Mars One and The Dream of the Red Planet

Mars One wanted to go to Mars, and they wanted to get there in a hurry. Now it looks like the dream is all but dead.

We’re doing such an awesome job ravishing Earth, and it’s high time we find a new planet to destroy. Mars is next on the list, and perhaps one of the most interesting targets for space exploration in general. NASA plans to have people on the ground on Mars within 2037. Well-known pot smoker Elon Musk is a bit more aggressive with his goals, and he wants to send people to Mars as early as 2024. Another ambitious company with the Red Planet in its sight was Mars One.

In 2012 the Dutch company surfaced with a grand plan. By 2018, they would send a probe to Mars, followed by an unmanned surface vehicle in 2020. Only three years later, 24 brave colonists would leave Earth with a one-way ticket to Mars.

Come One, Come All!

How easy is it to find people who want to go to Mars to die? As it turns out, it’s surprisingly easy. Mars One sent out a call for applications in April 2013, and according to the company, a total of 202,586 people expressed their interest. They filled out a simple online form, and paid the registration fee, which varied from $5 to $75 depending on the relative wealth of the applicant’s country.

The next step in the registration process included submitting a profile image, basic personal information, and a video in which the applications answered various motivational questions. This turned out to be a major hurdle for the bulk of them. By September, only 4,227 applicants of the original 202,586 had submitted their video.

That’s a dropout rate of 98%. If the prospect of submitting a video application is too much effort for you, I’m honestly not sure how well they would handle life on the Red Planet.

During two additional rounds of selections, those 4,227 hopeful adventures were reduced to 100 people, aptly called The Mars 100. But after this round of selections was completed, Mars One started to run into trouble.

Mars One rendering of proposed colony habitat modules.
Mars One rendering of proposed colony habitat modules.

Money, Money, Money

All expositions are costly affairs. And a manned mission to Mars, a hostile rock 225 million kilometers (140 million miles) from Earth, is a particularly expensive endevour.

Mars One’s funding came from different sources: Application fees, donations, undisclosed private investment, and the licensing of intellectual property rights. But the majority of the funding would come from the sale of TV broadcasting rights.

The company planned to produce a reality TV show documenting the process of watering down the The Mars 100 to the group of 24 crazy bastards who would eventually blast off into space. The reality TV show would then continue on through the first years of living on Mars. Unfortunately, Mars One was not able to sign a deal with any TV producers, and the astronaut selection process went on indefinite hiatus in 2015 - clearly not a good sign for the prospects of going to Mars.

Mars One revised mission plan
Mars One revised mission plan. Infographic by Maria João Leite.

Curtain Call

2018 came and went without any Mars One probes orbiting the planet. The revised plan, as depicted above, calls for a 2020 launch of a communication satellite. But it’s very unlike that the launch will ever happen: Earlier this week, Engadget reported that Mars One has declared bankruptcy. The company has been permanently dissolved.

Is anyone surprised? Not really. The whole thing might even have been a rather elaborate scam, as explained by one of The Mars 100, Joseph Roche, in a 2016 interview with Matter. Mars One had no real budget, and no concrete plan to even go to Mars.

And reality TV is perhaps not the best way to fund a billion-dollar, interplanetary expedition.

Consolation: Virtual Mars

Now that Mars One is out of the picture, your chances of moving to Mars has decreased drastically. Instead, you’re stuck on Earth, where just have to make the best of it. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology - and computer games - you can still experience what it might have been like to live on Mars. Here are a few titles you can check out:

  • Offworld Trading Company: A science fiction themed real-time economic warfare strategy game (*inhales*) set on Mars.
  • Surviving Mars: A simulation game where the player has to build a colony on Mars, and ensure the survival of the colonists.
  • Red Faction: A first-person shooter that takes place on Mars.

Personally, I’ve only played Offworld Trading Company, and Surviving Mars. The former is pretty good for short, fast-paced rounds of good fun, while the latter is a pretty bland attempt to make colonizing Mars entertaining. I reviewed Surviving Mars last year, and I’ve got an Offworld Trading Company review drafted, but have yet to get around to finish it. Maybe one of these day.


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