‘Inside 360’: Behind the Scenes of the Mars One Mission

Amersfoort, 27th May 2015 – Mars One is proud to introduce Inside 360; a series of in-depth articles that present an inside look into the details and feasibility of the Mars One mission. The first article can be found on Mars Exchange. Subsequent articles will be added periodically.

Mars One has taken the first crucial steps in the process of establishing the first human settlement on Mars. In order to address the questions and concerns that have been raised, Inside 360 will foremost provide an in-depth explanation of the individual phases of the mission. Mars One is continuously improving their mission plans based on advice from advisers and suppliers, and Inside 360 will offer the rationale behind decisions made. The ongoing series will additionally feature interviews with Mars One team members and external experts about the different aspects of the mission.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

“Mars One is still in the early stages of organizing this human mission to Mars,” said Bas Lansdorp, co-founder and CEO of Mars One. “We are looking forward to sharing our developments as well as the studies completed by our suppliers. This way, the aerospace community can share their feedback and we can implement suggestions that improve our mission design.”

Astronaut Selection: Inside 360 will describe the Mars One astronaut selection process and include an interview with Mars One’s Chief Medical Officer, Norbert Kraft, M.D., discussing the selection criteria. Dr. Kraft has researched crew composition for long duration space missions at NASA and has also worked for the Japanese Space Agency and collaborated with the Russian Space Agency.  Continue reading

The End of Dark Energy

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Dr. Peter A. Milne and his associates have found an unexpected and, to the cosmological community, startling result from their surveys of supernovae. This result illustrates both the consistent and varying nature of science at the same time.

Dr. Peter Milne

Dr. Peter Milne

We know from a great many astronomical observations that the universe has been expanding for a little short of 14 billion years and continues to expand. Because of gravity, everyone expected that this expansion was slowing over time with theories and measurements suggesting that this expansion would eventually coast to a very dilute universe drifting apart at ever slower speeds.

In the 1990s, some astronomers separately discovered that the universe is expanding ever more rapidly instead of the expected opposite slowing of expansion using measurements of he brightness of very distant supernovae. They received the Nobel Prize in physics for this work in 2011.

Stars can explode. One common explosion is called a nova. A much more cataclysmic and extremely brighter explosion is a supernova. Supernovae shine with a brightness that can exceed that of all of the hundred billion or so stars in its galaxy. For this reason, we can see them in distant galaxies that are barely visible in our best telescopes. A supernova is a rare event occurring about three times a century in a galaxy the size of our Milky Way. With hundreds of billions of galaxies, however, it’s not too hard to find hundreds each year using modern astronomical equipment.

A special sort of supernova created when the two stars in a binary star system go through a specific series of interactions is known as a type 1a supernova. Because of the steps required to reach supernova status, the brightness of these type 1a supernovae has been considered to be a constant that can be used to estimate distances to very distant galaxies. Brightness declines with distance in a very precise manner.

There remains the possibility that acceleration of very distant bodies in our universe away from each other is a basic property of our space-time structure not detectable at smaller distances of only millions or even tens of millions of light-years, that “dark energy” is just an attempt to recast a phenomenon into understandable terms, just as the caloric theory of heat was long ago. -HK

The measurements of these supernovae were the reason to believe that the expansion of the universe was accelerating. We are seeing these very distant supernovae with light that started its journey over ten billion years ago when the universe was very young. Dr. Milne has discovered that type 1a supernovae are not all the same but fall into two categories of different brightness. Furthermore, the supernovae from the early universe are, on average, less bright than those in the more recent universe.

The lower brightness of the distant supernovae may well be due to less inherent brightness instead of greater distance. This finding destroys a fair piece of that Nobel Prize discovery. Dr. Milne still attests that the universe’s expansion is accelerating, just not so fast, but the vast number of recalculations being done to account for this new discovery will take some time.  Continue reading

Mars One CEO Answers Questions About Mission Feasibility

Amersfoort, 19th March 2015 – Mars One recently published a video in which Bas Lansdorp, CEO and Co-founder of Mars One, replies to recent criticism concerning the feasibility of Mars One’s human mission to Mars.

Question: What do you think of the recent news articles that doubt the feasibility of Mars One?

BL: At Mars One we really value good criticism because it helps us to improve our mission. We get a lot of criticism from our advisors, and that is also exactly what we want from them. The recent bad press about Mars One was largely caused by an article on medium.com, which contains a lot of things that are not true. For example, the suggestion was made that our candidates were selected on the basis of how much money they donate to Mars One. That is simply not true, and it is very easy to find that on our website. There are a lot of current Round Three candidates that did not make any donations to Mars One, and there are also lots of people that did not make it to the third round that contributed a lot to Mars One. The two things are not related at all, and to say that they are is simply a lie. The article also states that there were only 2,700 applications for Mars One, which is not true. We offered the reporter, the first journalist ever, access to our list of 200,000 applications, but she was not interested in that. It seems that she is more interested in writing a sensational article about Mars One than in the truth.

We will have to delay the first unmanned mission to 2020. Delaying our first unmanned mission by two years also means that all the other missions will move by the same period of time, with our first human landing now planned for 2027. -B.L.

