Here Come the Apologetics from “Some” Mars One Candidates

The true believers of Mars One have begun to respond to the criticism the program is facing, most specifically from the excellent investigative work of Elmo Keep, whose pieces I have now cited twice on this blog. Yesterday, I wrote about how Keep’s reporting reveals that Mars One is beginning to look less like a noble scientific enterprise, and more like a profit-seeking rapture cult.
Today, I am directed to a rebuttal piece that is part group-response from Mars One candidates, and part personal response from candidate Oscar Mathews Correa. I’ll get into a few of its specifics in a bit, but it’s more or less what you’d expect, an attempt to correct or put in context the problems that Keep’s reporting has raised.

Now, to be entirely clear, I should say that the first part of the article is allegedly by a group of Mars One candidates, as no names are given. Rather, it is attributed to, literally, “Some Mars100 Facebook Candidates.” So right off the bat we’re in sketchy territory, as no specific person is willing to put their name to it (other than Correa, I assume).

The very first problem with this piece is that it calls Keep’s criticisms a “conspiracy theory” right in the title, when in fact it’s the opposite. Keep implies no conspiracy, there are no wheels-within-wheels nor powerful, shadowy entities pulling any strings. If there were, the program would be more successful. But one could certainly infer (as I do) a scam. It is more accurate to say that the rebuttal’s authors are perceiving a conspiracy against them, when of course none exists.

Let’s cover some of the points made by “Some Mars100 Facebook Candidates” in the first part of the article. This will by no means be exhaustive, but touch on some of the points that stood out to me. In Keep’s latest article, former candidate Joseph Roche says that Mars One’s training and expertise requirements fall well below those required of NASA astronauts. To which the “Some” respond:

The Mars One project is very different to a typical NASA mission, and therefore has very different requirements for its astronaut candidates. The Mars One candidates would be primarily colonists, not pilots. It is likely that course corrections and landing procedures will be automated — for uncrewed as well as crewed spacecraft.

There will be 10 years of training between selection and launch, which absolutely does compare to NASA’s level and depth of training. This training might cover emergency manual control of spacecraft if applicable.

“It is likely that…” and “This training might cover…” – why don’t they know? A program designed to send colonists to Mars for the rest of their lives doesn’t know what it will train them for? Or is it that the “Some” haven’t been told? Why not?

Keep reports that the alleged primary source of funding (which would have to be enormous since we’re talking about colonists on freaking Mars), supposedly a TV production company, bailed on the program. The “Some” say all is well, because:

The primary source of finance is to be an investment firm in the first stages of the mission (leading up to and including the first manned mission). The documentary and live broadcast aspects of the project are expected to bring in revenue at later stages of the project. Mars One is in talks with both an investment firm and a new production company to take over the documentary aspect of the project. Collaboration with Endemol [the original production company] was reportedly ended as they were unable to reach an agreement over the terms of the contract.

Which investment firm? What firm on Earth is willing to be the primary source of billions of dollars for this vague project? And it is vague, even in how the “Some” describe it. Funds are always “expected,” and Mars One is always “in talks” (remember the “meetings” from my Underpants Gnomes post). It’s all a lot of promised milestones, none of which have been reached, and by their own admission, at least one has fallen through. Why is this all so murky?

That’s my overall impression of the rebuttal from the “Some”: It’s airy and hangs its assertions on “talks” and expectations, with little to nothing that is solid, decided, or in place.

Moving on to the second half of the piece, we have Correa’s personal response (which is itself apparently an extract from another article somewhere else). Like the “Some” response, it doesn’t begin well either:

That rascally Elmo Keep is at it again.

“Rascally”? Yeah, I’m really ready to take this person seriously. Note, too, that Correa refers to Elmo Keep as “Elmo” and not by her surname, as through they’re buddies.

Correa, overall, seems to believe that the bad impression now being given by Mars One is the result of some “missteps in public relations,” not to any problems with the facts of the program.

He plays a cheap emotional trick early in his response by putting a lot of emphasis on the early medical screenings undergone by candidates, as though this made up for the thin application and paltry interview process, and drops in that the medical screenings “surprisingly revealed some candidates with cancer, potentially saving their lives.” You see? Mars One is already saving lives! Just with its application process! Only a monster could object to saving people’s lives from cancer.

