Persistent. Driven. Curious, creative, adaptable. Confident, trusting. To the admissions committee, these traits signify the future Yalie. (And to the Yalie, they signify how good we all are at lying to admissions committees.) To the consulting recruiter, they are the mark of a good employee. But soon, one’s resiliency and resourcefulness will determine admission to a new arena: Mars.
“Resiliency,” “Adaptability,” “Curiosity,” “Ability to Trust,” and “Creativity / Resourcefulness” are the “five key characteristics” of an astronaut, according to Dutch nonprofit Mars One. The organization lists these traits and other requirements (participants must be at least 18 — and probably not too old, though they don’t list a hard upper limit — and be physically fit, etc.) on its “how-do-I-get-to-go?” webpage. The nonprofit, which plans to put the first humans on Mars in 2023, will open up its astronaut application process sometime in the first half of this year (get on the mailing list, Yalies who like getting into prestigious things!).
It should be noted that this is no Virgin Galactic joyride (Virgin Atlantic is currently holding a raffle for its Flying Club high rollers — the winner gets to go into space). Nope, Mars One is planning to set up a colony on Mars, send some people up, and never have them return. To make sure they’re ready, participants will be divided into groups of four, and each group of four will train (including in a model of the colony built on some cold, desolate corner of our own planet) for around a decade to be fully prepared, both technically and psychologically, for a Martian life.
Can it be done? According to Mars One, the technical designs for the colony rely on existing proven technologies, and the lack of a way for the astronauts to return to Earth greatly reduces the costs and technical complexity of the project.
But where will a nonprofit get this kind of money? Ah, the best part: The whole thing — competitive selection process, years of training, and any and all activities on Mars — is going to be filmed and broadcast as a reality TV show. So in terms of exoticness (think “Survivor”) and dramatic love quadrangles (think every other reality show), Mars One will pretty much take the cake. Put another way, the first two “ambassadors” listed on Mars One’s website — as far as I can tell, just famous-esque people who publicly pledge their support — are Nobel laureate Dr. Gerard ‘t Hooft, a theoretical physicist, and Paul Römer, one of the creators of “Big Brother” (along with a fairly controversial kidney-donation reality show that turned out to be a hoax.)
Mars One isn’t the only group trying to put people on Mars. But it is the only organization that seems to be getting anywhere. Most of its competitors — with names like the Mars Foundation, the Mars Society, the Mars Initiative — seem to do little more than hypothesize about potential missions to Mars and beg for donations. Mars One, on the other hand, accepts donations but also sells merchandise and, most of all, gloats about its future television revenues, perhaps unrealistically: “In 2023, about 4 billion people will have access to video images. We expect that virtually every one of them will watch [the landing].”
The only competitor with any real accomplishments is MarsDrive, which is currently at the stage of sponsoring design competitions for various components of future Mars missions. MarsDrive is somewhat vague on when it wants to send missions or what form those missions will take, but after politely noting that “MarsDrive does not compete with other space organizations,” the MarsDrive FAQ proceeds to tear the Mars One proposal to shreds. (Reality TV? Won’t fund the project. One-way trip? Humans won’t survive long-term under Martian gravity. Proven technology? Hardly. And it goes on.)
This petty rabble-rousing, however, misses the point; or, at least, it’s more concerned with things like “safety” and “feasibility” than with what I think the point should be. The point is, it’s clear Mars One is crazy. I mean, throwing four people up in space for the rest of their lives to make the ultimate reality TV show? (It’s worth noting that every two years, another group of four will join the colony, expanding the pool of catfight participants.) But the only people who would volunteer for that sort of thing are crazy anyway, so no harm done. And at the end of the day, humanity may even gain some real scientific knowledge from having a permanent Martian colony. At the very least, we’ll have quite a few years of good TV.