Question: Concerns have been voiced about the thoroughness of the astronaut selection process. What is your response to that?

BL: We started our astronaut selection with over 200,000 applications that were submitted online. The application included a video and a lot of psychological questions for our candidates. We used that to narrow down the candidates to about 1000 that had to do a medical check, which was very similar to the check for NASA astronauts. All the remaining candidates then underwent an interview. The interview and all other parts of the selection process were led by Norbert Kraft, our Chief Medical Officer. He has worked on astronaut selection for 5 years at the Japanese Space Agency, and at NASA he researched crew composition for long duration space missions.  Continue reading

Mars One Fizzles?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

One of the craziest schemes to garner worldwide publicity and lots of contributions is having some new problems. Mars One has lost one of its final hundred to misgivings about the process by which he was chosen. Will more come out with similar stories? Is this the beginning of the end for Mars One?

The Mars One stray is Joseph Roche, an assistant professor at Trinity College Dublin with a PhD in, wait for it, physics and astrophysics. With this education and background, he’s not just a scientist well equipped with Carl Sagan’s famous “baloney detection kit,” he’s also a specialist in getting around the universe.

Mars One is a reach too far. Until I see plenty of funding and until I see that water mission and then see the first supply mission land successfully, I will remain cautiously skeptical. -H.K.

I have written plenty about Mars One and its challenges. In the end, I stated that its biggest challenge is not radiation or water or air or food but money. It’s not just the money to send that first expedition to Mars but also the money to keep sending more until the colony is self-sufficient. The first expedition requires several preparatory flights to deliver lots of habitat modules, freeze-dried food, solar panels, machinery, rovers, and more. Each of those unmanned preparatory flights will cost very large sums of money, likely a billion or more dollars apiece.  Continue reading

Life on Frozen Moons

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Now that three of the moons of our solar system’s gas giant planets have been said to have subsurface oceans, it’s time to take stock and consider the meaning of these analyses.

Ganymede and Europa of Jupiter along with Enceladus of Saturn are likely to have oceans far below their frozen surfaces. Should we send unmanned missions to explore these unusual moons, and what should we be searching for? Many have exclaimed that we have extremophiles (organisms that survive in extreme environments) here on Earth, so we cannot discount the likelihood of life beneath miles of ice where the Sun never shines.

This image or video was catalogued by Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Enceladus’ north polar region. This image was catalogued by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

If we search near the geysers of Enceladus, might we find the frozen remnants of miniature fish coughed up from deep down inside this odd moon? Answering this question requires more than a moment’s thought. What is life? How does it begin and advance? Are the ingredients for life available in those cold, deep seas?

Here’s my definition. Life uses available energy and materials to reproduce itself and has the potential for errors in reproduction that will allow for evolution. From what we know, those vast, cold underground oceans have the necessary ingredients. Without an energy source, they would be frozen and not liquid. Heat coming from the inside of a moon must provide chemicals that can both be used as chemical energy sources and as materials for constructing living organisms.  Continue reading

Does SETI Make Sense? Part IV: Communicating

Harry SETI header

We are likely to be the only civilization in our galactic cluster if the chances of forming such a civilization are but one in ten trillion. These are not encouraging numbers. For the sake of argument put the odds up to having 100 civilizations in our galaxy. That’s lots more than I would expect and means that the estimates are way off, by a factor of 10,000. Such an improvement in estimates certainly is friendly to SETI. But, can we contact one of these other civilizations?

Although I think that SETI is a colossal waste of resources, I cannot fault those who pursue this dream.

The galaxy is a very large place, about 100,000 light-years across. Any civilizations will be in an annulus around the center because being close to a galactic center is inimical to life. We won’t be able to communicate to the other side of our galaxy due to the extreme noise originating at our galactic center. Our potential range for communication is probably about 20,000 light-years, but this range again is limited by the number of noisy objects between us and our target.  Continue reading

Does SETI Make Sense? Part III: Evolution

Harry SETI header

Every planet that develops life based on chemistry similar to ours will begin with single cells. The entire water ecosystem will consist of these cells in some variety. That variety necessarily came about due to errors in copying the cells from one generation to the next. They would have a rather mundane life of drifting about randomly until encountering some useful molecule and absorbing that molecule. When enough of these molecules had been absorbed, possibly taking years, the single cell will divide into two.

In this slow, inexorable process, the seas will become full of these cells. Some will drift to inhospitable places where they’ll be killed and spill their contents back into the sea for other cells to absorb. Direct conflict is unlikely because the apparatus for killing and absorbing other cells is too complex to develop readily.

Altogether, there’s something like a chance in a billion that a given star will have a planet that can develop and sustain life. The chances are probably much worse.

Early on, after about a billion years, some developed the ability to use sunlight to make molecules from CO2 and water, from chlorophyll, probably an early form that has evolved into its many varieties today. Some scientists suggest that the earliest versions of chlorophyll did not produce oxygen as a byproduct. By about 2.3 billion years ago, some definitely had and started putting oxygen into the water. For life at that time, oxygen was a serious poison, worse than cyanide is to us. It was a matter of adapt or die — or hide somewhere where oxygen did not exist.

