A Point-By-Point Response to The Latest Claims Made By Mars One
By Elmo Keep
In it, he was asked questions by an offscreen interviewer. The video has been transcribed here as it was sent out to Mars One’s supporter list, with comment by Elmo Keep, the author of Matter’s coverage.
Q: What do you think of the recent news articles that doubt the feasibility of Mars One?
Bas Lansdorp: At Mars One we really value good criticism because it helps us to improve our mission.
Elmo Keep, Matter: In fact, the opposite is true. In the case of MIT’s feasibility study, Matter has seen emails confirming Mars One, via Bas Lansdorp, declined to participate in the study or provide additional data requested by MIT. And since the release of the study — which simulated the mission and found that the colonists would not survive more than 68 days — Mars One has attempted to refute its outcomes and denigrated its authors by referring to the highly-credentialed PhD candidates who produced it as “undergraduates.” This is flatly untrue.
We get a lot of criticism from our advisors and that is also exactly what we want from them. The recent bad press about Mars One was largely caused by an article on Medium.com, which contains a lot of things that are not true. For example, the suggestion was made that our candidates were selected on the basis on how much money they donate to Mars One. That is simply not true, and this is very easy to find on our website.
There are a lot of current Round Three candidates that did not make any donations to Mars One and there are also lot of people that did not make it to the third round that contributed a lot to Mars One. The two things are not related at all and to say that they are is simply a lie.
In fact, this is not our assertion. The story makes clear that the ranking system used to compile the Top 10 hopefuls list as published by The Guardian — which is based in significant part on financial contribution — was not disclosed. It was seeing this list, specifically, which prompted Dr. Joseph Roche to contact me with his concerns.
The article also states that there were only 2,700 applications for Mars One, which is not true. We offered the reporter — the first journalist ever — access to our list of 200,000 applications, but she was not interested in that. It seems that she is more interested in writing a sensational article about Mars One than in the truth.
Bas Landorp did offer to show us what Mars One claims is a list of 200,000 applicants — with a list of unacceptable caveats. First, he asked to have the power of quote approval after our interview. I was then invited to travel from Australia to the Netherlands to view the list in person — as long as I did not make any record of the list, and only after I had shown the story to Lansdorp, and he gave his approval for it to be published. Neither I, nor Matter, ever make concessions of this kind to interview subjects.
We offered several options for redacting the names on the list to maintain applicants’ privacy, all of which were denied.
Matter has, however, seen emails from Mars One which confirm that the 200,000 figure was in fact the number of people who have left their email address on the Mars One website. Further, we have seen emails which confirm that people who signed up for this email list several months later received notification that they had successfully made it to the second round of the selection process, despite never having lodged an application.
If Mars One is able to at any time provide this list of applications, we will issue an immediate retraction.
Q: Concerns have been voiced about the thoroughness of the astronaut selection process. What is your response to that?
Lansdorp: We started our astronaut selection with over 200,000 applications that were submitted online. The application included a video and a lot of psychological questions for our candidates.
Joseph Roche filled out some of these questions with one-word answers.
We used that to narrow down the candidates to about 1,000 that had to do a medical check, which was very similar to the check for NASA astronauts.
This is untrue. Mars One’s process in no way mimics real astronaut corp medical requirements. It asked applicants for a self-secured medical with the candidate’s own doctor, which included no mental health check. This is not even remotely close to NASA checks. The physical requirements are likewise very strict.
In addition to undergoing no psychological or psychometric testing, none of the Mars One final 100 candidates have been submitted to a criminal background check.
All the remaining candidates then underwent an interview. The interview and all other parts of the selection process were led by Norbert Kraft, our Chief Medical Officer. He has worked on astronaut selection for five years at the Japanese Space Agency, and at NASA he researched crew composition for long duration space missions. Interestingly, it is not so complex to determine who is not qualified to go to Mars, which is what we have been doing so far.
Our next step is to find out, from the people who we think might be qualified, which ones have what it takes. The selection process will be much more thorough from here on. We will bring our candidates together, we will put them through team and individual challenges, there will be much longer interviews, and there will be much a bigger selection committee. This is the way we will determine who are good enough to enter our training process.
There is no indication so far from Mars One as to whom the selection committee will be, where the interviews will be held, at what facility, under what conditions, for how long, or what the testing will entail. These are all questions we have submitted to Mars One several times and received no response. The process as it has unfolded so far most closely resembles the casting process for a reality television series.
Q: Will there be a revenue share between the candidates and Mars One when candidates participate in Mars One related commercial activities?
Lansdorp: We are preparing a contract that our Round Three candidates will need to sign that deals with commercial activities. It is very important that Mars One controls which Mars One related commercial activities our candidates can participate in because we need to make sure that the different activities do not conflict with each other.
There will be a revenue share because our candidates do not receive a salary from Mars One yet. That’s why it is fair that our candidates get a part of what Mars One receives for those commercial activities. It is very different in my case because I get a salary from Mars One. When I do a keynote speech, the entire speaking fee goes to Mars One. Actually, a lot of our candidates have indicated that they are not interested in receiving part of those revenues. Many want all the money to go to Mars One’s mission — but that is really up to them.
Mars One’s plans to share any future revenue with successful candidates, or pay salaries to them, were not part of our coverage. However, we did reflect Dr. Roche’s concerns that the group was requesting that 75 percent of any speaking fees be donated to it.
Q: Does Mars One have a production company and a broadcaster for the astronaut selection documentary series?
