If you are one of the 200,000 people who signed up for Mars One's ambitious programme to colonise the red planet, here is something that might make you reconsider the decision. According to a study conducted by a team of graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first batch of Martian settlers would begin dying within 68 days of arriving on the planet.
"If all food is obtained from locally grown crops, as Mars One envisions, the vegetation would produce unsafe levels of oxygen, which would set off a series of events that would eventually cause human inhabitants to suffocate," according to an article published in MIT News.
"To avoid this scenario, a system to remove excess oxygen would have to be implemented - a technology that has not yet been developed for use in space."
The study, which used computer-generated models to simulate the day-to-day life of a Mars colonist, as well as the habitat and life-support systems required to sustain such a colony, stated the "the first crew fatality would occur approximately 68 days into the mission."
The fatalities, according to the study, would occur due to a drop in atmospheric pressure, caused by a continuous leak of air from within the habitat.
Mars One, a Dutch non-profit headed by entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp, aims to establish a permanent human colony in Mars by 2025. In 2013, it invited applications for a one-way trip to Mars for which more than 200,000 people from nearly 20 countries have signed up.
Mars One has claimed the technology needed to establish a colony on Mars and ensure its survival already exists. However, the MIT engineers disagree, pointing out that depletion of breathable air in a span of just 68 days is just one of the obstacles the company needs to overcome.
There is also the question of cost, which, according to the MIT study, will be much higher than what has been estimated by Mars One.
"For the most optimist scenario considered, establishing the first crew of a Mars settlement will require approximately 15 Falcon Heavy launches costing $4.5bn, and these values will grow with additional crews," the study said. This estimate is much higher than Mars One's, which expects that only six such rockets would be needed to transport initial supplies.
Lansdorp, speaking to Popular Science magazine, said the researchers had used incomplete data to evaluate the feasibility of the mission.
"I've talked to very knowledgeable people - experts with companies like Lockheed Martin - who tell me these technologies will work," he said.
He, however, admitted that "keeping everything up and running" in the colony would indeed be a challenge.