The Mars One project has announced that it’s planning to set-up “simulated” outposts here on Earth. During the announcement co-founder Bas Lansdorp said, “We are very eager to get started constructing actual hardware for our mission that is important for training future Mars One crews and preparing them for their life on Mars. We are going from theory to practice.”
While this sounds very exciting and forward thinking I’m afraid the skeptic inside me is shouting and waving big red flags. The usefulness of such a plan will be extremely limited; the relevance of any earth-based “simulation” will miss some major aspects of life on Mars.
How about gravity for a start? At 3.7 m/s sq. the gravity on Mars is just over a third of what we experience here on Earth. As we don’t have any kind of anti-gravity capabilities, nothing can change that. So all the “crew” operations and training will take place at gravity levels bearing no resemblance to those on Mars. One of several serious problems for humans in low gravities is muscle loss, so simulations at 1g will tell Mars One nothing about such dangers.
Then there’s radiation. On Earth, our thick atmospheric blanket and the planet’s magnetic field shields us from the vast majority of radiation hitting us from space. Mars has a very thin atmosphere and no magnetic shield so surface radiation there will be much higher. Recent analysis suggests that it would increase cancer rates by five percent, much higher than the three percent NASA considers safe levels on the International Space Station. Radiation can also have an effect on materials and electronics, which the Mars One project could not simulate, again severely limiting useful information gathering.
Martian dust also poses a big problem for any would-be colonists. Dust on Earth has been weathered and worn by atmospheric interaction, rain and other natural weathering processes which grind away sharp surfaces. Devoid of atmosphere or weathering, Martian dust (known as regolith) is sharp and harsh, which could cause damage to the lungs if breathed in. Not only that but chemical reactions can produce poisonous hydrogen peroxide, which also attacks the lungs. The moon has a similar regolith-covered surface and Apollo astronauts found the dust to be a major annoyance. The Mars One plans again will not provide any insight on this issue.
The final blow to this venture is the admission by Mars One that the simulations won’t even attempt to implement the life support systems needed to survive on Mars. If ever there was an admission of the pointlessness of this exercise then this has to be it. Mars One is going to set up a few cardboard cut-out Mars habitats and pretend that they’re doing something of value.
All I see is Mars – One big publicity stunt and I have to wonder how much the founders are making out of all of this.