This was probably the first great extinction on Earth, and it was caused by oxygen pollution. Evolution favored those who had a way to neutralize this nasty chemical. Slowly but surely, the removal of so many anaerobic species left ecological niches open, and aerobic cells began to fill them. They used a new way to create energy though oxidation, a much more efficient way than their predecessors. Unfortunately (or fortunately from our viewpoint), the oxygen had some other side effects.

Continue reading

Does SETI Make Sense? Part II: Life

Harry SETI header

The question of what is life has puzzled us for centuries. A new movie, Chappie, addresses this issue in the context of what is a spirit or a soul. Life is simpler but still can be awkward. Because we’re seeking to find civilizations that send out radio waves, we can limit our ideas of life somewhat. Life could be defined as something that reproduces itself using available energy and material resources. To be useful, this life should also be capable of making reproductive mistakes that lead the way to evolution. Without evolution, that civilization could not appear.

In order to figure out if SETI makes sense, we must gather some sort of estimates of the probability of life starting and of it evolving into something like us. We must also determine how many stars harbor planets capable of supporting such life.

Before beginning this peregrination of thought, consider that our version of life here on Earth consists of organisms spawned in water and built of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen plus some other elements in smaller proportions. Any life must be capable of a complex chemistry and of building rather extensive molecules. Finally, the basic construction materials should be close at hand and in reasonable abundance.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and constitutes nearly all of its normal matter. It is found in important simple compounds: water, ammonia, and methane. These also are the simple compounds in which oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon reside. While some have suggested that alien life chemistry might use silicon in place of carbon, the much greater abundance of carbon argues against that route. Similarly, water is not only abundant on the Earth but also throughout space. It has the advantage of being an excellent solvent and the odd characteristic of expanding upon solidifying so that lakes freeze from the top down. All of these features make water the best medium for harboring life by a large margin.  Continue reading

Does SETI Make Sense? Part I: Numbers

Harry SETI header

Understanding SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) requires that you become involved in a great many different fields and comprehend some rather difficult concepts. For most, it becomes a matter of faith, just what science is not all about. This series of articles attempts to make sense of it all, to put you in a position of deciding on a rational, not faith, basis whether SETI is worthwhile or a waste of time and money. They also provide the basis for some interesting class discussions. Enjoy.

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan famously was a strong supporter of SETI and even wrote a novel that put the best possible face on it. For many like Sagan, the benefits of simply knowing that other intelligent life exists out there overwhelms the negatives of cost and time. What do you think? Will you have a different opinion when you have finished reading these articles? Read on.

The first problem with addressing SETI and similar issues revolves around the huge numbers involved. They truly are astronomical. For SETI, we have to have an idea of how many planets in the universe may be capable of harboring life. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has over 100 billion stars, possibly much more. The universe also has over 100 billion galaxies. These are huge numbers indeed, but the total number of stars in the universe is their product, greater than ten sextillion.

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA).

The Allen Telescope Array (ATA).

In case you haven’t heard of a sextillion, it’s a one followed by 21 zeroes. To get an idea of how big that number really is, consider a few examples.  Continue reading

Mars One: 100 Still in Running to Be First Humans on Mars

Amersfoort, 16th February 2015From the initial 202,586 applicants, only 100 hopefuls have been selected to proceed to the next round of the Mars One Astronaut Selection Process. These candidates are one step closer to becoming the first humans on Mars.

“The large cut in candidates is an important step towards finding out who has the right stuff to go to Mars,” said Bas Lansdorp, Co-founder & CEO of Mars One. “These aspiring martians provide the world with a glimpse into who the modern day explorers will be.”

The Mars 100 Round Three candidates were selected from a pool of 660 candidates after participating in personal online interviews with Norbert Kraft, M.D., Chief Medical Officer. During the interviews the candidates had a chance to show their understanding of the risks involved, team spirit and their motivation to be part of this life changing expedition.

Dr. Norbert Kraft said, “We were impressed with how many strong candidates participated in the interview round, which made it a very difficult selection.”

There are 50 men and 50 women who successfully passed the second round. The candidates come from all around the world, namely 39 from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa, and 7 from Oceania. The complete list of Mars One Round Three Candidates. Statistics on the candidates can be found here.

The following selection rounds will focus on composing teams that can endure all the hardships of a permanent settlement on Mars. The candidates will receive their first shot at training in the copy of the Mars Outpost on Earth and will demonstrate their suitability to perform well in a team. More information about the selection process can be found here: Mars One Selection ProcessContinue reading

New Exoplanets Very Old

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

With all of the hoopla over exoplanet discoveries in recent years, it’s a big surprise that this one did not receive more attention. Kepler-444 is a small star, about 25% smaller than ours, and is 11.2 billion years old. According to measurements made by the 600-million dollar Kepler space telescope, it has five rocky planets ranging in size from Mercury to Venus.

Artist's concept of the 11.2-billion-year-old star Kepler-444, which hosts five known rocky planets. Credit: Tiago Campante/Peter Devine.

Artist’s conception of Kepler-444, an 11.2-billion-year-old star, and its five orbiting rocky planets. By Tiago Campante/Peter Devine.

