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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Ah crap, it looks like that whole "human mission to Mars" company is a total scam

Illustration for article titled Ah crap, it looks like that whole "human mission to Mars" company is a total scam
Photo: Sergei Savostyanov (TASS via Getty Images)

Imagine it: A privately funded trip to Mars, a manned mission populated by everyday people who made it through a rigorous application process, leaving earth forever in 2023 to set up a human colony on the red planet. Exciting, right? Now imagine it’s not going to happen—a little easier to picture, we bet.


Sadly, it appears that Occam’s razor is accurate once again, and the chance that the space exploration company Mars One is actually going to send a handpicked group of applicants to Mars by sometime in the first half of next decade is nothing by wishful thinking. In a new report on Inverse, journalist Rae Paoletta investigates the current financial and organization standing of Mars One and learns that not only is the company nowhere near being ready to send a ship to Mars, it doesn’t even have the vaguest design plans put together for how to achieve such a project, let alone the money to pull it off. Paoletta spoke with chief officers at Mars One, current and former contenders for the voyage, representatives from Lockheed Martin and SpaceX, and a former NASA scientist, and the picture they paint doesn’t look like that of a project en route to Mars. It looks more en route to bankruptcy.

For starters, while somebody may be making money off this project—Mars One claims it has about 200,000 applicants who have paid the $40 application fee, generating roughly $8 million in profit—the business itself appears to be in dire financial straits. Despite early international media hype, neither the not-for-profit nor for-profit sections of the company have any real capital, the former having been in debt for years. And the stated price tag of $6 billion for the whole project? CEO Bas Lansdorp says the company is struggling to even raise the $10 million it needs this year to become publicly traded on the Franfurt stock exchange. For some perspective, the company needs to be raising approximately $800 million a year to meet its stated goals. Yeah.

Not only that, but the “200,000 paying applicants” number might be fishy. Mars One CMO Norbert Kraft says he’s only seen 80,000 applications, and when NBC counted the number of video applications on the Mars One website back in 2013 (a requirement with the initial application fee), it found only...2,782. Mars One tried to pair with a reality-TV production company to help secure funding but broke it off in 2015 for unknown reasons. Both Lockheed Martin and SpaceX, who Mars One has claimed are under contract with them to develop ships and tech for the mission, says no such contracts are currently in place.

Lastly, there’s the applicants themselves, who have reported the staggering lack of planning and organization on the part of Mars One. Trey Carriveaux, a nuclear reactor operator for the Navy, made it through initial rounds but left when the flaws became clear. “A lot of their technology for [finding] water was just like, ‘Yeah, you scoop up some water with sand and get the water from that.’ Okay, how? There was no detail.”

The whole piece is well worth a read, if only for a fascinating demonstration of public hubris on the part of people claiming they can take us to Mars. It’ a dissection of the possible reasons why—in Paoletta’s words—a “company with no money, no media support, and no real, scientifically sound plan would continue a facade pushing seven years.”

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.