Lansdorp: We were very close to a deal with Endemol owned Darlow Smithson productions but in the end the deal fell apart on final details in the contract and therefore Mars One ended that cooperation. We have worked with a new production company since November of last year. They are currently selling the documentary series to an international broadcaster. There is no deal in place yet but it is looking very promising and there is a lot of interest.
Note: “There is no deal in place yet.”
Q: Is a $6 billion budget enough for such a complex mission?
Lansdorp: NASA’s lowest cost estimate that I have ever seen was about $35 billion, but let’s not forget that the Mars One mission is very different. We are organizing a mission of permanent settlement where we do not need to worry about the return trip, which is where most of the complexity lies.
This assertion is counter to everything known currently about space exploration costings. As the MIT feasibility study results made clear, a one-way mission is not cheaper, because it has no end date. Any people on Mars will have to be resupplied in order to be kept alive, forever. Therefore the associated costs also go forever.
The return trip involves developing bigger rockets that can get the systems to Mars, developing a bigger landing system to land the large components for the return mission on Mars, and developing a whole new launch system that can launch from Mars while even from Earth a launch is very difficult. Our $6 billion cost figure comes from good discussions that we have had with established aerospace companies from around the world. They have already been building systems for the ISS and for unmanned missions to Mars, which are similar to the ones we need. We are very confident that our budget will be enough.
Last week Lansdorp was interviewed on NPR, where he asserted that Mars One will confidently raise “10 Olympic Games’ [worth] of media revenue, which is $45 billion.” There has never, in the history of the entertainment industry, been a $45 billion property. The comparison to the Olympic Games revenues is not based on any independent analysis.
Q: How is the funding of the mission progressing?
Lansdorp: The Mars One mission will primarily be funded through investments.
This claim comes counter to the assertion — made just the day before on NPR— that the mission will be funded by up to $45 billion of media revenue. Since its inception, Mars One has touted the broadcast rights as its primary revenue generator.
We have had a very successful investment round in 2013, which has financed all the things that we have done up to now.
Mars One’s available finances list approximately $700,000 of funds.
We have actually come to an agreement with a consortium of investors late last year for a much bigger round of investment. Unfortunately, the paperwork of that deal is taking much longer than we expected. I now think that it will be completed before the summer of this year, which means that we will not be in time to finance the follow up studies that Lockheed Martin needs to do for our first unmanned mission in 2018. This unfortunately means that we will have to delay the first unmanned mission to 2020. Delaying our first unmanned mission by two years also means that all the other missions will move by the same period of time, with our first human landing now planned for 2027.
Work on the robotic mission is suspended due to lack of funding. The next phase of the lander mission will cost approximately $200 million.
Q: So there is a two year delay, what does that mean for Mars One?
Lansdorp: Going to Mars is very difficult, for example NASA has been talking about going to Mars in 20 years for more than 45 years now. Of course, NASA needs a return mission which is much more complex than our one way mission but it shows how difficult Mars exploration is.
There are other far more complicated issues regarding why a one-way mission from a Government agency would never be possible, many of which are ethical. In addition, there are launch licences that must be secured, international treaties which must be abided by, and insurance that must be secured. Mars One, as reported by Popular Mechanics, is essentially uninsurable.
At the same time, Mars One has already achieved a lot. We have had our first contract with Paragon Space Development Corporation for the suits and life support systems, our first contract with Lockheed Martin for our unmanned mission, we have a very impressive board of ambassadors with a nobel prize laureate, and a great advisory board with people like Mason Peck, NASA’s former Chief Technologist.
That Nobel Laureate, Gerard d’Hooft, no longer supports Mars One’s timeline and puts it to be off by an order of magnitude. The concept studies with Paragon and Lockheed Martin are now complete and no new contracts with either company are in place. They are currently delayed by two years.
I believe we are on track and moving in the right direction. We may have a two year delay now but we show that people are interested in Mars One and in Mars exploration. People want this to happen and it is my conviction that as long as we can show that we are moving in the right direction, that we are getting the right companies under contract, and we are getting these contracts done, then the world will accept that we have a delay in getting our humans to Mars.
There are no contracts currently in place.
Additionally, is it really a failure if we land our first crew two, four, six, or even eight years late? I would be extremely proud if we could make that happen and Mars One is still fully committed to keeping that on track.
The technology required to get a human being to Mars and keep them alive there does not exist. It is not validated, it is, in many instances, not even in development. In my interview with Commander Chris Hadfield, he told me:
“None of the vehicles exist. And you can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things. People don’t know what astronauts do. We don’t just go to astronaut school, take a few classes and then ride a station somewhere. That’s not how it works. It’s simply not the process; it’s almost sweetly naive to see it like that. We astronauts are in fact intrinsically involved in mission design. And in making the process safe. And it’s really hard to get from Space Station and back. We’ve killed people, just trying to get up to space and back. Even very recently. It is extremely difficult to do that.
“And the astronauts are as pivotal in making the process safe as anyone else. It’s not simply a case of going to classes and learning which knobs to flick. That’s not our part in the process at all. To be a shuttle commander, you already have to be one of the top test pilots in the world. Just to get selected — to get a start in the process. And we don’t choose those people just because we want qualifications. We need those skills to safely do it. And even still, we lost two shuttles.”
Last week retired Canadian astronaut Julie Payette said of Mars One, “No one is going anywhere in 10 years.” Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the most passionate advocates for investment in space exploration likewise says Mars One’s plans are completely unrealistic.
According to Mars One, all of these highly credentialed people, as well as many other people in aerospace R&D I have interviewed, are all wrong.