The Value of the Mars One Media Events

Image credit Bryan Versteeg
Image credit Bryan Versteeg

It’s no news by now that Mars One is going to fund its operations primarily with sponsorships and media events. Fairly early on, I might have been one of those who looked askance at the idea because of shows like “America’s Got Talent.” You know the ones that showcase truly terrible singers and then barely even show all but a few of the truly good acts. I’ve even let out the occasional wisecrack about the whole thing. If I was in it for the fame, I probably would have dropped the whole one-way trip to Mars idea and taken my completely tone-deaf singing talent to the “American Idol” tryouts in Chicago.

It’s really not too hard to see the benefits of funding a trip to Mars using the overblown marketing budgets of the corporate world. Whenever Bas Lansdorp talks about it, he usually mentions the kind of viewership and, thus, advertising dollars that sports events like the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the World Cup can bring in. Cities around the world are willing to spend a lot of money to host events like this simply for the prestige that comes with it. How many people would have heard of Barcelona, Spain, before it hosted the 1992 Olympics? I bet that city still gets some tourism just from people who want to see the venues involved.

A lot of the time, large corporations will make large donations to nonprofit organizations to make themselves look good along with spending millions or, in some case, billions of dollars on TV and Internet video advertising. In this case, despite the fact that Bas Lansdorp made a joke about how the first settlement on Mars could be named Sim City if a billionaire named Ron Sim were to step forward and fund the entire project, Mars One can skip having to beg for corporate donations and go straight to snagging some of those marketing budgets that would have otherwise been used to sponsor shows like “Desperate Housewives.” They’re already doing some of this on the recently revamped and expanded Mars One Community Platform with Google Adsense. It’s actually pretty neat that money that otherwise would have just been used to fill the pockets of television executives can now be used to establish a beachhead on another world.

The benefits of doing the media events, what’s been called a “reality show,” goes way beyond the dollars. The candidates are real people. One is a hotel manager. Another is a taxi driver. This is a chance to see real people who live in a crazy world where the only positive news stories seem to be feel-good stories about a cheetah and a dog who are best friends and are still capable of dreaming of, maybe not a better life, but certainly a different kind of life where our own ingenuity can make a difference in the community’s survival. I’ve compared it to the Life deal inked for the original American astronauts to help get the press off their front lawns and bring in an extra income for their families, with a bit of a twist. This version will present the Mars One candidates in a way that won’t be sanitized. When somebody has an emotional meltdown from the stress, you’ll see it. When somebody makes a mistake that could get everybody killed or fixes a problem using a little bailing wire, you’ll see it. We’ve gone from a time when astronauts could shock the world by swearing at a computer that caused their lunar module to turn into a wild dog to a time when people just seem more real when they let out a cussword or three when they get frustrated.

This is the reason that I am willing to put up with the idea of being on camera most of the time even though I could be the one telling the camera man to get out of the friggin’ way so I can fix something. You’ll be seeing the training of potential future Martians in a way that’s never been done before. This is a reminder that astronauts are very human despite NASA’s wish to homogenize its astronauts as the best of the best at what they do. When the audience sees the inevitable arguments and personality conflicts up front, viewers will be less shocked by the Lisa Nowak types involved. I hope for fewer fights over stupid things like illicit romantic affairs, of course. However, if they happen, they won’t be a surprise because viewers will have seen it coming.

The media thing has only one major difficulty that I can see. People will be expecting the entertainment value. Mars One is actually handling this in the best way possible so far, having passed on one production company that would have insisted on control over what viewers actually see in favor of another that will keep better control where it should be: in the hands of the Mars One officials who actually have an idea of which kinds of personalities will have the best chance of survival. They understand the fact that the kinds of drama queens and “reality show villains” who seem to bring in the viewer ratings on most reality shows are entirely the wrong kind of people to send on a one-way mission to the hostile environment that Mars represents. At least one drama queen has already either dropped out or been eliminated when it became obvious that there would be no room for people who have to be the center of attention all the time.

I posed this question to Bas Lansdorp through the Mars Society staffer or volunteer who was in charge of the live streaming video service, “What would you say to the people who question whether you’ll make viewership a higher priority than sending the right team to Mars?” at the Mars Society evening proceedings on August 7th. He did make a joke about how some people think that the answer is to send four very boring people because they would be less likely to kill each other. He went on to say that, if people are going to spend the rest of their lives in a small space with three other human beings, they should at least make sure their companions are interesting. Maybe I wasn’t very clear about what I was trying to get at. Sure, I want companions whom I can actually have an intelligent conversation with and who don’t mind talking out a problem in a rational and calm manner when all we’ve got is a slight difference of opinion. However, I want to make sure they’re not the kind of people whom I have to punch in the mouth a few times before they get the idea that I don’t appreciate being verbally abused when what I really need is an extra pair of hands to help me deal with a malfunctioning oxygen generator. If that happens, I’m not going to care what kind of ratings that frequent fistfights can bring in. I’m going to request that the person causing the problem be reassigned somewhere far away from me.

Even considering the fact that I don’t want the drama queens around when I’ve got work to do, Mars One should provide enough action to keep people interested. It’s going to be a matter of knowing what our target audience is. “Big Brother on Mars” might make a decent analogy to people used to reality shows, but it’s not going to be exactly that. This is going to be a reality show for the people who remember watching fuzzy images of the Apollo astronauts walking on the Moon, or at least have seen those unedited videos on Youtube, and want to bring back the days when it was okay to dream of traveling to other planets. The media events are going to serve the double purpose of raising funds for Mars One and educating people about what it’s like to be a candidate for the boldest adventure that this generation is likely to see.

Can We Do It? Sure We Can.

It won’t be easy and we could get royally smeared across the Martian landscape. However, here’s some books to read from people who think that manned mission to Mars are not only feasible, but also necessary for the survival of humanity.