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Requiem for a Red Dream: Mars ONE Files for Bankruptcy

Requiem for a Red Dream: Mars ONE Files for Bankruptcy 94
Requiem for a Red Dream: Mars ONE Files for Bankruptcy 95

One day in 1986, while I was accompanying my mom to the supermarket, I stumbled upon a magazine that had the coolest cover ever. The popular science publication depicted a joint US-USSR space mission to the planet Mars, which could happen in the year 1992, to commemorate Columbus’s discovery of the Americas. I implored mom to buy the magazine for me and I took it home, devouring each page and dreaming on how a manned mission to the Red Planet was just around the corner. It would be the ‘Apollo’ moment of my generation, which would surely mark the dawn of Man’s colonization of other planets, to find our destiny among the stars.

I’m sure I still have that old magazine somewhere, yet I no longer hold the boyish optimism of my 13-year-old self. Yes, I’ve been lucky enough to witness the slow-but-steady incursion of NASA’s robotic probes, which have started to turn Mars into a charted world, giving it a certain sense of familiarity in the eyes of the public –to the point that a new photograph of its arid landscape barely deserves a like or a retweet– but at 45 years of age, I am actually uncertain on whether I’ll be alive to see humans leaving a historic footprint on the ochre sands of the nearest planet to ours. 1986 was, after all, the year the Challenger exploded, and in retrospect it seems the loss of America’s ‘space taxi’ inflicted a mortal wound to NASA’s ambitions, from which it never fully recovered…

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But my bitter cynicism was not shared by the thousands of people from all over the world, who were all too eager to support a venture aiming to colonize Mars well within our lifetimes; the project did not originate on the blackboards of NASA (or any other space agency, for that matter) but was instead the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp’s initiative called Mars ONE, which made a bold yet stark promise to its backers –to send humans to Mars, but not to bring them back.

Mars ONE’s goal sounded ludicrous from the get-go: to turn the  of a new planet into the greatest reality TV show of all history by no later than 2023, without guaranteeing the survival of its participants; sell the media rights first, worry about the ‘particulars’ (like *actual* Science and Engineering solving) later. It almost resembled the kind of ‘safety not guaranteed’ classified ad inviting you to join a time-traveling expedition.

But just like that ad, Mars ONE’s plea got a massive response which prompted science writers to giggle, and sociologists to expound on theories trying to explain what seemed to be a collective death wish. I remember my friend Darren Grimes coaxed his associate and co-host of the Grimerica podcast, Graham Dunlop, to sign up to Mars ONE as a joke and conversational topic for their show; yet other applicants were dead serious about it. Check for example this letter by PhD student Hannah Earnshaw, published by The Guardian on February of 2015, explaining why she wanted to be among the chosen few to set foot (and die) on the Red Planet for the first time:

I’m 23, and the past couple of years have been uncertain: stepping through the application for Mars One, even though I’ve made the shortlist of 100 I’m still unsure whether I’ll be selected. Hoping that I am suitable, but ultimately wanting the very best and most capable people to go, I have had to hold two possible futures in my mind.

In one, I complete my PhD, get a place of my own, pursue a career in research or maybe in politics. I get really good at playing piano, I find time to travel to Norway, Italy, Canada, and Japan, and maybe find a husband or wife.

In the other, I leave behind the possibilities of Earth for the possibilities of Mars. Alongside my crew I pioneer planetary scientific research and, as the founding member of a new civilisation, I plant the seeds of a diverse and generous society. I communicate our life to followers on Earth, help establish new policy through which humans explore and settle the stars ethically and responsibly … and maybe find a husband or wife.

In light of recent developments, here’s hoping Hannah chose to complete his PhD, after all: A user on Reddit was the first one to alert that the commercial arm of Mars ONE (Mars ONE Ventures AG) has just filed for bankruptcy on a court in Basel, Switzerland, in mid January. And although Mars ONE spokesperson Emma Sledge has told Ars Technica that the filing does not affect the non-profit Mars ONE Foundation, any kind of reassurance from this organization sounds as legit as a real estate claim on the Moon.

