An ambitious plan by Mars One – a Netherlands-based organization – to form a self-sufficient colony of astronauts on the Red Planet has been dismissed by the findings of a study conducted by MIT students.
The Dutch program, which plans on broadcasting the entire voyage and life on Mars back to Earth a la Big Brother – is currently recruiting astronauts, and is adamant that technology to pull off the seemingly delusional plan does exist today, even if it's only in theory.
But the MIT students at the International Astronautical Congress recently revealed how the said mission will be a huge failure and result in fatalities unless it removes some major technical flaws.
The basic idea is to park a giant capsule on Martian surface, extract the water out of the planet's soil and grow plants inside the spacecraft. This is an activity that will not only feed them but also generate oxygen for their breathing.
While the MIT study agrees that the plan would initially work, it would be feasible for a little over two months. On the 68th day of their expedition, the first fatality would occur. The number was arrived at through a calculation, according to which, the level of oxygen generated by plants inside the capsule would be so high that it would have to be vented into the atmosphere.
The problem is that venting the air out would also result in the expulsion of nitrogen, which will be required to maintain pressure inside the space capsule. Even if the currently nonexistent method of separating oxygen and nitrogen is somehow invented, the former's presence in the atmosphere could ignite fire. Another of the several issues pointed out in the MIT report is that the plantation would likely spike up humidity so much it would be nearly impossible for any life to survive in there for long periods.
Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp has since issued his rebuttal of the report, saying “lack of time for support from us combined with their limited experience results in incorrect conclusions.” His response did not, however, contain any scientific explanations of any of those problems.
While there is nothing wrong with reaching for Mars, it is not an adventure that can be pulled off with a hail Mary attempt without respecting the science behind it.