Mars One vs. NASA...Innovation vs. the 19th century

By: Shawn Alli
Posted: August 3, 2014

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*Disclosure: I'm a former applicant of the Mars One mission.

*All individuals and organizations receive 4 full days of pre-publication notice.

 

 

The internet, cell phones, emails and near instant communication is a hallmark of 20th and 21st century innovations. But there's no reason why this concept can't apply to exploring space and creating colonies on celestial bodies. Such is the case for Mars.

 

Despite Barack Obama's 2010 space policy to have humans orbit Mars in the mid 2030s, [1] things are moving to slow for most individuals and organizations. Mars One, a Dutch non-profit organization, is merely the latest contender in a short line of applicants. Mars One's goal is to have humans colonize Mars beginning in 2025. Many detractors such as NASA officials and scientists aligned with NASA contend that such a goal is science fiction. But this doesn't deter Mars One from moving forward.

 

After receiving 202,586, global applications, [2] the pool of applicants is now down to 705. [3] In December 2013 Mars One partners with Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology to design mission concept studies. [4] And in June 2014 they announce a request for proposal for their 2018 Mars Lander payload mission. [5]

 

Aside from the many issues that Mars One has to deal with, they're utilizing rockets (chemical propellants), to get to Mars. And therein lies the question. Is using 1860s technology (though refined in the 1920s), indicative of new innovations and advancing the development of the human species?

 

I highly doubt that Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz's Ad Astra company thinks so. Ad Astra is a US commercial aerospace company that creates propulsion systems for the burgeoning space industry. Ad Astra is the creator of the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) engine. Simply put, VASIMR is an electric propulsion engine capable of using gas (argon or krypton), solar energy or nuclear energy. [6] [7]

 

Ad Aatra doesn't reply to an email request for comment.

 

Michio Kaku, a popular theoretical physicist, believes that space elevators are the future innovation to take humanity into the solar system and beyond. I would think that such a mindset would advocate for new innovations instead of 19th century/20th century ones.

 

Kaku doesn't reply to an email request for comment.

 

However, I'm not sure what side of the fence that Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, would be on. Responding to an email request for comment, his brand manager says:

Unfortunately due to the huge number of incoming questions he simply isn't able to answer them all. As such I'm sorry to say he won't be able to respond to your email.

 

Of course not. What reputable organization or individual has the time to respond to a low level alternative media blogger?

 

Since NASA is backing Chang-Diaz's innovations, I'd guess that NASA is ready to leave oil behind and start moving into quicker and more cost-effective innovations.

 

NASA doesn't respond to an email request for comment.

 

I expect a strong defence from Mars One in regards to their use of chemical propellants, but their response isn't exactly welcoming:

Thank you for your message and interest in the Mars One mission! We receive many interview requests, and unfortunately do not have time to accept them all.

 

Funny, but I don't recall asking for an interview request (I ask them to respond to questions about chemical propellants and the future of Mars explorations relative to different energy sources).

 

While the usual snubbing of alternative media bloggers isn't a surprise to anyone, it's annoying nonetheless.

 

I expect a vigorous defence for chemical propellants from Dr. Robert Zubrin's Mars Society, but unfortunately, they don't respond to an email request for comment.

 

But Robert Zubrin is a big player in the world of Mars and space explorations, more so now that he's an advisor to Mars One. [8] In July 2011 Zubrin even throws down the gauntlet by calling VASIMR a Hoax. [9] And in June 2014 he challenges Chang-Diaz to a debate at the 17th Annual Mars Society Convention in August 2014. [10] It's still unknown whether Chang-Diaz will participate.

 

The fact that most government space agencies and commercial companies are still using 19th century technology either points to the incompetence of engineers around the world, or the suppression of technological innovations by "private interest groups."

 

I'm sure that Dr. Steven Greer, founder of the Disclosure Project and CSETI, believes that the US government or private interest groups are suppressing technological innovations.

 

Unfortunately, Dr. Greer doesn't respond to an email request for comment.

 

But getting back to the world of politics, power relations, and national security, it's questionable whether the US government (or any government for that matter), will allow Mars One to succeed in their mission.

 

Colonizing a planet is not an everyday occurrence, and the idea that a non-profit foreign organization is going to beat out the US, Russian, or Chinese government to Mars is an interesting quandary.

 

Obama's June 15th statement about the space industry sets the stage for the next race:

Fifty years after the creation of NASA, our goal is no longer just a destination to reach. Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite. And in fulfilling this task, we will not only extend humanity's reach in space - we will strengthen America's leadership here on Earth. [11]

 

The power relations dynamic comes into play with the last sentence about strengthening America's leadership on the Earth. By being the first nation to land humans on a celestial body, the US government can push it's ego up another notch and prove to the world that they're the leaders in technological innovations. The respective American public will most likely feel more patriotic and potentially engender trust and loyalty to their government.

 

But the heart of the issue is the fact that Obama envisions people living on celestial bodies (other than the Earth), indefinitely. Simply put, planet colonization is a priority. The idea that Mars One is going to beat them to the goal is potentially a national security issue according to the Obama administration's June 2010 National Space Policy:

A robust and competitive commercial space sector is vital to continued progress in space. The United States is committed to encouraging and facilitating the growth of a U.S. commercial space sector that supports U.S. needs, is globally competitive, and advances U.S. leadership in the generation of new markets and innovation-driven entrepreneurship. [12]

Actively promote the export of U.S. commercially developed and available space goods and services, including those developed by small - and medium-sized enterprises, for use in foreign markets, consistent with U.S. technology transfer and nonproliferation objectives. [13]

 

Supporting US needs, US leadership and US commercial space goods or services is not what Mars One is about.

 

But the issue gets dicier in the National Security Space Guidelines:

Maintain and integrate space surveillance, intelligence, and other information to develop accurate and timely SSA. SSA information shall be used to support national and homeland security, civil space agencies, particularly human space flight activities, and commercial and foreign space operations. [14]

 

SSA refers to Space Situational Awareness. That's fancy wordplay for "intelligence gathering." While this statement most likely refers to the Russian or Chinese government's space ventures, Mars One would technically qualify as a foreign space operation.

 

But despite all of the obstacles in Mars One's path, I believe that their vision to colonize Mars is correct...as long as private banks or taxation isn't in the mix.

 

Hey Bob did you pay your HSBC and JPMorgan Chase taxation this year? Of course. I couldn't imagine our Mars colony without them.

 

 

References:

[1] National Space Policy of the United States of America. President of the United States. June 28, 2010. p. 11.

[2] Over 200,000 apply to first ever recruitment for Mars settlement. Mars One. September 9, 2013.

[3] 705 potential Mars settlers remain in Mars One's astronaut selection process. Mars One. May 5, 2014.

[4] Lockheed Martin and SSTL selected for Mars One's first Unmanned Mission to Mars. Mars One. December 10, 2013.

[5] Mars One announces Request for Proposals for 2018 Mars lander payloads. Mars One. June 30, 2014.

[6] What type of Propellant does VASIMR engines use? Ad Astra.

[7] Does VASIMR need a nuclear reactor? Ad Astra.

[8] Mission Advisory Board. Mars One.

[9] The VASIMR Hoax. The Mars Society. July 12, 2011.

[10] Zubrin Challenges Chang Diaz to Debate at Mars Society Convention in Houston. The Mars Society. June 26, 2014.

[11] National Space Policy of the United States of America. p. 1.

[12] Ibid. p. 3.

[13] Ibid. p. 11.

[14] Ibid. p. 13-14.