Mars One Loses Television Deal

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WASHINGTON — A private venture to send humans on a one-way journey to Mars has suffered another setback with the loss of a television deal, although the venture’s leader said it won’t affect the ongoing selection of crews for the mission.

Mars One co-founder and chief executive Bas Lansdorp said Feb. 24 that Mars One had terminated an agreement with entertainment company Endemol announced in 2014 to develop a “worldwide TV event” for the selection of the first Mars One crews. New Scientist first reported the terminated contract Feb. 20.

“We ended our cooperation with Endemol some time ago because we could not reach agreement on the details of the contract,” Lansdorp said in response to a SpaceNews inquiry about the status of the agreement. He declined to go into greater detail about the decision to end the agreement, or when that decision was made.

In June 2014, Mars One announced an “international partnership” with Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP), a production company owned by Endemol, to develop television programming related to Mars One’s astronaut selection process. Under the agreement, Mars One would grant DSP exclusive access to the astronaut selection process, up though the launch of the first crews.

At the time of the announcement, broadcasts of the selection process were to begin in early 2015. DSP did not respond to a request for comment on the canceled agreement.

Mars One co-founder and chief executive Bas Lansdorp said Feb. 24 that Mars One had terminated an agreement with entertainment company Endemol announced in 2014 to develop a “worldwide TV event” for the selection of the first Mars One crews. Credit: Mars One video screen grab
Mars One co-founder and chief executive Bas Lansdorp said Mars One had terminated an agreement with entertainment company Endemol  to develop a “worldwide TV event” for the selection of the first Mars One crews. Credit: Mars One video screen grab

While DSP primarily produces documentaries, Endemol is best known for producing a variety of reality television shows, including “Big Brother.” The original announcement raised speculation at the time that the Mars One selection process could also become a reality show competition. Mars One had previously stated it planned to raise funding for its missions in part through the sale of media rights.

Lansdorp said Mars One is now working with another production company, which produced a two-and-a-half-minute video the organization released in mid-February when it announced the selection of 100 finalists for the next round of the astronaut selection process. Lansdorp said Mars One was not announcing the name of its new production partner at this time.

The switch in the production companies, Lansdorp said, won’t change the timeline of selecting crews. “We still plan to finalize selection by the end of this year and start training early 2016,” he said.

News of the terminated contract comes as Mars One is facing heightened skepticism about its plan to send humans to Mars in the mid-2020s. Last week, two companies that received study contracts from Mars One for robotic precursor missions scheduled for launch in 2018 told SpaceNews that they had completed that work and had not received any follow-on contracts.

Lansdorp said Feb. 17 that Mars One was focused on responding to a study published last fall by a student-led group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that concluded that flaws in Mars One’s life support plans could result in deaths of crew members within months of landing.

In a subsequent email, Lansdorp said the 2018 robotic missions — a lander and an orbiter — remained a “top priority” for Mars One, and that the organization was evaluating the results of the studies performed by Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

In a statement provided to SpaceNews Feb. 17, Lockheed Martin, which studied a lander based on the InSight lander it is currently building for NASA, warned that work on a similar lander would need to start “very soon” in order to be ready for launch by 2018.