Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Parody Week 2: The Oatmeal

Why the Mars One Expedition is Completely Insane

When I first heard that someone wanted to send a manned flight to Mars to set up a human settlement, my first thought was "Cool bananas, I hope they enjoy the trip." But when I actually sat down to think about it, I realized that the entire project is actually raging banana batshit crazy. Here are the reasons why:

1. It is, more than likely, just a scam.

Mars One is said to be a non-profit, Netherlands organization with plans to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by 2027. And that's a pretty cool prospect, in fact if you ask anyone they'll tell you that space colonization is as cool as a koala riding a pterodactyl. However, that alone is reason to doubt it.
We're simple monkey creatures, we crave excitement and wonder and things never seen before, so if you dangle this kind of gold star achievement in front of us, realistic or not, naive and hopeful people are going to want to try it. This is the foundation of any confidence trick. Lure them in, gain their trust, build their interest, get their money and then cut and run. And, as far as I'm concerned, the nicest thing I can say about it is that it's the most successful scam in the history of mankind.

Now, I'll be the first to admit, I'm no rocket surgeon, so I'm not the right person to ask about this kind of thing, but some of the right people to ask about this kind of thing have just as much criticism of the project:
Space policy specialist John Logsdon of George Washington University says of it: "It looks like a scam.
Former Canadian astronaut Julie Payette says of it: “We don’t have the technology to go to Mars.
Neil Degrasse Tyson says of it: "I'm skeptical that it can be accomplished on the timescale that they say."
And Joseph Roche, a successful Mars One applicant says of it: "It is unlikely that I will ever land on Mars."

But hey, these people may be smart, but they don't know everything, and I'm just being prejudiced. Perhaps they just haven't looked at the facts and figures . . .

2. The numbers don't add up

Even people that have crunched the numbers on this thing have said that the numbers are all wrong, by like tenfold. When Gerald 't Hooft became involved with the project, he told them: "You have to put a zero after everything."
That is to say, their 10 year deadline, $6 billion budget would be more viable as a 100 year deadline, $60 billion budget. And he's not alone, students at MIT performed as a space logistics analysis of the project and determined not only that current life support technology, environmental control technology and renewable food technology were all woefully inadequate, but also that the given budget lacked margin for error. In short, if you tried to go to Mars with current technology, you would suffocate, depressurize or starve in two months.

But even if their budget was adequate, the money they have raised so far doesn't come close to their goals. Mars One has claimed that it will cost them six billion dollars to get four people into space. They began with an Indiegogo campaign to raise $400,000, and only raised 75% of that.
They also had plans to fund the trip with a reality TV show, but Endemol, the production company they chose to partner, with has backed out of the project. That's another significant portion of their budget.

At time of writing, they've raised just over $780,000. For those of you keeping score, that's approx. 10% of their proposed budget. Not only is that barely 1% of Mr 't Hooft's estimates, but this organization was founded in 2010 and they plan on launching their first satellites in five years, and their first Mars Rover in seven years; at this rate, it would take 50 years just to raise the bare minimum of their budget.

3. People are going to die.

Did I mention that they're not coming back? If I didn't, that's important, because they're not coming back. I wish I could say this is part of some longterm plan, but this is probably just a cost-cutting decision, like shooting your dog to save on veterinary bills.
But here's where it gets crazy. If you look closely at their plans,they're going to send up 2,500 kilograms of food seven years before they send people up that can eat it. This might not be so bad, except for two things: radiation and dust.

Mars is a desert, apparently it's -60°C on average so it's not hot like a desert, but it is prone to dust storms. These can cover the entire surface of the planet at times.  This can cause wear, tear and erosion, and although I don't know how strong the wind is across the surface of Mars, I do know that it can get up to 400 km/h winds at the poles - that's faster than winds in a super typhoon, and filled with eye-stinging pain-particles!
I also know how strong gravity is on Mars (i.e. 0.376 g). With gravity at one third strength, and winds that can get to hurricane speeds, our migrant Martians could, at the very least, lose their lunch box.