It is said Mars ONE received more than 200,000 applications since their official launch. Perhaps it was the pioneering genes calling on to those who wished to follow in the footsteps of their forefathers, and help settle the ultimate frontier. Maybe it’s the lingering realization things are gonna get really dicey real soon on our own home planet due to our reckless mismanagement, so we’d better start working on a plan(et) B for the species. We could even enter the ‘really fringe’ territory and speculate whether the New Age ‘starseed’ mythos is what drives some people to feel they never really belonged to Earth in the first place. Hell, maybe it was just the YOLO mentality!

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“Training for life in Zero-G, bro!”

Whatever the case, are there any other options for those who still dream of plum-colored skies and the spiders of Mars? It’s no big secret Elon Musk’s ultimate long term goal is to become a permanent Martian resident himself. Around the same time the first articles re. Mars ONE’s demise were published, Business Insider reported on one of Musk’s latest tweets –his favorite way to share the latest developments on Tesla and SpaceX– in which the real-life Tony Stark showed his confidence on how one day moving to Mars would be as affordable as securing a medium-sized home –I’m sure Millennials would have a thing or two to say about that

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While I’m confident Mr. Musk’s retro-looking Starship will have enough power to traverse the enormous distance between Earth and Mars, we now know keeping the crew alive during the journey will be no small feat. The amount of radiation they will be exposed to is so great, there’s serious consideration the first men and women sent to the Red planet will have to be either artificially sterilized, or be of an age beyond the reproductive years to avoid the risk of an unscheduled pregnancy.

And then there’s the issue of keeping those future colonists alive once they get there. Without a steady supply of food, water and provisions sent from Earth, the International Space Station would be impossible to maintain, and that’s just a distance of 400 kilometers! whereas it would take a minimum of 9 months for any re-supplying mission to reach a Martian colony. The failed experiment of Biosphere 2 went to show we humans have a lot to learn when it comes to fully self-sustainable facilities. Populating other planets is not measured in decades, but in lifetimes –lots and lots of them..

In the meantime, let the demise of Mars ONE be a cautionary tale to all people willing to give improbable space-related ventures the benefit of the doubt. Whether it’s an interplanetary version of Survivor or a crowdfunded revolutionary spacecraft, these ‘giant leaps for Mankind’ always demand an even bigger leap of faith.


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KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns 111
Photo: (Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC))

To us, the Sun alone seems perfectly normal, but our solar system is actually a strange exception.

Most stars in the Milky Way galaxy have at least one companion star. In a system 1,800 light-years away, astronomers have finally confirmed the existence of a gas giant planet orbiting stars in a triple star system.

Called KOI-5, the system is located in the constellation Cygnus, and the exoplanet was confirmed ten years after it was first detected by the Kepler space telescope.

In fact, the planet – now known as KOI-5Ab – was discovered by Kepler when it began operations back in 2009.

“KOI-5Ab was dropped because it was difficult and we had thousands of other candidates,” astronomer David Siardi of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute said.

“There were lighter dives than the KOI-5Ab, and every day we learned something new from Kepler, so the KOI-5 was almost forgotten.”

Exoplanet hunters tend to avoid the complexities of multi-star systems; of the more than 4,300 exoplanets confirmed to date, less than 10 percent are multi-star systems, although such systems dominate the galaxy. As a result, little is known about the properties of exoplanets in multi-star systems compared to those orbiting a lone star.

After Kepler’s discovery, Chardy and other astronomers used ground-based telescopes such as the Palomar Observatory, Keck Observatory, and the Gemini North Telescope to study the system. By 2014, they had identified two companion stars, KOI-5B and KOI-5C.

Scientists were able to establish that the planet KOI-5Ab, is a gas giant that is about half the mass of Saturn and 7 times the size of Earth, and is in a very close five-day orbit around KOI-5A. KOI-5A and KOI-5B, both of roughly the same mass as the Sun, form a relatively close binary system with an orbital period of about 30 years.

