The Many Ways to Mars: A Reality Show, a New Martian City, and Mapping Mars from Home

Real­i­ty tele­vi­sion has been around since at least the late ’40s. First we had Can­did Cam­era, where hap­less, but real, peo­ple became the unwit­ting butt of Allen Funt’s jokes. But it wasn’t until fifty years lat­er that the genre explod­ed, bring­ing us Big Broth­er and, of course, Sur­vivor.

Now, make way for the unbe­liev­able and ultra-expen­sive mar­riage of real­i­ty tele­vi­sion and sci­ence fic­tion. Mars One, the brain­child of Dutch entre­pre­neur Bas Lans­dorp, plans to estab­lish a per­ma­nent human set­tle­ment on the red plan­et in 2023. First, four peo­ple would land on Mars. Every two years, anoth­er group of peo­ple would arrive. The trips would be one-way and all the set­tlers would live out the rest of their lives on Mars. Fund­ing for the first phase is esti­mat­ed at $6 bil­lion.

Mars One back­ers say rais­ing $6 bil­lion will be easy. Every four years the Sum­mer and Win­ter Olympics gen­er­ate mil­lions of dol­lars in rev­enue because peo­ple all over the world want to watch. The Olympics held in 2005 and 2008 togeth­er made near­ly $5.5 bil­lion from pro­gram­ming and spon­sor­ship.

So, what if there were an event so fas­ci­nat­ing, so unprece­dent­ed and amaz­ing, that lit­er­al­ly every tele­vi­sion, com­put­er, and smart device would be tuned in to watch? What if the entire Mars mis­sion was an inter­na­tion­al real­i­ty tele­vi­sion show? That’s the plan. Every­thing from the selec­tion of the first group of astro­nauts to the launch, land­ing, and dai­ly life on the red plan­et would be tele­vised. The audi­ence even gets to vote on the final four space trav­el­ers.

Inter­est­ed? Mars One has issued its require­ments for astro­naut selec­tion. No mil­i­tary, flight, or sci­ence expe­ri­ence required. Appli­cants must be at least 18, in good men­tal and phys­i­cal health, and will­ing to devote eight years to train­ing before begin­ning the jour­ney to their new home plan­et. Find­ing this hard to believe? The first ques­tion in Mars One’s FAQ page sort of says it all. Is this for real? Yes, the plans are for real. Whether any or every­thing Mars One imag­ines actu­al­ly takes place is anybody’s guess.

What’s cer­tain is that Mars is a hot des­ti­na­tion at the moment, and not just for aspir­ing real­i­ty stars. SpaceX fun­der and bil­lion­aire Elon Musk wants to build a city for 80,000 on Mars. While accept­ing an award from the Roy­al Aero­nau­ti­cal Soci­ety, Musk out­lined his vision to charge $500,000 per per­son to trans­port peo­ple to the new Mar­t­ian city. He’s men­tioned want­i­ng to retire on Mars and is using SpaceX as a lab to devel­op new inter­plan­e­tary rock­et tech­nol­o­gy.

But you don’t need to be rich or pop­u­lar to see some of the red plan­et. There’s also plen­ty of explor­ing to do on the sur­face of Mars from home. Cit­i­zen sci­en­tists can help Plan­et Four iden­ti­fy fans and blotch­es in images of the Mar­t­ian sur­face. The pic­tures come from a cam­era aboard the Mars Recon­nais­sance Orbiter, a NASA mis­sion to orbit Mars and trans­mit images and data to Earth using a pow­er­ful radio fre­quen­cy called the “Ka-band,” which works like an inter­plan­e­tary Inter­net.

Using sim­ple mark­ing tools, users can mark the sur­face col­orations and spots that help sci­en­tists study changes in the planet’s weath­er. So-called “spi­ders” of dry ice form on the planet’s poles in the win­ter and then lead to fan-shaped mois­ture foot­prints.

It’s fun to imag­ine that the data you cre­ate could bring us clos­er to our dis­tant neigh­bor plan­et. Unless of course you’d rather suit up and start train­ing to go there your­self. In that case, good luck and start sav­ing.

Kate Rix writes about dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy and edu­ca­tion. Read more of her work at .

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