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MIT Analysis Paints Bleak Outcome for Mars One Concept - UPDATE 2

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 07-Oct-2014
Updated: 10-Oct-2014 05:37 PM

UPDATE 2, October 10:  The MIT students will hold a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session from 3:00-6:00 pm ET today to answer questions about their analysis (username: MarsOneAnalysis).  The AMA can be accessed at:  They also have posted an Open Letter to further explain their purpose and conclusions.  If we learn of Mars One holding any similar public discussion, we will be happy to spread the word on that as well.

UPDATE:  This October 7, 2014  article was updated on October 8 with a response from Mars One co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp.  On October 9, Mr. Lansdorp added a comment to the DisQus feature of this website explaining some of his concerns about the MIT analysis.

An analysis by a team of MIT students of the Mars One concept to send people to Mars on one-way missions to establish a settlement there offers a bleak picture of the outcome.  The paper was presented at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC2014) in Toronto last week.

Sydney Do, Koki Ho, Samuel Schreiner, Andrew Owens and Olivier de Weck conducted “An Independent Assessment of the Technical Feasibility of the Mars One Mission Plan” supported by grants from NASA and the Josephine de Karman Fellowship Trust.

The team looked at the Mars One plan as outlined in public sources, especially its assertions that a sustainable society on Mars can be established beginning in the 2020s using existing technology.  A “pre-deployment” phase between 2018 and 2023 would send robotic precursors and establish a crew “habitat” on the surface to await the first crew, which would be launched in 2024.  Additional four-person crews and habitats would be launched at every 26-month opportunity thereafter.

Because many details of the Mars One plan are not available, the MIT team made a number of assumptions that are comprehensively explained in order to conduct their analysis.

Some of the key conclusions of the study are that:

  • Mars One’s claim that “no new major developments or inventions are needed” does not withstand scrutiny and that assessment is only for the habitation, life support, in-situ resource utilization and space transportation technologies.   The MIT team notes that they did not address other required systems such as entry, descent and landing (EDL), the power system architecture, or the surface-to-orbit communications strategy.
  • The Mars One estimate of the number of launches needed for the pre-deployment phase is “overly optimistic.”  The best scenario would require 15 Falcon Heavy launches to establish the first crew on Mars according to the MIT analysis.
  • If crops grown on Mars are the only food source, they will “produce unsafe oxygen levels in the habitat” resulting in the first crew fatality after about 68 days due to “suffocation from too low an oxygen partial pressure within the environment,”  the consequence of a complex series of events stemming from overproduction of oxygen by the plants.
  • The MIT team postulated solutions to that problem that are not part of the Mars One plan (e.g. relying on stored food brought from Earth, creating a separate plant growing facility, or using yet-to-be invented oxygen removal technology).  If a way were found to sustain a Mars One habitat for 130 months, the paper concludes that spare parts would require 62 percent of the mass brought from Earth over that period of time.

The lead author, Sydney Do, a Ph.D. candidate in aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, said via email that in his view “the Mars One Concept is unsustainable” because of the current state of technology and its “aggressive expansion approach” of quickly adding more and more people rather than keeping the settlement at a fixed size for a period of time.

The paper acknowledges that the study was based on "the best available information” and the team is willing to update their analysis if more information becomes available.

MarsOne co-founder and CEO Bas Lansdorp, in an email to on October 8, said that while he welcomed the students' analysis, his company does not have time to respond to all the questions it receives from students and "the lack of time for support from us combined with their limited experience results in incorrect conclusions."

Editor's Note:  Mr. Lansdorp's October 8 email discusses several areas where he believes the MIT analysis is incorrect.  We encouraged him to post his entire comment to our website's DisQus feature, but he declined.  We responded that if he does post his entire reaction elsewhere (perhaps on the Mars One site), we will be happy to include a link to it.

Editor's Note 2:  On October 9, Mr. Lansdorp did, indeed, add a comment to the DisQus feature of this website explaining his concerns.  It can be found in the comment stream labeled "Bas Lansdorp."

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