Mars One Myth #2: What They’re Doing Is Unethical

Image credit: Bryan Versteeg

Not that long ago in a forum not so far away, I saw a post claiming that Mars One was unethical. Naturally, I was curious, so I read through it. What I thought was, “…Man. If certain people thought my other blog post used ‘straw man’ arguments, just wait til they see this.” I don’t see what Mars One is doing is unethical. There are some things you just can’t make up, folks. These are some of the real arguments that these people are using.

“Proof” #1: The Profit Thing Again.

Mars One is the controlling stockholder in a company known as the Interplanetary Media Group. This is the company that, in effect, will control all the media rights. If things go according to plan, this is where the majority of the cash flow will come from. According to the ethics claim, this is an obvious profit-making ploy that is very exploitive of the candidates.

Exploitive? Only in the sense that a candidate can effectively blow his chances in a very public way simply by doing or saying exactly the wrong thing while on camera and have everybody on Twitter saying, “Didja see what this candidate did?! Is she crazy or what?” Talk about humiliation. However, one assumes that the candidates know and accept that they’re going to be on camera. I certainly plan on just considering the TV thing to be one of the background elements.

By the organization’s own admission, it will take $6 billion dollars just to send the first four colonists and $4 billion for each group of four people after that. That’s such a high operating cost that I have difficulty seeing much of a Return On Investment, much less enough of a profit to make the whole thing worthwhile. Most of the income that the Interplanetary Media Group receives is going to be plowed straight into Mars One with maybe the minority shareholders seeing pennies on the dollar if they’re lucky. Yeah, not that great of an investment. So, obviously, it’s not going to be about the profit.

“Proof” #2: Mars One Isn’t Considering Future Technological Advances

So Mars One is saying that the mission is going to be a one-way trip. The technology just isn’t there to bring them home yet. If you volunteer, you sure better be serious about wanting to spend the rest of your life on Mars because you aren’t coming back to Earth. That means the Mars One senior staff hasn’t considered future technological advances that could make a return trip possible.

If they thought of sending people to Mars in the first place, they probably did consider bringing them home. The reason they don’t is that it would add to the cost, possibly to the point where it becomes more expensive than they can reasonably afford with the money they raise with the TV show. Anyway, the senior staff are probably aware that other organizations are developing the technology that could make a return trip possible. It is possible that future colonists could hitch a ride back to Earth in a few decades if they decide they’re sick of it. So, basically, it’s not about failing to consider future possibilities. It’s about managing costs.

I probably won’t be one of those who decide to bail if the technology does become available. I assume that “one-way” means exactly that. I don’t see anything unethical about recruiting volunteers who know exactly what they are getting into and signed up knowing that it could be decades or even an entire lifetime before they even have a chance to return to Earth.

Proof #3: It’s Not Safe!

Safe?” Safe. If I wanted safe, I’d probably be hiding in my parents’ basement right now and hoping that the ceiling didn’t cave in on me. It’s traveling in space and anyone who remembers watching footage of the Challenger and Columbia disasters will understand that it’s risky.

He also says it’s not condoned by NASA. Who even cares if it’s “condoned” or not? Not that long ago, I saw a live video of NASA administrator Charles Bolden commenting that his people will watch and learn from Mars One. That’s “condoning” it enough for me because, to me, that’s the whole point of Mars One. I volunteered for this because I know that inhabiting Mars will be a learning process and Mars One will be a part of that.

The original poster claims that the lack of regulation means that space travel should not even be legal and most certainly should not be accessible to the average citizen. Hey, Buzz, could I punch this guy for you? Just about any mode of transportation has its risks, regulated or not. Anyway, history shows that there has been a gap between any new transportation technology and a well-defined, comprehensive regulation system. We saw the same delay in regulation with railroads and aviation that we are now seeing with space flight. I’m sure government regulators will catch up once more average citizens start getting into space. In the meantime, I won’t let the “unsafe” and “unregulated” part keep me from what I see as risk worth taking.

“Proof” #4: Bas Lansdorp isn’t going.

Yep. I actually got a chance to chat with Bas Lansdorp at the Washington, D.C. Million Martian Meeting in the beginning of August. Somebody asked him if he thought of going and he admitted that he had. He just didn’t think he had all the right qualities. All I thought at the time was, “Well, that’s honest.” I figured he would be lying if he said otherwise. As an entrepreneur, he does know that any new venture is going to entail a certain amount of risk. He just doesn’t want to be the one who lets down the team by getting in over his head. And that’s the kind of thing that earns my respect.

The Bottom Line

How’s that for a few straw man arguments? Set them up and knock them down. Here’s the original post if anyone is interested, and some of the replies are fairly interesting too.

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