Mars One – An Actual Reality Show on Mars


Banner Image for Mars One

By Hedge, the first man on Mars, 2023.

While most of the world obsesses over a few sporty types, and the television shows nothing but swimming, netball, swimming, running, cycling, swimming, discus, weightlifting, swimming and swimming (go Channel Nine!) those of us with a little perspective were instead awaiting a different type of milestone, one measured not in tallied medals but in the caught breath and nervous hope of a generation of NASA scientists.

That’s right. Curiosity has landed. The Mars Science Laboratory, the rover Curiosity has finally made the journey to the Red Planet. On board are countless scientific instruments; lasers, cameras, claw arms, spectral analysers – not to mention the dreams of nerdy children the world over. It’s the size of a small car, a six wheeled space-robot lowered to the surface of Mars by a rocket-powered skycrane. It’s got a 3D, high definition camera to record actual footage of the surface of our planetary neighbour. It can fire a laser at rocks up to seven metres away, obliterate them and analyse the dust cloud left behind to determine what was in them. It’s hunting for water, for life and for answers.

It also looks a little like the lovechild of Wall-e and Johnny 5.

The Curiosity Lander

But the MSL isn’t the only piece of human engineering currently slated to arrive on the surface of Mars. While the JPL was designing Curiosity, other plans were being put into action. While NASA was awaiting the go for launch, designs were being created and the specifics of the next journey to Mars were being laid out. Then, about five months back, when Curiosity was about half way to its destination; they announced.

Mars is coming to a television near you.

The Mars One Logo.

I held off on talking about this for a while, partly because I thought it would have the most impact around the time of Curiosity’s landing and partly because I genuinely wasn’t sure whether or not this was a giant hoax. It took me a few days to get my head around just the basic intention of the project. I’m still not sure I understand the logistics.

The deal is this. In 2023, the team behind Mars One intend to land the first human astronauts on Mars. Rovers, landed in the next few years, will pave the way – 2016 is the first mentioned if I recall correctly. The kicker? The trip for these astronauts, a few to begin with and then more as the project goes forth will be one-way. These will not be explorers, so much as colonists. They will launch from Earth, make the journey across the vastness of space, and they will never return. Ever. Oh, and the entire project will be broadcast as a reality television series.

Mars One is the brainchild of Bas Lansdorp, and is essentially Big Brother: Space Edition. The idea is that in order to fund the first manned mission to Mars, the creators of Mars One will use contributions, private enterprise and the television rights to generate the cash. The astronauts will be screened, tested, trained and shot into space in some sort of explosive tube. Then they’ll land on Mars, move into their little Martian domes and live the remainder of their lives on MREs and reclaimed water.

The Mars One Domes.

And what’s weirder is that it doesn’t seem to be some kind of elaborate hoax. Not only do the people behind this project seem completely serious and not like Batman villains at all, but they have apparently secured the backing of several highly respected private aerospace firms including SpaceX.

I’m not sure whether I should be excited or terrified. The plan is literally to send robots to Mars and have them build the first few shelters, then while that is happening send the people to live in those shelters. Then while they build more, send more colonists and so on and so forth til, I presume, there are enough people on Mars for them to successfully secede from Earthling rule. Who is going to sign up for this? The insane? The suicidal? The desperately alone? Are these really the people we want as the first human colonists of space?

It would all be strange enough if it wasn’t for the reality television aspect because as I mentioned before, all of this is going to be broadcast. The prep of the colonists or as a commenter on io9 put it, the contestonauts (I’m not calling them astronauts, they aren’t astronauts, they’re far closer to Big Brother housemates or the losers on Masterchef than they are to astronauts), their journey to the Red Planet and their eventual suffocation, starvation or brutal murder at the hands of a fellow colonist with a tragic case of space dementia will all be broadcast on air for the entertainment of the literally five or six people who will tune in.

Because it could go that way. This could fall vastly short of its intended goals as a major spectacle, something to outshine the viewing audience of every televised Olympics to date, or about a dozen people could watch the first episode and then move onto the new season NCIS or whatever else is racked up against it. That’s if TV picks it up at all; it could just be online, in which case the outcome is even more up in the air than our silver-suited contestonauts.

The Pirate Bay

What happens then? What happens if by some bizarre miracle they do manage to get this thing funded, and designed, and built and they do manage to get their first batch of colonists to Mars without any chance or hope of return (something they have, admittedly, signed up for as the series creators have been very clear about that aspect from the start) what happens if all those things go right and then nobody watches the show?

I’ll tell you what; you’ve got two people a bajillion miles from home, on a desolate, otherwise lifeless rock who need to either be rescued, left for dead, or provided with enough supplies to get them through their slow, yet almost rabbit-like in frequency, population of the Martian surface.

Space porn. Now that, I would watch.

You can harass the author of this post via twitter: @CAricHanley