Skepticism and hope: Why we need both for Mars One

ANDREW COOPER

Graphic: Mike Tremblay

Graphic: Mike Tremblay

Can life exist on another planet?

Mars One is a startup space company based out of the Netherlands and founded by entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp. The company intends to send a group of astronauts on a one-way journey to Mars in 2023 to establish a settlement.

The question that everyone should be asking themselves is: are the impediments of such an undertaking too great for Mars One to conquer in just a decade? We must be critical and optimistic if an undertaking such as Mars One is to accomplish their mission.

Of course, I have good reason to be hopeful. Out of the approximately 200,000 eligible applicants worldwide, myself and 1,057 other hopeful astronauts have been accepted.

We all need to perform a routine medical examination and interviewing process. If we meet the standards and proceed to the next round of selection, then our subsequent training and final selection will be televised for the world to see.

This article is getting ahead of itself though. Honestly, the introductory paragraph reads like the opening to a science fiction novel. Isaac Asimov accurately predicted in 1964 that we would only have sent unmanned missions to Mars by 2014.

On the other hand, Asimov predicted that we would have a lunar colony at this point as well — the only “colony” in space at the moment is the International Space Station.

Though Asimov’s predictions were generally modest when it came to space exploration, one cannot help but share his enthusiasm for what is beyond our planet.

The challenges facing Mars One are many. Wired Magazine broke down the inevitable obstacles in an article published in May 2013.

Mars has no magnetic field, meaning the surface of Mars is constantly being barraged by deadly interstellar radiation. Undoubtedly, radiation poisoning is one of the largest challenges facing the Mars One colonists.

Additionally, Mars has dangerously high-wind dust storms that would impede both landing and living. And then there’s the physical and mental strains of living in a small compartment for years with only a few other companions.

The most overwhelming obstacle to the program, however, is an economic one; Lansdorp’s projected budget for the program is a mere $6 billion dollars.

To put this into perspective, the Viking missions sent to Mars in 1975 and 1976 cost $1 billion USD. Adjusted for inflation, this is over $4 billion USD today. Keep in mind, the Viking Missions didn’t need to train a large number of astronauts to be prepared to colonize a new planet, nor did they need to consider life-long accommodations. How then can we expect our red-planet colonists to survive indefinitely?

It is undoubtable that Mars One will raise many questions. Although this skepticism may seem daunting to the average individual, I find it to be hopeful.

In fact, I find it to be encouraging. I would want no part in a program like this if people were not willing to question the logistics of it.

To pursue what is good and necessary without the constructive criticism of your peers is to face no adversary, and therefore to overcome no challenge.

“We choose to go to the moon,” U.S. President John F. Kennedy said in his famous speech, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”

This mentality of progress was harboured during the space race of the mid to late 20th century, but was not continued — there have been nearly four decades between the last soft landing on the Moon’s surface and China’s recent soft landing of their first Moon rover ‘Yutu.’

Where has the energy for space exploration gone? Who, if not governments, will push humanity into the stars?

Stephen Hawking has said that humanity would likely not survive another thousand years on our Earth “without escaping beyond our fragile planet.” If we are to consider Hawking’s assumption at face value, it should motivate us as to the imperative of beginning human colonization of the solar system as soon as possible.

This is a matter of working ahead of our obstacles, rather than when they present themselves. Many may believe that it is too soon for Mars One; I believe that there is no such thing as too soon.

So we should remain skeptical. A program such as this will require skepticism before acceptance if it is to succeed. Skepticism produces critical thought, which is a necessary component for such a technical undertaking.

We may not understand how we will overcome the difficulties facing Mars One now, but constant criticism of the details will lead to a better understanding of our journey to the stars in the long run.

Regardless of the logistical problems associated with the program, just think of what the Mars One program implies about the human race. We are, after all, practically planning to colonize the solar system — to reach out and travel through space and time.

Carl Sagan would be proud, but not surprised, to see where we are. After all, it was Sagan that said, “The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.”

Hopefully, that day is fast approaching.