As you may know, Mars One advertised last year for volunteer Marsonauts willing to take a one-way trip. In other words: live there, die there. Never return. The company got over 200,000 applicants. Perhaps not all of them were serious - I understand some people submitted nude photos with their applications - but, damn. Who would have thought so many earthlings possess that kind of pioneer spirit?
When I first heard about the mission, I was merely intrigued. My obsession didn't begin until this week, when I read that the list of applicants has now been winnowed down to 1,058 potential team members. It's not clear to me how many more rounds of cuts will take place before training begins in 2015, but let me put it this way: things are moving along. An unspecified number of teams will be training simultaneously. Then, in a totally bizarre blend of Star Trek and American Idol, we, the public, will get to vote on which of six Mars-ready teams will be the one to make history.
Because here's the thing. Mars One plans to obtain much of its funding by making its mission into a reality show. We here at home will get to watch our Fab Four all through their seven-month-journey, and then once they arrive, we will get to watch them go about colonizing. It is absolutely brilliant. It is absolutely insane. I think it could actually work.
You probably have questions. I know I did. And for that very reason, the folks at Mars One have devised a handy-dandy list of FAQs. For example: what will the colonists do there, once they get settled? Answer: construction of living quarters; establishment of greenhouses to create independent food sources; maintenance of equipment; and scientific research. But not to worry - they'll have down time, too. In fact, the site assures us, if a Marsonaut wants to watch the Superbowl, her or she will have only to ask, and voila! The Superbowl will be beamed directly to his or her receiving device. There is one catch, however: there will be a three-minute transmission delay.
I don't know how you feel about this, but that three-minute delay is pretty much of a deal-breaker for me. Everything else sounds cool - the never seeing anyone on Earth again, the whole DIY-to-the-max concept, the fact that if you run out of toilet paper it'll take six months for the next cargo delivery to arrive - but unless they can get that Superbowl delay down to two minutes, I'm going to have to send in my regrets.
And then there's this question: will Marsonauts be able to have babies? Answer: the first team will be "advised" not to, as the colony will not yet be a suitable environment for raising children. YA THINK?? I strongly suspect that what "advised not to" really means is "will have to agree to undergo sterilization prior to departure."
And this: what if a Marsonaut has difficulty adjusting psychologically to the possibly stressful condition of comprising 1/4 of a planet's entire population? Never fear - they've got that covered. Long-distance counseling services will be made available. "I don't know, Doctor, I'm just feeling kind of ... isolated." "Well, you just need to get out of your rut. Meet new - no, wait. I mean, travel - no, hold on. Um, have you considered a career change?"
The FAQs are fairly comprehensive in their own peculiar way, and yet some of my questions remain unanswered (probably due to their lack of frequency). Like: what happens when a team member develops cancer? (probable answer: s/he gets sick and dies.) Or: what happens when a team member develops an extreme version of cabin fever and completely freaks out, endangering other team members? (probable answer: s/he is eventually "neutralized.") Or: what happens when one team member falls in love with another team member who does not reciprocate those feelings? (probable answer: life on Mars becomes pure hell for one or both.)
Speaking of love: there is no amount of training or planning that could eliminate the vagaries of the human heart. I'd like to think that fact is known even by scientists. And so, the selection process becomes extraordinarily tricky. It would seem that an essential trait for a Marsonaut would be the ability to Play Well With Others - what with the whole lifelong team concept and all. But it would also seem that one couldn't Play TOO Well With Others, or else s/he might have misgivings about leaving everyone s/he has ever known behind on Earth forever. If I had to do the choosing (and please please, Mars One, don't call on me for this task), I might go with four very goal-oriented, hardworking people who all have mild cases of Asperger's.
Yes, it's the human aspect that really fascinates me. When you send four people out to populate a planet, there are so many ways for things to go terribly, terribly wrong. The novelist in my head can't seem to stop spinning out scenarios. And yet... and yet, there's a tiny part of me that wants to go. Because, let's be honest: it's the most sure-fire route I can think of to becoming a published author. I mean, talk about high-concept! What fool of an Earth editor would turn down a manuscript emailed from Mars?
Leave a comment! Tell me why you would - or wouldn't - want to be a Marsonaut! Don't worry, it won't be a binding commitment. If you're not already one of the chosen 1,058, it's too late to sign up. So just jump in and blather away, as I do!!