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A third star, KOI-5C, orbits the binary system at a much greater distance, with a period of about 400 years – slightly longer than Pluto’s 248-year orbit.

“By studying this system in more detail, perhaps we can understand how planets are created in the universe.”

The discovery was announced at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

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Why the universe does not fit into science

Why the universe does not fit into science 113
Photo: YouTube

Science can be compared to an artist painting what he has never seen, or to a writer describing other people’s travels: objects that he has never seen, places where he has never been. Sometimes such scientific “arts” turn out to be beautiful and interesting, but most of them will forever remain only theories, because they are beyond human capabilities.

In fact, science has the right only to speculate: how our universe appeared, how old it is, how many stars and other objects it contains.

Universe model

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How many stars are there in the sky?

With an unarmed eye, a person can see about nine thousand stars in the sky in one cloudless and moonless night. And armed with binoculars or a telescope, much more – up to several million. However, this is much less than their true number in the universe. Indeed, only in our one galaxy (the Milky Way) there are about 400 billion stars. The exact amount, of course, is not known to science. And the visible universe contains about 170 billion galaxies.

It is worth clarifying that scientists can see the universe 46 billion light years deep in all directions. And the visible (observable) universe includes the space accessible to our eyes from the moment of the Big Explosion. In other words, only this (accessible to human perception) space science refers to our universe. Science does not consider everything that follows.

It is believed that there are supposedly a ceptillion (10 to 24 degrees) stars in our universe. These are theoretical calculations based on the approximate size and age of the universe. The origin of the universe is explained by the Big Bang theory. This is why the universe is constantly expanding and the more time passes, the more complex the universe and its components become.

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It is not entirely correct to consider and perceive this scientific theory “head-on”. Scientists always claim that that explosion was not exactly an explosion, and the point that exploded was not the only one. After all, it was everywhere, because space did not exist then. And in general – everything happened quite differently from what is described in the Big Bang theory, but all other descriptions of the origin of the universe are even more incredible and inaccurate.

Separate but interconnected

That which is beyond the reach of human perception is usually discarded by science, or recognized as non-existent. Recognizing one thing, science does not want to recognize the existence of the other, although everything in our world is interconnected and is not able to exist separately – by itself.

Each object of the universe is a part of it much more than an independent, separate object.

Any person, like any material object of our world, consists of components: organs, cells, molecules, atoms. And each of its constituent parts can represent the whole world. Separate, and at the same time connected with all the others.

However, science, as a rule, perceives all the components of the universe – people, animals, plants, objects, the Earth, the Sun, other planets and stars – as separate subjects, thereby limiting itself.

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Even what is considered the visible universe, one of the atoms of which could be called our solar system, is not subject to the boundaries of human perception. But perhaps the atom is an exaggeration, and our solar system is not even an atom, but one of its elements!

How, being so far from the truth, can one reason about something with the degree of probability with which science tries to reason about the origin of the universe?

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An unexplained wobble shifts the poles of Mars

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The red planet sways from side to side like a whirligig when it loses speed. The new study allowed scientists to notice that the poles of Mars deviate slightly from the axis of rotation of the planet. On average, they move 10 cm from the center with a period of 200 days.

Such changes are called the Chandler Oscillations  – after the American astronomer Seth Chandler, who discovered them in 1891. Previously, they were only seen on Earth. It is known that the displacement of the poles of rotation of our planet occurs with a period of 433 days, while the amplitude reaches 15 meters. There is no exact answer why this is happening. It is believed that the fluctuations are influenced by processes in the ocean and the Earth’s atmosphere.

Chandler’s wobbles on Mars are equally perplexing. The authors of the study discovered them by comparing data from 18 years of studying the planet. The information was obtained thanks to three spacecraft that orbit the Red Planet: Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor. 

Since Mars has no oceans, it is likely that the Red Planet’s wobbly rotation is due to changes in atmospheric pressure. This is the first explanation that researchers have shared. In the future, there should be new details about the fluctuations that have so interested the scientific community.

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