Mars One mission: Not the place for reality television


By Bethel Habte / Columnist

With an ambitious project aiming to create a permanent human settlement on Mars, the nonprofit foundation Mars One has given new meaning to the  “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore” internet meme.

By 2023, the Dutch organization claims it will have established a permanent settlement on Earth’s red neighbor. 

Of course, the project still has a long way to go before its eventual departure. Currently in its crew-selection phase, Mars One is attempting to weed out numerous applicants from around the world to form a few crews of four — the current pool of applicants consists of nearly 700 people, while the original contained more than 200,000. Mars One expects at least six groups to make the initial trip. 

The foundation recently partnered with Endemol — an international television company known for creating shows like “Deal or No Deal” and “Big Brother” — with plans to turn the scientifically oriented mission into a reality show. Mars One has, in turn, given Endemol-owned Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP) the rights to follow and film its vigorous selection and training process. 

With the goal of selecting suitable candidates, the rising reality television element poses a potential concern for the effect it could have on crew selection — and, as a result, the mission as a whole. A mission with a primary objective that was once solely focused on breaking the bounds of human discovery is now concerned with breaking the bounds of television history. 

The more the mission steers towards reality television, the less successful its “human discovery” component will be. Even if the television element only plays a slight role, a selection process for this particular mission that has any amount of “watchability” in mind can undermine the mission’s success. For a mission with stakes as high as Mars One’s, the selection and training process should emphasize skills that will be practical for starting and sustaining a colony on Mars — like intellect, physicality and mental state. 

Once landed, settlers will be tasked with researching and determining the logistics of life on Mars and, perhaps as an even more difficult task, they will also be responsible for creating its societal mold. 

These challenges become even harder to achieve with superficial, non-scientific motives behind Mars One’s endeavors. 

That’s not to say that Mars One has not acknowledged these very real challenges. The training program it  created is quite extensive and rigorous. For instance, the space travelers must experience isolation periods every two years of the their planned eight years of training. These “isolation periods” will be spent in simulation facilities, along with the other three members of the astronaut’s crew. The remainder of their training will encompass learning the skills necessary to sustain themselves while on Mars. 

But again, many logistical, social and physical challenges still remain unforeseen by Mars One, which has inevitably set it up to become one of the most intriguing, yet extremely risky, social and scientific endeavors of our time. 

While there’s no way of determining how different social and physical elements will arise, one thing is certain: The settlement that develops on Mars must do so on a foundation of self-reliance. Once the crews arrive on the distant planet, they will, naturally, be isolated from Earth and forced to sustain life and overcome any challenges that may emerge. 

But a society is only as strong as the people in it. As Mars One undertakes crew selection, it must consider a variety of factors. How will the candidate integrate into this brand new society? How will the candidate be able to contribute to life on the settlement? 

With the newfound plans to turn the mission into a reality show, the consideration on whether the training and selection process is viable on cable television has also come into play, which is  a consideration that could jeopardize the original and noble goals of Mars One’s mission.

We can only hope that the mission does not succumb to the superficial and enticing culture that is reality television. For the sake of their original objective to transcend the bounds of human discovery and science — and for the sake of the sustainability of the settlement itself — they simply cannot afford to divert any focus from the harsh realities that will come along with travel to the interstellar and virtually unkown frontier.

So, my mission to you Mars One, should you choose to accept it, is to remain faithful to your original objective.

Write Bethel at [email protected]

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