Beginning September 1st, Engadget will release an AOL Original series of short webisodes about five of the current candidates for the controversial Mars One project. Entitled “Citizen Mars”, the show interviews these five individuals and their family members, with a focus on what it means to join a mission that is a one-way trip, even if the proposed launch is not scheduled until 2026. The show also features short interviews with former astronaut Mary Ellen Weber, planetary scientist David Paige and physics professors Clifford V. Johnson and David Hozier, who insist, amusingly, that the project has very little chance of taking place. Also interviewed is Elmo Keep, author of an article called “All Dressed Up for Mars and Nowhere to Go”, which is an interesting read, but comes off as a little anti-space-exploration altogether.
Mars One’s mission is to create a human settlement on Mars, beginning with an unmanned mission in 2020, the first crew’s journey in 2026 and then additional crew trips every 26 months. The organization also plans to film the colonists’ lives on Mars and air it on Earth, like a reality show. (Would that not be a bit like the Capitol watching the Hunger Games?? I mean, they will actually be fighting for survival.) The funding is estimated at a surprisingly low $6 billion, and is expected to come from investments and media exposure, while the crew is to begin training in 2016.
On “Citizen Mars”, however, Weber points out that the technology required to slow down a manned vehicle enough to land safely on Mars does not exist. According to Keep’s “All Dressed Up…” article, everyone’s favorite singing astronaut Chris Hadfield says “Mars One fails at even the most basic starting point of any manned space mission: If there are no specifications for the craft that will carry the crew, if you don’t know the very dimensions of the capsule they will be traveling in, you can’t begin to select the people who will be living and working inside of it.” The article also explains that MIT engineering grad students conducted an assessment of the Mars One plan and found many problems, including the possibility of suffocation caused by the rising of crop-growing oxygen levels, since the technology for the required venting system doesn’t exist.
This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for all of these obstacles to be overcome by 2026, but it does appear to be highly unlikely. The five candidates in “Citizen Mars” seem astonishingly naive about this, and totally unaware of what hardships a life on Mars would entail. Of course, they haven’t been trained yet, and I wish the series would elaborate on what that training will be like. The five are: Sue Ann in L.A, Mido in Egypt, Adriana in South Africa, Shradha in India and Pietro in Italy. As a mechanical engineering student, Shradha strikes me as the most qualified, but the others’ careers and education are left unexplained, surprisingly. It is mentioned that Pietro is a doctor, but I wish we knew considerably more about what makes these people qualified candidates. As Pietro points out, they are not “war heroes or MIT engineers”, but “common people”, and to me, that seems fairly problematic. Frankly, I think it should be super intelligent engineers and experienced astronauts up there, paving the way for the rest of us to arrive one day.
Sue Ann, Mido and Adriana give me the impression of being lost souls more than anything else, signing up for something that sounds like a fantastic escape. Watching them gush over Mars One left me concerned about the severe disappointment that probably lies ahead, but I have hopes for Shradha, whose story I also found the most interesting, to at least one day work in the aerospace industry. Check out the first episode of “Citizen Mars” this Tuesday on Engadget.