TV Stars on Mars

 

You could be one of the first to live on Mars in 2023. On April 22, 2013, Netherlands-based, non-profit organization Mars One opened online applications to anyone over age 18. The very next day, the company reported to U.S. News & World Report that they already had over 40,000 interested contenders. But there’s a catch: Applicants must be willing to live — and die — on Mars. Executing this mission will also be unrealistic.

Reminiscent of a reality talent search show, Mars One intends to create a television series that will allow a worldwide audience to help select 40 applicants. According to their website, Mars One will train the chosen individuals for eight years in a simulated Mars environment before choosing four to permanently move to the “Red Planet.” After the first crew arrives in 2023, groups of four and general supplies will arrive every two years. Everything from the astronaut selection to the day-to-day lives of the astronauts will be documented on television. The costs of the mission are projected to be adequately supported by the successful viewership of the program.

However, Mars One’s methods in carrying out their goals are idealistic, ill-executed and problematic — strongly resembling the premise of a science-fiction movie about to go wrong. The organization’s media coverage focuses more on the reality television concept of humans living on Mars, rather than the mission as an actual scientific development. Mars One’s website compares the trip to those of historical explorers, but uses this “call to adventure” as a distraction for the flaws of their “road map” and wrongfully underestimated conditions on Mars. 

The founders of the mission report that the chosen team will be able to lead normal lives on Mars, but they did not reveal the exact specifics as to how this will actually play out. The organization also fails to disclose concrete information about how the team will live under Mars’ harsh weather conditions, acquire necessary resources like water and food and deal with harmful exposure to radiation. Furthermore, the Mars One website and Mars One co-founder Bas Lansdorp only provide simplistic responses to many issues raised by skeptics.

Mars One claims that the technology for sustaining life on Mars has already been invented and validated. The organization states that solar panels will supply energy and that shielding on the spaceships along with specially developed “Mars suits” will prevent astronauts from extreme exposure to radiation. Water will be produced from heated ice. But even if their proposed technologies are functional on Earth, their efficacy on Mars remains unproven. Education, Technology and Change Journal Editor Harry Keller explains that even if the necessary technology is available, Mars still lacks the necessary fossil fuel energy and must rely on solar and wind energy to power stronger water heating and industrial processes.

The trip also has financial problems that Mars One fails to address. Lansdorp told CNN that the expedition will need $6 billion to fund the first crew but refused to clarify how that number breaks down. This suggests that this estimate may not even cover all of the mission’s costs. In comparison, NASA’s latest Mars rover, Curiosity, required a much less drastic expense of $2.5 billion. These costs included the spacecraft development, salaries of scientists, engineers and other project workers, as well as the launch and operations. 

Unlike the Curiosity mission, Mars One will need to make multiple trips, transport several teams of humans and support human life on Mars. According to Space Industry News, industry sources estimate the mission’s realized costs would be closer to $15–20 billion. 

Lansdorp is quick to point to media coverage of the 2012 Olympics, which made $4 billion from broadcasts and advertisements, as a reference for money being accessible through televised content. But Mars One’s reliance on this revenue raises red flags. Although Mars One expects funding from investors, private donations and astronaut application fees, the organization will largely rely on the assumption that over four million people will tune in every time the show airs. This also means that the bulk of money to fund the project will be coming inconsistently, depending on the show’s success.

The ethics of a one-way trip to Mars already seems wrong — an expedition to Mars shouldn’t be shaped like a reality television show. But Mars One’s omission of key details and important issues makes the mission unlikely to succeed. As interesting as the Mars One mission seems, the world may just be latching onto a wave of media hype before witnessing the failure of another highly anticipated human space mission.

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