Hi guys! I’m Allie, your science correspondent. I have a lot of strong feelings about a lot of things, one of which is how the news is very bad at reporting science. So, I’m probably going to be writing a lot of Op Eds. Here we go.
Mars! People have been enthralled with the idea of exploring worlds other than our own since we knew there were other worlds. We conquered the first leg of that journey in 1969, when the Apollo mission landed people on the moon for the first time. Mars, being a planet, is the next logical step.
But why Mars? Why not Venus, which is quite a bit closer? One reason is that Venus is extremely inhospitable, more so than Mars. We didn’t know this 120 years ago, though, when Percival Lowell, the Neil Degrasse Tyson of the day, mistranslated an Italian astronomer’s writings about river systems into man made canals. He took that idea and ran with it, imaging that the canals were sending water from the ice caps to the rest of the planet as the last hope of a dying race (the Martians) to save their planet from being destroyed by drought. He captured the public’s imagination by writing books about what he thought their societies must be like. These books influenced many science fiction writers we know today such as Edger Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlien, Phillip K Dick, and eventually my introduction to Martians, the Warner Bros.
Going to Mars would be awesome, so why am I against it? The answer to that is that I’m not against the idea, I would absolutely go, but Mars One, a privately funded manned mission, is not going to be the one to get us there. What is Mars One? From its website, “Mars One is a not-for-profit foundation that will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Human settlement on Mars is possible today with existing technologies. Mars One’s mission plan integrates components that are well tested and readily available from industry leaders worldwide.” The idea is to send unmanned ships to Mars to set up a base camp, which will be ready for people to land on in ten years.
The first suspicious detail is that this mission will be primarily funded through TV networks; as it will be broadcast live, which makes me think of some horrible mash-up of The Truman Show and Lord of the Flies. Beyond the moral issues, and almost as troubling, this mission is more than likely going to cost a lot more money than what they say. Its proposed budget is six billion dollars, which may seem like a lot, but is absurdly small. To compare, NASA’s mission to Mars, Orion, is estimated to cost at least eighty billion. Where is this money going to come from? Not Indiegogo, where it raised less than half a million dollars.
The next and main criticism is that we simply do not have the technology. The Mars One website enumerates many of the technologies needed, but with no mention of if they actually have them, or when they are planning on getting them. The life support systems we have are not made for use on other planets, we have not yet figured out how to efficiently grow crops in space, so don’t know how to get drinkable water from Mars’ crust, and a thousand other little details. We don’t even know what ship they are planning on using, which seems like a big detail.
Basically, this is a disaster waiting to happen. Humans haven’t been outside of low Earth Orbit for more than forty years, I think we absolutely should get back out there, but in a safer way. I’m worried that this will fail horribly, and will delay exploration instead of prompting it forward.