Monday, March 30, 2015

No part of this project is credible

[Coming to the end of the Mars One mega-thread.]

One of the aspects of the Mars One story that I allude to frequently but probably don't emphasize enough is that there is no there there. Every component of the proposal collapses under scrutiny. 

One example I don't believe I've gotten around to is the selection process. 

Take a moment and think about this scenario. You are trying to put together a crew for a long, arduous, complex, insanely ambitious mission with virtually no redundancy. You want to do everything possible to minimize the risk of either a medical or a psychological crisis.

With health concerns in mind, you would probably not want to include a crew member who will be pushing 70* at the beginning of the mission in 2026.
In a decade or so, when most people her age will be retiring from their working lives, Elena Shateni, now 58, plans to be starting a new life planting the human flag on Mars.
While egalitarianism is admirable in principle, in a mission with limited resources and a small crew, there has got to be some level of specialization. Having one crew member lost or incapacitated threatens the safety of the rest of the crew and the viability of the entire mission.

And remember, we are talking about an ongoing mission. This means that crew members need to be performing at full capacity for years to come. It is entirely possible that septuagenarians and even octogenarians could stand up to these rigors and perform these duties. It is not, however, something you would want to count on.

Keeping costs low means avoiding unnecessary risk; it also means avoiding unnecessary drama. We can never say in advance how someone will deal with the stresses associated with physical danger, life in incredibly cramped quarters, permanent relocation, and isolation. We can, however, reasonably assume that certain groups will be at higher risk than others.
George Hatcher welcomed a guest at his Merritt Island home last week with 5-month-old daughter Io, named for one of Jupiter's moons, tucked in a baby carrier on his chest.

Inside, the NASA engineer's wife, Lorenia, took the baby and their 2-year-old son, Rafael, offered a small stuffed lamb and a Thomas the Tank Engine train for inspection.

Hatcher stretched out with Rafael on the living room floor to work on an animal puzzle, then played a game of "tickling spiders" and swung his son high up with his legs, to squeals of delight.

It's family time the 35-year-old father cherishes after a day at work at Kennedy Space Center. But he increasingly has reason to think about the day he might leave it all behind.
Hatcher recently advanced to the final round of 100 candidates vying to be selected as astronauts by the Mars One Foundation, which wants to establish a human settlement on the Red Planet in the next decade.
Mars One estimates it will cost $6 billion to get the first crew to Mars, a figure many consider optimistic.
[That last paragraph isn't relevant to this post but I just had to throw in the phrase "many consider optimistic."]

Even under normal circumstances, extended or indefinite separation from a child can be extraordinarily difficult on a parent. In times of crisis, it can be almost unbearable. Including parents in the selection pool greatly increases the chance of a mission-threatening breakdown.

These are not isolated cases. If you read over the profiles of the other hundred finalists, you will find a large number who seem obviously ill-suited for this kind of project. People who seem, perhaps not coincidentally, better suited for a reality show.

To get a sense of how this happened, it is useful to take a look at the application FAQ on Mars One's own website. Here's an excerpt;

Characteristic Practical Applications Resiliency
  • Your thought processes are persistent.
  • You persevere and remain productive.
  • You see the connection between your internal and external self.
  • You are at your best when things are at their worst.
  • You have indomitable spirit.
  • You understand the purpose of actions may not be clear in the moment, but there is good reason—you trust those who guide you.
  • You have a “Can do!” attitude.
The rest is not much better. Amateurish, badly thought out, with the language of a motivational speaker not quite covering the lack of any real plans.

Dr. Michio Kaku has perhaps the best quote (buried deep in what is otherwise an ABC puff piece):

“This has the atmosphere of a circus, where you have amateurs simply raising their hand, volunteering to be the first person on Mars.”

* "There is not an upper age limit to apply for the astronaut selection program. If the applicant enjoys good health and he or she has all the other characteristics needed for the mission he or she has what it takes to apply." -- from the website.

No comments:

Post a Comment