Mars One is not the first organization to ponder the idea of a manned mission to Mars. There have been many plans to do just this. And yet, none have come to fruition. Why should Mars One succeed?
There are several reasons, as described in some detail, below:
- Emigration – The Mars One astronauts will depart Earth assuming that they will never return. This radically changes the mission requirements, reducing the need for return vehicles associated with currently unavailable technologies and far greater costs.
- Solar panels – Through the use of this simple, robust, and plentiful energy source, Mars One does not require the development and launch of a nuclear reactor, thereby saving time and money while avoiding the risks and concerns for use of a nuclear power source.
- Simple rovers – Through the use of relatively simple rovers, designed to conduct basic settlement construction prior to human astronaut arrival, saving both time and cost.
- No new developments – The entire plan revolves around the use of existing, validated technology
- No politics – Suppliers are chosen on a balance of price and quality, not through political or national preferences.
Emigration to Mars
A central point to Mars One's mission is the emigration of the human astronauts. Mars becomes their new home, where they will live and work for what will likely be the remainder of their lives.
While it is possible that, within the lifetime of the early settlers on Mars, there will be opportunity to bring one or more back to Earth, it cannot be anticipated nor expected. Consider the following fact: to return a human to Earth, a fully assembled and fueled launch vehicle (rocket) must be available, capable of escaping the gravitational field of Mars with ample, on-board life support systems and supplies for up to a seven months voyage, and the capability to either dock with a space station orbiting the Earth, or perform a safe re-entry and landing on Earth.
Not one of these is a small endeavor, each requiring substantial technical capacity, weight, and cost.
Furthermore, there is a point in time after which the human body will have adjusted to the 38% gravitation field of Mars, and be incapable of returning to the Earth's much stronger gravity. This is due to the total physiological change in the human body, which includes reduction in bone density, muscle strength, and circulatory system capacity. While a cosmonaut on-board the Mir was able to walk upon return to Earth after thirteen months in a weightless environment, after a prolonged stay on Mars, the human body will not be able to adjust to the higher gravity of Earth upon return.
By assuming human astronauts are permanent residents on Mars, the challenges are reduced to providing the astronauts with the foundations for a new life: safe living facilities, clean air and potable water, food rations until plants may be grown in green houses and hydroponic facilities, and the essentials for intellectual stimulation on a planet which is cold, desolate, and without many life giving qualities.
While complex, the Mars One Mission is possible now. The science and technology required to place humans on Mars exists today. Much of what we have learned from the Skylab, Mir, and the International Space Station (ISS) have given us imperative data, experience, and know-how--all of which are applicable to living on Mars.
In addition, the basic elements required for a viable living system are already present on Mars, resulting in the need to send more tools and machines than raw elements. For example, the location Mars One has chosen for its first settlement contains water ice in the soil, which can be extracted through the application of heat. This water may be used to drink, bathe, raise food crops, and, through electrolysis, create oxygen. In addition, Mars has ample natural sources of nitrogen, the primary element (80%) in the air we breathe.
Certainly, for a long time, there will be need for new supplies such as computers, clothing, specialty foods (chocolate, coffee, and tea), and complex spare parts which cannot be readily reproduced with Mars based 3D printers and computer aided mills. However, soon after the first humans arrive, it is expected the astronauts will be able to create and improve their own habitation using local materials.
The Mars One settlement will be powered by solar (photovoltaic) panels. This is possible because Mars One does not require the production of fuel for a return journey to Earth. The solar panels selected for the Mars One mission are thin film, which, while slightly less efficient than those more commonly used in aerospace, are extremely light and easily transported. The first Mars One Settlement plans to install approximately 3000 square meters of power generating surface area.
As Mars is further from the Sun than Earth, the solar gain is reduced. But, as the atmosphere is far thinner, the amount of solar radiation that reaches the surface is greater than if Mars contained a thicker atmosphere. As a result, the average total solar gain on the surface of Mars is 500 Watts per square meter, which is roughly ½ of the average 1000 Watts on Earth.
In the early years of the project, the solar panels will be placed directly on the ground, as this reduces the materials brought from Earth and requires minimal effort from the rovers prior to arrival of the humans. When the build-up of dust and sand reduces the total power output, a rover or astronaut will clean them accordingly.
Mars One has opted for the deployment of relatively simple rovers, which require the astronauts to continue to wear their pressurized Mars Suits. While a pressurized rover is ideal - one that offers breathable air and a small living quarters for longer surface exploratory missions - the cost of transport to Mars is currently prohibitive. Furthermore, at this time, there exists no transport vehicle that can carry such a rover to Mars.
While the rovers Mars One has selected are capable of driving more than 200 kilometers, the comfort of the astronauts suits will likely limit total travel to 8 hours / 80 kilometers per day. The rovers are able to drive across the Mars terrain at roughly 10 kilometers per hour when they are under the direct control of a human, and slower when driving autonomously. While not an incredible distance, this does equate to an available area surrounding the settlement of roughly 5000 square kilometers.
No New Development
Mars One has designed a mission that uses components made exclusively by existing suppliers, and has received confirmation to develop all major components through letters of interest. While most of the components required are not immediately available with the exact specifications required, at this time, there is no need for radical modifications to the current component designs. All suppliers have confirmed their ability to build what is required--and they can do so now.
Mars One is a non-governmental company, and, as such, apolitical in its function. Mars One is choosing to work with the best suppliers the world has to offer, regardless of their geographic location or national affiliation. Mars One is only concerned with the quality of the products and fairness of the price used to make the Mars One Mission possible. The astronaut selection process will engage tens, even hundreds of thousands of applicants from dozens of countries world-wide. Each team selected for settlement on Mars will be comprised of four people, each from a different nation on Earth. From start to finish, from Earth to Mars, Mars One is dedicated to an international, intergenerational effort to take the human species on an incredible journey.