Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Is there life on Mars? There will be soon...

by Katy Marriott.

A multi-planetary human society will leap from the realm of Star Wars fantasy into reality when a one-way Mars mission, scheduled for 2023, leaves with a team of four carefully-chosen volunteers on board. The company, Mars One, is orchestrating the mission and applications to be among the first Martians were opened to everyone on Earth, so long as the minimum age requirement of 18 could be met. The responses have blasted in from over 140 countries during the five-month-long submission period.

Since its launch on the 22nd of April 2013, 202,568 people of varying age, race and background signed up for the mission of no return and are currently waiting to be called to the second round of selection, due to begin in 2014. Their fates will be sealed based on a self-recorded video, of no more than a minute, and a written profile, of a hundred words or so, in which the prospective Martians have described why they should be chosen for Round Two of the selection process. The applications that have been made public are available for review here.

Some have focused on their excellent board-game skills, others on their musical talent and a few have highlighted their superior ability to withstand never-ending periods of boredom without grabbing for the noose. Either way it’s certainly safe to say that Mars One has an eclectic pool of Terrestrials to choose from.

America holds the highest proportion of online applications with 48,616 of the total and Great Britain saw 12,154 offers, which equates to nearly twice the population of central Hove, according to the 2001 Census. A staggering 1,190 of the hopefuls who made their applications public are under twenty-five and that begs the question: which applicants are keen to stand up for scientific progress to further our species for millennia, and which are merely desperate to say goodbye to planet Earth and all it means for them?  Twenty-five seems a remarkably young age to advocate oneself for a lifetime of near solitude on a hostile planet which, at maximum, is 250 million miles away from Earth.

A selection committee will decide the worth of the applicants for Round Two, with a medical check and interview for the successful. The committee will then decide who passes through to Round Three.

The procedure screams of a selection process similar to that of the dystopian 2005 film The Island as applicants will be split into regional teams and face Big Brother-style challenges, which will be broadcast on TV and the internet. This Orwellian concept is rather jarring and the similarity between it and popular 1980s predictions of the future sit uneasily with me. I often wonder, as new discoveries, concepts and inventions launch into our lives, if we will always slip naturally into our own self-fulfilling prophecies. Is life on Mars being perceived as the archetypal progression into a better, more fulfilling life?

The public will watch applicants compete in challenges designed to test the astronauts’ suitability to live on Mars. One winner will be selected from each region to continue to the next stage: Round Four.

The authoritarian, dystopian imagery boldly continues through to Round Four when the Big Brother-style competition continues. The selection challenges will be broadcast globally as contestants are pit against each other to prove their ability to survive harsh conditions and work together to overcome difficult challenges. The entire world will vote on contestants’ worthiness to leave this mortal coil and spend the rest of their days on Mars.

While prospective astronauts may no longer apply for the 2013 selection process, Mars One will open its proverbial doors for subsequent selection programmes in order to continue recruiting follow-up crews for our new colony on this celestial neighbour.

Mars One is a not-for-profit, private foundation and as such it does not rely on tax-payer funding, unlike government bodies such as NASA and the UK Space Agency. While the shameless public display of the ‘competition’ element to the mission seems crass, the fact is that without governmental funding the Mars One company will seek to drum up funds where it can. Public broadcast is certainly a leading business plan: Channel 5 paid over £200million for Big Brother which, at the time of purchase, was 11 years old. One can only imagine the broadcasting worth of a new reality TV show where the top prize is not merely cash but a one-way ticket to a lonely life on Mars, which will doubtless also be showcased to the world for public scrutiny and potentially a succession of Mars-based, audience-influenced challenges - Orwell that ends well.

The Mars One website has a facility for public donation to the mission of creating a permanent human settlement on Mars and, while the £6billion estimated total expenditure remains unattained, the number of outside sponsors is growing continually.
The training programme sees successful applicants spending seven years in intense preparation for their new life, during which time un-manned craft will have landed and distributed their living pods, ready to be assembled.

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