Mission to Mars: Reality or Media Hype?

Posted on 14 August 2012


Imagine leaving your home to relocate to a distant land, never to return.  What thoughts would cross your mind?  What emotions would you experience?  Now, imagine that the distant land to which you are to relocate is not even in this world!


Well, if the plans being laid by a Dutch Company are successfully implemented, that is exactly the scenario that awaits four brave, adventurous humans in 2022 when they will depart planet Earth on a one-way trip to establish a human settlement on Mars – a planet they will call home for the remainder of their lives.


Led by Bas Lansdorp, a Dutch researcher who was a co-founder of Ampyx Power – an alternative energy startup, Mars One, as the initiative has been dubbed, has laid the groundwork for this epic mission, identifying potential suppliers for every project component.  Additionally, a timeline has been established with astronaut selection beginning in 2013, a communications satellite and supplies launched in 2016, a rover transported in 2018, and a second rover and remaining supplies including living and support units sent in 2021.  The rovers will take all materials and supplies to the settlement location and prepare for the arrival of the astronauts who will embark on September 14, 2022 and arrive at their new home sometime in April 2023.


Taking a page from reality television programming like Survivor, the team planning the Mars One mission hopes to fund their project via the entertainment value of their endeavor.  Using the Olympics as a model, they look at the marketing revenue generated by the Winter and Summer Games (approximately three weeks each) once every four years.  In the 2005-2008 Olympic cycle, for instance, marketing revenue from all sources totaled $5.45 billion with the implication being that in the three weeks before and after arrival of the astronauts, audience interest should enable them to generate at least as much money.


But, beginning with astronaut selection in 2013, the plan is to broadcast preparations and training of the selectees.  Forty astronauts will be selected and trained.  Four will embark on the maiden voyage in 2022 with an additional four dispatched every two years thereafter.  And, according to the Mars One team’s plan, the audience will participate in the selection process.  The Mars One website states that “who gets to go to Mars will be decided, at least in part, by the audience. This audience interaction will greatly enhance entertainment value and audience engagement for the project.”


It sounds to this observer as if this entire project may be nothing more than a pitch for a new reality television program with prospective astronauts, like contestants on American  Idol, being promoted by the votes of an engaged public.  While the team may indeed be planning on making this mission a reality, they have a number of years (and perhaps, even more with “technical delays”) during which to earn marketing revenue from the selection and training process.  One can only presume that some of those selected may decide to bail out of the program during training and new selectees may have to be voted onto the mission.


If the mission does succeed, viewers can only anticipate the human drama and hardships to be endured by the first settlers on a desolate planet.  The team anticipates this as its website further states “the candidate astronauts are sure to be interesting characters, and their training programme will be fascinating for a great many people – for its technical interest as well as the human challenges involved with such a physically and psychologically demanding programme.  It’s true that audience figures for the moon landings dropped off after the initial event.  However, this was because nothing particularly new or interesting happened after the first mission.  In the case of Mars One, the audience will experience life on Mars in a much more direct, engaging and comprehensive way, through our astronaut’s eyes.  All their experiences and discoveries will be as new and fascinating for us as they are for the astronauts.  They will not just be ‘doing their job’, they will be living their lives, complete with all the emotions and struggles that are part of normal everyday life; but they will be doing that in the most exciting habitable place in the solar system, complete with its own completely unique challenges.  It is the human aspect that makes our Mars mission so interesting for people.”


Is this just hype to get investors and contributors on board before it becomes apparent that the Mars One team will not be able to deliver on their plan?  If it is, they seem to have duped a distinguished scientist, Gerard ‘t Hooft who won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Physics, who stated: “This is an extraordinary project by people with vision, imagination.  This is really something that can be achieved.”


I’ll let you form your own opinions.  Below you can view a slickly-produced video from the Mars One website.  Note the eery similarity to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.  If entertainment value can foot the bill for this project estimated at $6 billion, maybe we can pay the national debt with a reality show following the exploits of Presidential candidates and, after the election, the President himself.



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