Mars One Torn To Shreds In MIT Debate

August 21, 2015 | by Jonathan O'Callaghan

Artist's impression of a Mars One colony
Photo credit: It's not looking good for Mars One's proposed colony. Bryan Versteeg/Mars One.

Whatever your views on Mars One, at the very least they have put the topic of Mars colonization in the public eye. Their plan, although ambitious, has received coverage from media across the world. For that, they can be applauded.

But when it comes to technical details on how they plan to actually send people to live out the rest of their lives on Mars, they are left wanting. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the space industry who thinks they can do what they’ve claimed. They lack any of the technology needed to send humans to Mars (including a heavy-lift rocket, spacecraft, habitat, life support system; the list goes on) and have shown no shred of development since they burst onto the scene in 2010.

And those shortcomings were laid bare this week, when two scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took on Mars One’s CEO Bas Lansdorp and one of its key technical people, Barry Finger of Paragon, in a debate at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., titled “Is Mars One Feasible?” The MIT scientists, Sydney Do and Andrew Owens, had previously produced a study claiming that Mars One’s proposal as it stood would see its astronauts die in 68 days. Lansdorp agreed to the debate in an attempt to return some credibility to the company.

Oh how he failed. “If somebody was scoring this debate, giving a point for each well-supported argument, deducting a point for each weak one, and subtracting multiple points every time somebody conceded the other side’s argument, then Mars One lost it hands down,” wrote Dwayne Day for The Space Review. “Not only did Barry Finger admit that MIT’s technical analysis and criticism was mostly right, but Lansdorp also admitted that their 12-year plan for landing humans on Mars by 2027 is mostly fiction.” The slides made by the MIT scientists for the debate are available online.



You can watch the entire debate above. Sim/YouTube.

Among the criticisms, the MIT scientists pointed out that Mars One’s proposal of a one-way mission was actually more costly than a return mission and would likely cost in the hundreds of billions of dollars, as they would have to support humans on the surface for the rest of their lives.

“Mars One’s $6 billion [£3.8 billion] price tag is based upon false assumptions and faulty data and is totally unrealistic, and yet Mars One uses that low price tag as a selling point to investors,” Day added. The scientists also noted that life support and other problems were very complex, and if anything failed, the crew would die. And they pointed out the technology for the mission didn’t yet exist, and it should be developed before deciding to go.

Lansdorp, in his attempts to answer the criticisms, provided very little answers to the technical problems, instead attempting to continue to sell the "dream" of one day sending humans to Mars by evoking nostalgic thoughts of the Apollo missions.

All in all, things didn't look good for Mars One. Are there any positives to take from this? Well, as mentioned, they are at least getting people talking about Mars colonization. But they run a risk: When they surely fail, will anyone pay attention to other missions to Mars that actually have a chance of success, such as NASA’s?

“If Mars One deflates, what will happen when the next plan to go to Mars comes along?” wrote Rachel Courtland for IEEE Spectrum. “Even if the new effort is deemed technically sound and eminently accomplishable, will anyone pay it any mind?”

Perhaps we’ll have to hope that other missions can ride on the coattails of Mars One’s media success before it's too late.

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