Mars One Effort Faltering as Doubts Grow

Mars colony (Credit: Mars One)
Mars colony (Credit: Mars One)

Even as Mars One announced 100 finalists for its plan to colonize the red planet, things were beginning to go wrong behind the scenes, with a television production deal falling through and doubts about whether a pair of precursor missions would take place. The $6 billion has come under criticism for being unrealistic, with one expert suggesting it might be a fraud.

The most recent piece of bad news relates to a planned television program.

The venture’s accompanying reality TV show – which was to be made by the makers of Big Brother to document their training and new lives on the red planet – has been shelved after the companies were ‘unable to reach an agreement on details’, MailOnline has learned….

Instead, Mars One is working with a new production company to record the colonists’ progress.

Initially, there were plans for Endemol to make a reality TV programme documenting the selection process and training of the colonists.

It was to be made by Endemol-owned Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP) and was dubbed ‘Big Brother on Mars’.

But DSP told MailOnline: ‘DSP and Mars One were unable reach agreement on the details of the contract and DSP is no longer involved in the project. We wish Bas and the team all the very best.’

Mars One 2018 lander (Credit: Mars One)
Mars One 2018 lander (Credit: Mars One)

Meanwhile, Space News reports that Mars One

has quietly suspended work on a pair of robotic missions, putting into question plans to launch those spacecraft in 2018.

Mars One, a Dutch-based nonprofit organization, announced in December 2013 it was starting work on two robotic missions it planned to launch in 2018 as precursors to its human expeditions to Mars. One spacecraft would orbit Mars and serve as a communications relay, while the other would be a lander to test technologies planned for later crewed missions.

At that time, Mars One announced it had selected Lockheed Martin to begin work on the lander mission and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) to start work on the orbiter. Mars One awarded contracts to each company to perform concept studies of the planned missions….

However, both companies confirmed with SpaceNews that, since the completion of those study contracts, they have not received additional contracts from Mars One to continue work on those missions.

Writing at BuzzFeed, Dan Vergano says the private Mars colonization effort has far too many obstacles and far too little money to begin Mars colonization 10 years from now.

It’s only the latest in decades of celebrated Mars colonization projects. And just like all the rest, this one is unlikely to ever happen, experts say.

“It looks like a scam,” John Logsdon, a space policy expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., told BuzzFeed News. “They don’t have any technology, they don’t have any agreements with the space industry. It looks very shaky.”

The bigger problem? Mars One’s flaws — too few spaceships, nonexistent life-support technologies, not nearly enough money, and, really, no good reason for going — discredit all Mars exploration plans, including NASA’s.

Although these hurdles are obvious to everyone in the space industry, politicians have spent decades trumpeting Mars plans, only to cut and run when presented with the bill for their interplanetary adventures.

Vergano’s piece is worth a read in that he thinks NASA’s plan for Mars exploration isn’t feasible due to funding constraints.

  • Kirk

    Your first link, to the Elmo Keep article, is a wonderful psychological investigation of the author herself and why she should not volunteer for any MO type mission. She describes how just learning about the mission and interviewing a candidate (Josh Richards, who did later make it into the MO 100) led to nightmares so bad that she feels panicked to recall them months later. I especially enjoyed her description of the reaction she had to reading the Wikipedia article Timeline of the far future: “By the time I got through to the end I suffered a panic attack of such intensity the walls of the room appeared distended in my vision, and I momentarily lost the ability to hear. Then I lay on the floor of my office and cried for a very long time.” Great stuff!

  • ThomasLMatula

    Sorry, but you are the one showing your lack of knowledge of full extant the dust problem on Mars, and you link to the “Polly Ana” Mars One article shows they don’t recognize the extant of the problem. Also is wasn’t dust that was considered the limiting dimensions on the Mars rover missions, it was their ability to survive the harsh Martian winter when sunlight is limited by low sun angle and it get very very cold…

    The dust problem discussed of dust covering the solar panels is easily enough solved by someone going out and scraping the dust off. Its not like the Mars One astronauts will have anything else to do. The real problem will be with the dust working itself into joints of spacesuits and equipment, ruining seals and jamming gears as well as entering the atmosphere of the habitats.