The above information is sufficient to generate great excitement. When you realize that the universe is only about 13.6 billion years old, you know that this star and its planets formed in the early days of a very young, only about 2.5 billions years old, universe. Our own star is less than half as old at 4.6 billion years and has an expected lifespan of around 10 billion years.  Continue reading

Seed Wins the Mars One University Competition to Germinate Life on Mars in 2018

Mars One Press Release: Amersfoort, 5 Jan. 2015:

Mars One is proud to present the winner of the Mars One University Competition: Seed. The Seed team is an important step closer to sending their payload to Mars. The winning payload will fly to the surface of Mars on Mars One’s 2018 unmanned lander mission. Seed was selected by popular vote from an initial 35 university proposals and this is the first time the public has decided which payload receives the extraordinary opportunity to land on Mars.

Photo courtesy of Bryan Versteeg and Mars One.

Photo courtesy of Bryan Versteeg and Mars One.

“We were generally very pleased with the high quality of the university proposals and the amount of effort associated with preparing them,” said Arno Wielders, co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of Mars One. “Seed itself is uniquely inspiring since this would be the first time a plant will be grown on Mars.”

The Winning Team – Seed aims to germinate the first seed on Mars in order to contribute to the development of life support systems and provide a deeper understanding of plant growth on Mars. The payload will consist of an external container, which provides protection from the harsh environment, and interior container, which will hold several seed cassettes. The seeds will stem from the plant Arabidopsis thaliana, which is commonly used in space plant studies. After landing, the seeds inside the cassette will be provided with conditions for germination and seedling growth. The growth will then be recorded using images transmitted back to Earth.

“We are really pleased to be the selected project among so many excellent ideas. We are thrilled to be the first to send life to Mars! This will be a great journey that we hope to share with you all!” said Teresa Araújo, Seed team member.

Seed consists of four bioengineering students from the University of Porto and two PhD students from MIT Portugal and the University of Madrid. The team is supported by Dr. Maria Helena Carvalho, plant researcher at IBMC and Dr. Jack van Loon, from the VU Medical Center, VU-University in Amsterdam, and support scientist at ESTEC-ESA. Seed benefits from scientific and technical support from several advisers, whose expertise range from biological systems to spacecraft development and validation. Read more about Seed here.

An in-depth technical analysis of the winning proposal will be conducted to ensure that the winner has a feasible plan and that their payload can be integrated on the 2018 Mars lander. Mars One and its advisers will contribute to the analysis by thoroughly and critically examining the Seed proposal.

If Seed runs into any issues regarding feasibility or can not stick to the schedule, Mars One will fall back on the runner ups of the university competition. The second and third placed projects are Cyano Knights and Lettuce on Mars.

More information

About Mars One

Mars One is a not-for-profit foundation that will establish permanent human life on Mars. Human settlement on Mars is possible today with existing technologies. Mars One’s mission plan integrates components that are well tested and readily available from industry leaders worldwide. The first footprint on Mars and lives of the crew thereon will captivate and inspire generations. It is this public interest that will help finance this human mission to Mars.

For more information visit www.mars-one.com

‘Better Than Earth’? – Baloney

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

“Superhabitable” worlds may be common in our galaxy, making ideal homes for extraterrestrial life — Scientific American cover, January 20151.

Years ago, Carl Sagan famously wrote about a scientist’s “baloney detection kit” in The Demon-Haunted World (1995). You can learn all about this storied chapter by searching on the Internet for “baloney detection kit.” His point was that scientists obtain this mental tool kit as a side effect of their training and that we should similarly train everyone.

Scientific American magazine just published an article, “Better than Earth,” which shows us that scientists are not immune from broadcasting baloney themselves at times. The article is really quite good and interesting. Its statements are, as far as we can tell, accurate. Where is the baloney then?

At one point, the article states, “[T]he more closely we scientists study our own planet’s habitability, the less ideal our world appears to be.” The article also faults our own star’s “short” lifetime of about 10 billion years. “By some 1.75 billion years from how, the steadily brightening star will make our world hot enough for the oceans to evaporate, exterminating any simple life lingering on the surface.”

Looks as though we evolved just in time to enjoy our planet for a billion years or so before we are all steamed to death. Slower evolution may not have left enough time for us to exist here.

We circle a G-class star. According to the author, the next step down in star size, “K dwarfs[,] appear to reside in the sweet spot of stellar superhabitability.” K dwarf stars will shine for tens of billions of years, many times longer than our star. However, the author cautions that our planet is too small for conditions suitable for life to exist for that long period of time. Our core would have cooled too much to sustain our magnetic field and plate tectonics, both necessary to life.  Continue reading

Mars One: 10 Potential University Payloads to Mars in 2018

Photo courtesy of Bryan Versteeg and Mars One www.mars-one.com

Photo courtesy of Bryan Versteeg and Mars One.

Amersfoort,1st December 2014 – Mars One is proud to present the ten Mars One University Competition finalists eligible to fly to Mars. One of these ten payloads will receive the once in a lifetime opportunity to fly on Mars One’s first unmanned Lander mission to Mars in 2018. For the first time ever the public will be able to decide which payload receives the extraordinary opportunity to fly to Mars.

