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Bas Lansdorp Answers Your Questions About Going to Mars 189

You asked questions of Bas Lansdorp, who's behind a project to send a quartet of astronauts to Mars — on a one-way trip. Lansdorp provides below his answers to inquiries about food, fuel, suicide, privacy, and more. So whether you're curious enough to put in for a Mars-bound ship or skeptical that this enterprise will get off the ground, read on.
Participant Psychosis?
by eldavojohn

This question may boil down to cultural differences but I'm an American, fairly non-nomadic and I have a lot of cargo -- both mentally and physically. There are places of my youth that I may never return to and I currently sit a thousand miles away from. But I'm okay with this because if I flipped out one day I could just board a plane or road trip it back. I'm aware that settlers who came to the Americas faced similar issues but they were moving to a new land that was already inhabited by humans and had new places to offer them. Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it's cold as hell. I would surmise that someone would need to be legally insane to willingly go to a place without society, without parks, without schools, without culture, without even atmosphere, without children, without the elderly and without the prospect of seeing those things first hand again. Furthermore, should a sane person make such a decision I can see no perceivable way they would remain sane. Even if the person is nomadic or adventurous in nature, you will bring them to a new world and require four of them to remain cooped up in a thousand cubic meters.

Call it cabin fever, call it space madness, call it batshit insanity, call it whatever you want but aside from bombarding them with digital crap from Earth, how are you going to combat it? I know your ratings go up but what happens when all your reality television is 90% insane ramblings of home?

Bas Lansdorp: Will the astronauts go insane? The author of the question has answered a large part of this question in his own text. The key to success is a very careful selection procedure. The author 'has a lot of cargo -- both mentally and physically' — typically a person that will not be selected (and in this case would not even apply) for the position. However, the author should not forget that not everyone is alike. I'm quite sure that the author would not have applied for a position in the team of South Pole explorer Shackleton. This was the announcement:

"Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, and bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success."

Despite the ominous tone of the ad, the response was overwhelming.

Mars One will carefully select the crew for a number of skills and qualities. They will be people who have dreamt their whole life of going to Mars and in many case will have pursued careers that will increase the odds of being selected for this kind of mission. The selected team will be very smart, skilled, mentally stable and very healthy. They will go to Mars to live their dream.

On Mars, they will be busy. They will improve the habitat and extend it with new units sent from Earth and with local materials. They will do research — their own research but also gather data for the research of others (for example universities). And they will prepare the settlement for the second crew that lands two years after. Every two years a new crew will arrive, such that the settlement will slowly become a small village and a more attractive place to live for more and more people.

We have discussed our plan with experienced psychologists. One of Mars One's advisers is Norbert Kraft M.D., who has worked on astronaut selection at NASA and JAXA. He wrote an interesting article on this in the Huffington Post together with Prof. Dr. Raye Kass.

What are the entertainment options like?
by alen

If I move to mars for the rest of my life, what are the entertainment options? What am I supposed to do in my off time?

BL: The astronauts will have many things they can do on Mars. They can do most of the indoor activities that people can do on Earth: read, play games, write, paint, work out in the gym, watch TV, use the Internet, contact friends at home and so on. There will be some limitations because of the long distance between Earth and Mars, resulting in time delays: they will have to request the movies or news broadcasts they want to see in advance. So if an astronaut would like to watch the Super bowl, he (or she) could request it and it would be uploaded to the server on Mars. There will always be the time delay of at least three minutes, so the people on Mars would know who won a few minutes after the people on Earth.

Easy Internet access will be limited to their preferred sites that are constantly updated on the local Mars web server. Other websites will take between 6 and 45 minutes to appear on their screen - first 3-22 minutes for your click to reach Earth and then another 3-22 minutes for the website data to reach Mars. Contacting friends at home is possible by video, voice or text message (e-mail, whatsapp, sms), but a real time dialogue is not possible because of the time delay.

Suicide options?
by Anonymous Coward

Will the astronauts be supplied with the means to end their lives if they find themselves facing hopeless circumstances (e.g., slow life-support failure, debilitating depression)?

BL: The design of the Mars settlement will include a very high level of redundancy on all crucial systems like life support. The astronauts will have received extensive training in repairing any failure in the system, either with spare parts, or with parts harvested from other broken equipment.

Also, the astronauts will have been carefully selected by psychiatrists. In the early days of space flight astronauts received cyanide capsules. Our astronauts will not receive such pills. Mars One will select and train the crews to have the ability to respond adaptively to the challenges of unanticipated problems and to collaborate under highly stressful conditions.

Put your lives where your mouths are
by Lanfranc

I just have one very simple question: I understand that Mars One intend to send four people at a time to Mars. I also note that the Mars One team currently consists of four people. So are you and your three business partners willing to be the first group to go, and if not, why not?

