Thursday, May 9, 2013

Red Alert

Ever since we landed on the moon, the next logical step for the space-inclined has been landing on Mars, and ideally, colonizing same. There have been two major sticking points, though, and we're not even counting the whole water issue:

1. Getting someone there in one piece.
2. What to do when it's time to leave.

The moon is 238,900 miles from Earth. Mars' orbit will never bring it closer than 33.9 million miles away, and in 2003, its distance of 34.8 million was the closest it had been in 50,000 years. Nobody's figured out any way to bring back anyone or anything that's been sent that far. The usual procedure is to just not bring anything back at all.

Which makes it rather problematic for a government to send someone to colonize Mars. They'd be sending someone to another planet knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that they will die on that planet. First off, could a government bring itself to knowingly do that. Second off, who'd even sign up for such a thing.

The answer to the first question appears to be to take it out of the hands of governments and see a private organization, nonprofit Mars One, step in. Someone who's willing to take the weight of such a mission on their shoulders. As for who would volunteer... apparently 78,000 people so far. Almost certainly more by this posting, though I couldn't hunt down a counter on the official website. Mars One intends to take four people on the first mission.

The one big problem here- my big gripe- is that no matter how many people you attract to this, you ultimately need the most competent people possible. And this isn't entirely going to be in the hands of experts. After preliminary screening, the plan is to send 20-40 candidates per applicant nation to a TV round where the audience votes on who moves on, and after final training, after which they expect to have six groups of four that they intend to send to Mars,, the audience is supposed to vote on which group goes first. The first group is the toughest one. The other groups will have the advantage of building off what has been established by previous groups. You need the most competent of the groups to be the first one to make the trip. Not the most popular.

I'm not disparaging the applicants themselves here. One can't tell whether they're all exactly clear on what they're signing up for, but it takes some serious balls just to put your name in the hopper. My hope is that Mars One does what's best for them.

Well, after deciding to send them on a one-way trip to Mars, in any case.

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