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article imageOp-Ed: Mars One human colony 2023 — Not as half-baked as it might seem

By Paul Wallis     Mar 18, 2013 in Science
Sydney - Mars One is the byproduct of decades of nothing being achieved in terms of real human progress in space. The idea is a one-way trip to live on Mars, and there are 8000 applicants ready to go in 2022.
The blundering and stalling of the world’s government space programs has created a buildup of private interest, as well as a lot of anger among freethinkers and space advocates who insist that humanity has no choice but to advance into space.
Constant bean counting, cutbacks and what can only be called hopelessly inferior logic have hamstrung space exploration.
Mars One is an entirely privately funded and operated project. Promoters are calling it the next great leap for mankind, although many would call it the long-overdue next and very early step.
Before I go any further. The most important thing about Mars One is that by definition it creates a working operational effort at interplanetary movement, logistics, supply, finance, survival and research. That’s a damn sight more than any space program since the Apollo missions, using a totally new generation of technology.
Skepticism there is. Even CBC newsreaders can’t believe it, but this sort of thinking has been around for a long time, and the resources exist to do it. The technology does exist. The knowhow is there. What’s been lacking is the logic, and Mars One seems to be delivering in that area.
The nuts and bolts of a Mars settlement
In fairness, Mars One has already achieved a few things. The finance and logistics are particularly interesting. The idea of multiple contract supports for finance and materials is a good one. It avoids the natural risk of contract failures and program holdups. It’d be a good idea if other space programs looked at this one.
The development of the settlement is fascinating. A communications satellite is due for launch in 2016. A supply mission is also scheduled. In 2018 a large rover will survey sites. The follow up mission of rovers will build the initial settlement. In 2022, the first four colonists will be on their way, arriving in 2023. Every two years, more will follow.
The idea is that the Mars colony will be self-supporting. Colonists will be trained for 8 years to learn how to manage food, water, maintenance, etc.
Criticisms and practical options
You’ll note from the video a group of standardized dwellings. That’s a good option to minimize risk. If one dwelling is damaged and made uninhabitable, the others won’t be affected. The other side of this issue is managing the Martian conditions. That Martian dust is no joke. It’s probably capable of doing severe systems and health damage, and needs to be kept out of operational and living areas, preferably by pressurization and strict cleaning of clothing and equipment to ensure it can’t get in.
Temperature breaches have probably been factored in, but heat transfer on Mars, with its sub zero temperatures, could be very dangerous indeed. The cold could also affect some forms of equipment and human performance on the surface.
The noticeable factor here is “agility”. Can the Martian colonists dodge the bullets of an extraterrestrial environment and rebound from crises? That’s not clear. They need a safety margin to make this work.
One way or the other, even if it’s a spectacular, 100% failure, Mars One is going to achieve some very important elements of a real first step into space.
This mission will have built in research and new developments in all aspects:
1. Health
2. Nutrition
3. Colony logistics
4. Radiation exposure
5. Habitat design
6. Life quality
7. Environmental adaption
8. Managing Martian/extraterrestrial conditions
9. Habitat systems design
10. Commercial large scale space program management
11. Space colonization economics
12. Commercial viability studies for private space exploration
13. Technology testing and development
14. “What works and what doesn’t” studies
15. Holistic view of a space colony and issues
16. Local management of situations by space colonists (Likely to involve a vast range of issues from Martian micro dust to basic housekeeping)
17. Small society dynamics
18. Ability to support from Earth if required.
This project has understandably set finite goals with a finite size to the colony. That’s just realistic planning, and reduces risk to both colonists and backers by quantifying objectives clearly. The fact is that it might well also stimulate similar, upscale colonization efforts.
It’s not unreasonable to think that down the track a return option may be transported to Mars, too. A Martian colony doesn’t necessarily have to be a one way subsistence project. Returning valuable samples and carrying out on site research could be worth big money to colonies.
Expanding settlements with staged construction of better onsite capabilities is also theoretically quite possible. Getting the necessary stuff to Mars is a bit of a problem with the current pitiful 5% payloads, but if the long-neglected ion drives are developed, payloads and times can improve, and so can costs.
Don’t write Mars One off just yet. You can almost hear a Mars Two in the wings, and even if it is the biggest media event in history, there are practical benefits and a lot to learn.
Typically, baby’s first steps are shaky things. But experience builds capabilities, and that looks like Mars One’s real legacy.
PS: Just bought myself a Mars One hoodie. I like the idea of trying to get off this damn planet full of nitpicking nutcases, even if just by association.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about mars one, Space colonization, space colony research, space colony logisitcs, private funding space travel
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