Brussels / 31 January & 1 February 2015


Interview with Ryan MacDonald
Living on Mars: A Beginner's Guide. Can we Open Source a society?

Ryan MacDonald will give a talk about Living on Mars: A Beginner's Guide. Can we Open Source a society? at FOSDEM 2015.
Q: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

My name’s Ryan MacDonald, I’m a finalist Master’s student at the University of Oxford, reading Physics. I also want to go to Mars (return trip optional). In 2013 I signed up to the first astronaut selection process for the Mars One mission, and I am now one of just 660 people around the world still contending for the 24 spots in their astronaut training programme.

Q: What will your talk be about, exactly? Why is this topic important?

I’ll be talking about some of the technology that will be required to pull off a mission of permanent settlement to Mars around the 2025 timeframe. Sounds soon doesn’t it? It turns out such a one-way trip is substantially easier than the conventional model and requires almost no new technology to be developed. I’ll also be looking further ahead to examine what life itself will be like on Mars and what the implications of a successful Martian civilisation could be to life back on Earth.

Why is this important? The survival of the human race for one! J This is the first chance we have had since the Apollo days to truly push outwards into the solar system, and it’s a vital step towards becoming a true multiplanetary species one day.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

I would like to raise awareness of what Mars One is trying to pull off, and specifically some of the more technical aspects of the mission (which are often neglected in the media). There are also exciting opportunities for interested parties to get involved with commercial payloads on the 2018 demonstration mission, and opportunities for businesses to collaborate with Mars One and gain VIP access that I can provide people with more information on.

On a more personal level, I also have a YouTube channel that focuses on Mars exploration and I hope to trick inspire a few people to check it out!

Q: What’s the history of the Mars One project? Why did it start and how did you become involved as an Astronaut Candidate?

Mars One was founded in 2011 by entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp (now CEO) and Arno Wielders (now CTO), who came together to develop a strategic plan for taking humanity to Mars. That first year yielded the completion of a feasibility study after calling upon experts from space agencies and private aerospace corporations around the world. Written letters of interest in support of the Mars One plan were received. In this first-stage analysis, Mars One incorporated technical, financial, social-psychological and ethical components into its foundation plan.

In 2012, initial investments were secured and the first major conceptual design study (on the life support system) was commissioned.

In April 2013, Mars one launched a global Astronaut Selection Programme. By the September deadline, 202,586 people from over 140 countries had applied. In December, Mars One contracted Lockheed Martin to work on a 2018 Mars lander that will be based on NASA’s successful 2007 Phoenix mission.

At the beginning of 2014, 1,058 people were short-listed for the second stage of Mars One’s selection process. Medical tests on the remaining candidates were conducted by mid-2014, reducing the pool to the current 660. Online Interviews are now underway (will finish on the first day of FOSDEM 2015!) in order to determine who passes to the third (penultimate) stage of the selection process.

Mars One started in order to establish a permanent settlement on Mars using only existing technology. Initial cost estimates from aerospace companies around the world suggested a cost not too far in excess to that generated by the sale of broadcast rights to the 2012 London Olympic games (Mars One estimates ~$6 billion will be required). The idea that the mission itself could be funded (at least in part) by the interest generated in following the first human mission to Mars from training, flight, landing through to settlement is it’s unique approach.

I started my online application almost the second the press conference announcing the selection process fished (it was streamed online all around the world). I’d been following Mars One since 2012 and after meeting the CEO in early 2013 I was convinced that it was really possible to pull this off.

Q: Do we really have all the technology that is needed for a one-way trip to Mars? What are the biggest technological challenges?

No new technology needs to be invented, but there will certainly need to be new developments of existing technologies (there’s no IKEA for Mars habitats just yet, but they can be custom ordered). The biggest challenge is EDL (Entry, Descent and Landing), since the largest payload landed on Mars so far (Curiosity) had a mass of only a tonne. However, a one way trip requires masses around 2-5 tonnes, which can be accommodated with current technology (contrast with the ~40 required for a return mission, which just isn’t possible at the moment).

Q: What challenges will the Martian pioneers face in their daily life on the red planet?

There are two major challenges that differ greatly from Earth:

Q: How could the Mars One project benefit from open source principles?

Mars One will be releasing various conceptual design studies into the public domain over the next few years, allowing them to be scrutinised and the best possible mission architecture built collaboratively. This open approach makes the mission, at least in my eyes, less likely to suffer from a catastrophic failure such as the two Shuttle disasters.

On a sociopolitical level, we’ll also have to be thinking of how the society itself should be structured and organised. An open source approach of gathering the best ideas from cultures around the world and collaboratively creating a society will be an interesting experiment if nothing else (e.g. here’s a recent collaborative effort to create a ‘Martian Bill of Rights’).

Q: Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

This is my first time at FOSDEM, but I’m certainly excited!

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License

This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.