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Editorial

Bon voyage, Martian settlers! (and don’t come back?)

The prospect of my non-aviation-savvy-arts-major self having the chance to become a pioneer for the space age gave me a jolt, albeit temporary, of that childhood promise of endless stars and distant solar systems viewed from the vantage point of a spaceship’s porthole window. The catch? You have to be willing to die on Mars.

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By Nick Ubels (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: March 20, 2013

If you’re a space junky like me, this week’s news that Bas Lansdorp will be seeking civilian candidates for a planned Martian expedition in 2022 might have made your intrepid heart skip a beat.

As a kid, astronaut was one of the top vocations on my career wish list. Time, in its reality-check sort of way, has managed to dampen this spirit with other, more reasonable dreams – and that’s okay. I have trouble enough with my ears at 30,000 feet, let alone exiting earth’s atmosphere altogether. But the prospect of my non-aviation-savvy-arts-major self having the chance to become a pioneer for the space age gave me a jolt, albeit temporary, of that childhood promise of endless stars and distant solar systems viewed from the vantage point of a spaceship’s porthole window.

The catch? You have to be willing to die on Mars.

And it is here that my confidence takes its first hit. Dying alone in a plume of red dust may be a glorious end to a space western, but it’s not my idea of a good time.

Unlike The Darkness’ classic sophomore record One Way Ticket to Hell … and Back, Lansdorp’s Mars One program isn’t promising any return journeys on this voyage into the beyond.

This makes sense. A trip to Mars is expensive and time-consuming. Getting back is even more costly. And if the plan is to set up a permanent colony, a lifetime commitment is both prudent and necessary. Ray Bradbury and Buzz Aldrin have already argued persuasively for such a premise. It’s just not for me.

Which makes me wonder: who is it for?

The Mars One mission is looking for people who are reliable enough to carry out their duties with care and commitment and also insane enough to agree to what seems like a bit of a foolhardy adventure. That seems like an impossible combination to find in any one person.

Furthering my uneasiness about this whole endeavour is the fact that the company responsible plans to turn the day-to-day life of the brave crew into a reality show.

When the astronaut selection process begins to resemble a casting call, Houston, we have a problem. Would you be willing to put your very life in the hands of the cast of The Real World? How about choosing to live out your days in their company?

Thanks, Lansdorp, but I’ll pass.

I will, however, watch the success of this proposed mission with great interest over the coming decades. If a reality show funded by an eccentric Dutch entrepreneur is what it takes to make the first giant leap in human space exploration in almost 50 years, then so be it.

I’m hopeful for the project’s success, but concerned in spite of my instinct for heady optimism. If NASA has trouble landing fairly hardy exploration bots on the red planet, what chance is there for a successful manned mission funded by an upstart non-profit venture?

In a post-Cold War era of government cutbacks and corporate growth, private and non-profit ventures like these will likely begin to crop up more often (I’m looking at you, Richard Branson). If that’s the case, Mars One’s reality show premise leaves its success a dubious prospect at best. I’ll save my support for a mission with a better outlook.

Until then, the final frontier can wait.

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