Mars One: An Uplifting Summary

When Mars One came up in our class discussion on Wednesday, I was thrilled. It’s mind-blowing. I went home and researched the facts, and compiled them in this little essay here, along with my opinions too.

Mars One was conceived circa 2010 by Bas Lansdorp, an entrepreneur, and Arno Wielders, a physicist, both of the Netherlands. It occurred to them that humanity could begin terraforming Mars any minute—we have the technology and the know-how—if only any nation’s space agency would pursue such a mission. It dawned on them, too, that the main thing preventing the national space agencies from even beginning this pursuit was their obsessive worry, “What to do about the astronauts once they’ve landed on Mars? How do we get them back to Earth?”

Turns out, launching a spaceship is hard. It requires the construction of a launch pad, and of a ship of course, and so on… extensive preparations, the scope of which is inconceivable anywhere but on Earth, where we have infrastructure like whoa. So no, there would be no coming back from Mars. The solution to this problem, as these two guys saw it, was simple: Leave the astronauts there.

Lansdorp announced this basic plan in May 2012, and over two hundred thousand people from all over the world volunteered for the privilege, as they see it, of living and dying on Mars for the glory and the future of mankind.

The program recently entered Round 3 of its selection process. They are down to just one hundred ultra-educated candidates now.

In the upcoming Round 4, which will be widely publicized and hopefully televised, six teams will be made up, four people each. They will all be subjected to training and testing in conditions that simulate the planned Martian colony as closely as possible.

And, in what seems to me like a grotesque complement to the short-attention-span, fifteen-minutes-of-fame- and reality-TV-obsessed culture of modern industrialized Earth—but whatever—the Earthling public will actually have a say in which expert-selected contestants will go to settle Mars. A TV show will then ensue, seriously, starring the colonists and following the progress of Mars One and partners. This show will generate much of the project’s funding thenceforth and will work to perpetuate popular interest in the subject of awesome science.

The first wave of settlers, slated to take off in 2024, will be just four people. They will find their amazingly efficient little housing units and some essential supplies awaiting them on the red planet when they get there. There will also be at least two new communications satellites in Martian orbit by that time. Every couple of years after that, as needed or as feasible, the settlers will receive additional shipments of supplies and, in the distant future, more settlers. The first goal is to become self-sustainable as soon as possible. Growing the human population, sprawling, will be a later goal. Everyone involved understands that making Mars livable for any large number of people is going to take thousands of years, maybe even tens of thousands of years.

There are countless reasons why they’re doing this. The impending anthropogenic-climate-change-induced ruination of Earth is just one. My favorite reason is this: because this whole idea is, to date, the most fantastic real thing ever conceived by humans, and because we can!

Another great reason, which ties it all together with “this climate thing” pretty nicely, is this: to set a good example. Mars One is a non-profit organization that, just by its nature, promotes international camaraderie and worldwide solidarity. We are mankind, godlike. (Talking about Butler’s Parable of the Sower has me thinking in religious rhetoric. So I’m going to follow this line of thinking here which some may call blasphemous. Please know that whatever your personal religion is, as long as it gives you a sense of empowerment and happiness and doesn’t hurt anybody else, I respect it. I’m not trying to offend. I’m trying to expound another point of view. I’m sincere.) Why did God destroy the tower of Babel and confuse all human language, according to the bible? Answer: because he was jealous of our potential. See Genesis 11: 1-9. “There is no limit to what they might do!” If we could awaken from the nationalistic prejudices which are our curse, if we could alter our conception of survival from competition-focused to cooperation-focused, if we could put our heads together, then we could solve any problem under the sun. Like they say, we’ve been to the moon already! And now we’re going to Mars!

Wow! We must be able to solve our big domestic problems, too, like the carbon combustion complex, for instance—that insidious, infectious, dark omnipresence that grips the global economy like aspen roots clinging interwoven to whole broad mountainsides, forbidding any change in the landscape except at geologic timescales—which is presently, steadily, unapologetically, dragging Earth to hell in a hand basket. The moon! And Mars now, too! We can do anything. We have powers.

We should aspire to heaven; it’s within our reach. We should realize our roles as gods. We have the Earth in our hands, you see; we should protect it like a loving Father would. But also, we should totally go to Mars, man; it’s right there! Come on!

What else could so inspire so very many people to come together, to think globally, to progress? Only colonizing Mars! Not since the first transoceanic sailing ships has anything ever held such promise to so dramatically resize our existence.

Once mankind is on two planets, the archetype of the “other” won’t evoke ideas of foreigners from other countries anymore so much as the idea of that whole other planet that’s all over TV. I think it may take a few generations to sink in, the awe, or the grace or whatever, but the mass psychological effect will be unequivocally good.

The most commonly voiced objections to Mars One are ignorant of its actual game plan. “I don’t want my tax dollars going to blah blah blah” is a common one, for example. Mars One is not affiliated with any government and will not take a slice of anyone’s tax dollars. Most of its present capital is from private investors and engineering firms.  It takes donations and sells merchandise, too.  (I want this hoodie.)  And much of its future capital will come from the aforementioned TV show.

(It will not be a live broadcast, of course. For anyone wondering, radio waves take between forty minutes and three hours to travel from Mars to Earth, depending on the planets’ positioning. They could be as distant as 401 million kilometers or as near as 56 million kilometers; usually they’re about 225 million kilometers apart. From takeoff to touchdown, the first manned Mars One spaceflight will last about seven months. Also, Mars has only one third the gravity that Earth has, so a 180-pound astronaut will weigh 60 pounds on Mars.)

The only objection to this project that’s worth noting, as far as I’m aware, is this: It is just plain impossible to establish a stable atmosphere on Mars, regardless of what terraforming measures are taken on the surface, unless the molten core is somehow stimulated first to produce a proper magnetosphere.

[Hard science alert!]  The planetary core, which is composed of heavy metals constantly swirling in enormous eddies called “convection cells” (how the continents are floated about the surface), needs to be churning quickly enough to actually magnetize the entire planet to such a degree that the resultant magnetic field, the magnetosphere, is strong enough to deflect a sufficient amount of the horrible solar winds and radiation, which would peel the atmosphere right off the face of the globe, if not for the protection provided by a quickly churning molten metal planetary core. Problem: The Martian core is churning too slowly to create a powerful-enough such force field. [/Hard science.]

And Mars One doesn’t seem to have any idea of fixing this problem. It is merely outfitting its astronauts with hermetically sealed little habitats and, for outdoor excursions, radiation-resistant environmental suits, while the churning of the Martian core continues to slow. This perpetual life-and-death campout scenario doesn’t seem like a generations-long-term solution to me. It feels like, so far, they’re not really even planning to terraform the whole red planet at all, but rather just an infinitesimally tiny part of it.

However, I suspect the mega-minds at Mars One might respond to this objection like, “Hey now. One step at a time. Proof of concept first. Shock the unbelievers. Then a new spring of scientific inspiration will gush out from the minds of humans everywhere, and bright new ideas will cascade forth into a flood of new solutions that who could foresee.”

Remember the twentieth-century Space Race, that rallying wonder that advanced all kinds of great technology? It could be like that again, minus the distrustful paranoia. Humanity is ascending here, as a whole Earthling race.

I’m all for it.

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