Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Time for Mars One

          By Chuck Black

While not officially a Canadian story, recent comments from a variety of domestic space pundits suggest that Netherlands based Mars One, a non-profit organization which advocates a series of one way colonizing trips to the red planet beginning sometime in the late 2020's, has slowly slipped into the public conscious of space activists, although not in a good way.

Opening screenshot from "The Mars 100 - Mars One Astronaut Selection Round Three Trailer," a promotional video released  on February 15th, 2015 by Mars One to celebrate the third round selection of 100 potential semifinalists in the running to take part in what the organization calls an ambitious, multi-billion dollar private mission to colonize the red planet. As outlined in the February 17th, 2015 MacLean's article, "Newsmakers of the day: Canada’s Mars One semi-finalists," six Canadians still remain in the race to become one of the 24 astronaut colonists who believe they could just possibly be sent one day on a one way trip into the history books. They include "Toronto’s Reginald Foulds, a former military pilot and self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades; TV journalist and teacher Karen Cumming of Burlington, Ont.; Toronto’s Andreea Radulescu, a Romanian-Canadian IT analyst; English teacher Joanna Hindle from Whistler, B.C.; Vancouver scout leader Sue Higashio Weinreich; and University of Waterloo Ph.D. candidate Ben Criger. " Graphic c/o Mars One

The current spike in interest seems to have mostly derived from the March 16th, 2015 Medium article, "Mars One Finalist Explains Exactly How It‘s Ripping Off Supporters," As outlined in the article, the Mars One organization possesses "no plan, no process" and no real ability to accomplish anything even approaching the scale of the $6Bln USD ($7.53Bln CDN) fund raising campaign required to organize the effort, much less send anything real to the red planet.

The article extensively quoted Dr. Joseph Roche, an assistant professor at Trinity College Dublin School of Education, who made the shortlist of 100 candidates willing to undertake the theoretical journey. According to Roche, the successful Mars One candidates were mostly the ones who had contributed the most money to the program.

The article left readers with the strong impression that application fees for the mission were the current and primary source of revenue for the Mars One team and also alleged that Mars One has received only 2701 applications in total, rather than 200,000+ applicants it publicly promotes on its website and sales literature.

For his part, Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp released a video just three days later attempting to respond to the statements made in the March 16th Medium article. According to Lasdorp:
The recent bad press about Mars One was largely caused by an article on, which contains a lot of things that are not true. 
Bas Lansdorp. Photo c/o Mars One.
For example, the suggestion was made that our candidates were selected on the basis on how much money they donate to Mars One. That is simply not true and this is very easy to find that on our website. There are a lot of current Round Three candidates that did not make any donations to Mars One and there are also lot of people that did not make it to the third round that contributed a lot to Mars One. The two things are not related at all and to say that they are is simply a lie. 
The article also states that there were only 2,700 applications for Mars One which is not true. We offered the reporter, the first journalist ever, access to our list of 200,000 applications but she was not interested in that. It seems that she is more interested in writing a sensational article about Mars One than in the truth...
Of course this isn't the first time Lansdorp has been on the hot-seat. As outlined in the  January 4th, 2014 article, "Mars One co-founder called out for “treachery, deceit and fraud” on Reddit," the self proclaimed "born entrepreneur" who has "never been one to let bold ventures intimidate him," often gets questions related to the feasibility of the Mars One plan of action.

Chris Hadfield. Image c/o CTV News.
Even normally reticent Canadians are getting into the spirit of criticizing Mars One.

As outlined in the November 9th, 2014 Medium article, "All Dressed up For Mars and No Place to Go," Canada's favorite ex-astronaut Chris Hadfield called Mars One "a failure from even the most basic starting point of any manned space mission." According to Hadfield:
I really counsel every single one of the people who is interested in Mars One, whenever they ask me about it, to start asking the hard questions now. I want to see the technical specifications of the vehicle that is orbiting Earth. I want to know: How does a space suit on Mars work? Show me how it is pressurized, and how it is cooled. What’s the glove design? 
None of that stuff can be bought off the rack. It does not exist. You can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things.
Julie Payette. Photo c/o Matt Stroshane/Getty
And, as part of her key-note speech to the 2015 AeroSPACE Symposium, organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), which was held from March 18th - 20th in Montreal, PQ, former Canadian astronaut Julie Payette said “We don’t have the technology to go to Mars, with everything we know today, so I don’t think that a marketing company and a TV-type of selection is sending anybody anywhere.

As outlined in the March 18th, 2015 Canadian Press article, "Ex-Canadian astronaut Julie Payette says Mars One, the one-way mission to the red planet, is going nowhere," the current chief operating officer for the Montreal Science Centre and director of the National Bank of Canada also felt that,“if you meet any of those people (who've signed up with Mars One), don’t tell them they’re courageous because the only courage they had was to sign up on a website.”

Payette may have a more nuanced opinion of the Mars One effort than most others because she's one of the few who've grasped the essential truth of the effort. It's essentially very little more than a website with a marketing plan which expects to work out the details of the actual activity at some future date, after the money begins to flow in.

The  Producers. Graphic c/o Amazon.
The March 17th, 2015 NPR news story, "Are Humans Really Headed To Mars Anytime Soon?" even quoted Mars One CEO Lansdorp as believing that the voyage "will likely pay for itself because it will be a media spectacle. Everyone in the world will want to watch the whole adventure."

To take advantage of the opportunity "Mars One is planning a reality TV show with sponsorships and advertising," according to Lansdorp. "We expect it's worth up to 10 Olympic Games' [worth] of media revenue, which is $45 billion."

Of course, this sort of public statement puts Mars One squarely in the category of grandiose claims so far untainted by any semblance of reality, if only because it would seem to be exceedingly difficult to generate an order of magnitude more revenue than an event like the Olympic Games with an order of magnitude less resources and only a couple of employees.

At this point, the overall picture seems quite similar to the 1967 Mel Brooks movie "The Producers," which focused on down-on-his-luck producer Max Bialystock (played by Zero Mostel), who teamed up with a timid accountant (Gene Wilder) in a get-rich-quick scheme to put on the world's worst show and make off with the production funds.

Mars One essentially smells the same at this point.

Of course, in the movie the get rich quick scheme is undone when the production becomes a smash hit and the perpetrators are sent to jail for oversubscribing the production.

Will the Mars One team end up in a similar position? If they do, then perhaps that's entertainment!

Dick Shawn auditions for the role of Hitler in the 1967 movie, The Producers.

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