    Here is a good article on it. Note how it discusses the risks and how different it is from the Mars One discussion of it….

    ” One of the biggest threats is the extra-fine dust that coats the planet. And the problem is, researchers have never had any sample of the powdery grit to study, so they don’t know exactly how it behaves or what its health effects might be.”

    But they have some guesses, none of it good news for Mars One…

    “dust could coat equipment like electrostatic spray paint, short out electronics in a spacesuit, or even zap a craft and prevent astronauts from coming home. Meantime, inhaling the tiny particles will have potential health consequences that are unknown today.”

    Just like microgravity effects on humans, there is not enough data to use for design studies…”

    Yes, as your link to the Mars One page shows, Mars One is naive and is preparing its astronauts for the Mars of science fiction, not the real Mars…

    Really, it will be “filtered”. And exactly where will they get the replacement filters from? Earth… And how much mass will those replacement add to the resupply missions from Earth? And what about the dust that gets by the filters…

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    How about condemning him for conning people out of money and wasting their time? Believe it or not, there are people who gave up quite a lot to jump this foolish bandwagon (you can find their stories/interviews through google).

    Bas never had any money – zilch. He had an idea that industry professionals dismissed from day one. Even his own Nobel Prize winning ambassador, Gerard’t Hooft, told him to stick a 0 on the numbers ($60 billion and 100 years). Yet Bas continued to con people out of money – and he is still doing it.

    The worst thing is that he is making a laughingstock out of New Space startups.

  • Hug Doug

    i’m aware of the dust problem and its extent. it’s foolish to suggest that Mars One isn’t aware of the extent of the dust problem, as they do mention it. is there more to the dust problem than is on their web page? yes. is that page the place where they should go on for pages and pages and pages and pages about how to address the problems? no. it’s a quick FAQ page. but it does show that the issue is on their radar.

    the solution to the health problem you point out from the web page you linked to (from 2007 might i note!! it’s not like this is an unexpected or newly discovered thing) is obvious – don’t breathe it in. there are such things as air filters, as you note. they will likely try to make them cleanable and reusable, to reduce how many have to be imported from Earth. the other hazards, the electrostatic clinginess, you want to keep as much of it out of the habitats as possible, minimize its ability to be a hazard. and that is the essence of what is presented on Mars One’s web page.

    you present known issues as if nobody has ever thought of them before. it’s obviously something Mars One will have to deal with.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    The !atmosphere” on Mars classifies as an industrial vacuum and there is no “temperature” (nothing to conduct the heat). When you are in the sun, you get hot as an astronaut on the Moon. When you are in the shade you are icecold.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The Moon has also been shown to have water (and mineral resources) and so the question is, how does the extra water on Mars balance the huge difficulties of getting to Mars? Do you really need to have a “Lake Michigan” amount of water when a 100 acre pond is enough for any future space settlement? In short, does water really make Mars that more attractive to settlement? Or is it only a rationalization for fulfilling a science fiction dream?

    Also in terms of science, is the geology of Mars also worth the effort? Does it really have that more science options than the Moon? Or is that only a belief because images from Mars look like deserts on Earth?

    And third, what does science value have to do with settlement? Did settlers pick Jamestown because of the local opportunities for science? No, you pick settlement locations based on the ability to survive AND generate wealth from trade. McMurdo Sound is not a settlement, its a research base that no one calls home because it is impossible to survive there on local resources and there is nothing to trade. And McMurdo Sound is a garden paradise compared to conditions on Mars.

    Finally simply increasing the atmosphere on Mars won’t terra form it, with all due apologies to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, you still have the problem of toxic dust, which will only be made worst in a denser atmosphere. Soil, true Earth soil, is a complex living ecosystem that humans are adapted to. It won’t be duplicated in a thousand years on Mars just by increasing the atmospheric pressure.

    No, increasing the atmosphere on Mars only means trading a spacesuit for an hazardous materials suit when you go on your evening stroll. But you won’t see much if you do as the increased pressure will make dust storms a constant occurrence given how fine the dust is on Mars compared with its low gravity. The slightest movement will fill the air with it.

