crew, but demonstration of the capacity of the plan. At this time, “A communication satellite will also be launched, which will be placed into stationary Mars orbit. This satellite will enable communications between Earth and Mars on a 24/7 basis” (Mars One). The early settlement will be set up and prepared by robot rovers who are equipped to transport and set up the living stations. As such, “Ideally, the settlement can be located far enough north for the soil to contain enough water, close enough to the equator to produce maximum solar power, and on flat enough terrain to facilitate the construction of the settlement” (Mars One). The rover robot will clear areas for the solar array and prepare for the cargo deposit. At this time a second communications satellite will be sent into Mars orbit to allow for communication when the sun is between the Earth and Mars (Mars One).

One Way Journey

While it is an awesome opportunity to become the first generation of humanity to live and die on another planet, it is also a supreme challenge to leave everything familiar for the challenges of the unknown. Exploring the psychological and practical aspect of such a journey, acclaimed science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson commented on the prospects of the Mars One journey. His Red Mars trilogy offers a complex and incisive investigation of the psychological and physical strains of colonizing the red planet, and upon studying the mission plan and the first 100 candidates chosen, one aspect stands out as a huge red flag:

This round of eliminations was made after Norbert Kraft, Mars One’s chief medical officer, interviewed 660 candidates who said they were ready to leave everything behind to venture to Mars. The applications were open to anyone over age 18, because the organization believes its greatest need is not to find the smartest or most-skilled people, but rather the people most dedicated to the cause. (Contrera)

A major aspect of the Red Mars trilogy and the questions it investigates is the type and quality of people who would go to Mars, and why. Chief among each person was their intelligence, in that they were each a master of their field whether it be quantum mechanics, agriculture, construction, robotics, genetics, etc. The fact that Mars One does not place intelligence but loyalty to the cause as its primary determinant is worrying. Loyalty to the cause does not lay the foundation for the inventiveness and skill which enables people to create solutions, invent tools, and survive unknown challenges. In fact, those who are blindly loyal to any cause often have lower , lacking in the critical thinking skills which are essential to success in a hostile environment such as Mars. 

When interviewed about the likelihood of Mars One success, K.S. Robinson offered that science is changing very fast, and much has been discovered about Mars since he wrote his “hard science fiction” trilogy. Robinson emphasizes that the successful terraforming of Mars in his books were based on three assumptions of science in the 90s; 1) Mars doesn't have any life on it at all. And now, it's looking more likely that there could be bacteria living beneath the surface. 2) There would be enough of the chemical compounds we need to survive. 3) There's nothing poisonous to us on the surface. In fact, the surface is covered with perchlorates, which are highly toxic to humans, and the original Viking mission did not detect these. (Niderhoff)

Science fiction has often been a support structure for actual science, and more than anything the social context which all too often has a larger impact. While the prospect of colonizing Mars was never simple, Robinson emphasizes, “It’s no longer a simple matter…It’s possible that we could occupy, inhabit and terraform Mars. But it’s probably going to take a lot longer than I described in my books” (Niderhoff). All those who are working on the Mars One project, or considering going to Mars should be required to read Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, and as they vicariously experience the challenges of the complex cast of characters take an honest look inward at how they would deal with these issues. Many of these issues are not of simple survival, but of the ethical implications of social responsibility, and the reality of the Island effect on the evolution of the human genome. 

However, the Island effect of genetic degradation would not be too large of a concern if Mars One continues to bring in new groups of people. It may be that the first few generations of colonists are simply the grunts who will do the hard work of setting up a functional colony while the brains of the operation on Earth continue to develop the technology which would enable real terraforming efforts. If this were the case it would explain why loyalty is more important to management than intelligence. Unlike NASA, which projects sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, Mars One is inviting anyone to sign up. This is confusing and may represent an over-confidence in technology which is a symptom of the times. The demographics of the first 100 candidates do indicate such grunt work:

By education, the group breaks down as: 19 with no degree, two with associates, 27 bachelors, 30 masters, one law degree, four medical degrees and seven PhDs. Thirteen of the candidates are currently in school, 81 are employed and six are not working. (Contrera)

Of the 50 men and 50 women selected for the next cut, 38 reside in the U.S. The next-most represented countries are Canada and Australia, both with seven. Two of the candidates were 18 when they applied in 2013; the oldest, Reginald George Foulds of Toronto, was 60. (Contrera)

[Candidate] Dan Carey remembers the tears on his wife’s face when they discussed his outrageous plan. He wanted to land his name in the history books. She wanted to know: “You would leave me?” (Contrera)

Why Go to Mars?

