Published April 03, 2013
Mars One co-founder Bas Lansdorp has sky-high plans for a solar system-sized reality show: a worldwide media event for "several billion online spectators” that would hand four ordinary people a one-way ticket to Mars -- all filmed for a TV event set to launch in 2023.
But there’s less “reality” in this concept than in reality TV shows, some experts told FoxNews.com.
Nearly one year after its high-profile launch, the organization has barely taken a step toward its goal, with only one supplier on board to make a conceptual design.
"We expect to have the first results from most of our suppliers before the end of the year, but all of them will require additional contracts," Lansdorp told FoxNews.com.
That’s scarcely a beginning, said Dani Eder, who was in the space systems division of Boeing from 1981 to 2005 and worked on manned Mars mission studies.
“All they have are some words and pictures," Eder told FoxNews.com. "Mars One needs to explain how they get to Mars, and not just show pictures of the surface habitat, before engineers like me will take them seriously.”
Paying for a 'Suicide Mission'
The idea behind Mars One is certainly entertaining. The company wants to use a number of high-tech suppliers to send four people to the Red Planet for an estimated $6 billion. It plans to have its first supply launch to Mars in 2016, with human settlers landing in 2023, followed by four more every two years.
The astronauts won't come back to Earth; they will live and die on Mars.
"The technology to get to Mars, land on Mars, keep humans alive in forbidden environments and prepare a settlement with robotics -- all of that exists," Lansdorp told FoxNews.com "Of course there's still a lot of engineering to be done and many hurdles to overcome..."
The reality show will help fund the bulk of the journey by filming astronaut training and letting viewers vote for who will go to Mars, along with broadcasting the takeoff and landing on Mars. Lansdorp believes the show will be bigger than the Olympics.
"[The] International Olympic Committee has revenues of over $1 billion per week," he told FoxNews.com. "Mars One will do the same to finance the mission to Mars."
Not everyone believes a TV show can fund such an undertaking. When Eder worked for Boeing, one of his studies involved a TV network asking if a manned mission to Mars could be supported by advertising revenues. It couldn't.
"The potential revenue from a reality show just isn't in the same league with mission cost for going to Mars," he said.
Some scientists are excited about the project nevertheless. Dr. Gerard 't Hooft, a Dutch theoretical physicist and Nobel prize winner, is an official ambassador. He published a letter on the Mars One website to endorse the project.
"All confronted with it will, like I did, respond with skepticism... But look and listen to this proposal properly! Problems are to be solved... It will certainly be a spectacle worth watching."
Mars One, a Netherlands-based nonprofit, owns about 90 percent of the for-profit company that will run the reality show, Interplanetary Media Group. Although the bulk of the mission will be funded by the show, Mars One will also receive funds from investors, donations from private individuals, and the astronaut selection process itself.
In January, Mars One announced its first investors, although it did not disclose the size of the investments: Trifork BV, a Dutch company that builds custom software, and Now&Partners, a creative agency in South Africa. Trifork did not respond to FoxNews.com questions about the size of its investment.
"Most of the revenues will come in 2023 and after, [but] most of the expenses will be made before 2020," Lansdorp told FoxNews.com. "Indeed we will have revenues from various sources before 2023 ... but most likely not enough to keep up with the expenses."
Is Existing Technology Enough?
Mars One says modifying existing tech will speed the project, something Hooft described as "genius."
"The mission is kept as simple as possible," he said. "All the fantastical technical concepts that have not been sufficiently and satisfactorily tested, will not be employed."
Mars One proposes the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket and a slightly larger variation of the SpaceX Dragon capsule could make the flight. Some experts doubt this plan. Robert Harwood is the aerospace and defense industry director of ANSYS, Inc., a software company that simulates rocket launches to the moon and other planets.
"It’s unlikely that these two systems would be directly involved in a journey to Mars," he told FoxNews.com. "They are probably not big enough, powerful enough or use the right type of engine technology to sustain such a journey and carry all the things required."
Mars One may also have overstated its ability to set up a colony, according to Harry Keller, who has a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry and runs Smart Science, an organization that advocates science education.
"Mars One, in its passion, has overlooked some things," he said. "The Mars One people suggest their landing location will be where water is available but don't give details. This omission is just the sort that makes me suspicious."
Keller listed more problems that aren't adequately addressed.
"[They] glibly talk about using local resources for building and maintaining facilities," he said. "Just to make iron would require mining ... and huge amounts of energy. Plastics require an organic source, but all organics would have to be food until the base expanded quite a bit, but expansion requires building materials. You see the vicious cycle here."
According to Mars One, drinking water will be produced by heating ice in Martian soil. But current technology hasn’t yet proven up to the task in the field, experts told FoxNews.com.
"Digging up soil on Mars, with embedded ice or hydrated minerals, getting the water out, and having an electrolysis unit that is reliable enough for your life to depend on it is a whole different matter," Eder said. "We might have the technology in a laboratory, but not as functional hardware we can use on Mars."
When Lansdorp did a Q&A on social bookmarking site Reddit, participants questioned if the plan was a publicity stunt. He asked for patience: "It takes time for an idea to grow."