The ten remaining projects from an initial 35 submissions were submitted by diverse universities worldwide. In order to get this far, the payload proposals needed to meet all requirements as described by Mars One supplier Lockheed Martin. Mars One community members, social media followers, and the general public will have the opportunity to vote on and select the winning payload. Voting opportunities for the public will be opened in the first weeks of December, 2014. Voting submission will be accepted until December 31st, 2014.

The winning university payload will be announced on January 5th, 2015. The winning payload needs to be feasible and meet the requirements and restrictions as outlined in the Proposal Information Package (PIP) and on-going discussions with Lockheed Martin, who will build the 2018 lander. Additionally, if in any case the winning team can not perform or adjust to additional requirements the runner-up will be chosen instead.

Arno Wielders, Co-founder & CTO of Mars One said, “These ten final projects are unique and creative and we are very happy with the payload proposals these teams have presented. It would be highly interesting to see each and every one of these projects being launched to Mars. Now it is up to the public to decide which project they would like to have on Mars.”  Continue reading

Stellar Movie Fudges Science

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Interstellar is a great story with excellent acting, especially from Matthew McConaughey and Mackenzie Foy. For me, the three hours felt more like a normal two. Like the characters in the movie, I was asking where the time went.

In the not-to-distant future, maybe 20-30 years, the Earth is in real trouble. All efforts are now focused on food. Climate change has destroyed much of our ability to grow crops. National budgets have even eliminated defense spending.

InterstellarCooper, a former NASA test pilot, is now a farmer struggling against ever-increasing problems of drought and blight. He stumbles across strange gravity messages that direct him to the remnants of NASA run by Professor Brand (Michael Caine).

The film revolves around the relationship between Cooper and Murph (Foy and, later, Jessica Chasten, and, even later, Ellen Burstyn). This is the emotional center of the movie and the important love story. Oh, there’s another standard love story as well but one that definitely is not strongly promoted in the story.

Needless to say, there are adventures and sacrifices made, and the intrepid astronauts save the world through a combination of love, luck, and lots of fancy mental gymnastics.

If you’ve seen a trailer, you’ve seen a mountain-size ocean wave approaching people standing in calf-high water. These waves are continual on this odd planet and also are completely unexplained and irrational. What force could have moved so much water — over and over again? This is just the beginning of making this movie exciting while ignoring reality.  Continue reading

Real Aliens: What Will They Look Like?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

We live in a very large universe. By all accounts, it’s over 14 billion light-years to the edge from here. That’s nearly 10,000 billion billion miles. Our galaxy contains billions of stars. Our universe contains billions of galaxies. Somewhere out in those vast spaces, there must be, or have been, or will be another advanced civilization.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured a new, infrared view of the choppy star-making cloud called M17, also known as the Omega Nebula or the Swan Nebula.

Unfortunately for those yearning to communicate with aliens and fortunately for those who fear alien contact, we are very unlikely — in the extreme — ever to communicate with an alien civilization. Our only real hope lies in violating Einstein’s laws of relativity, and so far they’re as solid as granite.

The vastness of space that makes the existence of aliens, at some time, likely also means that they will be too far away for any meaningful communication. If any are in our galactic neighborhood, they may have broadcast pictures of themselves just as we are doing every day with television, and we may intercept them if we can tease them out of the background noise of quasars, exploding stars, and so on.

Even an image of an intelligent, technologically advanced alien would add enormously to our knowledge of science. Speculation about what an alien would look like may seem like a waste of time, but it can help us if we ever do see one to recognize it.

The topic of what an alien, one with technology, with whom we could, in theory, someday communicate, will look like, act like, and so on has been in science fiction books and movies for many decades. Hollywood tends to reach for the extreme and depict aliens as very frightening. The movie, Alien, is a good example of that trend. Going back very far, there’s It Came from Outer Space.

The science suggests otherwise. Not that real aliens wouldn’t be, well, alien. The likelihood of them passing for one of us is rather remote. If you are teaching science, this concept can begin an excellent and engaging project investigating the possible parameters of alien beings capable of broadcasting images of the themselves. Before heading into the appearance of aliens, consider two separate issues that bear on this topic.  Continue reading

Dinosaurs Among Us?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

You may have noticed one of the many articles such as this one that cast doubt on the asteroid (or comet) strike that annihilated the dinosaurs. Oh, the asteroid did the job, they say, but it had some help.

Careful examination of North American fossil records strongly suggests that the dinosaur population was under stress from lower than usual herbivore diversity. What say?! There just weren’t as many plant-eating dinosaurs as usual, which means that dinner for the large meat-eaters was a bit harder to come by.

The Earth was undergoing extreme changes 66 million years ago when the great impact took place. Massive volcanic eruptions in what is now India were the result of a collision of the Indian and Asian continental plates. Climate was undergoing change. And dinosaur herbivore diversity was down.

