By Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education
At a news conference today, the Mars One team announced contracts with two vendors for studies and a two-year delay in their schedule. The first launch now is scheduled for 2018 with the launch of the first manned mission in 2025. This puts Mars One closer to the schedules of other announced Mars landings in 2030 or later. This sort of very ambitious project almost always suffers delays, and this may not be the last. Given that much of the technology, although existing in some form, has not been created in the form necessary for the trip to Mars.
No one has ever landed as large a mass as planned for Mars One on Mars. Even lifting the materials into space may extend into areas not ever reached previously. Planned rockets may be capable, but without detailed plans, it’s hard to evaluate the likelihood of success.
The funding will come from sponsorships, partnerships, and crowdfunding through Indiegogo. The crowdfunding site is already up and has raised over $8,000 of its $400,000 goal in the first hour since the news conference. The crowdfunding will finance the initial studies by Lockheed-Martin and SSTL, who will produce the 2018 lander and communication satellite respectively.
For just $10,000 you can have Bas Lansdorp speak at your event. At a more mundane level, $29 will get you a Mars One t-shirt if you’re one of the first 200 to subscribe. The cost of the study is $256,000 according to the Mars One estimate.
The tiny Mars One lander will not be mobile according to the artist’s drawing. It will sample soil and attempt to extract water from it. However, it cannot dig deeply or move around to try other spots for water. Given the desiccated nature of the surface of Mars, it’s not very likely that sufficient water will be obtained to prove that people can live there.
Another part of the Mars One plans makes little sense. The plans have nitrogen being extracted from Martian air. The pressure of the air on Mars is around 1% of that on Earth. Of that thin air, only about 2% is nitrogen, while 96% is carbon dioxide with about 2% argon and very small amounts of other gases. Using just solar energy, which will be quite limited, the amount of energy to extract nitrogen from Martian air would be wasted unless nitrogen is crucial to survival. However, nitrogen is an inert gas in our air with respect to breathing. Adding nitrogen will make a higher pressure in the habitats necessary and thus exacerbate all of the problems of EVAs (extravehicular activities) and the mass of the habitats.
The effects of 38% gravity are completely unknown and have been waved aside by the Mars One people as being just fine. They could range from fatal, as would be extended microgravity in space, to beneficial. The likelihood is some detrimental but not fatal effects. We simply do not know whether such low gravity will shorten or extend life expectancy.
They also wave aside the effects of cosmic radiation, although they do have plans to cover some of the habitable area with Mars regolith to help shield the colonists. Their comment about the Martian air providing shielding is utter nonsense.
This step, although important, is very small. Until the launch and landing of a true life support module, the entire project remains highly speculative.
Karl Tate, “How the Private Mars One Lander Will Explore the Red Planet (Infographic),” Space.com, 12/10/13.
Adi Robertson, “Mars One Plans Unmanned 2018 Mission in Deal with Lockheed Martin and Satellite Company,” The Verge, 12/10/13.
Tanya Lewis, “Private Mars Colony Project Unveils 1st Private Robotic Mission to Red Planet,” Yahoo! News, 12/10/13.
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