Mars One, a non-governmental plan to send colonists on way trips to Mars starting in 2025, has been in the news a lot over the last year. While I’d love to see us establish a human presence on Mars, the Mars One project has always struck me as a flawed plan, with far too many optimistic assumptions.
It turns out that I’m not the only one with that concern: Mars One and done? | MIT News.
In 2012, the “Mars One” project, led by a Dutch nonprofit, announced plans to establish the first human colony on the Red Planet by 2025. The mission would initially send four astronauts on a one-way trip to Mars, where they would spend the rest of their lives building the first permanent human settlement.
It’s a bold vision — particularly since Mars One claims that the entire mission can be built upon technologies that already exist. As its website states, establishing humans on Mars would be “the next giant leap for mankind.”
But engineers at MIT say the project may have to take a step back, at least to reconsider the mission’s technical feasibility.
The MIT researchers developed a detailed settlement-analysis tool to assess the feasibility of the Mars One mission, and found that new technologies will be needed to keep humans alive on Mars.
Among the findings of the researchers are that it would be cheaper to ship food from Earth to the colony than to resolve all the problems with growing it locally, that it would take a lot more Falcon 9 launch vehicles than the Mars One team’s optimistic estimates (at a much higher cost totaling $4.5 billion), and the logistical problems of the vast inventory of spare parts that the colony would need that, in the absence of advanced 3D printing technologies, would have to shipped from Earth.
The MIT teams doesn’t completely rule out the feasibility of Mars One, but they do highlight how many unknowns remain for such an endeavor, how much technology still has to be developed, and how expensive it would really be.
I didn’t see it discussed in the article, but I personally find the idea of sending people on a one way trip to Mars to be a deeply questionable strategy. Yes, it does eliminate having to relaunch from Mars, which is the most technically difficult aspect of a two-way trip. But we’re talking about asking people to spend the rest of their lives in a harsh, unforgiving, and utterly isolated environment.
It’s hard to imagine that many of the young people volunteering for this have any real conception of what they’d be getting themselves into. And, as the years piled up and the initial excitement waned, we should expect a substantial portion of them to come to bitterly regret their decision, with consequences for the morale of the colony, as well as subsequent recruitment efforts. The colony could become, effectively, the starkest penal colony ever created.