Is the Mars One mission a scam?
In 2012, Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp announced plans for the Mars One project – an extremely ambitious mission to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars in 2027.
One of the main funding options for the project was a reality TV series, which would document the chosen volunteers as they embark on a one-way trip to Mars and colonise its red, desolate landscape. However, as soon as the project was announced, concerns were raised over the technical and financial feasibility of such an endeavour.
More recent criticisms even suggest that the entire project could be an outright scam that is deliberately fleecing its supporters.
Joseph Roche (an assistant professor at Trinity College’s School of Education in Dublin) was one of the lucky few to become one of the ‘Mars 100’. They are the shortlisted finalists who have been whittled down from thousands of applicants and are now competing for the few places available on the Mars One mission.
Last month however, Roche spoke out against Mars One and expressed many doubts he had about the organization. In particular, he was becoming increasingly concerned over the organization’s apparent exploitation of its most dedicated supporters, as well as the flawed selection process for applicants.
Roche claims that candidates were given points during the selection process and that these points determined their likelihood of getting to the next stage of applications. However, as Roche noted: “the only way to get more points is to buy merchandise from Mars One or to donate money to them”. As a result, the most high-profile and leading contenders of the ‘Mars 100’ are the ones that made the most money for Mars One through the buying of merchandise and donations.
Essentially, the leading finalists paid for their positions.
Roche also stated that when finalists received payments for interviews, it was requested that they donate 75% of the profit to Mars One. The request for appearance fees is suspicious when you consider a project to colonise Mars requires billions of dollars to succeed. The profit made by an applicant’s media appearance would almost certainly be insignificant for such an endeavour- so why are Mars One milking their applicants for minimal donations and appearance fees?
There was also the matter of the selection process, which required hopefuls to fill out a questionnaire, upload a video to the project’s website, get a medical examination…and then have a ten minute Skype conversation with someone from Mars One. That’s it. Roche says he has not met anyone from Mars One in person, and that there were no rigorous psychological or psychometric testing as part of his assessment.
That being said, the rather laidback selection process has resulted in a number of eccentric characters appearing in the ‘Mars 100’. Take Polish man M1-K0 for instance, who claims on the Mars One website to be “one of the first four Martians to arrive on your planet”. Apparently, he has spent his time on Earth studying humanity and is now one of the leading finalists to be chosen for the mission.
It’s rather hard to take the entire endeavour seriously when one of their high-profile, leading finalists is apparently a Martian looking for a ride home.
At times, it feels that the ultimate aim of Mars One is to create an extraordinarily profitable reality TV event- rather than achieving the milestone of sending people to another planet for the first time in history.
A number of other issues also harm Mars One’s credibility. First of all, the organization’s contract with the TV production company Endemol is no longer in place. This means the proposed reality TV series set on Mars (which Mars One claimed could generate $6 billion in revenue) is not happening and as a result, the organization have lost their main source of funding. Additionally, theoretical physicist Gerard ’t Hooft (an advisor for the project) stated a more realistic launch date for the mission would be 100 years away and not in 2027.
Just to summarise then: applicants for the Mars One mission are paying the organization to secure their place and handing over money from media appearances. The selection process is about as extensive as a job application to Tesco. Mars One have lost their proposed main source of funding. Their advisor doubts the mission will launch within this century. One of their leading finalists is a Martian from Poland.
It’s quite easy to see why many people consider Mars One to be an outright scam at this point.
In a recent video, Mars One founder Bas Lansdorp addressed some of Roche’s concerns about the organization’s integrity. He stated that the “selection process will be much more thorough from here on” and went on to argue that claims that candidates bought their way through the process were untrue by saying “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”. Finally, Lansdorp said Mars One are working with a new production company and are currently selling their documentary series to an international broadcaster. “There is no deal in place yet,” Lansdorp admits. “But it is looking very promising and there is a lot of interest”.
It’s difficult to determine for sure whether the mission is a deceptive scam that exploits the public’s interest in space or just a poorly organized, unprepared endeavour that is way out of its depth.
Either way, it’s now clear more than ever that Mars One will not be heading to Mars any time soon.