Turns Out One-Way Trips to Mars Not Exactly Great Business Plan

The sunset on Mars from Gale Crater, as photographed by Curiosity rover.
The sunset on Mars from Gale Crater, as photographed by Curiosity rover.
Photo: Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), Curiosity, MastCam, NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M Univ.

Remember Mars One, that company we all knew was a scam but still kinda hoped was real because of how much we liked the movie The Martian? Yeah, it went bankrupt.

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Mars One was a Dutch company whose goal was to “establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.” You may remember it from its much-hyped announcement that it was recruiting regular people to become astronauts for a one-way trip to Mars. But you also might remember that it was probably never going to work.

According to the trade register of the Swiss canton of Basel, a court declared Mars One bankrupt as of January 15, 2019.

The company hoped to build capital to fund the mission through donations, merchandise sales, and contracts with media companies for producing documentaries and other content. It had begun to contract with Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology for a lander and an orbiter, according to SpaceNews. But it seems that funding ran out.

Flaws became apparent in the company’s funding strategy, astronaut selection process, and pretty much every other activity. I encourage you to read journalist Elmo Keep’s in-depth reporting on the matter. But basically—the selection process wasn’t rigorous, prospective astronauts were encouraged to help fund the mission, and you can’t just pay for a Mars mission with the promise of a good story.

Scientists didn’t think Mars One would work, either. MIT research showed that the mission wouldn’t be bringing enough food, and technology isn’t advanced enough to maintain an atmosphere that humans could survive in on the Red Planet. I’ll also note that the company’s own website implies that it hadn’t hired any experts yet—indeed, Keep’s reporting suggested that the company only had a handful of employees.

We’ve reached out to Mars One’s CEO, Bas Lansdorp, as well as some of Mars One’s investors, and will update the post when we hear back.

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Listen, I know as Americans we’ve begun to put our faith in private industry as a way to get humans onto Mars. But it’s going to take a lot more than hype, donations, and merchandise sales. Rigorous science and millions upon millions of dollars will also be required.

[via Reddit]

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Former Gizmodo physics writer and founder of Birdmodo, now a science communicator specializing in quantum computing and birds

DISCUSSION

I thought it was a scam, too, but Lansdorp really does seem like a true believer in this. He really is just that unrealistically optimistic - space stuff draws people like that.

In any case, it failed, as almost everyone expected. The #1 question you should always ask when some new space startup or venture makes the news is “Are they funded through their first prototype/mission already?” If not, then history suggests it’s just all talk - the history of space startups is littered with companies that were big on dreams and promises, optimistic on technology, and short on funding. The only ones that have succeeded have been those that were initially self-financed through their first prototype (Bigelow, SpaceX, Blue Origin, etc), those that found a rich backer, or those that had a NASA or government contract from the get-go.