Astronaut Chris Hadfield Explains The Big Problem With The Mars One Mission

Mars simulation

If you haven’t heard, there’s a plan to start up a colony of humans living on Mars in the near future.

If the next decade goes as planned, the not-for-profit organisation, Mars One, will launch a manned mission to Mars that will land the first human colony on the red planet in 2025.

Here’s the catch: Those who leave Earth for the 7-month-long ride in space will never return.

The four-member crew will learn to call Mars — a freezing, barren, lifeless planet — home. Forever.

That may sound great to the tens of thousands of people who applied, but Mars One is going about their grandiose plans all wrong according to retired Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Right now, Mars One is focused more on raising funds and selecting crew members than developing the technology needed for the trip. And the technology, Hadfield told Elmo Keep, writing in Medium, is the most basic starting point for any space mission.

“There’s a great, I don’t know, self-defeating optimism in the way that this project has been set up,” Hadfield told Keep. “I fear that it’s going to be a little disillusioning for people, because it’s presented as if for sure it’s going to happen.”

Mars landscape

So far, the company claims they have had more than 200,000 people apply, and are about to start interviews with 663 final candidates. Mars One says that they will gather the majority of money for the trip through crowd funding from a global reality television event.

The company anticipates that the trip to Mars will cost approximately $US6 billion (that’s shockingly low compared to NASA estimates for a two-way trip to Mars and back costing roughly $US100 billion.)

Although Mars One has visions of partnering with companies like SpaceX to procure the proper technology, so far its only contract is with Paragon Space Development Corporation to study initial life support systems.

Hadfield isn’t the only one doubting this project. Doubters at MIT have calculated that “living on Mars” will last only about 68 days before the colonists die.

In particular, Hadfield said, if you don’t have the specifications of the spacecraft, you can’t begin to select the people who will live and work in it.

“I want to see the technical specifications of the vehicle that is orbiting Earth,” Hadfield said. “I want to know: How does a space suit on Mars work? Show me how it is pressurised, and how it is cooled. What’s the glove design?”

This image, captured Feb. 1, 2014, shows a colorized view of Earth from the moon-based perspective of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

What’s more, Mars should not even be a target for colonization at this point, according to Hadfield. Our sites should be set on a place much closer.

“We absolutely need to do it on the moon for a few generations,” Hadfield told Keep.

On average, the moon is about 600 times closer to Earth than Mars. That means if something goes wrong with a colony, we can dispatch help from Earth that will reach the Moon in a matter of hours instead of months. Developing a working moon colony would be an important first step to living on Mars.

Apollo 17
Astronaut Eugene A. Cernan of Apollo 17 tests the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the moon. NASA

Here’s a short list of what Hadfield told Keep we need to know before living on Mars:

  • How do you completely recycle your water?
  • How do you completely recycle your oxygen system?
  • How do you protect yourselves from radiation?
  • How do you not go crazy?
  • How do you set up the politics of the place and the command structure, so that when we get it wrong we won’t all die?

While the Mars One desire to get people excited about space travel again is noble — it has been more than 42 years since we last landed a human on anything in space besides the International Space Station. There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about landing people on other satellites throughout the solar system.

“It’s not a race, it’s not an entertainment event. We didn’t explore the world to entertain other people. We did it as a natural extension of human curiosity and matching capability,” Hadfield told Keep. “And that’s what will continue to drive us.”