Sending a group of people to another planet is not a trivial matter. There are a lot of things to consider, from radiation shielding to maintaining a supply of oxygen. By far the most difficult concern, however, is human nature. People will always be people, and no matter how glorious the idea is of the first human being setting foot on another planet, chances are the reality, at least for that particular human, may not be quite so rosy.
Explorers on Earth have frequently had to deal with isolation. Stuck with the same group of people, day in day out. But on Earth, at least there was the possibility of occasional solitude. Even though “just going out for a while” didn’t work out so well for Captain Oates, he at least had that option. For the first humans travelling to Mars, solitude won’t be quite so readily attainable. It’s not like you can step out for some fresh air when you’re stuck inside a tin can millions of kilometres from the nearest planet. What if that group of colonists get fed up of each other en route? How would you feel about being stuck inside a vehicle with all of your work colleagues for over a year? And what of the boredom? It’s already been found that monotony is the most difficult part of situations like these. Interestingly, there is something which humans have already been doing for quite a few years which is fairly similar to this. And if you’re anything like me, your first reaction will probably be to balk at the idea…
Do you remember the first ever series of Big Brother in whatever country you’re reading this from? If not, it’s forgiveable – after all, at least in the UK, it’s been littering our TV screens every summer for over a decade now. The part which no one seemed to care about was the psychology of it. In the first series, there were regular interviews with psychologists discussing the changing group dynamic within the Big Brother House and how certain actions by the
inmates housemates would have repercussions affecting the entire group. Back before they started aiming for shock factor and idiocy, the concept was simple and actually rather interesting – take a group of average people with different backgrounds, trap them in a confined space with no real privacy, see how they get along. Without realising it, millions of viewers were watching what was, in effect, a fantastically devised psychology experiment. Any expedition to the outer reaches of our solar system would involve many of the same ideas, albeit without the idea of “evicting” any crew members least liked by the others. Or at least, so one might hope.
Interestingly, this similarity has already been noted. A group going by the name of Mars One are aiming to put human beings on Mars by the year 2023. Yes, you read that correctly and it’s not a typo. Mars One have been contacting various private spaceflight companies to check if the technology is in place to actually do this – technology such as SpaceX’s Red Dragon, designed as a Mars lander (there’s a reason why the SpaceX Dragon has been designed to withstand reentry from Martian velocities). The funding? They’re harnessing the best source of funding they can use. Capitalism and the entertainment industry. After all, when human beings do land on Mars, every eye on planet Earth is going to be watching them anyway. Why not televise the whole thing and make that the point of it? It has to be said, despite my inherent loathing of “reality TV”, it rather makes sense. If governments aren’t willing to fund such things, perhaps consumerism can.
Big Brother will get back to you
In common with shows like Big Brother, the colonists will be very much on their own. Mars is a lot further away than you might realise, with communication being hampered by delays. After all, it’s not like any transmission can be sent faster than light, and light takes anywhere between 3 and 22 minutes to get from Earth to Mars. At its most distant, Martian colonists would be unable to communicate directly with Earth, on account of there being a small class G5V star in the way!
With even less contact with the real world than on regular Big Brother-esque shows, it’s interesting to wonder how exactly people might react. How would the group dynamics shift? How do societies form when constructed from the ground upwards this way? How will things shift from short term to long term. Oh, and did I mention, the idea is for this to be a one way ticket. The community they want to build on Mars is intended to stay permanently on Mars. I have a feeling that if this exploit goes ahead, we’re likely to learn a lot about how to approach any future missions to other parts of the solar system. Chances are good, we’ll also learn a few things about human nature too.
Well, I say “if”. Mars One are really quite serious about this idea. Serious enough that the spokesman in their promo video is Gerard ‘T Hooft. Yes, that Gerard ‘T Hooft – nobel laureate for elucidating the nature of the electroweak force. He seems pretty well convinced that their idea will work too. And frankly, why not? The more I think about this idea, the more I like it. If they want to use the entertainment industry as a means to colonise the solar system, further the reach of the human race, and inspire people towards space travel all in one go, then I’m all for it! Maybe if the governments no longer care enough to support space travel, it’s about time someone else did! Maybe it’s about time people started trying to do these things purely because they can. If nothing else, it definitely beats half the garbage that gets funded for TV normally!
All in all, I must say I’m intrigued. Thinking about it beyond my initial reaction, I actually like this plan. And genuinely, I think it seems like it just might work too. Human colonisation of Mars in just over a decade? That alone makes this most definitely worth keeping an eye on.
(As for me, I might consider going – but only on condition that I can have a Portal-esque robot greenhouse to keep as a pet!)
Upper – SpaceX “Red Dragon” lander concept art
Middle – Remix of the old Big Brother UK logo and NASA images of Mars and Phobos
Lower – Mars One concept art
(Tip of the hat to It’s Okay to be Smart for this absolute gem!)