The Mars One project was launched in 2011 with the grand ambition of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars. Since then, it has sifted a large field of aspiring astronauts to 100 and garnered a lot of public attention. What the initiative has failed to do is raise significant funding to make its vision possible — of the $6 billion Mars One is estimated to need to settle, it has only raised about $1 million from the sale of merchandise, donations and requests from astronauts.
But now Mars One says it has a plan to address that fundraising problem. On Monday, Netherlands-based Mars One and Switzerland-based InFin Innovative Finance AG announced a reverse merger whereby InFin will acquire Mars One and the combined entity will change its name to Mars One Ventures AG. This effectively makes the Mars One company eligible to trade on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange.
“This move offers the opportunity to raise capital through the listing on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange,” explains Bas Lansdorp, CEO and co-founder of Mars One, in a press release. “Our global followers will have the opportunity to be a part of this adventure and literally own a part of this historic company. We have a solid company based on our historic performance that could be of interest to anyone looking to diversify from its investment portfolio.”
It’s not clear what resources InFin is adding to the deal beyond access to the Frankfurt stock exchange. According to a management report released on June 30, 2016, the company’s “Cashcloud” mobile payment system has not gained significant traction. In the past six months, the report says, the number of registered users has increased only slightly from 186,000 to 189,000. The report also points to the competitive market with other companies such as Apple, Samsung and Google all entering the mobile payment market. At the time, the company reported a total value of equity and liabilities of just over $300,000.
There is considerable skepticism about the viability of Mars One in the space community, as the company has demonstrated no technical capability to develop life support systems for crews en route to Mars, the ability to land them there or provide a livelihood there by using resources on Mars. In any case, so far Mars One has also failed to demonstrate the ability to raise the kind of funds necessary to develop and build such technology.
But Mars One’s challenges don’t stop there. In an article published last year space review, two space law experts, Michael Listner and Christopher Newman, pointed out the ethical and legal roadblocks that also stand in the way of a private effort to colonize Mars. These include the long likelihood that the United States or the Netherlands would grant a launch permit, as well as several possible 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 is acknowledged and addressed by the leaders of this project, the current wave of positive media attention will turn on Mars One and leave those who believed in the vision of the forerunners disillusioned. and harm future efforts by private space to develop the solar system.”
However, little has changed in Mars One’s approach since then. Instead, the company continues to exude 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, wouldn’t they?