My Favorite Martian-the ultimate reality TV show
One of the great reasons to be alive today is to witness civilization as it commercializes outer space exploration and development.
For those who lived through the Apollo space program decades ago, it has been hard to top the wonder of six human landings on the moon. Now, things are getting interesting again on the manned mission front.
There's no business like show business, even on Mars.
Space missions have historically been paid for by taxpayers. But with the Space Shuttle fleet retired and after years of fiscal problems in both Russia and the United States, the public's will to spend in space has waned.
Plans are afoot to have taxpayers pay for manned space travel again, only this time through TV cable subscriptions.
The concept brings new meaning to the term "commercializing" space.
A few weeks ago, millionaire Dennis Tito, who became the first commercial space tourist in 1991, proposed a manned mission to Mars that would fly a married couple to within a 100 miles of the Mars surface before returning to earth.
Tito's only giving the 501 day round trip a 1 in 3 chance of success, not in terms of the crew's safety, but if whether he'll be able to privately raise the 1-2 billion dollars to fund the journey.
Tito hopes to raise the majority of the budget by selling media rights to cover the day to day happenings of the trip, with a main audience draw likely being whether the lonely couple will survive or kill themselves along the way.
Recently, an even bolder initiative was announced. A one-way group mission to Mars.
Dubbed Mars One, the mission will send 40 volunteers on a one-way trip to Mars to begin establishing a colony in 2023. One-way; as in never returning to earth. And they're now accepting colonist applications. And plenty of people have signed up for consideration. There's no unemployment on Mars.
Unmanned cargo runs to Mars are planned to begin by 2016 to deliver rovers, living modules, life support equipment and supplies before the first four astronauts set sail in 2022. They'll be followed every two years by more colonists until a community of 40 inhabitants reach the red planet, a wildly ambitious timeline that remains to be seen.
When the colony is in full swing, a minimum of four high definition video streams will provide TV audiences back on Earth with "24/7/365 engagement," according to the mission's website.
Exciting? Absolutely. Good science? Very possible. Profitable? That's the plan!
Mars One will be the ultimate television realty show.
Imagine the value of TV rights for such a spectacle. Tagging along to Mars will be even more dramatic than had a camera crew sailed with the Pilgrims to the New World or journeyed through America's primordial west with Lewis & Clark.
People died on those early expeditions, even before they reached their destinations. At least there was food, air and water waiting for the surviving pilgrims on the shores of the New World. But, not on Mars.
Mars One contestants will arrive on a dead world, void of breathable air, water and food. Bleak, but exciting.
It will be all for one, and one for all, until it isn't anymore. And that's when the drama will really begin and the show's ratings will rocket.
There's no voting anyone off the island.
Think about it. If all goes to plan, every crew member will die on Mars, sooner or later. And if somebody gets fed up with the lack of red planet amenities and goes bonkers, the sheriff ain't coming. What a plot twist!
This promises to be the ultimate death match. Who will last the longest? And that's what mission planners are banking on.
Mars-One is a Dutch based enterprise with staff and advisors from around the world. To pay for the Mars mission, the non-profit Mars One foundation receives revenues from sponsorship license fees sold by their sister organization, the for-profit Interplanetary Media Group.
The Dutch know something about reality television. Endemol, based in Amsterdam, is the largest independent television production company in the world. They've mastered the art of reality television with their shows 'Big Brother', 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?', 'Deal or No Deal', 'The Colour of Money', 'The Cube' and 'Red or Black?'.
One of Mars One's "Ambassadors" is Paul Römer, the co-creator and original producer of ‘Big Brother’. The mission to the red planet is in good hands in terms of TV packaging deals.
But, back to the mission.
There will be historic firsts and grand, suspenseful moments during the launch, journey and landing. Hopefully, a good amount of science, too. Can humans successfully colonize Mars?
In order for that to happen, we'll have see the first successful farm on another planet, or else!
But, back to the entertainment.
Sure, we'll get to see how they recycle their urine for drinking water, but maybe we'll also see crew members shack up and find out who will be the first Mars baby!
What if they encounter aliens?
If author Richard C. Hoagland, a proponent of lost alien civilizations on the Moon and on Mars has it right, the Mars One colony may have a welcome wagon waiting for them when they put down roots. And they may be far more exotic than Native Americans wearing face paint, like the pilgrims encountered.
What if the same UFO that Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin once said followed their command module to the moon, flew along side the Mars One space trail?
Will the Mars One TV sensation bring us proof of extraterrestrials as we merge onto the interplanetary highway? That prospect alone is worth the price of admission, as long as the secret keepers don't demand a delayed television signal feed and time for censorship.
A big risk for the mission sponsors is whether the martian pilgrims will survive long enough to send home the amount of episodes needed to pay for the mission's enormous cost. And what happens if the colonists revolt over their fish bowl existence and unplug the cameras before season two's cliff hanger?
Remember how well it went for the British in New England? Plymouth Colony endured hellish hardships and didn't return much profit to their investors back home.
Devolving into anxious Homo sapiens on the interplanetary stage will not put a good face on our species. What if Mars One spirals into a trailer park melodrama that's a cross between The Kardashians and Jersey Shore, with a twist on Pawn Stars bargaining for life support equipment?
We can always pull the plug here on Earth, but what about the "others"? Is this the best we have to show for ourselves?
Any self-respecting, sentient being from another corner of the galaxy could not be faulted for wanting to vote them off the island.
If Mars One happens, there will be plenty of program content ahead of the first manned missions, including isolation training on Earth and unmanned flights to Mars.
Once things get going to Mars, don't be surprised if you see a "support" payload bay full of sponsorship bling. How valuable will it be for a sponsor to see a revived Twinkies brand enjoyed on Mars?
Mars One will take science and entertainment to another planet. Out of this world, life and death drama. Even if it is brought to you by tabloid TV, it's a small price to pay for our first wondrous leap to inhabit another world.