Goodbye to Mars, Opportunity and Mars One

February 26th, 2019

Mars has been a bright feature of our evening sky for a few months but each week it's getting lower, fainter and more difficult to spot.

Earth orbits the Sun faster than Mars does and we're leaving it behind. From our point of view Mars is getting closer to the Sun each evening, and will continue to do so until it disappears behind the Sun in June. In December it will emerge as a morning object but won't be a convenient evening object again until 2021.

As you watch Mars fade from view, spare a thought for the robotic rover "Opportunity" that began exploring there in 2004. Last year Opportunity found trouble in a dust storm that obscured its solar panels. Sadly there was no recovery and the last transmission from Opportunity was, to paraphrase its techno-language, "My battery is low and it's getting dark". After fifteen years of successful research, NASA declared the valiant robot's mission complete.

We have another Mars-related farewell to make. In 2012 the Mars One project announced its plan to send volunteers to live the rest of their lives on Mars. The idea was loved by the media and the general public, but within the spaceflight industry it received a more sceptical reception. I was unusually harsh with my criticism and today I can't resist the chance to put the boot in one more time.

Mars One was never going to fly. Their rocket-building plan had less substance than aerogel. Their fund-raising plan was astonishingly naive. Their astronaut recruitment process was terrifyingly inept. Their whole strategy was masterminded by well-meaning but slow-witted muppets.

I do acknowledge the honest efforts of founder Bas Lansdorp and his team in earlier years, but as desperation set in, they went from being comically incompetent to seriously fraudulent. It's been obvious for years that the whole fatuous endeavour was doomed. The only question was how long it would take the company to go broke.

We can now answer that question: It took until February 2019. The commercial arm of the organisation has been declared bankrupt. Goodbye Mars One, and thanks for all the nothing.


Mars in the western sky

Below: This column as it appeared in the Wāipa Post (click for full-sized version)