Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Mars One Mission: One-Way Ticket to Space

Astronaut on Mars
Something fishy is going on here. There are a number of films that deal with distant space travel involving humans (Christopher Nolan's Interstellar and The Martian directed by Ridley Scott come to mind) and then there are a number of NASA space missions that constantly bring us news about the red planet, including the recent discovery of water on Mars. When there is so much focus on one thing, especially in the media, I become suspicious and look for a hidden agenda.

A possible objective could be possibly to raise and drum public support (and funding) for further NASA missions to Mars. Or else it could be a slick way to advertise for the Mars One Mission. I had not heard about this latter mission until I attended a wonderful and informative talk by one of my colleagues, Commerce instructor David Crawford.

At first, I listened incredulously as this seemed the stuff of science fiction movies and novels, but slowly I realized that this was meant for real. The overall plan was to colonize Mars, which is at the same time a running theme of various current films on the big screen. In order to colonize Mars, they needed a number of volunteer astronauts to go to space on a One-Way mission.

Why one way? Well, as travel time is both long and costly, it would save money that way. You can get to Mars, but not come back. David then showed us the criteria used to recruit people from the general population. In terms of characteristics, they were rather on the vague wishy-washy side with sought attributes like resiliency, adaptability, curiosity, ability to trust, and creativity / resourcefulness.

These are very general characteristics, but it shows also the psychological profile they are targeting. In other words, ability to trust would ensure that the person is not paranoid about intentions or hidden agendas, but has a warm and accepting attitude towards others telling them what to do. Resiliency is a no-brainer as you have to survive and get by with little to no resources (hence also the addendum of creative resourcefulness).

But as I was listening to all of this and thinking that this was a mission of no return, I wondered (and worried) about the psychological profile of somebody willing to undertake such a - to put it less bluntly - suicide mission. Who would be willing to risk their life in order to try to colonize an uninhabitable strange land? What was the pay-off for the individual?

Such thinking is often counter-attacked by those who love adventure and who would like to further their causes of the so-called development or progress of humanity. They claim that such thinking would have hindered the early settlers to explore the Earth and to discover new continents. My response was, yes, but at least we were talking about the same planet, not some mysterious planet far off in space that will most likely pose a number of threats to our physical and psychological well-being.

It boggles my mind that someone in their full sanity would undertake such a mission, no matter how adventurous you may be or this trip may seem. You would probably get candidates who are generally dissatisfied with life or people who are never satisfied with what they have and want something more out of life. Anyhow, there must be some sort of lack that such a mission would fill in their personal or professional lives.

In a video of the selected astronauts, a selection process that by the way does not restrict or discriminate regarding age (basically anyone above 18 in good health was eligible to apply), there were a number of reasons given. Many candidates wanted to make a strong impact; those less modest claimed to be pioneers that advanced the human race. I nod in wonder and disbelief.

Perhaps I love our planet too much; notwithstanding, I have my personal attachment with my family here as well as friends, job and colleagues. I have traveled rather sufficiently across the globe satisfying my curiosity and sense of adventure, but I feel it more important to be grounded on this planet of ours as long as it is possible (despite the future but very tangible threats of global warming and the constant threats of devastating wars). As I have posted previously, I do not subscribe to dying or sacrificing one's life for noble ideas or goals: Is an idea worth dying for?

I do not necessarily disagree with nor am I generally opposed to space missions that will give us a better understanding of our universe and further our knowledge for educational purposes. And in theory, trips to Mars sound exciting, and I have even acquired both a mug and a cap with the Mars One logo on them. The fact that I am keeping up with the news on the issue and that I am watching the films that are churned out on the topic (and this blog post itself) should be evidence for my evident interest in the topic.

But all that aside, what would life be and look like out there? You wake up in a container or a self-sufficient biosphere bubble every day to a red wasteland, you willingly give up all your sources of entertainment (no movies, no smartphone, no computer, no Arash's World!) and you have very limited company. There is no escape, nowhere else to go or run to. What if you do not get along with your fellow travelers? You are stuck with them in deep space.

The other issue would be a lack of food and drink. Astronauts temporarily give up on these pleasures, but they are well aware that this is limited in time and scope. But what if I cannot have good food anymore, or coffee, or God forbid, an occasional glass of red wine? I doubt that vineyards or coffee plantations are ever possible on the red planet.

Will these missions render success? Let us assume they get to Mars safe and sound and manage to get by the daily mental and physical strains and pressures living in a bleak environment. What would be the next step? Sending invitations for friends and family to follow suit and come for a (one-way) visit?

Having children is still not encouraged as the environment is not ideal for the upbringing of babies. But then other questions arise around the needs of our adult colonizers. What to do in case of an emergency? Will there be a doctor on board and a police officer or a lawyer to settle disputes? Will it turn to a space-version of Lord of the Flies? Will it turn into a John Carpenter movie?

There is often a limit and downside to imagination. We may be inspired and dip our heads in the clouds, but should have our feet firmly set in the ground. This mission is the perfect fodder and stuff for the movies. Sure, a Matt Damon Martian may be able to survive, but we have to clear our heads and think straight and decide after all is said and done: Is this really a good idea?

1 comment:

Vincent said...

“Perhaps I love our planet too much”. No, I don’t think this is possible, let alone desirable. But of course you are speaking rhetorically, to raise the question and elicit the obvious answer.

Thanks for this thorough & characteristically fair-minded summary. I don’t think you are putting forward a conspiracy theory to recruit one-way trippers, and the confluence of Mars themes in the public arena seems to be a bandwagon effect, noticeable in other spheres, where things aren't happening more frequently than usual, it's just that they get more media attention.

It seems a very neat and tidy way to gather up aspirants to suicide, as well as providing harmless hobbies for crackpot scientists, who would do their thing at our expense in any event.

Although there are plenty of useful things that need doing.