Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Is Mars Trip a Reality?

You've probably heard about the project to send a group of people to Mars on a one way trip.  It doesn't sound that great a deal on the surface - you agree to travel to a planet with a guarantee that you won't be coming back.  In fact you will be establishing a new human frontier, be expected to bring new life onto the planet and develop the community.  Given that the human race has only managed to send a few sensors and a rover to the red planet so far - and the UK contribution was to drop an extremely expensive sensor from a great height to create the ultimate splat image on the surface - then there is clearly a lot of development work needed and fast.

Unlike the moon missions, where the astronauts only needed to survive on the moon for a few days and the transit time to and from the rock orbiting the Earth - or at least survive a few weeks of filming in Burbank if some sceptics are to be believed - the inhabitants will need a complete environment conducive to surviving the rest of their life and continuing for the life of their offspring.  Of course this won't be a one way drop off and see you affair, I presume the project includes continuing support with resupply drops.  Hopefully they will be more successful than the UK efforts so far.

I've been watching this project with a certain amount of interest, not because I think it will work or even happen, but because it mirrors part of the storyline in The Journeymen, my second novel.  In that book there is a significant sub-plot where a community has to travel through three generations to a distant planet and they are all recruited to ensure they have a suitable DNA mix to make sure there aren't any inbreeding issues, they have the right skills to make the mission viable and the correct mental attitude to survive.  I won't spoil the story, but needless to say, there are issues.

Presumably for this project they want fit and healthy people young enough to raise children with sufficient technical skills to make such a venture self supporting.  So engineers, doctors with surgery experience, scientists and the like.  Given that the mission is ten years away and that they will need to be reasonably young when taking part, getting the mix of skills and experience is going to be a challenge given that they've had the first recruitment drive.  It seems that over 200,000 people applied world-wide and that has been whittled down to under 2,000 applicants.  Seemingly the project managers were disappointed that only 200,000 people were prepared to go on a one-way mission.  I'm surprised that many did.  Why would people volunteer for such a mission?

Well, there is the pioneering spirit, and interestingly the largest group of volunteers were from the US, a country with a strong pioneering history.  To be fair many of the volunteers weren't the right stuff, in fact a bit barking by all accounts - especially the couple who sent in a video application in the nude. How warm do they think it is up there?  Of course there were many reasons and motivations for applying and for me, one reason would be to get away from so-called reality TV, you know, the TV that puts strangers together in an unrealistic environment and watches their every move.  A bit like sending a group to Mars on a one-way trip, in fact.

Indeed there is talk of turning the whole saga, from recruitment, through training and off to the red planet you go as a reality show.  My gut instinct is that the whole thing is a reality show project with a remote possibility that it could end up as a Mars mission.  The research for the project, the development of transport and living quarters and all the other big bucks technological requirements aren't funded yet.  A $400,000 research contract with a major US space company is due to be paid at the end of January and is only $300,000 short at the moment, which should indicate the feasibility of this project.  And whether they plan to send a handful or a bus full of travellers to Mars the project is going to cost billions, so I'm far from convinced it has enough legs to make it off this planet, let alone all the way to Mars.

But they've secured the first volunteers, who may be too old and infirm to make the journey by the time the funding is found.  Which is great, because it means they can select unqualified, uneducated sociopathic morons as the first potential travellers, lock them up in a mock Mars compound for years on end, film them bickering and send the FBI in when one of them goes postal with the Colt 45 conveniently left lying around.  All streamed 24/7, of course, preferably through a subscription service.  Such a service may generate enough funding to actually run such a project but will also save me the problem of accidentally straying onto the reality show as I'm way too mean to pay for subscription. 

They say they may run another recruitment campaign soon, to bolster the candidate pool and haven't ruled out anyone who applied the first time applying again.  Perhaps we will see the couple in the buff after all. Maybe I'll review my policy on subscription services.

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