MIT Strategic Engineering

An Open Letter on the Mars One Analysis by MIT Researchers

Last week, at the International Astronautical Congress in Toronto, we presented a technical analysis of the Mars One mission plan. Over the past couple of days, we have watched with interest as our study has been picked up by various news outlets and discussions have been started by space exploration enthusiasts. We share this passion and look forward to the day when humanity becomes an interplanetary species. We have great respect for the enthusiasm for space exploration that the Mars One program has generated and our goal is not to detract from this, but rather to drive it forward - towards enabling affordable, sustainable Mars colonization.

The purpose of our study was to identify areas that require further analysis and technologies that require further development before they can be deployed in space. To do this, we created an integrated model of a Mars habitat, capturing life support and in-situ resource utilization technologies, their sparing requirements, and the transportation system required to get this equipment to Mars. This model was based as much as possible on data posted on the Mars One website and, where data was not available, current state of the art technology.

Through this analysis, we made the following findings:
  • The cost of the Mars One mission increases over time due to the increasing spares requirement - as the colony grows, more systems are required, in turn necessitating more spare parts and therefore more rocket launches.
  • Carrying all food from Earth is more efficient than growing food on Mars, because the mass of equipment required to grow crops exceeds that of bringing the food along.
  • If all food is sourced from plants, excessive oxygen will need to be managed. While there is technology available on Earth to handle this, no such technology has been developed for spaceflight. This issue is removed if food is transported from Earth rather than grown locally.
  • Our analysis did not end with these issues, but rather we explored possible solutions including developing an in-situ manufacturing capability and bringing along food instead of growing it. We also identified several technologies that will require further development, including in-situ resource utilization and oxygen management systems.

    This is an ongoing research topic, and we are very interested in communicating our results in more detail to everyone and would welcome an open conversation. Our goal is to help further our collective knowledge and capabilities for Mars exploration. Our paper is available at the link above, and we will be working to make our simulation code publicly available in the future, so that others may use it as we have - to identify how to make space exploration more feasible.

    Sydney Do, Koki Ho, Sam Schreiner, and Andrew Owens