Will Mars One get off the ground? Here's why it doesn't matter if they succeed or not
Thursday, March 19, 2015, 8:22 PM - Will Mars One get off the ground? Criticisms of the mission have been flying as of late, and CEO Bas Lansdorp has come out to respond to them, but in the end, it really doesn't matter whether this one-way trip will ever happen.
The Mars One project - the plan to send teams of four people on one-way trips to the Red Planet starting in 2025 - has had more than its fair share of critics ever since the mission was announced in 2013.
Just recently, Dr. Joseph Roche, an astrophysicist at Trinity College’s School of Education in Dublin, spoke out against Mars One on Medium.com. In the article, Roche - who is not on Mars One's current roster of candidates - leveled several criticisms at the project, saying:
• Mars One had nowhere near the 200,000 applicants original reported,
• Candidates were encouraged to donate a large portion of any fees they collect from speaking about their involvement in Mars One,
• Candidates had 'bought' their way into subsequent rounds of the selection process, through donations and purchasing project merchandise, and
• The short video he submitted, the application he filled out, and a "10-minute Skype interview" were not enough to judge his suitability for the program.
The article went on to say that "Mars One has almost no money. Mars One has no contracts with private aerospace suppliers who are building technology for future deep-space missions. Mars One has no TV production partner. Mars One has no publicly known investment partnerships with major brands. Mars One has no plans for a training facility where its candidates would prepare themselves. Mars One’s candidates have been vetted by a single person, in a 10-minute Skype interview."
On Wednesday, ex-CSA astronaut Julie Payette, who has flown on two space shuttle missions, had some sharp words about the plan.
"Nobody is going anywhere in 10 years," she said.
"We don't have the technology to go to Mars, with everything we know today, so I don't think that a marketing company and a TV-type of selection, is sending anybody anywhere," she added. "So, if you meet any of those people, don't tell them they're courageous because the only courage they had was to sign up on a website."
Payette certainly has a point. Since Mars One has only recently narrowed their list of candidates down to the top 100, noone involved will have done anything particularly courageous yet, beyond simply contemplating the idea of spending the rest of their lives on Mars.
However, Bas Lansdorp, the CEO of Mars One, appeared on camera Thursday, to respond to criticisms about the plan.
While Lansdorp responded mostly to the criticisms about the selection process and economics of the project, and talked about the difficulties that lay ahead (including an unfortunate 2-year delay in the mission plan), uncertainties about the mission remain.
Some have called it a suicide mission. However, calling it suicide would be akin to saying that the explorers of old were suicidal.
An MIT study has been done about its feasibility, but rather than leveling scathing commentary about the mission, the study authors simply give a frank assessment and provide suggestions that could help the plan - advice that Lansdorp more than welcomes.
Does Success, 'As Written', Really Matter?
If Mars One ultimately fails to lift off, it will be a disappointment for a lot of people. However, when it comes down to it, though, if Lansdorp and the rest of the Mars One team are truly serious about their plan, it really doesn't matter if their first rocket actually blasts off in 2027 or not.
The mission will only get off the ground if it really does turn out to be technically feasible. Noone will be leaving Earth if the project can't make everything on their roadmap happen, so it's not as if the colonists will be launched into space in a toy rocket and given cardboard boxes to live in.
For comparison, the timeline of NASA's Curiosity rover took 7 years from conception to launch. The selection-to-mission times for Canadian astronauts such as Payette, David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen has been roughly 7 years or so.
By their current mission roadmap, Mars One has seven years to plan and launch a rover mission, nine years to launch colony cargo pods, and a full decade to get the outpost established and functional. This is all before anyone is actually supposed to leave Earth. The colonists, whatever they may be doing in their lives now, will have at least 12 years to train for the mission. None of that seems unreasonable, again, as long as the team is truly serious about pursuing the goal of a real, viable Mars colony.
Regardless of training times and technical feasibility, though, the real boons from Mars One are the public interest and the potential technological innovation.
Public interest is an important aspect of a space program, and public interest is contagious. As the Mars One team pursues their goal, the excitement it generates could easily increase support for other space exploration missions.
As for technology, as we've proven again and again over the years, if what's available today proves not to be up to the task, new technologies will be invented that can do the job. This would not only benefit the mission, but it could carry over into technological innovations for the people of Earth as well (as has happened already from NASA's space program). That doesn't exactly mesh with Mars One's core idea of only using existing technologies, but if it gets us a viable colony on Mars in the mid-to-late 2020s, will anyone truly complain that they couldn't do the job specifically as they said, more than a decade before they succeeded?
The message to take away from this? Give Mars One a chance to prove they can actually do this, because even if they ultimately fail, the benefits that come from it could long outlast the roadmap they originally laid down.