Mars One Mission: Big Brother in Space?

The Mars One mission has the ambition to send a team of humans to Mars on a one-way trip by 2023. CBC News recently reported that Mars One will begin recruiting people for this mission later this year. The first impression is that it sounds awesome. Human beings haven’t left the Earth’s gravitational pull since 1969 so it’s about time, right? Certainly it’s something I want to see in my lifetime, and that is the main funding idea of this Mars One mission.


Today it’s pretty common knowledge that the driving force to go to the moon was political. But we are now (statistically) living in the most peaceful time in human history, so no governments need to flex their rocket-muscles to the world. Thus the exploration of space is primarily left to private companies, Mars One being one of them.

Mars One relies on companies as a main source of ‘sponsorship’ to achieve the dream. As mentioned by founder Bas Lansdorp in the CBC interview, the key to getting this project to return the $6billion price tag is by broadcasting the entire journey to those stuck on Earth. The Mars One team is based in the Netherlands, the nation from which Big Brother came. Indeed, Paul Romer, co-creator of the voyeuristic show is listed as one of the ambassadors of the project.

Ignoring the issues of unclear technological planning, Lansdorp asserts that the key to getting returns is the fact that the entire world will be watching, just like they did the moon landing. I question this assumption however, because simply broadcasting it doesn’t mean that people will watch it. Why? Because we are already receiving broadcasts FROM SPACE and there aren’t that many people who care to follow it.

St. Patrick's day on the ISS

St. Patrick’s day on the ISS

Chris Hadfield, current commander of the International Space Station, regularly posts images and videos from his job. That guy takes time to share his passion for science/discovery, space and the earth with us. The media often say he is popular, but let’s get some perspective. He has just a little over half a million followers. Considering the current most popular person on Twitter currently has over 36 million followers, 66 times the amount of followers Hadfield has. In other words, Hadfield has roughly 1.5% of the number of followers than the current most popular person on Twitter. That is a tiny percentage, considering the guy is tweeting from orbit.

In a similar vein, Mars Curiosity Rover has its own twitter account. While the tweets come from Earth, the account does keep updated with amazing images taken by the rover. Curiosity does have over double the followers of Hadfield, around 1.3 million. But that’s still a measly 3.6% of the amount of followers Bieber has. So it seems like the Twitterverse isn’t that interested in what’s happening above the stratosphere. Not wanting to gloss over what musicians may add to society, I must ask however, is it really 66 times more important and exciting than watching people push the boundaries of human knowledge?

Statistically speaking, there may be more psychopaths who follow Justin Bieber than the total number of people who follow Commander Hadfield.

Topics that are more popular than the Curiosity Rover

Searches that are more popular than the Curiosity Rover

Popularity of musicians is one thing, but what about being popular for porn nothing? Kim Kardashian currently holds the spot as 11th most popular person on Twitter with 17.5 million followers. Can someone please explain why what she had for breakfast is more interesting than what is happening in space?! Furthermore, Chris Brown has over 12 million followers. How can an astronaut be only 4.4% as popular as a guy who assaulted his girlfriend?

But to get back on track, what about other space-faring adventures? Well, the landing of the Curiosity Rover was streamed live, and an estimated 3.6 million people tuned in for the 7 minutes of terror. That’s not too bad, considering the most popularly streamed live event generated around 8 million viewers.

One of the most memorable moments of the Curiosity touchdown was not the sky crane that was used to lower the 900kilo rover on to the red planet, but brief images of the flight director, who is now known as ‘NASA’s mohawk guy’. It wasn’t images of Mars that excited people, or the fact that an SUV was basically transported to another planet, but rather that this punky-looking young guy was working in a ‘nerdy’ field. Hopefully that teaches us a little something about stereotyping.

Nasa's Mohawk Guy, Bobak.

Nasa’s Mohawk Guy, Bobak.

Many scholars argue that the internet perpetuates ‘media bubbles’, where people do not seek out information that isn’t already of interest to them, thus closing themselves off from much of the world. This may be true, considering that 7 of the top 10 most followed people on Twitter are pop musicians. If you asked me to name a Taylor Swift song, I don’t think I could. However, when something ‘goes viral’, it can penetrate even the strongest media bubbles.

What people really want to see from space

What people really want to see from space

A quick glance at some comments for the Mars One mission indicates that many ‘older’ people (50 and above) are quite interested to die on Mars. Indeed, notes that pensioners might be the best people to go to Mars, with the view of the trip being something like ‘voluntary euthanasia’. I can see it now, “Gladys, I can’t log into MyFace! This planet is too damn red.”. What would it take for you to watch Big Brother on Mars?

Some caveats: Twitter is not representative of the interests of people on the internet. Clearly, social networking is dominated by ‘younger’ people. Furthermore, the people who use it are mainly from the US, thus giving a skewed sample. However, I still believe it is a good indication of what the majority of social network users are interested in.

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  1. joop says:

    The article is informative, but the headline made me think of the other “Big brother”, the Orwellian one. State-sponsored space colonization will create the most Orwellian “spacer” society conceivable, as every citizen’s survival is directly dependent on the State.
    Private sector space exploration is the one that gives hope to libertarians, never mind the double-meaning headline.

    • Liefje says:

      True about the double meanings, but I think today the Orwellian big brother can also be applied beyond governments. Facebook and Google are the biggest brothers out there.

      Don’t get me wrong, the privatization of space exploration is exciting, since competition traditionally drives innovation. I can’t wait until we see some solid stuff from Planetary Resources. But I am very skeptical about the Mars One initiative. Maybe i’ll be eating my words come 2023.

  2. jim says:

    Make our scientists,astronauts,inventors etc rockstars and the problem would be solved.

    Then again entertainment and science apparantly doesnt mix unless your making fun of it…

    If that isnt anti-intellectualism i dont know what is. 🙁

    • Liefje says:

      It’s interesting that you see that as a solution Jim. I don’t think it’s so much that science and entertainment don’t mix. It’s probably more that those who are attracted to science don’t have the traits that makes todays celebrities. For instance, they probably don’t see the sense in leaking a sex tape since ‘all publicity is good publicity’ 😛

      I think there are some funny science scandals that have been kept under wraps. Like the time a Nobel prize winner had more than one wife at the ceremony.

      The only ‘popular’ science maverick has been Feynman with his love for titty bars and drawing nude ladies, but even that is way too normal by celeb standards.

  3. AngriestCat says:

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  7. Rick Russell says:

    Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson joined the ranks of the Twitter elite when he reached 1 million followers on Sunday (Feb. 3).

  8. With her whopping 37 million followers on Twitter, Lady Gaga can reach more people than the population of New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., combined, with a single tweet.

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  10. Kristen [Bell, who plays Veronica Mars] and I decided the night before we launched, we were gonna send these mysterious tweets to each other and say, “Hey, everyone! Stay tuned for some news tomorrow!” Kristen Bell has a million followers so I thought, “Once we send these mysterious tweets to each other, it will erupt! It will be like a bonfire on the internet!” And on the eve of doing all this, having spent a year and a half of my life trying to get this going, we tweeted each other and it barely caused a ripple. There were maybe a couple hundred tweets that I saw, but it was not close to what I was expecting.

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  13. added $1 million of his own money. A January 2009 study ranked Facebook the most used social networking service by worldwide monthly active users.

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