But then, there's the radiation. Mars doesn't have an ozone layer, and as such is much more susceptible to things like cosmic rays, UV radiation and micrometeors. But as for the radiation, without an ozone layer, solar radiation goes from sauna to kiln. So, even if the food doesn't blow away, unless it's heavily shielded, it will either be irradiated or cooked by the UV light.
And if that's not enough, it has to last seven years; that's one hell of a best before date; and you have to go through that just to eat breakfast in the morning on Mars, so I'm starting to doubt that any of these people will die of natural causes on the read deathrock.

4. If they're not crazy now, they will be.

Remember how I said that they wanted to make a reality TV show on Mars? That's pretty crazy, right, but that was just a fundraising venture. I don't mean to suggest that they were looking for volunteers the same way that Big Brother looks for reality TV contestants . . .
According to Joseph Roche, a man that qualified for "Mars Training", Mars One is looking for volunteers the same way that Big Brother looks for reality TV contestants. He said that succeeding in Round 1 required:
1. A short contestant video.
2. An application form that he filled out with one-word answers.
3. A 10-minute interview over Skype.
That's less rigorous testing than the squirrel monkeys they first sent out of the atmosphere.

If that's not bad enough, when you listen to the video advertising "Round 3 Astronaut Selection", they seem to include audio from the successful video submissions that volunteers sent in, and when I listen to that, I can't help but be terrified for these people. They seem to have been chosen, not for their ability to handle a never before experienced landscape and way of life, but for their ability to sound like a movie trailer: "Mars is the adventure of the century . . ."; "I believe it is in our nature, I believe it is our destiny,"; "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
This is why you don't crowdsource for astronauts. These people are fools, but I guarantee, if this Mars expedition happens, they'll turn into psychopaths.

Do me a favour, go look at the Mars One website again. Do you see that row of pods there, connected by a tube? That's it. That's everything. That's the whole plan. 24 people, six pods, and two Mars Rovers. Each of those pods is four metres by four metres. Now, let me bring to your attention that cabin fever is a real thing. Also known as going stir crazy, it is a condition whereby people become mentally unbalanced after prolonged incarceration, becoming depressed, agitated and frustrated and the longer their incarceration lasts, the more prone they become to anti-social and violent outbursts.
Considering that these people are either already antisocial, or will become depressed when they leave their family and friends behind, do you think they have the mental stability to withstand the rest of their lives locked in six pods with food rations, no TV, no sex & twenty other strangers that are just as antisocial or depressed?
If you answered yes, would you like to buy some magic beans?

5. It's entirely pointless.

I am not just trying to poo-poo on the planet-populating parade, I am genuinely excited at the prospect of extraterrestrial human settlement, and it would be amazing if we could achieve that in my lifetime. But this project does not seem to want to achieve that. When we set out to go where no man has gone before, I want it to be a step forward. However, I don't see how this plan could possible help mankind.

Yes, we went to the moon, but that was because we wanted to see what was up there, and then we came back. We already know what's up on Mars because NASA has already sent Rovers to Mars, and we've shown that there's some cool rock samples, but that's about it.
Now, yes, Mars is a bit further out than Earth, so it would be cool if we could build some kind of settlement there as the first step towards leapfrogging out of our solar system and towards the stars. But, this settlement isn't a docking port, it isn't a refueling station, it isn't even a holiday destination. It's not self-sustaining, so if people want to stay there, they'll need to keep in close contact with Earth to get new supplies and food.
Remember those six pods? Yep, that's it. It's not like they can build more, because Mars One isn't financing any mission to send up materials for building more living quarters or anything. And it's not like they can use local materials, because they don't have mining equipment, metal refineries or any useable, natural resources. The only materials available to them on the surface is dirt. It's mighty nice looking dirt, but it's just dirt.

So, this mission is - and can only be seen - as the most expensive, and yet least hospitable, hospice in the galaxy. Sure, the volunteers are in their 30s and 40s, but if they're never coming back, they're just going to Mars to get old, then die there. All this means is that when we have the materials, finances and willpower to create a self-sustaining settlement on its surface, the people that finally do want to settle on Mars will arrive, they will see those six, empty pods - nothing more than a graveyard - and wonder what could have inspired such a pointless waste of life.

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