Mars! One Way

It’s really hard not to facepalm when confronted by headlines stating that 100,000 have signed up for a one-way trip to Mars. A Dutch, non-profit (yes, that’s right, non-profit) company called Mars One is collecting human specimens, and raising six billion dollars, to send these people some 225 million kilometres, one way, to the planet Mars.

They call it colonization. They market it as a “stepping stone in human galactic expansion.”

Yes, that’s right, Galactic.

Even reading interviews with some of the applicants really drives home what insanity dwells in modern people’s minds. Some even suggest that this is how the discovery of America come about, others considering birthing and raising children on the surface of this new frontier.


I understand completely the allure of the red planet. When the time of year is right I see Mars in the night sky and think, wow, this is a planet just like ours. When I recently came across the Mars Panorama at 360 Cities I admit I was taken aback by what I saw. I can almost touch and feel the terrain. But who are we kidding?

The place is currently… what’s the word?… INHOSPITABLE.

It’s a cold place.

Mars Surface

It doesn’t have a friendly atmosphere.

Look it up on Wikipedia.

Antarctica is considerably more livable than Mars. We have numerous research stations over there because the place is relatively accessible and easily supplied, and the scientist who work there, CAN COME HOME or else they would never go there. Early Antarctic explorers risked their lives travelling to the South Pole, but those dudes knew that it was possible to return. None would have contemplated ever living there, for good. Even colonizing such places like the Americas and Australia, migrants knew that they’ll somehow survive; breathe air, have access to water, plant crops, be able to raise a family, be able to build an economy.

What is Mars One really offering?

  • They will spend five years training unskilled punters in a replica Martian settlement to be built on Earth. That’s fun.
  • Next, they will build a communication satellite for the mission. Yep. For communication stuff.
  • Then they are going to send a supply mission stocked with about 2,500 kilograms of food to Mars. Yep. That should last, assuming it survives the transit.
  • An exploration vehicle will be also launched to choose the location of the human settlement. They are being thorough, leaving nothing to chance.
  • Then they are going to send a rover, two living units, two life support units and two supply units.
  • Then they’re sending the first group of four astronauts by 2022, and then by 2025, a second group of four astronauts will follow.

Here is where the fun stuff ends.

First of all, this expedition is not going to cost anything near the 6 billion dollars they claim. No space program this large stays on a budget so let’s put the figure at… bankruptcy by 2017. Where do these guys think they’re going? Antarctica? How are they going to raise this …. Who is going to invest, and what returns are they offering? If the figure was put out at six trillion dollars, and big mining corporations and a few governments were involved, I would feel a tad enthusiastic about filling out the $30 application fee.

They are going to sell Television rights to the event. OK. American Idol makes around $6 – $7M an episode. That’s around what… $200M per season? So the science-laden reality TV program needs to rate better than the most watched show on television to fund such a caper. But something tells me that until amateur astronauts start dying live on TV, such ratings are going to be unlikely unless they send contestants from American Idol to Mars. Or if Disney buys in and films the next John Carter physically on Mars, or if James Cameron usurps the project and sends a cast and crew to shoot a science fiction epic, say Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy… what am I talking about? $6 billion dollars is not going to be near enough.

They are sending fragile, high-maintenance human beings to the surface of Mars, not robots. If they do manage to do so, the starry-eyed applicants should expect a rough, cheap and nasty ride.

Mars Orbit

Second, if the amateur astronauts do survive the fun stuff, such as the launch, the 20-month flight and the planetfall, what then? They get to live the remainder of their natural lives in a few small capsules. Two living units. Forever. Without Internet.  Without social interaction. Without any creature comforts like fresh air, or food. A Guantanamo Bay detention camp cell sounds more alluring. At least the guards there count as social interaction. And when the food and energy are used up, I guess more supplies will be delivered, at a cost of say a billion dollars per delivery. Forget feeding the starving masses here on Earth; no let’s spend a billion a year feeding four amateur astronauts on Mars.

Hopefully, the private enterprise running the mission doesn’t go bankrupt by then, because who the fuck is going to underwrite the rest of the endeavour. It’s OK to tell applicants they’re going to live on Mars for good, but have they been given any guarantee of supplies well into the future? And if they get ill, what the fuck is going to happen? Most likely they’ll send them a portable chemotherapy unit since the radiation on Mars’ surface would be higher than it would be here on Earth.

Watching people slowly dying live on television (with a 10 to 20-minute delay) will eventually lose its appeal and audiences will start to view the project in a negative light. If the Dutch corporation survives after then, they should reasonably expect lawsuits from family members who’ll be watching their loved ones suffer. They should also expect lawsuits from the applicants themselves, via delayed communications.

If people really want to go to Mars, I know I would if a saner option was available; they need to understand that there is no shortcut to getting there in any viable manner. An economy, new technology and infrastructure have to be built before such things can occur. Space flight has to become a lot cheaper. Space has to become profitable. No human civilisation has ever colonized a place without one eye on the money. The American Apollo Space program wasn’t about colonizing the Moon, the motivation and economics behind it were far from it. If the motive for going to Mars is about science then we can easily send robots to do it successfully. If going to Mars is about living there then there has to be some sort of benefit to the individual in doing so. Living in a capsule with no ability to start a family, or live a full life, is not a benefit.

The stepping stones in building a space colonization economy is straight forward, long term and productive. Here are a few ideas on which they can easily spend $6 billion on.

  1. Build habitable Earth-orbit research facilities such as telescopes, communications platforms and manufacturing laboratories. The current ISS I see crossing the sky each night is the most expensive man-made structure ever built. A dozen more need to be in orbit, before we go to another planet.
  2. Moon mining. Wait until prices for rare earth metals hit the right price mark. We have already been to the moon, and we have returned from there safely. In the sixties and seventies, remember?
  3. Transportation systems. Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk are on the money with space tourism and transportation. They have found and nurtured a ready market for such services.
  4. Manned recycling space junk stations. Surely there’s money to be made out there in low earth orbit.
  5. Orbiting real estate for people or businesses willing to invest in them. Multinationals could escape interference from governments by setting up headquarters in orbit.
  6. Colonize Antarctica, if you really want to develop technology suited to Martian conditions.

And this is how to jump-start the colonization of Space, the Moon, and even Mars.

  • Tear up the silly Outer Space Treaty. The document is just a piss weak excuse for a sovereign state to prevent each other from space colonization and spending capital they don’t have.
  • Declare sovereignty over the Moon, asteroid or a planet. Do that and nations will compete in the most expensive space race in human history.
  • Allow corporations to claim ownership of the Moon, or other celestial bodies.

Once you start planting flags on extraterrestrial real estate, that’s when the real investment starts to pour in. Has Mars One claimed Mars officially? Who owns the planet? They are better off forming a consortium big enough to raise around fifty billion dollars, and then make a serious attempt to literally own Mars.

That’s how it has been done throughout human history. Anything less than that is sheer folly.

Unless you are planning to make money from the 100,000-plus applicants and starry-eyed investors, then shut the doors and run.

The economics of fraud is sounder than what Mars One is proposing on paper.