Wednesday, 17 April 2013
Where will Mars exploration lead us?
There’s talk in the media about missions to Mars, there has been ever since the moon landings 40 years ago. How would we fund such a trip, would we be able to overcome the technological and psychological obstacles? These are all issues that now have potential solutions. Mars One is a project that hopes to use reality TV funding to raise the cash.
So the audition (sorry selection) process will be televised (as will the revolution but that's a different story). Their web site states “The online application will consist of general information about the applicant, a motivational letter, a resume and a one minute video in which the applicant answers some given questions and explains why he or she should be among the first humans who set foot on Mars.” I might even apply myself, surely a dissipated, middle aged writer with poor eyesight and a dodgy beard would be just what they need. What’s the worst that can happen, I get rejected? Hey, I’m a struggling writer, I’m used to rejection.
The process continues with the obligatory medical checks but round three is the most telling. “This round is the national selection round, which could be broadcast on TV and internet in countries around the world. In each country, 20-40 applicants will participate in challenges that demonstrate their suitability to become one of the first humans on Mars. The audience will select one winner per country and Mars One experts will select additional participants to continue to round four.” So it really is possible to see the selection process turning into an audition and once the public becomes involved we are talking about the full Big Brother experience. Will the first colonists of other worlds be the most beautiful and handsome? Will the first children born on other planets have square jaws, perfect clear skin and the blondest of hair? Presumably the broadcast will continue right to the point where they land on Mars, build their settlement and begin their existence on the red lifeless waste that will be their new home for the rest of their lives.
We might imagine how their daily lives, of survival decisions and scientific experimentation, are influenced by ratings. Will there be a behind the scenes struggle between the directors of the scientific programme and the media division, with the associated back stabbing and scandal? This would make a great plot for a film or TV series. In fact I think the film might already have been made and I think there was a series with a similar background. The series was cancelled, I seem to remember, because the real world accountants pulled the plug when ratings didn't take off. So what happens when the audience figures for the real Mars landings drop off? Actually, when you consider it, it would be self-sustaining as lack of audience figures would put their funding at risk, which would put their lives at risk, and their audience would increase with the likelihood of disaster. They would be on a constant knife edge though. (Comparisons to Columbus might break down when you consider he wasn’t reliant on a constant stream of funding from his supporters in Europe to ensure he had survival resources on board ship or in the new world.)
But this is where the big issue arises. When the inevitable disaster happens, when they have a catastrophic failure, or worse, a slow demise due to some equipment failure that can't be resolved in the eight months it takes to resupply, how much will be televised? Doubtless the media will debate the fact that this is what they might have expected and as such the colonisers/stars would want it to be broadcast, it's in their contract, after all the royalties will go to their families after their death.
The first Dutch Big Brother programme in 1999 was a game changer and this will be too (it’s interesting to note that the first Big Brother series was in Holland where the Mars One project has its base). The spread of Big Brother and other reality TV concepts in the first years after the millennium changed what we considered to be acceptable in the media in general and so will Mars One. Once we see people in daily peril for the sake of audience figures disguised as exploration, how long will it be before live reality TV is used as a funding source for other risky activities? Will it then become acceptable to film the death of participants in extreme situations? Hell let’s take people and film them while they risk their lives for big cash prizes, they sign a release form so there’s no risk to the producers at least. Come to think of it, this would make a good plot for a film.