BL: As explained in the first answer, crew selection will be the key to success for a Mars mission. The selected astronauts will be very smart, skilled, mentally stable, sociable and very healthy. It's unlikely that even one of us would live up to the high requirements, let alone that we would be the perfect team. Also, it is our goal to involve the whole world so the team should be international. The public selection process where the audience can influence who gets to go is a very important part of involving the world. The people on Mars are our eyes and ears: they will tell us what it is like to be on Mars. By asking help of the audience to select them, we make sure that they are people that humanity would like to be their reporters on life on Mars.

The astronauts that we send to Mars will be very smart people. They will understand every risk and will have ample time during their years of training to weigh the risks. They can always decide not to go.

In-Situ Fuel Production?
by Cap'nSmithers

Are you exploring any possibilities for creating fuel for a return trip while on Mars? There is at least one study for the possibility, most likely more. If you're planning on the trip being a one-way mission, why not at least experiment with the idea for future Mars missions? And if it works, you get a ride home, and you've made some pretty hefty contributions to space travel.

BL: Mars One is proposing a mission where humans settle on Mars for the rest of their lives. This eliminates the need for fuel production and the great power requirements, fuel storage capabilities and hardware equipment weight and volume that are associated with fuel production.

Producing the fuel is actually not the hardest part of returning humans to Earth. The hardest parts are the rocket that should launch them from the surface to Mars orbit and it's the Earth return vehicle with all the supplies that needs to take them from Mars orbit to Earth. Fuel production with elements present on Mars and in Mars-like conditions has already been demonstrated on Earth. There are several products that can be produced on Mars. We are very interested in techniques to build habitat extensions from Martian materials, build a power production system on Mars with local materials or a machine that can produce plastics. We believe that providing the astronauts with building blocks to improve their lives on Mars more important than demonstrating fuel production. However, fuel production is certainly interesting once the above technologies are available on Mars. Fuel for a manned return trip may not be required for a long time, but a sample return mission would also greatly benefit form fuel produced on Mars. Such a sample return mission would also build the experience to send future manned missions back to Earth.

by tmosley

It seems to me that a mission of this type which is meant to be permanent must by necessity focus on the production of those things which are necessary for survival on Mars. This means that your colonists, and they should be called colonists, will need to focus on the production of air, water, food, living space, and manufactured goods, in that order. Media spectacle or no, that is the order that things must take, prior to wasting time with research (wasting time in the hunter-gatherer sense).

I think that the only way you are going to be able to get your colonists to do what you want them to do will be to have them earn money with their scientific research/media nonsense such that it funds resupply missions.

That said, what is your business plan with regards to production of goods on Mars, and resupply missions?

BL: Local production of water, breathable air and food will be provided from the start. Water and breathable air will even be produced on Mars before the astronauts depart from Earth. (Please read here.)

Providing them with a way to produce habitable volume and energy with local materials is also high on our list, but these technologies are not 'off the shelf'. Mars One plans to send out a request for proposals to have these technologies developed. The poser of the question is absolutely correct: getting things up and running on Mars and survival are more crucial than research.

The astronauts will however have a keen interest in doing science on Mars. One of the crew might well be a biologist or a geologist. While the scientific research may not be high on the list of priorities, the media will be. This is a major source of revenues for the mission and the astronauts will obviously know this. They know that they are on Mars thanks to the public interest. The media revenues will be required to finance supply missions and new crews going to Mars.

Power Draw?
by eldavojohn

Exactly how do you plan on broadcasting reality TV of your mission? Mars seems like a difficult place to get energy. When people's lives are at risk in a mercilessly harsh environment, isn't it a bit selfish for us to be asking them to use their solar panels to send us video of their daily lives? I understand the need for communications but how do you plan on sending enough video and audio back from the teams to make a reality show?

Is the following statement morally reprehensible to you? "I know you've had a long day but we need someone to do a walk out to dust off the south solar panels because we're not getting enough power to transmit cameras five and six to monitor you while you sleep."

BL: Mars One plans to use solar panels for the Mars mission. Solar power is very reliable on Mars. The system will be designed to deliver enough power for essential systems in the settlement during a solar storm, yielding in a large surplus power when there is no storm (read more on that here). The data transmission system to the Mars orbiting satellite requires only a limited amount of power, which is included in the power budget for dust storm conditions. Our goal is to put humans on Mars, our business model is the media event around the humans mission. The media event is what makes it possible to finance the mission to Mars. The communications system design allows for 4 video + audio channels streaming full time from Mars to Earth. The astronauts know this and know that it will be part of their tasks on Mars - they are on Mars thanks to the public interest. If your moral question actually is "won't the reality TV be too intrusive?" please note that there won't be any camera's in their bedrooms, so there will be no energy wasted on transmitting video images of sleeping astronauts.

Environmental Questions
by Reality Master 101

I've always been of the opinion that once a private Mars mission gets close to becoming reality, scientists and the government will go in league to shut it down because of environmental contamination. The question of whether there is life on Mars is still open, and once you have a group setting up a settlement, the planet is potentially contaminated forever with Earth bacteria, which might even kill off native bacteria, if any.

