In 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. Now, more than forty years later, the Mars One mission is working towards the next ‘giant leap for mankind’, establishing a permanent human colony on the Red Planet by 2025.
In May 2012, Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp announced the organisation’s intentions to send 24 people on an expedition to Mars, in aim of becoming the planets first human residents. Contrary to what many people believe, that life on Mars is a concept belonging exclusively to science fiction, Mars One claims the technology required to support settlement on Mars already exists. Their plan is for six cargo missions to be sent to Mars over the next ten years, to prepare for the arrival of the first four settlers in 2025. Five more teams of four will then join them at two year intervals, with the possibility for further expansion in the future. For many, this represents the opportunity of a lifetime. By September 2013, almost 3000 applications had been submitted and 1058 applicants from 107 different countries have since made it through to the second stage.
The project is still in its early stages, and is by no means the sole organisation involved in this 21st century space race. However, the Mars One mission has been the particular focus of media attention for two reasons.
Firstly, given that the aim is to create a permanent settlement on Mars, and that it is not currently possible to safely launch a return flight, this would be a one-way trip; the twenty-four colonists would be saying goodbye to their friends and family for good. Mars One have compared the situation to that of people who emigrated during the 1960s, many of whom would have been unable to afford a return ticket and believed they’d never come back. They may not have realised that, thirty years on, travel between continents would be far more routine. “Perhaps at some point,” Mars One suggest on their website, “A trip to Mars will be just as commonplace”, implying the one-way trip may not be as irrevocable as it seems, although obviously this is by no means a guarantee.
However, even more controversial are the plans for each stage of the mission to be documented for a reality TV programme, created by the people behind Big Brother. This is where a large proportion of the projects funding is to come from. Mars One have also suggested bringing other aspects of reality TV to the mission, among them proposals to include an audience vote in the selection of the colonists for the first launch.
Whilst people may look favourably upon the idea of being an active participant in this potentially world-changing venture, it does raise certain question about the ethics of the proposition. Is it fair to expect the colonists to perform for the camera under such challenging circumstances, which they no doubt will feel pressured to do, if they have to take into account a public vote? What would happen in the event of any problems or issues once the colonists have arrived on Mars and are completely out of reach of any assistance from Earth; would these incidents still to be televised?
The one-way trip factor should also to be taken into account; it implies the colonists would be unable to opt out of this arrangement. Would we watch them for the entirety of the rest of their lives? Would the programme close by broadcasting their deaths, millions of miles from home? The culture of voyeurism surrounding reality TV is already cause for concern; this seems a step too far.
The Mars One mission has been the subject of much criticism; many believe it will never take off. Nevertheless, it is important for these questions to be asked. In the event of a successful launch, those twenty-four colonists won’t just be the first residents on Mars; they will be ambassadors for the human race. Let’s make sure it is a human race we can be proud of.