  • Hug Doug

    On the Moon, surface temperatures are 120 C in the day, -230 C at night. on Mars, 0-20 C in the day, -80-100 C at night. balmy and moderate temperatures in comparison with the Moon.

  • ThomasLMatula

    But both the Moon and Mars have one common problem. Low gravity and the health effects that go with it. Even if mammals are able to reproduce in low gravity, a huge question mark, raising young will have a major impact on muscle development.

    The difference is that the Moon is not a one way suicide mission. Its close enough to Earth the workforce could be rotated on a regular basis, and those with health issue due to a special sensitivity to low gravity could be rushed to Earth. More important, from the economic perspective, each worker on the Moon would be easily supported by near real time (1.5 second) telebotic systems. This will increase their productivity and safety by orders of magnitude over those on distant Mars. Finally, the close proximity of the Moon means technology upgrades, fixes and spare parts will be able to be quickly transported there. This will greatly increase the speed of technology development for settlement and space industrial technology.

    And note, the focus is not on science, but industry and technology development. Its learning to generate wealth beyond the Earth that will make humans a space faring civilization, not a struggling outpost on distant Mars.

    But Mars has been planted in folks minds as the “New Earth” by many science fiction writers, so the Mars advocates will continue focus on it and find rationalizations for it.

  • Hug Doug

    actually, Bas Lansdorp is a millionaire. he was the founder and GM of Ampyx Power (a wind power production company) before he started Mars One, he sold off his shares of Ampyx so he could start Mars One.

  • Hug Doug

    it is true that the long-term effects of low gravity are unknown. unfortunately there’s no really good way to figure out just how much of a problem that is without a fairly large centrifuge on the ISS or building a new rotating space station.

    the Moon’s relatively close by and that does enable real-time support, frequent upgrades, crew rotations, and makes an emergency return to Earth much easier. those are all good reasons for going to the Moon, i agree.

    as i said, the Moon is a great place to go and it has value as a destination in its own right. but the same applies to Mars.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    LOL Ampyx is a startup trying to build an airborne wind turbine. They have never made a dime; although they have gotten a few EU grants.

  • Hug Doug
  • Matt

    We are not far away in respect to our judgement concering present plans of settlement on Mars.

    However, increase in atmosphere pressure will melt the burried ice ocean and the freed water will bind the dust. What is needed is a deeply science based effort to investigate terraforming challenges, a real terraforming science, but it is not very urgent.

    Mars is a much more rich environment as Moon, with a “hidden” history. It was at its surface full of life 2-3 billions years ago. Please reverse your existing impression after viewing this unbelievable video:

    I bet with you that there is simple life in this moment on Mars somewere some feets deep in ground! I would like to see this important discovery in my life time.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    When did you ever hear of anyone making millions by selling stocks in a company with no product and no profit? Ampyxis one of those companies that makes a living leeching funds from various green investment funds and EU grants. This is their entire purpose. Bas likely wanted to do something similar by getting his hands on New Space funding.

    This is a translation of their site footer:

    This project has been funded with support from the European
    Commission, the European Regional Development Fund.

  • Hug Doug

    he sold his controlling stake in the company. i just linked you to a story where investors had put in 1.8 million into the company. this isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    The high numbers are surface temperatures (soil measurements). Actual temperature measurements at the Viking landers’ site range from −17.2 °C (256.0 K; 1.0 °F) to −107 °C (166 K; −161 °F). Mars does not have an atmosphere that can heat up.

  • Hug Doug

    … did you not read what i posted? i did say surface temperatures. the temperature values you cite are in the range of what i posted.

    Mars’ atmosphere is what moderates the temperature. If it had no atmosphere, the temperature swings would be as extreme as on the Moon.

  • François

    I think that the Project Virgle have more chance to succeed. At least it did not cost anything! (Google April Fools joke)

  • Matt

    Shit EU, it wastes my tax money. Such projects are often supported by political reasons by EU grants.

  • Matt

    You have obvious no experiences with such things.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Says the faceless poster whose position is based on quick sand. 🙂

  • Hug Doug

    lol. so you think that $250,000 is an amount of money that can be laughed out the window?

    again, i hope you’re not in charge of anyone’s finances.

