More doubts about the Mars One mission

A Nobel laureate has joined MIT researchers in casting doubt over plans by a Dutch organisation to colonise Mars.

Gerard ‘t Hooft, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Utrecht and an ambassador for the Mars One project, was sceptical that humans would be ready to fly on a one-way to trip to Mars in 2024 as set out in the official Mars One timeline.

“It will take quite a bit longer and be quite a bit more expensive,” he said, adding that he still supported the mission’s goals. “Let them be optimistic and see how far they get,” he said.

The Mars One program was announced in mid-2012 with the aim of building a human settlement on the Martian surface. The plans call for a stationary lander and satellite to be sent to Mars in 2018, then a rover in 2020 and cargo missions starting in 2022. The first humans – two men and two women – would arrive on Mars in 2025, with crews of four joining them every two years to expand the settlement. A shortlist of 100 applicants was announced last week.

Late last year researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology published an independent assessment of the mission’s feasibility noting “there are many uncertainties in the mission design”.  For instance they say that the equipment, which has been designed for the zero gravity of the International Space Station will be prone to breakdown on Mars where the gravity is 40% of the gravity on Earth.  Sending sufficient spare parts to Mars will be difficult, they say. In addition, plans to grow lettuce and wheat on the Martian surface will create peaks of oxygen that will pose a fire risk.

“There’s no deep-space habitat in development, there’s no lander in development,” said Sydney Do, a graduate student who co-authored the MIT study.

Most seriously, the MIT study suggests the first astronaut will suffocate in 68 days without a machine that can selectively pump oxygen out of the environment.

‘T Hooft said he found the findings concerning. “I understand the scepticism very well. People from outside will say ‘wait a minute, you have to be careful with what you’re doing and what you’re claiming’. Maybe there’s a need to reassess.”

But Bars Lansdorp, a founder of Mars One, said a technical assessment of the mission was being carried out by the Paragon Space Corporation for Mars One. “They called the MIT analysis ‘very naïve’,” he said. “Don’t forget that when Kennedy announced the Moon mission he had less time.”

H/T The Guardian

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