One of the topics in our house this weekend was the possibility of interstellar travel using generation ships, among other things (it’s that kind of house). We had watched a documentary about the planets discovered by the Kepler mission, which prompted the question: how would you even get there?
My eldest was horrified at the prospect of a one-way ticket into space, away from the pleasures of home and Premiership soccer. His brother, on the other hand, thought it might be worth getting on board a generation ship if the alternative was destruction here on Earth.
Everyone was in agreement however, that the preferable option would be to be either in the generation which set off across the galaxy, or the generation which arrived at a new world. Those intermediate generations who might spend their lives in space, never feeling the solid ground of a planet underfoot, were to be pitied.
That’s not the fate being contemplated by the prospective crews of Mars One. Those selected will face a journey of about 6 months. But it is nevertheless true that it will be a lifetime commitment.
I’ve written about this before. I find it strangely exciting in its simple logic: sending out crews of four every two years, the privately funded project is planning to build a colony of lifers on the Red Planet. It’s impressively clear-minded about the whole thing: of course the mission parameters are greatly simplified if you don’t have to launch return trips.
It’s also nuts – at least the ‘Reality TV’ part of it is! Mars One has described a funding model based on the sale of media rights to the ‘Big Brother House’ on an alien world (as well as the selection and preparation process). But what happens if audiences lose interest? Would colonists have to sing for their suppers in a popularity contest?
You don’t think so? Check out this surprisingly X-Factor-ish ‘trailer’ for the next round of the selection process.
Assuming that a saner funding model could be secured, there is otherwise a lot of good sense about Mars One. The concept of a journey without return is a time-honored path of pioneers throughout history, until relatively recently the only option for most migrants.
This morning, the Mars One project announced that its initial pool of 660 candidates has been reduced to 100, following a round of online interviews. The shortlist includes Irishman Dr Joseph Roche, an astrophysicist at Trinity College.
Is he out of his mind? Of course not. As my kids will tell you, any decision can make sense in the right circumstances, and establishing a human colony on another world certainly ranks about as high as it gets when it comes to career achievements! We all make sacrifices and compromises to achieve our goals and some goals are worth trading more for.
Mars One says that these 100 candidates will undergo training in team situations, with the aim of building teams ready to work together towards the first of the launches beginning in 2024. And the project will soon launch a new recruitment process open to all – including those who didn’t make the cut this time.