My question is, are you concerned with the contamination question and do you think you might be prevented from going if scientists get the right politicians to listen? You sort-of have a FAQ question about this ("Will the mission be harmful to Mars' environment?"), but you don't really answer it.

BL: Mars One will discuss with the COSPAR panel of planetary protection and the COSPAR panel of exploration what measures need to be taken with respect to contamination of the Mars with Earth life forms. Prof. Dr. Pascale Ehrenfreund of the COSPAR panel of exploration is one of our advisers. From discussions with these two panels, Mars One will take the required actions.

Space for growing food?
by Mr. Theorem

Your FAQ, in the "sustainability" question, states: "The first four will also be carrying a device similar to a portable greenhouse, that will allow them to grow their own food."

If we take 2000 calories per day as a baseline human need, that's 730,000 calories per [Earth] year, or about 3 million calories per Earth year per four-person crew, and the total need will grow by 3 million calories per Earth year every two years as more missions arrive. The diet would need to be varied, both to guard against catastrophic crop failure and to provide an appropriate spectrum of nutrients, and a reasonable estimate (e.g. based on a combination of corn, beans, and squash) suggests that 1 acre on Earth can provide such 3 million calories. But Mars gets, on average, only about 44% of the insolation as Earth does, so the first-order estimate suggests you'd need about 2.3 acres per mission-load of astronauts to grow a subsistence diet. This presumes that radiation won't negatively impact the crops, that the yield throughout the Mars growing season scales comparable to the Earth's, that your soil is comparable to Earth's, and many more things. You'll also need enough additional carbon and water to make the non-edible parts of the plants and soil, and you'll need to make sure there exists a suitable microbial community to decompose crop waste and turn it back into a useable food-growing medium (i.e. compost).

I don't see in your concept drawing anything that approaches the size of land that would be needed to come anywhere close to such sustainable food production. Do you even have a back-of-the-envelope plan for sustainable food production, or is the bulk of the astronauts' calories going to need to come in perpetuity from the Earth?

BL: Food from Earth will only serve as emergency rations, the astronauts will eat fresh food that they produce on Mars. Mars One will make use of high efficient plant growing methods that require much less space (e.g. Food production will be hydroponic, eliminating the need for soil. Food production will happen indoor, lighted by LED lighting. By providing the plants with only the frequencies of light that they use most efficiently, power consumption is limited. Some of the plants will be grown in multiple levels on top of each other, limiting space requirements. In total there will be about 50 m2 available for plant growth. A thick layer of Martian soil on top of the inflatable habitat will protect the plans (and the astronauts) from radiation. CO2 for the plants is available from the Mars atmosphere and water is available through recycling and from the soil of Mars. Non-edible parts of the plants will be recycled, or will be stored until more advanced recycling equipment is shipped from Earth.

Funding sources
by Katatsumuri

Are you considering a mix of different funding sources, like Kickstarter, private donations / investors, government / corporate sponsorship? TV show alone may not be sufficient. Maybe accept free hardware / volunteer labor / services like rocket launches as donations, too?

On a related note, are you going to start the selection and training as soon as you have enough money for that first step? Or do you think it only makes sense if you have secured the funding for the actual trip? I personally think once this starts rolling, it will be easier to attract more funding.

BL: We are considering all the revenue possibilities that you mention. We do not expect to be offered free rocket launches, especially not of the quality that we need for our Mars missions. Mars One will make limited use of free hardware for use on Earth and volunteer labour that is offered to us. Already, people are helping us with improvements to our website and with translation of the subtitles of our YouTube movie.

We will start the selection and training of the astronauts long before collecting the complete funding for the trip. As you say, it will be easier to attract funding when there is more publicity around our plans, and more progress achieved. We intend to start with the selection process within one year, after the completion of the conceptual design studies by our suppliers.

Mars One plan to obtain the necessary funding
by AnotherBlackHat

No media spectacle in the history of the Earth has garnered 6 billion dollars. Why should we believe that your Mars landing would?

BL: Mars One is not just landing people on Mars, we are creating an adventure for everyone in the world to follow from 2013, when we start the astronaut selection, through 2022, when we depart to Mars, 2023 when the first crew lands to 2050 and beyond when there are dozens of people living and working on Mars. NBC recently paid $4.4 billion for the broadcasting rights for the Olympic games in the USA only, from 2014 until 2020. That's the Winter Olympics of 2014 and 2018 and the Summer Olympics of 2016 and 2020, a total of 12 weeks of entertainment. This number does not include other revenues like sponsorships. The Olympic games of 2006 (winter games) and 2008 (summer games) together created revenues of $5.450 billion

We have discussed the business case with various large parties in the media industry. They are without exception convinced of the revenue model.

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Bas Lansdorp Answers Your Questions About Going to Mars

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