The Mars One project launched in 2011 with the grand ambition of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars. Since that time, it has winnowed a large field of would-be astronauts to 100 and garnered considerable public attention. What the initiative has not done is raise significant funding to enable its vision—of the $6 billion Mars One estimates it needs to create a settlement, it has collected only about $1 million from merchandise sales, donations, and astronaut applications.
But now Mars One says it has a plan to address that fundraising difficulty. On Monday the Netherlands-based Mars One and Switzerland based InFin Innovative Finance AG announced a reverse merger in which InFin will acquire Mars One, and the combined entity will change its name to Mars One Ventures AG. This will effectively make the Mars One venture eligible for trading on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.
“This step provides the opportunity to raise capital through the listing on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange,” explained Bas Lansdorp, CEO and cofounder of Mars One, in a news release. “Our global followers will have the opportunity to be part of this adventure and to literally own a piece of this historic venture. We have a solid business based on our historical performance that might be of interest to anyone looking for diversification of their investment portfolio.”
It’s not clear what resources InFin brings to the deal beyond access to the Frankfurt exchange. According to a management report released on June 30, 2016, the company’s “Cashcloud” e-wallet mobile payment system has not gained significant traction. During the preceding six months, the report states, the number of registered users only slightly increased to 189,000, from 186,000. The report also notes the competitive market with other companies like Apple, Samsung, and Google all entering the mobile payment market. At the time the company reported a total equity and liabilities value of a little more than $300,000.
Skepticism about the viability of Mars One abounds in the aerospace community, as the venture has shown no technical capacity to develop life-support systems for crews en route to Mars, the ability to land them there, or provide sustenance there by using resources on Mars. Until now, at least, Mars One also has shown no ability to raise the kinds of funds needed to develop and build such technology.
But Mars One’s challenges do not end there. In an article published last year in The Space Review, two space law experts, Michael Listner and Christopher Newman, pointed out the ethical and legal roadblocks also standing in the way of a private effort to colonize Mars. These include the long odds that the United States or Netherlands would grant a launch license as well as various potential violations of the Outer Space Treaty.
“Half a century of human space exploration has shown that the devil is in the details, and Mars One ignores those details at its peril,” Listner and Newman wrote. “Unless the reality of the challenges facing Mars One are acknowledged and addressed by the leaders of this project, the current tide of positive media attention will turn on Mars One and leave those who believed in the vision created by its progenitors disillusioned and detriment future endeavors by private space to develop the solar system.”
Little has changed with the Mars One approach since then, however. Instead the company continues to project continued optimism—for example, as part of Monday’s announcement the new company says this merger “creates a decisive and time-critical competitive advantage by being the first Mars exploration company to successfully go public.” Investors would be crazy to miss that opportunity, right?