All Dressed Up For Mars and Nowhere to Go
Elmo Keep

Mars One Reveals True Number of Applicants

The Dutch company admits it received just over 4,000 applications, not 200,000.

By Elmo Keep

Mars One posted (and then deleted) a video of life coach, Julian Bolster, in a Q&A with Bas Lansdorp (pictured) advising candidates on how to do press interviews

Mars One — the Dutch non-profit attempting, despite mountains of contrary evidence, to mount a one-way mission to Mars — has quietly updated its website to clarify the real number of applications the project received.

On a new page on its site, The Science of Screening Astronauts, Mars One writes, “The total number of completed and submitted applications was 4,227.” Here’s a screengrab:

Citing a report by NBC, Matter reported the figure of publicly available video applications at 2,782. We don’t know that 4,227 is any more real than 200,000. It’s just what they’re self-reporting. (Mars One did not provide us any clarification despite repeat queries.) Regardless, that falls far short of the 200,000 widely reported initially by countless media outlets, and shorter yet of the one million applicants CEO Bas Lansdorp anticipated at the launch of the project.

As part of a vastly ramped up public relations campaign, Mars One uploaded an hour-long Q&A video to YouTube, offering media training to the remaining short-listed candidates, with pointers on how to steer conversations with reporters and avoid difficult questions. The video has since been deleted. Mars One has hired life coach, Julian Bolster, to help candidates navigate negative press coverage, by “looking and feeling confident.” (That’s him, in the screengrab below.)

In the video, he advises candidates to answer only pre-approved questions that reporters have first had vetted by Mars One and its candidates. He says that, “this is a very common thing.” He then says that once candidates have seen a list of questions from reporters, they can agree or not to answer them. “Most journalists are going to abide by this request.”

Other tips include giving the interview at a local charity, directing any unwanted questions to the Mars One press office, focusing key messaging on the “high quality of the training program” (there currently is no training program), and to never refer to the one-way forever trip as a “suicide mission.” Instead Bolster advises they reframe the narrative, to point to the Apollo, ISS missions, and all of human exploration through history as potential suicide missions.

Lansdorp and Bolster continually reiterate that no question has to be answered if the candidate chooses not to. “‘I don’t know’ is one of my favorite answers to have up my sleeve,” Lansdorp reassures them.

Lansdorp also uses the video to address the media absence of Arno Wielders, the organization’s chief technical officer who gives almost no interviews about the project. Lansdorp says in the video that his answer to queries regarding his co-founder and the person responsible for the technical aspects of Mars One’s plans, who works with the European Space Agency and is the founder of Space Horizons, is: “Arno is still working for the European Space Agency, which is why I have more time to give interviews than Arno.”

I put a call through the space agency and managed to speak briefly to Wielders to schedule an interview, which he told me I would need to arrange through Mars One’s press office.

A reply is pending.

In the video Lansdorp also addresses Mars One’s harsh public responses to MIT’s feasibility study on the proposed mission, published last year. The examination, which was conducted by Koki Ho, Sydney Do, Samuel Schreiner, Andrew Owens, and Olivier de Weck, claimed the project was riddled with catastrophic failures that would result in crew deaths after only 68 days on Mars, were there any way to reach the planet.

Mars One trashed their findings at the time — but in the video Lansdorp now says that strategy was “a little bit too defensive.” He also maintains that the paper, despite its criticisms of the project, ultimately found Mars One’s plan to be feasible, and that this is what candidates should be telling reporters.

Having seen a transcript of the video, the paper’s PhD authors say this is very much not the conclusion they reached, writing over email;

“To be absolutely clear: the Mars One mission plan, as described on their website and by Mr. Lansdorp and others on many occasions, is not feasible. To describe our paper as a case for the feasibility of Mars One is inaccurate.”

Mars One bases most of its mission design on “existing technologies” that will take their colonists to Mars. MIT says this is resolutely not the case, that these technologies do not exist, and that Mars One now seems to have moved from this position, according to the video.

Their budget has not.

“Lansdorp is saying that Mars One will develop new systems — ‘Of course the systems need to be designed, they need to be built, we have to make sure we have perfect systems for a Mars mission.’
“This quote describes a very long and very expensive technology development, design, test, and validation effort which is very much in contrast to the ‘existing, validated, and available technology’ that was originally claimed. However, the budget for the project remains at $6 billion. How will this technology development, design, test, and validation effort happen within the original budget?”

Lansdorp also says the rover mission proposed with Lockheed Martin is unlikely to happen. On its financial state he says there is funding to continue Mars One’s current operations for another 18 months.

How should candidates address questions about other major roadblocks facing Mars One? The two consecutive two year delays of the program? Its lack of known investors? Its non-existent contracts with a broadcast partner for its theorized reality television program that would fund the mission? The fact that no vehicles to reach Mars yet exist? Lansdorp says, “Look, we’re organizing a manned mission to Mars. It’s one of the most ambitious projects that you can embark upon. And we are making really good steps in the right direction… we had a delay, so what?”

Despite fantastical and wholly unverifiable claims from people like Elon Musk (“At our current rate of technological growth, humanity is on a path to be godlike in its capabilities”), a manned mission to Mars is realistically decades from now, if ever.

Just one pressing issue that needs to be solved first is what kind of fuel would carry a craft into deep space. Plutonium-238, the nuclear isotope that powers deep space exploration, is currently extraordinarily rare and no longer produced by The United States. NASA’s current reserves are due to run out in 2022.

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