When scientists began exploring space travel and the possibility of populating a new planet, they could not have imagined that the first intra-galactic settlers would be chosen the same way reality-show contestants are. But that’s exactly what is happening with the Mars One Project. Welcome to the age of So You Think You Can Live On the Red Planet.
We are not diminishing the ambitions of Mars One, a $6-billion plan to send the first human settlers on a one-way trip to Mars in 2023. A not-for-profit group called the Mars One Foundation will fund the mission by broadcasting it from start to finish on television and over the Internet via a very-much-for-profit company called Interplanetary Media Group. The majority shareholder in IMG is the Mars One Foundation, which will also be the sole owner, operator and employer on Mars – unless any pre-existing proprietors are discovered upon arrival.
The four pioneers will be chosen from the more than 78,000 people – including 35 Canadians – who have so far signed up via the Mars One website, according to a press release issued by Mars One on Thursday. Mars One judges will whittle them down to a more manageable number in each of “300 geographic regions in the world that Mars One has identified.” (Since there are fewer than 200 countries in the world, “geographic regions” could also be read as “broadcast zones.”)
Eventually, up to 40 people will be employed by Mars One during a seven-year training period. After that, there will be an “audience vote,” and the four lucky finalists will quite literally be voted off the planet.
The first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong, was selected from a group of highly trained and proven Air Force test pilots. Marc Garneau, the first Canadian man in space, was an engineer and military officer who was selected from 4,000 applicants who responded to a help-wanted ad in Canadian newspapers.
The help-wanted sections of newspapers aren’t what they used to be, and television and the Internet are far quicker routes to fame and glory than hard work and postgraduate specialization could ever be. It will be interesting to see whether the same audience-generated selection process that gave us Richard Hatch and Phillip Phillips will produce a figure worthy of eternal human fame. It may depend on whether or not the Interplanetary Media Group hires Donald Trump to hosts its shows.