In 2012, Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp launched the world’s first private and crowdsourced-effort to create a permanent outpost on Mars. Known as Mars One, this organization was the focus of a lot of press since it’s inception, some of it good, most of it bad. While there were many who called the organization’s plan a “suicide mission” or a “scam”, others invested their time, energy, and expertise to help make it happen.
In addition, thousands of volunteers signed on for the adventure, willing to risk life and limb to become part of the first one-way trip to the Red Planet. Unfortunately, we may never get to know if Bas Lansdorp’s plan for colonizing Mars was feasible or even sincere. According to a recent declaration by a Swiss Court, Mars One Ventures (the for-profit arm of Mars One) is now bankrupt.
The decision was posted on the official commercial register of the Canton of Basel-Stadt in Switzerland, where the company is registered, dated January 15th, 2019. Were it not for the keen eye of a certain Reddittor (username u/S-Vineyard) on Feb. 10th and a Swiss newspaper that covered the story, the listing might have gone unnoticed. As the listing declared:
“By decision of 15 January 2019, the Civil Court of the City of Basel declared the company bankrupt with effect from 15 January 2019, 3.37 p.m., thus dissolving it.”
This is confirmed by documents filed with Companies House, the United Kingdom’s registrar of companies. According to an accounts statement posted on September 30th, 2018, (which was dated March 30th, 2018) the company was virtually insolvent, with its shareholder funds valued at less than 20,000 pounds (~$ 28,000 USD).
When it was founded, Mars One consisted of two entities – the not-for profit Mars One Foundation, and the for-profit company Mars One Ventures. Whereas the former was responsible for managing the project, the latter was the controlling stockholder of the for-profit Interplanetary Media Group, which was also responsible for the broadcasting rights.
It was this group that would be responsible for turning the eventual mission to Mars into the largest reality TV experience ever mounted. Two days after the story broke, Mars One confirmed the ruling of the Swiss court on their website, stating:
“On February 5, 2019, the Court of Appeal of the Swiss canton Basel-Stadt confirmed that the Swiss corporation Mars One Ventures AG, one company of the Mars One group, is in administration. The company has a thirty day window to reverse the administration process. Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp emphasized that the related entity the Mars One Foundation is not affected by this procedure.”
This comes months after Mars One announced that it had signed an investment deal with Phoenix Enterprises AG, a Swiss investment company. At the time, Mars One declared that the company would “subscribe for Mars One Ventures AG shares over a twelve month period” and raise a total of up to €12 million (~$ 13.5 million USD).
At the time, Lansdorp claimed that the goal of this deal was to get Mars One relisted on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange (FSE) and to pay the license fee to the Mars One Foundation. In their latest post, Mars One declared that they had been suspended from the FSE for non-compliance with their regulations.
“The company was on its way to correct these compliance problems for the resumption of trading of the shares; these efforts were upended by the current situation,” they claim. The latest post also indicated that Mars One has debts amounting to approximately € 1 million ($1.13 million USD) and that Phoenix Enterprises intends to reach an agreement with the organization’s creditors.
Apparently, Lansdorp and his associates are not prepared to admit defeat just yet. As was included in the latest post, Mars One has plans for the future once it gets out of administration:
“For the execution of the actual voyage to Mars, the company will continue to seek strategic collaboration with renowned companies and organizations involved with the travel to Mars. Mars One itself will focus on the even more inspiring “being there”, the adventurous story of humans actually living on Mars, making The Red Planet their new home. Utilizing its new investment plan, Mars One Ventures will establish a marketing machine, creating continuous content about these activities, evaluated from all angles, including technological, psychological, economical, and ethical aspects.”
Since it’s inception, Mars One has attracted no shortage of criticism and controversy. The independent assessment by MIT in 2014, for example, expressed doubts about multiple aspects of the Mars One plan. In addition to funding and technology, the MIT team claimed that the first colonists would likely die after 68 days from a combination of suffocation, starvation, dehydration, or incineration in an oxygen-rich atmosphere.
On top of that, in March of 2015, one of the Mars One finalists (Dr. Joseph Roche) also expressed criticism for the organization, going as far as to claim that it was a scam. Other skeptics compared the entire plan to the Fyre Festival, a “luxury music festival” that turned out to be an elaborate hoax designed to cheat investors and contributors of their money.
Nevertheless, Mars One has continued to attract it’s share of supporters and luminaries. Among them is Robert Zubrin, the famed advocate for crewed Martian exploration and author of “The Case for Mars“, who became an advisor to Mars One in October of 2013 (despite expressing doubts about the overall mission architecture).
In the meantime, it remains to be seen whether Bas Lansdorp and the organization he founded is finished or can somehow get back on its feet. In their most recent post, Mars One also declared that “No further information will be released until the press conference of March 6.”