The above was really no big deal. Dinosaurs had been around for well over 100 million years and had survived many environmental challenges. This was just another that would kill off lots of individuals and perhaps a few species. As a whole, the dinosaurs would come roaring back soon enough, however.  Continue reading

Martian Rhapsody: Chapter 2 – Rocks

[Note: See chapter 1, Landing. Also see Harry’s Mars One: Exciting Adventure or Hoax?, especially the long-running, extended discussion at the end of the article. See his other Mars related articles in his list of publications. Chapter 2 is being published as submitted, without editing by ETCJ. -Editor]

Martian Rhapsody
by Harry E. Keller, PhD


The four hopeful settlers stare open-eyed at the vista that confronts them. Mars stares back, red-faced and malevolent. They discern nothing friendly or helpful in that stare. Some might see indifference, but they’d be wrong. If ever mankind faced evil, it is here in this impossibly alien and lifeless environment.

Even the dark, sharp-edged rocks strewn across the landscape with apparent reckless abandon seem infused with baleful intent, waiting patiently for countless eons for these soft Earthlings, waiting to cut them and trip them. The surface between the rocks is red, not the red of a poppy or even an Earth sunset, but an intense red that fills the land with emanations of harm. Despite the extreme thinness of the atmosphere, the strangely close horizon does not immediately and sharply turn to the black of space as on the Moon. The red dust of Mars hangs in the sparse air and softens the horizon just enough to give the appearance of red sand reaching up, an almost living thing.

As if sensing the planet’s personality, Chun speaks up, “We have to get that module back so we’re at full strength.”

“You bet!” responds Dawit excitedly, pumping his fist. He is undaunted by the landscape or the problem of the errant module.

“Sure,” says Aleka, “but first we have to put our habitat together.”

“Sorry,” says Chun as she moves into position.

“We all feel the same. All right, we’ve practiced this plenty of times,” says Aleka.

“Seems like thousands,” responds Dawit with a gesture none of the others can see because he’s inside.

“We don’t have all that long before our suits have to be recharged,” warns Balu.

“Right. Let’s rotate and connect,” says Aleka.

“Good thing that missing module connects at the end,” comments Chun.

“The rovers have done a nice job of clearing the site and putting the modules in place,” says Balu.

“I cannot wait to get a plan for the missing module,” comments Dawit over their intercom. Everything is an exciting adventure for Dawit.

Continue reading

Mars One Seals TV Deal with Endemol

In a press release this evening, Bas Lansdorp, Co-founder and CEO of Mars One, announced an international partnership with multi-award winning producer Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP, an Endemol company) to follow and screen the selection and training of Mars One astronauts.

DSP will be the exclusive worldwide production partner for the Mars One astronaut selection and training program, which will see 705 candidates, shortlisted from over 200,000 who applied, undergo the assessment processes. The candidates, from all walks of life, will be tested as part of a training program run by a panel comprised of scientists, adventurers and astronauts.

With the astronaut selection process already underway, the first installments of DSP’s production are expected to begin broadcasting around the world in early 2015. Further details will be announced.  Continue reading

Mars: One-Way or Round-Trip?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[Note: This is part of Harry’s series on Mars, which began with “Mars One: Exciting Adventure or Hoax?” (4/8/13). As of 12/8/13, the discussion is still very active and has grown to 585 responses. Many of the comments are of article length, and the breadth and depth of information and participation make the discussion just as if not more valuable than the original article. The article has been tweeted 38 times and mentioned in 284 Facebook posts, and these figures are growing by the day -Editor.]

Mars is in the news again.1 And again. It seems that everyone is going crazy over Mars. The problems of getting to Mars are many and difficult, but that’s not stopping plenty of people from making plans and issuing press releases.

Skylark series

When I think back to my youth, I recall reading my first science fiction novel in a small local library after school in 1953. It was E. E. (Doc) Smith’s story of space travel, one of the Skylark series. At that time, no one had even put a tiny object into orbit.

A mere four years later, Sputnik I was launched, and the world entered the space age for real. Rockets to space were no longer science fiction. The next year, 1958, the United States put Explorer 1 in orbit. It weighed about 31 pounds. Dwight Eisenhower was president then. We were in the middle of the Cold War, and Nikita Kruschev was in charge of the Soviet Union. Both his picture and that of Sputnik I were on the cover of Time magazine the previous year. Indeed, if memory serves, he was the “Man of the Year.”Kruschev and Sputnik cover

No one knew how much payload could be put into space. No one knew the effects of prolonged weightlessness on people. The Van Allen radiation belts were discovered and verified by Explorer 1 and Explorer 3 in 1958, raising the issue of radiation in space.

Despite the lack of experience in putting satellites in orbit and the great uncertainties in putting a human in space, the United States not only put men into space but even put them on the Moon just eleven years later. ELEVEN YEARS! Starting from a tiny satellite in orbit, a lunar landing module weighing over 1,000 times as much and holding two people landed on the Moon in that short time.

