Yep, Mars One appears to be a scam

I’ve written critically about Mars One before, just evaluating their claims at face value.  But it appears that I wasn’t nearly skeptical enough.  Mars One appears to be a scam.  A Mars One “finalist” candidate explains why: Mars One Finalist Explains Exactly How It’s Ripping Off Supporters — Matter — Medium.

“When you join the ‘Mars One Community,’ which happens automatically if you applied as a candidate, they start giving you points,” Roche explained to me in an email. “You get points for getting through each round of the selection process (but just an arbitrary number of points, not anything to do with ranking), and then the only way to get more points is to buy merchandise from Mars One or to donate money to them.”

“Community members” can redeem points by purchasing merchandise like T-shirts, hoodies, and posters, as well as through gifts and donations: The group also solicits larger investment from its supporters. Others have been encouraged to help the group make financial gains on flurries of media interest. In February, finalists received a list of “tips and tricks” for dealing with press requests, which included this: “If you are offered payment for an interview then feel free to accept it. We do kindly ask for you to donate 75% of your profit to Mars One.”

…So, here are the facts as we understand them: Mars One has almost no money. Mars One has no contracts with private aerospace suppliers who are building technology for future deep-space missions. Mars One has no TV production partner. Mars One has no publicly known investment partnerships with major brands. Mars One has no plans for a training facility where its candidates would prepare themselves. Mars One’s candidates have been vetted by a single person, in a 10-minute Skype interview.

I can’t say I’m shocked.  The initiative always seemed a bit suspicious to me, but I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t simply idealistic naive organizers, or cynical scam artists.  It’s looking more and more like the latter.  We may eventually establish a human presence on Mars, but it doesn’t seem like Mars One will have anything to do with it.

Mars One and done?

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.

Ask Ethan #20: Is the Mars One crew doomed? – Starts With A Bang

What Mars One is counting on is that they can safely land a heavier payload than ever before, that they can do it more precisely than ever before (as in, within just a few hundred meters of previous successful landings), and they can do it for only 12% of the projected costs, with a total estimated budget of just $6 billion instead of the $50 billion price tag to do it right.

via Ask Ethan #20: Is the Mars One crew doomed? – Starts With A Bang.

Somewhat related to my Mars post yesterday, Ethan Siegel answered a reader’s question, and explains why the Mars One initiative is a terrible idea.

I’m not sure that Mars One isn’t more bite than bark.  But if they actually do reach an implementation phase, I’d have to wonder if they would be doing the Mars cause any real benefit if they simply sent four people to their likely deaths.  Having it happen on reality TV would just make it worse, and might stifle actual exploration for decades to come.

A good deal of their plan seems to depend on using SpaceX technology.  I wonder to what extent they’ve actually discussed this with Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX.  Musk strikes me a far too level headed to have his company name tangled up in something that has a high chance of ending in disaster.