For the last few years, companies have kept popping up all over promising manned missions to Mars within less than a decade. Mars One, a company that appeared out of thin air, is no exception to this.
The company boasted their plans to send a group of four humans to the red planet by 2025, followed by a second group of the same size two years later. They've now changed their plans (for at least the third time) and pushed the date to send people to the planet to 2035. Mars One has been plagued by several issues since it was founded, including a lack of leadership and no significant way to raise the funding needed for such a mission. Essentially it's the only company with the aim to send someone to Mars without a sound business plan or tangable targets and projections.
Earth is the nearest planet to Mars at 22 million kilometres away and when people think about living on another planet, big red is usually the first one that comes to mind. A NASA rover found a rock sample that proved the planet could have sustained life for microbes at one point.
Humans want to go to the planet because it's in the spirit of exploration and will tell us what is truly out there. We must also start looking at backup locations for humans to live in case Earth becomes uninhabitable due to nuclear war or climate change.
There's quite a few reasons why Mars One most likely won't be a company suceeding at putting people on the red planet in the near future, or quite possibly at all. Projections don't line up with reality, their budget is massively unrealistic and they've stated they have partnered with companies that have rebuted these claims.
To someone who's not familiar with the space industry, $6 billion might sound like the correct cost for a project of this size. NASA had initially estimated that sending a group to Mars would cost over $100 billion, and Space News pegs the cost at around $230 billion.
NASA has been planning to use the Orion capsule to send people to the planet in the 2030s which is technically possible, but their budget shrinks every year. Mars One says that "all equipment will be developed by third-party suppliers and integrated in established facilities," but that's not going to put their budget at less than 10 percent of what NASA is going to spend.
Mars, like all other planets, has an environment that is hostile to human life. There's no oxygen or air pressure there, temperatures reach down to -125 degrees Celsius in the middle of the winter and there's a lot of radiation coming from space.
Once the settlement wants to grow their own food they would need an oxygen removal system to make it safe for consumption, but a machine like that hasn't been invented to work in space quite yet.
The conditions are not known to be able to support growing plants for food — contrary to The Martian, you can't just grab some dirt outside to grow food in. A steady stream of supplies would be needed to support the small colony living there, and each load of supplies would take years to arrive.
Medical supplies would be scarce and limited to what you bring with you. Settlers will live in a system of interconnected pods with life support machines making sure there's enough oxygen for all.
Unfortunately according to an MIT study that analyzed the technology Mars One will use, settlers would suffocate within 68 days because the equipment would not be able to balance oxygen levels. To credit the company, the study is partially bullish and written by undergrad students who didn't use any concrete facts. There's not much facts that the company has provided to the public, either.
Scientists have yet to disclose how long-term space travel affects the human body. In 2015 NASA sent up Scott Kelly to spend a full year on the ISS. Living in zero-gravity can stretch our spines, make our muscles turn into jelly and seriously mess up our immune systems. The worse part is that even though we can try to understand living in space, there's not much we can do once we're tens of millions of kilometres away from civilization.
We have no idea how long-term space travel affects the human body. Though we can try to test it near Earth, we cannot predict completely accurately how all the different environmental factors will affect astronauts.
The company is definitely going to have a hard time raising the money. Though it won't need to raise all the money right away, they did try launching a crowdfunding campaign and failed to raise their goal of only $400,000.
The company remains optimistic about securing the money they need and had initially said they did not have plans to rethink their timeline — until they did just that.
The company has long proposed creating a reality television show to document the finalists through their final training and journey to Mars, while hoping to capitalize on it using sponsors. This seems like a far-fetched idea and even if it does manage to take off, it's almost impossible that it'll be able to raise the money the company needs — however much that might be. It almost sounds too optimistic about the show, boasting that “in the next decade, about four billion people will have access to video images” and that “Mars One expects that virtually every one of them will watch when the first humans land on Mars.”
It’s not a good sign that no broadcasting company has purchased rights to air the show, but that’s still far out so there’s still time. The company sounds almost overly-confident in its ability to generate interest in such a show. “In the next decade, about four billion people will have access to video images” and “Mars One expects that virtually every one of them will watch when the first humans land on Mars.” Candidates will be doing serious technical training over the next decade to make sure they can survive Mars. It’s a question of how much entertainment value something like this will bring, unlike sports events that have large followings.
Though I understand with something this uncertain the timeline will end up changing, something makes me feel as though this is changing too much. It makes me ask the question, "why did they not go with the 2032 date from the beginning?" You can be pardoned for adjusting a timeline a few years because of planning or supply issues, but adjusting it by more than a decade makes it lose a bit of its credibility.
The roadmap for the company currently has Survey Satellite Technology Ltd. building the communication satellite, Lockheed Martin constructing a rover and Paragon building life support systems. SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Rocket is going to be used to launch all the missions, but there are no current contracts between the two companies.
Elon Musk has gone on the record to say that he would sell machinery to the company, but that they most likely don't have nearly enough funding for the rockets they need.
There are so many big questions to answer before something like the Mars One, or even SpaceX or NASA mission begins. But with more than a handful of different companies and agencies working on sending people into space, I have no doubt that at least a couple of them will end up succeeding.