Those who say that we can’t put people on Mars in 10-15 years don’t remember the magic decade of the 1960s. You have to watch out when you use that word, “can’t.” The Mars Direct program was proposed in the 1970s and was to have people on Mars by 2000. That didn’t happen, and technology has advanced enormously since then. It’s more possible today, and it’s still a very tall undertaking.  Continue reading

Martian Rhapsody: Chapter 1 – Landing (REVISED)


[Note 7/6/14: See Chapter 2 – Rocks. -Editor]

Harry Keller

Harry Keller

To the reader: I’ve decided to redo chapter one to incorporate story ideas that wouldn’t have been possible with the original chapter. Please bear with me, and I apologize for the false start. I hope you’ll enjoy this adventure as much as I’m enjoying sharing it with you. Best, Harry.

mars-As the Google Mars shuttle continues its weeks-long deceleration toward its unbelievable destination, the crew of four busily checks the instruments on the attached Citigroup crew module where they have lived and worked for four months. They are so involved in monitoring not only their own module but also the Royal Dutch Shell supply module that they momentarily forget that they’re about to become the first humans ever to set foot on another planet. The shuttle holds the two attached modules like a parent carrying twins in both arms. It may look awkward to those used to air-based flight but creates no impediment to travel in the vacuum of space.

“Final pre-separation check,” snaps Aleka as the about-to-be Martians go through procedures necessary to ensure a clean separation from the shuttle. She glances out of the small thick window and sees the edge of the red planet against the black of space with its countless bright point lights of stars strewn haphazardly across its seemingly infinite reaches as though a child had thrown diamonds and diamond dust on a vast expanse of black velvet.

A few weeks earlier, the entire crew of four was excited to see the small red dot of Mars expand and grow into a shiny red penny in the black, deep expanse of space  – nearly 14 billion light-years deep, far beyond human imagination. Now, it fills most of one side of their view. Earth has receded to a pale blue dot, left forever to the billions living there. A new world awaits. Humans will triumph over Mars someday. Aleka has promised herself that this will be that day.

“Check,” says co-pilot Chun. Her engineer’s mind racing with the excitement and the checks she’s performing to ensure a safe entry and landing.

Four years of training guarantee that the anxious crew all know their roles in this landing precisely. The captain, Aleka (Allie), is the only flight-trained pilot on the mission, but all of them have spent countless hours in the landing simulator and can take over if necessary. Redundancy has been the watchword of the Mars mission from the very beginning. For the landing at Amazon base, however, there could be only one crew module. Everything depends on its successful entry into the absurdly thin Mars air, about 1% of the density of that on Earth, followed by the powered descent to the surface.  Continue reading

‘Inspiration Mars’ Inspires

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Mars seems to be everywhere these days. Who will go? How will we go? When will we go?

These questions have yet to be answered. Dennis Tito, a millionaire with Mars instead of stars in his eyes is focusing on a project he terms “Inspiration Mars.” This is not a landing but just a flyby. It’s not a four-person flight but rather a two-person flight by a man and a woman, both past child-bearing age for the reasons of radiation during the 501-day trip.

There’s one very conspicuous hitch in this program, readily admitted by all involved: the date. In order to be efficient, space missions to Mars must take place roughly once every two years, when Earth and Mars are aligned in their orbits. In 2018, there will be a special alignment that occurs infrequently and provides what the Inspiration Mars people call a “exceptionally quick, free-return orbit” that’s available just twice in every fifteen years. The next such launch window is in 2031, according to the Inspiration Mars site. This project has a very tight schedule.

 Inspiration Mars

By orbiting Mars at about 100 miles above the surface, the mission will avoid encountering the thin Martian atmosphere and will also use the so-called slingshot effect that takes some momentum from the planet itself to accelerate the spacecraft back to Earth and shorten the return trip considerably. It also reduces the amount of fuel that the craft must carry considerably.  Continue reading

Martian Rhapsody: Chapter 1 – Landing



Harry Keller

Harry Keller


After receiving many comments from my article, “Mars One: Exciting Adventure or Hoax?“,  and exploring many issues of any such undertaking as well as the specifics of Mars One, I have decided that the conversation has become increasingly technical and therefore less interesting to our readers. In order to make our conversation more interesting and to bring more people into the conversation, I am presenting a series of episodes in a fictional future in which the first permanent settlers will arrive on Mars. While Mars One and our discussion have generated many of the ideas, this series does not claim to have a relation to any specific Mars settlement program. It just explores the issues involved in such a venture.

For the purposes of making the exposition and discussion more real, I will name the first four humans to arrive on Mars: Aleka (Hawaiian female: aka Allie) is the flight-trained captain, Balasubramian (Indian male: Balu for short and Bob among the crew) has the crucial survival role of botanist, Chun (Chinese female: aka Chunnie) functions as the engineer, and Dawit (Ethiopian male: everyone just calls him Dave) is the mission communicator. For the purposes of having a broad gene pool, the early settlers have genetic roots that include a worldwide geographical scope of origins.

I’d like to encourage you all to participate. Each chapter will end with a problem that must be solved. I am interested in seeing ideas different from the ones I imagine and may rewrite future chapters if better answers are submitted. If you are a science teacher at any level, please consider discussing these issues in your classes. We’re nearing the end of the school year now, and this sort of discussion may work nicely with the end-of-year mentality that you encounter. A fun, open discussion can make science come alive for students. Use NASA images to liven things up. -Harry E. Keller


mars-As the Google Mars shuttle continues its weeks-long deceleration toward its incredible destination, the crew of four busily checks the instruments on the attached Citigroup crew module where they have lived and worked for four months. They are so involved in monitoring not only their own module but also the Royal Dutch Shell supply module that they momentarily forget they’re about to become the first humans ever to set foot on another planet. The shuttle holds the two attached modules like a parent carrying twins in both arms. The configuration of shuttle and two landing modules may look awkward but creates no impediment to travel in the vacuum of space.