  • TimR

    You are way too defensive. My arguments are sound. “talking”…”large amounts of funding” – they lost funding and that’s where it stands. No way the lander/orbiter flys in 2018, too late, development wise. M1 is on the verge of insolvency. They can’t afford L-M & Surrey. They must take more time to raise funds, delay missions and reduce costs.

  • Hug Doug

    you said that there’s no TV show anymore. this is incorrect.

    the rest of your statements are a cascade of poorly made assumptions based on that first incorrect one.

    so no, what you’ve said is not sound.

    Mars One is on the verge of insolvency? based on what?? please stop making wild, unsupported assertions.

  • NamibFox

    “Unfortunately, that useful point was eclipsed by their “colonists dead in 68 days” result”…

    Interesting point and anecdote (good spot and hopefully the authors will revise the paper) and not surprising given that the number 68 smacked of a somewhat arbitrary if not spurious precision.

    One would have thought such a point about the likelihood of survival would have been couched in terms of a table showing the odds over time but the 68 meme (as you have aptly named it) suits the simplicity of the world’s press and talks to the human numerical desire for a number that is simply grasped even if like 95.67897 of statistics or numbers it was simply made up on the spot!

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, and I am sure they will by writing glowing press releases about the what sacrifices the Mars One astronauts made for human knowledge by dying from it 🙂

  • ThomasLMatula

    They are found in smaller quantities than Mars, but again, the proximity to Earth makes it easy enough to ship the small amounts needed for a settlement. Really going to Mars for Nitrogen and Carbon is like going to Antarctica because there is more ice available for your cold drinks.

    In terms of life, if anything that is an strong argument against Mars settlement, at least until we understand the native life and how to protect it. Planetary protection more than anything else will be what prevents Mars One and other private ventures from going to Mars, let alone settle it. And the higher the probability of life on Mars, the more likely that will be.

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    Two things here. One: The company isn’t making money. Two: that fund raising was years after Bas “sold” his shares.

  • Aegis Maelstrom

    Nah, I am afraid that the MachineAgeChronicle is right. These were only initial, pre-emptive contracts.

    I don’t know what is your experience with B2B but I will try to explain what happened there.

    If you are hiring a contractor to fix some plumbing in your house, make a new roof or go to dentist with some bigger plans of implants, crowns and whatnots, you make an initial check if they can do it, will do it and how much more-or-less it can cost.
    In Business to consumer market such evaluation is often free (although not always – see usually medical consultations), in the world of big technological / consulting etc. companies it is very often paid.

    Judging just in terms of the value of the contract (and basing on my overfilled memory), it was just an initial assessment. And if you think that 250k USD is “a lot of money”… well, it means you know little about B2B.

    To be sure I would need to reread info about these contracts but I don’t think boys like LM sponsor Mars One. Thus, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  • Matt

    Why do turn words in my mouth? You misunderstood me (I am not sure why). I am against near-term “settlement” activities (which will fail due to other causes) and I am a supporter of planetary protection as I said several times above in different comments!

    However, I think also in 1000 years or so, mankind will have permanent branch on Mars.

  • Hug Doug

    no, he’s wrong. the link i provided demonstrates that his assertion is incorrect.

    Lockheed Martin isn’t sponsoring Mars One.

  • Hug Doug

    ok, then you tell me. how much did he make from selling his shares?

  • MachineAgeChronicle

    The company is running on grants and crowd sourcing and is basically worthless (even more so in 2011, when Bas “sold” his part of the shares). Ampyx has not made a single Euro in profit since 2008 – how much would you pay? Anyway, somebody took over his position and if I should attempt to put a figure on the deal, I would say in the region of 1-200.000 Euro (for whatever inventory there was). The key to the Ampyx shares story is to keep potential suckers thinking Bas is some kind of Elon Musk – funding a futuristic company with a wast fortune. Note how Bas never once put a figure on the value of his shares. He simply says it was enough to start Mars One; whats that, a years wages, a website, a powerpoint presentation, and a stack of T-shirts. The money spent later was from crows sourcing and “astronaut” registration fees.