Surfing around the net this morning I noticed the type of headline that you don’t expect every day. It declared that Five Britons have just been shortlisted for a controversial mission to Mars to establish a settlement on the ‘red planet’. As soon as I read that the whole thing was launched by Mars One in 2011, I began to wonder if I had perhaps drifted a little too far from the ‘Real’ world, by preferring to spend most of my time in a little fishing village, trying to edit and complete my latest book. How could I not notice something as fundamental as creating a permanent settlement on the red planet, a gig that I soon learned had seen more than 200,000 applicants for the privately-funded one-way missions due to blast off in 2024.
Photo by James Vaughan
The project organiser is the Dutch entrepreneur Bars Lansdorp, who claims the citizen astronauts will grow their own food and be protected from deadly radiation by a “hollow water tank”. The first unmanned rover will be deployed on the planet by 2020 to chose a location where the soil contains water and enough sunlight to power the settlement. Mr Lansdorp said: “The brightest young minds of our planet are being invited to participate in Mars One’s first Mars Lander. We do this to inspire students to believe that anything is possible.”
So far so good, it all sounded very positive – apart from the One-way element of the trip. However, suspicious journalists and other critics believe the mission is nothing more than a publicity stunt to raise revenue for a reality television series by Big Brother producer Endemol. Australian journalist Elmo Keep dug a little deeper and told Sky News this week: “200,000 people did not apply; 2,071 paid the registration fee… According to the dozens of people I interviewed over the course of a year for the story, there is scant-to-no proof Mars One has any capability to make it real.”
So where does the truth lie? Forgive me for thinking it, but won’t any mission to send and sustain life on another planet be astronomically (no pun intended) expensive? Billions and Billions of Euro’s perhaps? Mars One have declared themselves to be a self financing project and a quick look at their website will show you that they have already begun knocking out quite a few overpriced items, which they are happy to exchange for our cash. Indeed, even before you are able to interact as part of their Global Community, you must, as a minimum have at least made a cash donation to the project or dented your credit card in their on-line merchandise shop. Of course something from the same stable as Big Brother won’t pass up a chance to franchise out things like the Astronaut Selection Process TV rights, with a dozen or so other spin-offs to wet the apatite’s of advertisers. A Mars One statement announced earlier that: “Endemol-owned Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP) will exclusively follow the selection and training of the astronauts.” However, a DSP spokesperson announced only last week that they had pulled out of the project after failing to reach agreement on the details of the contract. Perhaps DSP know it will never get off the ground or perhaps more alarmingly, it will go ahead, half thought out and half funded to add further peril to the almost certain early death any successful astronauts will eventually have to face.
Photo by Images Money
Call me a party pooper if you must, but after reading recent research carried out at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which suggests that a manned mission to Mars would see the crew die within 68 days, I think Mars One really needs to begin thinking of how it can sex up its dire Unique Selling Point (USP) of 15 minutes of fame followed by an almost certain lingering death.
Amazingly there are some who would still go just for the thrill of getting a footnote in our history books… erm before they die. Hannah Earnshaw, a 23-year-old astronomy student at Durham University, is among the Britons on the shortlist and said the trip was really appealing. “My family is pretty thrilled. They’re really happy for me,” she said. “Obviously it’s going to be challenging, leaving Earth and not coming back… I’ve had support from my friends and family and we can still communicate via the internet.” Ms Earnshaw did admit, however that she “wasn’t surprised” there was scepticism about a project which she said was only “feasible”. But International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield said candidates would be disappointed because: “There’s a great self-defeating optimism in the way this project has been set up… I fear it’s going to be a little disillusioning for people because it’s presented as if it’s going to happen and so all those people are excited.”
So is it just a money making publicity stunt? Challenged over the likelihood of the project getting off the ground, Mr Lansdorp still rejects claims the mission is a stunt. “If you look at the team involved in Mars One, none of us would do this as a hoax.”
It would be interesting to see if Mr Lansdorp eventually puts his money (or should I say our money) where his mouth is and flies off with them… now that really would be something I would watch on my TV.