Apr 23, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Forget Ebola, Journey to Mars May Be More Lethal Death Sentence

Oct 22, 2014 07:03 PM EDT

Since 2012, when Dutch nonprofit Mars One led by Bas Lansdorp announced plans for a permanent colony to be established on Mars, many have been questioning whether or not the company will be able to make good on its promise. But researchers at MIT say that even if they can, the first Martian pilgrims may not last a year around the Sun.

Promising to put the first human colony on the Red Planet by 2025, aside from gather nearly 200,000 explorers ready for the mission the company has begun planning to create the first Mars colony all from available technologies. A promise that researchers believe may lead to many deaths. In developing a detailed analysis tool to assess the plausibility of the Mars One mission, researchers from MIT discovered that even though the company may not think they'll need new technologies to make a permanent home on Mars, that they may in fact die without new solutions to major flaws in their plan.

"We're not saying, black and white, Mars One is infeasible" lead researcher of the study and MIT professor of aeronautics, astronautics, and engineering systems, Olivier de Weck says. "But we do think it's not really feasible under the assumptions they've made. We're pointing to technologies that could be helpful to invest in with high priority, to move them along the feasibility path."

Looking primarily into the main factors needed for survival, oxygen, water and food, the research team discovered that the posited scenarios made by Mars One may lead early Martians down a path towards suffocation or starvation in a only a matter of months. Simulating a day in the life of a Mars colonist, the team was able to evaluate that in order to sustain a typical work schedule and metabolic rates (modeled after those of astronauts on the International Space Station) that individuals would have to consume roughly 3,040 calories everyday. And while they determined crops could provide a reasonably balanced diets, substituting legumes for sources of proteins, the abundant plants needed for sustenance could cause a problem in and of themselves.

After calculating the amount of produce needed to survive, researchers revealed that over the long-term, Mars One missions will need four times the amount of crops than previously planned for, with nearly 200 square meters of crops needed for each Martian astronaut. And this amount of crops, comingled within the settlers' habitat would produce unsafe levels of oxygen that would need to be diluted by nitrogen gas tanks equipped on the homes. Once these nitrogen tanks were depleted, the atmospheric pressure within the homes would drop, causing settlers to suffocate within 68 days on the Red Planet. No way to change the situation, and with no alternative to live.

"One of the great insights we were able to get was just how hard it is to pull this [mission] off" graduate student and researcher, Sydney Do says. "There are just so many unknowns. And to give anyone confidence that they're going to get there and stay alive - there's still a lot of work that needs to be done."

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