Four years of training guarantee that the anxious crew all know their roles in this landing precisely. The captain, Aleka (Allie), is the only flight-trained pilot on the mission, but all of them have spent countless hours in the landing simulator and can take over if necessary. Redundancy has been the watchword of the Mars mission from the very beginning.

For the landing at Amazon base, however, there could be only one crew module. Everything depends on its successful entry into the absurdly thin Mars air, about 1% of the density of that on Earth and containing 95% carbon dioxide, followed by the powered descent to the surface. Ordinary chemical rockets slow the landers as they approach the surface where the gravity is 38% of that of Earth. While the low gravity means that less fuel is required for descent, it still is strong enough to kill everyone if the landing module crashes. Every element from the heat shield and parachute to the landing engines must function perfectly for a safe landing.  Continue reading

Mars – A New Beginning

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

[UPDATE 5/18/13: See Martian Rhapsody: Chapter 1 – Landing. -Editor]

The discussion on “Mars One: Exciting Adventure or Hoax?” (4.8.13) has been wonderful, and I thank all of those who have participated. I’d like to take this entire issue to another level. Please stay tuned, watching ETC-J for a new beginning of the discussion about Mars.

"A crater near the Martian North Pole with a large lake of water ice. The lake is about 10 km across." - Robert O'Connell, University of Virginia.

“A crater near the Martian North Pole with a large lake of water ice. The lake is about 10 km across.” – Robert O’Connell, University of Virginia. NASA photo.

ETC-J is working on a serialized fictional account of the first Mars settlement so that those who are not so technically oriented can participate. We’ll have plenty of science and will address those issues we’ve talked about in the article and the discussion and many more in the context of the possible actuality of a Mars settlement. We’ll also have personalities and their reactions to crises. We’re making the assumption that it will happen within 20 years, maybe ten or so. We will use only technologies that we have or that could become available within this time frame. Exceptions will be made to this rule only if there absolutely is no other way, and we’ll still make every effort to make it scientifically sound. As a scientist, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You’ll read about some real surprises in the episodes. We’ll be as creative as possible and will encourage all of you to write in with your ideas about how to solve the problems facing the settlers in the most recent episode. Some of your ideas will find their way into future episodes and will be acknowledged in the discussion.

If you know a science teacher, be sure to clue her/him into what’s going on. We’ll have special challenges for science classes to discuss. We invite science teachers to respond on behalf of their classes and to sign with their school name. I’m hoping that my own business, Smart Science Education Inc., will be able to fund some prizes, but I cannot make promises about that yet.

While prompted by the discussion of Mars One, any resemblance to the actual Mars One program is unintended. We will use the best ideas from anywhere, including Mars One, in our narrative, but this is NOT Mars One.

Watch for the first episode soon and be ready with your commentary on any science errors in each episode, solutions to the problems facing the settlers, and the science class challenges. I’m looking forward to a stimulating discussion. I hope you’ll join us on this adventure.

Mars One: Exciting Adventure or Hoax?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Updated 3/22/15
[Update 5/8/13: Please see “Mars – A New Beginning,” Harry’s follow-up plans for this article and discussion. Update 5/18/13: See Martian Rhapsody: Chapter 1 – Landing. -Editor]

The Mars One project has received quite a bit of press lately. This project plans to establish a human colony on Mars in 2023 with four people. The project is the brainchild of Bas Lansdorp, a Dutch businessman. You must give him credit for creativeness. Much of the financing will come from a 24-hour television reality show that will follow every step of the project, including watching the new “Martians” as they adapt to the harsh Mars environment.

According to the Mars One website, this project will use existing technology. The habitat consists of modules that will arrive on Mars over a period of years and will be moved into place by a Mars rover. The first colonists will do the final assembly. Every two years, four more colonists will arrive until the total population consists of twenty immigrants. At that point, the colony intends to be self-sustaining, requiring no additional supplies from Earth. No kidding!  At $10,000 per pound, Earth will not continue sending oxygen, water, food, Mars suits, and more to Mars regularly.


If you haven’t guessed yet, the trips by the colonists will be one-way only. There’s absolutely no provision for bringing them home. Even with an estimated $6 billion budget, the money just isn’t there. So, who will these colonists be? Interestingly, Lansdorp proposes to charge for the privilege of taking a one-way trip to hell. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bas Lansdorp

Bas Lansdorp

The technology does exist to ferry materials, habitats, and a few people to Mars. The technology exists to produce enough solar power to eke out a sort of living there, in principle. The concept of establishing human habitation on another world must create a sense of excitement in anyone who has the time to pay attention. The educational opportunities would be enormous. The new colonists would be “going boldly where no one has gone before” – unless NASA gets there first with their round-trip Mars program.

Continue reading