Mars One Could Be A Scam, But It's Good For The Future Of Space Exploration

| by Will Hagle

The human colonization of Mars is no longer just possible — it’s probable. President Obama even mentioned NASA’s forthcoming manned mission to the red planet in his State of the Union speech. While the 20th century was dominated by government space programs like NASA, private companies have emerged in recent years as enticing alternatives for scientists, astronauts and prospective pioneers. Dutch company Mars One has its own mission to send people to Mars, establishing a human settlement several years before NASA’s ship is expected to arrive.

Although Mars One was a major media story when the company was first established and its ambitious mission was first announced, interest has waned as skepticism of the company’s intentions has grown. Mars One is technically a not-for-profit foundation, but it’s able to secure funds through its for-profit subsidiary the Interplanetary Media Group. Its proposed mission requires extraordinary financial means — an estimated $6 billion to land just the first four colonizers. Since establishing the company, co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp has been pursuing his fundraising goals at an accelerated rate. 

The main source of the Interplanetary Media Group’s income, as you may have seen in the news lately, is a reality TV show about the people that applied to be Mars’ first human colonists. Mars One recently selected 100 finalists out of a group of about 200,000 applicants that will compete for one of the final 24 spots. The company chose 50 men and 50 women — 39 from the Americas, 31 from Europe, 16 from Asia, 7 from Africa and 7 from Oceania. 33 of the finalists are American.

Any form of space exploration is ambitious. Mars One's goals are so lofty that some suspect that they may be impossible to reach. The company has yet to release the specifics of their plan, leaving most applicants with just the vague idea of interplanetary travel and adventure. Successfully establishing a human settlement on Mars would be an incredibly significant event in human history, much more important than reality entertainment. Moral implications aside, the mission just might not be feasible. “A lot of the technologies you need to sustain life on Mars are very much in development or there aren’t even development programs existing that could support life,” Sydney Do, MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Ph.D. candidate, told the USA Today. Scientists at MIT have listed several other reasons why the mission simply won't work

Mars One skeptics may think that the company is raising money and attention around a mission that will never actually happen, but Lansdorp insists that his intentions are good. In a 2013 interview with VentureBeat, the CEO spoke about the potential to unite earthlings of various backgrounds in their mission to Mars. “We have an opportunity to bring the people of Earth closer together. It really is something we can do. If you have two populations who are unfriendly or even at war, and you put two people from those cultures into one of our groups, and they can become friends and people can see it, that would bring those two cultures closer,” Lansdorp said.

Cross-cultural interaction will be an important aspect of Mars One’s reality series, but it’s another example of the company's vaguely-defined plans and goals. Lansdorp himself has skillfully avoided directly addressing his skeptics, as his Reddit AMAs are riddled with unanswered questions about architecture specifics and other mission details. To many, Mars One is nothing but a hoax, an elaborate marketing scheme to scam investors and starry-eyed adventurers out of a huge chunk of cash. 

Regardless of his intentions, Lansdorp’s plan is working well thus far. He’s assured the press that his fundraising is on track, and the recent announcement of the 100 finalists indicates that the reality series may soon be underway. The fact that so many people are willing to apply for the Mars One mission and/or express interest in it also represents the positive aspects of the growing human fascination with space exploration. Humans have been fantasizing about living on Mars for centuries, and both government and private programs have both been working towards reaching that goal. The fact that so many people are taking Mars One seriously shows that a future life for humans on the red planet is not only just possible and probable, but desirable.