Everybody’s swooning over the thrill of space exploration – the boldness of a one-way voyage, the nobility of sacrifice, the romance of loss… A pity none of it will ever happen.
We have all heard the wonderful news: two bright young Oxonians have been selected in the running for the most exciting step into the final frontier to be taken since the moon landings themselves.
They will be taking the next great leap for humanity in the journey to the stars, as they become the first human colonists of the indomitable red planet — braving mighty risks and danger to advance human horizons beyond what we could have once dreamed possible. But, most tragic of all, due to technological limitations they will be forced to stay on Mars, never to return. Cue tearful farewell hugs with their families, mournful violin sounds, politicians reminding us of their ‘courage’ and ‘sacrifice’.
Well, returning isn’t that implausible. No more implausible than anything else in the nonsensical Mars One plan, anyway. It’s just something that adds to the supposed tragedy, the melodrama, the sense of sacrifice. It allows us to pontificate on great themes about human existence; who are these brave souls who would be willing to give up their comfortable lives for a chance at the great unknown? It is a nice, literary touch that further serves to turn off our critical faculties. Truth, fact, science. These archaic concepts are irrelevant when we would rather run our media cycles based on good feelings.
You wouldn’t know it based on reading the student media though. Both the OxStu and Cherwell have run large stories with the exciting headline; ‘Oxford student(s) selected for Mars mission!’
Both then describe the project as ‘controversial’ and note than an MIT study had ‘doubts’ about the project. In the last sentence, squished into the very tiny corner of the page where you can barely see it, the Cherwell article notes that ‘any manned mission to mars would result in the crew dying after 68 days’ Oh shucks. That’s a bit of a bummer. But don’t let that ruin your cheery headline and cutesy photo! Not just the student media: the Guardian, Daily Mail and Telegraph have all thrown their journalistic integrity out the window in order to run a few clickbait interviews with the ‘contestants’.
News editors, would you run a story ‘Oxford history student selected for first experiment with a time machine, expresses hope of meeting Caesar; physics professor expresses ‘concerns’ that laws of physics may not allow this’? Or ‘Oxford theology student wins study grant to visit Hell for research on undergraduate thesis, to be supervised and guided by Dante’?
Because these scenarios are just as realistic as an Oxford student landing on Mars thanks to this programme.
The project is not ‘controversial’ in the sense that informed members of the scientific community disagree. It’s controversial in the same way that evolution is controversial, that the earth being flat is controversial, that the earth being controlled by lizard people is controversial. It is well-known in the scientific community as a scam, a hoax and we as journalists need to be so much louder about this fact.
This is what Dr Colin Wilson, probably the University’s top expert in Mars missions, had to say to me when first I researched the project last year; “Mars One has no support from the scientific community. It’s simply that none of us believe it will reach the Launchpad, let alone land on Mars, let alone establish a colony. It is science fiction.”
A leading figure in the space exploration community, who will remain anonymous, was much more blunt when I contacted him: “The Mars One “programme” is a scam meant to sell false hope to people who don’t realise they are only a group of PR heads in the Netherlands asking for money and providing pretty pictures in return. They aren’t even attempting to solve the actual issues related to Mars travel – merely selling the idea of it. They have no support in the actual community they are claiming to represent, and will likely end up doing negative service to actual Mars exploration when they inevitably are exposed for what they are and people confuse them with those actually looking to advance in that area. They are snake oil salesmen of the worst degree.”
Who are these people intending to make the most risky and expensive scientific project undertaken in human history? Experienced, cutting-edge scientists? Bold entrepreneurs who are sick of government red tape and bureaucracy and are desperate to use the power of private enterprise and the free market to unleash the power of the creative spirit?
Not really. On closer examination… they are just some random gimps. They are a Dutch reality TV station with – wait for it – a previous reality TV show in which they hoax contestants into believing going to space! As Dr Wilson continues, “There was a television programme in 2005 called “Space Cadets”, also produced by Endemol, the TV company behind Mars One and Big Brother, where gullible members of the public were told that they were on a space mission (complete with “gravity field generator” to explain why they weren’t weightless!). Endemol apparently is quite prepared to grossly mislead contestants.”
The reason this story makes me so angry is that the abuse of science for personal profit is important. This issue matters. Endemol are exploiting the goodwill, good nature and the natural curiosity and wonder that humans have about their place in the universe, to make a quick buck from a reality TV show.
When this hoax is revealed, all it will do is damage public perceptions of science and make the public (their faith already tested over fake scandals about global warming, evolution and vaccines) more sceptical of the scientific consensus. The people behind Mars One care nothing for this.