To almost no one’s surprise, Mars One is done [Updated]

Enlarge / Mars One had some drawings. But that is about it.

To the surprise of almost no one, Mars One appears to be dead. This project, founded in 2013, said it would raise funds from fees and marketing rights in order to send humans on a one-way mission to settle the Red Planet.

Now, thanks to a user on Reddit, we know that the effort has come to an apparent end. Mars One consists of two entities: the Dutch not-for-profit Mars One Foundation and the publicly traded, Swiss-based Mars One Ventures. A civil court based in Basel, Switzerland, opened bankruptcy proceedings on the latter company in mid-January. Efforts on Monday to contact officials with Mars One were not successful. (See update below).

To say this site was skeptical of Mars One would be putting it mildly. In May 2013—after more than 30,000 people around the world applied to become “astronauts” for Mars One—Ars’ Lee Hutchinson scoffed at the venture, writing an article about some of the technical challenges it would face.

It just seems like a ludicrous, impossible project. And not the good kind of impossible project that ends in the triumph of the human spirit overcoming the whatever blah, blah, blah—this seems like the bad kind of impossible project where people wind up dead. I wish Mars One and its applicants luck, but if they pull off even a single launch, I’ll eat my hat.

It looks like Lee Hutchinson’s hat is safe. (Unfortunately for the hat, it still has to reside on Lee’s head.)

The problem with Mars One is that it made something extraordinarily difficult—launching people into space, caring for them on the long, hazardous journey to Mars, landing them on Mars, and then providing some sort of sustainable living conditions there—seem relatively easy. It is not.

Elon Musk has made settling Mars pretty much his life’s work. He’s essentially one of the world’s most driven people, possessed of capital, and has a highly talented work force to reach SpaceX’s goals. But although we are rooting for him, we are not at all sure whether he will eventually succeed.

NASA, too, would like to send humans to Mars. It has had those ambitions ever since the Apollo landings on the Moon. At least four presidents—both of the Bushes, Obama, and Trump—have made sending humans to Mars a part of their overall human spaceflight plans. We’re not much closer now than we were in 1969, however.

To believe that a small company selling “marketing rights” as a means of getting to Mars would solve all of the technical problems along the way was absolutely laughable. But it is no laughing matter that it trivializes the very real challenges of spaceflight.

7:30pm ET Monday update: Emma Sledge, with Mars One Communications, sent us the following via e-mail: “We are currently working with the administrator and an investor to find a solution moving forward, though at this moment that is all we can share. We will release subsequent press releases as more information is available. I would only like to add that this bankruptcy concerns the commercial arm, Mars One Ventures AG, and does not affect the non-profit Mars One Foundation.”