The emotional context of leaving behind everyone and everything for the unknown begs the question “Why?” While the founders of Mars One are space enthusiasts, they are also businessmen, and most likely see space as the next untapped market. The possibilities for advancing medical research and technology in a lighter gravity may be enough to push the project forward. Leaders of Mars One are not shy about this possibility, but couch it in the exciting language of the adventurer. While others may think it is irresponsible to plan to send mankind off the planet when the technology to ensure their success has yet to be developed, Mars One is nearing the end of its nearly two-year selection process to narrow more than 200,000 applicants into 24. …To help fund the estimated $6 billion trip, their experiences will be broadcast on television. Today, 660 candidates remain in the running. (Contrera)

Understanding that some candidates may not know what they want until it is nearly too late backup teams are being prepared just in case any decide not to go at the last minute (Gardiner). Mars One emphasizes that most of the money raised through broadcasting will be when major events occur. Their business plan points out that the Olympic Games in London lasted only three weeks, but earned more than 4.5B US$. The mission cost is projected conservatively at $6B, and “Mars One offers the opportunity to take the world on the greatest exploration mission. The revenues from media exposure are estimated at 10 Olympic Games between today and the first year after human landing” (Mars One). That is $45B dollars, and may indicate that the eager space marketers see a profit from limited broadcasting rights as well as the possible future investments (Griffiths and O’Callaghan). In any sense it is clear that Mars One is not a science organization as it is a social organization with curiosity and gumption (Tue). 

Conclusion

Humans living on Mars may soon be a reality, with all the drama, chaos, and adventure of the current reality but on an entirely new stage. The motivations, the end game, and the possibility that it is happening simply because it can bely the need for ethical introspection. The philosophical implications of Mars colonization are multitudinous, and there is the hope that at least one of the colonists will have a philosophical mind to analyze this.

Works Cited 

Contrera, Jessica. “100 finalists have been chosen for a one-way trip to Mars.” The Washington Post, 16 Feb. 2015. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2015/02/16/100-finalists-have-been-chosen-for-a-one-way-trip-to-mars/

Contrera, Jessica. “Would you leave your family behind to be the first human to set foot on Mars?” The Washington Post, 11 Feb. 2015. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/would-you-give-up-everything-to-be-the-first-on-mars-these-people-would/2015/02/11/fd76b3fc-afcc-11e4-886b-c22184f27c35_story.html

Gardiner, Michael. “Mars One: Crews Won't Know When, Or If, Red Planet Trip Will Happen.” iDigitaltimes.com, 16 Mar. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.idigitaltimes.com/mars-one-crews-wont-know-when-or-if-red-planet-trip-will-happen-519979

Griffiths, Sarah, and Jonathan O’Callaghan. “Endemol axes plans for reality TV show that would record life of Mars One explorers - but a documentary will still be made.” The Daily Mail, 23 Feb. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2965182/No-Big-Brother-red-planet-Endemol-axe-plans-reality-TV-record-life-Mars-One-explorers-documentary-made.html

Mars-One. “Human Settlement on Mars.” Mars-one.com, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.mars-one.com

Niderhoff, Gary. “Big Picture Science – Mars Struck: Kim Stanley Robinson / Humans on Mars.” Big Picture Science, 6 Mar. 2015. Retrieved from: http://blog.bigpicturescience.org/2015/03/big-picture-science-mars-struck-kim-stanley-robinson-humans-on-mars/

Tue, Nina Shapiro. “As a New Space Race Heats Up, Mars Beckons Once Again.” Seattle Weekly, 7 Apr. 2015. Retrieved from: http://archive.seattleweekly.com/news/957816-129/as-a-new-space-race-heats