Correa seems to me to be fixated on the supposed agendas of various parties rather than the legitimate criticisms of the program. He writes:

For example, in one televised interview done in the Miami broadcast area (en Español), a NASA engineer attempted to refute some MarsOne mission plan elements by saying we would never get to Mars until we could land 40 metric tons on the surface. This is not true. Yet he receives airtime because he works at NASA, and of course they have their nascent “Mars missions begin on the ISS” agenda to promote.

Ah ha! You see! It’s a conspiracy by NASA who want to stop the Mars One mission from succeeding, because what they really want to make sure humans get to Mars the NASA way.

And yes, he receives airtime because he works at NASA. Because he actually has a chance of knowing what he’s talking about. He might actually bring facts, expertise, and experience to the discussion.

Unlike, well, “Some.”

I wonder if we’ll see more of this. This particular article isn’t egregious, but it smacks of defensiveness, released to fill the dead air coming from the Mars One organization, and its lack of substance only increases my already-deep skepticism of the project. More worrying is how it reads like religious apologetics. They believe it will all work out, because it’s been promised. And the promised land itself, Mars, beckons so strongly, and feels to them to be so close.

I hope too many people don’t get screwed too badly.

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Mars One is Amway-Meets-Heaven’s Gate

In November I wrote about an investigative piece by Elmo Keep on the Mars One initiative, which is supposed to be screening candidates for a one-way mission to Mars in the next decade. Go read that post to get caught up. (And read all of Keep’s original article, which is amazing.)
In my post, I compared Mars One to the Underpants Gnomes of South Park:

So to sum that up in Underpants Gnome terms:

  1. Hold meetings.
  2. Get feedback from meetings.
  3. ???
  4. Send humans to Mars.

In other words, Keep’s reporting showed that at best, Mars One is a well-intentioned idea, as I put it, built like a house of cards. At worst, it’s a weird and cynical scam, the goal of which is unclear.

Alas, I think the needle may be tilting strongly toward the latter.

Keep is back with a follow-up piece, in which she profiles Mars One candidate (and top-100 “finalist”) Dr. Joseph Roche. What he reveals is that Mars One is less of an Underpants Gnome project, and more of a for-profit cult. From Keep’s piece:

“When you join the ‘Mars One Community,’ which happens automatically if you applied as a candidate, they start giving you points,” Roche explained to me in an email. “You get points for getting through each round of the selection process (but just an arbitrary number of points, not anything to do with ranking), and then the only way to get more points is to buy merchandise from Mars One or to donate money to them.”

“Community members” can redeem points by purchasing merchandise like T-shirts, hoodies, and posters, as well as through gifts and donations: The group also solicits larger investment from its supporters. Others have been encouraged to help the group make financial gains on flurries of media interest. In February, finalists received a list of “tips and tricks” for dealing with press requests, which included this: “If you are offered payment for an interview then feel free to accept it. We do kindly ask for you to donate 75% of your profit to Mars One.”

It’s disgusting, isn’t it? Get people to sign up to be “chosen” for a mythology-worthy (and mythical) voyage to martyr themselves for science and the human race and whatnot, and thereby pressure them to pay into draping themselves in the brand, and funneling their own money back to the project. The candidates, one presumes, really want to be chosen for the mission, to be seen as enthusiastic, committed, and worthy, so they buy into the “points” system as a way to show their devotion. It sounds like Amway meets Heaven’s Gate, or a short-term Scientology. It’s a snake oil rapture story dressed up as noble science.

And as Keep points out, the mainstream media coverage of Mars One has been almost entirely uncritical. How can it be that there’s been only one journalist who’s bothered to do more than be awestruck by the project’s audacity?

Religion often promises immortality and, at its worst, preys upon people’s need to feel a part of something greater than themselves, all for the enrichment and empowerment of those pulling the strings. Mars One thinks it found a way to do that without the need for a deity, without an invisible heaven. Instead, it just pinpointed Paradise as the dusty red planet 140,000,000 miles away, and held out its collection plate.