Mars TV

Geist - - Findings - HAL NIEDZVIECKI

From Trees on Mars, Our Ob­ses­sion with the Fu­ture. Pub­lished by Seven Sto­ries Press in 2015. Hal Niedzvecki is a writer, speaker and cul­ture com­men­ta­tor. He lives in Toronto. Read more of his Geist work at geist.com.

Christy Fo­ley is go­ing to live on Mars. Or at least, that’s what she’s hop­ing. The mar­ried, thir­tythree-year-old strate­gic plan­ner for the prov­ince of Al­berta has a fervent de­sire to be part of the first-ever colony es­tab­lished on an­other planet. If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, in about ten years she will di­vorce her hus­band— whom she will never see again—have the last of her weekly din­ners with her par­ents, gulp one fi­nal lung­ful of nat­u­rally pho­to­syn­the­sized air, and step into a ship bound for the red planet.

“I want to help shape the fu­ture and not be pas­sive and just take what is thrown at us,” she tells me from her home in Ed­mon­ton, Al­berta, when I

reach her via Skype. “The peo­ple who talk to me are 99 per­cent—you’re crazy. You’re crazy amaz­ing or you’re crazy and stupid. But I don’t want to blindly go through life with­out try­ing to make it my life; that doesn’t sound ap­peal­ing.”

It all started in 2013, when Fo­ley came across Dutch mil­lion­aire Bas Lans­dorp’s plan to es­tab­lish a colony on Mars. To achieve this goal, Lans­dorp had co­founded a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion called Mars One and was rais­ing money and, even bet­ter, ac­cept­ing ap­pli­cants. I should note here that Christy Fo­ley is hardly the only per­son who be­lieves in the im­por­tance of get­ting to Mars. So agree­able is this no­tion that at least two very rich men are cur­rently vy­ing to own Mars-— the afore­men­tioned Bas Lans­dorp and the bil­lion­aire en­tre­pre­neur Elon Musk. Musk once de­scribed Mars as a “fixer-up­per planet” and even, at one point, put a ten-year time­line on col­o­niz­ing and trans­form­ing the planet with as many as 80,000 peo­ple. In­deed, Musk is on record for not­ing that the whole rea­son he started his pri­vate space ex­plo­ration com­pany Spacex was that he dis­cov­ered he was un­able to rent a rocket that could ful­fill an ini­tial plan of land­ing liv­ing plants on the red planet, pre­sum­ably in an at­tempt to jump-start at­mo­spheric production. At any rate, Fo­ley was among roughly 200,000 peo­ple around the world who ap­plied to be con­sid­ered for the op­por­tu­nity to go to Mars. The ap­pli­ca­tion process in­cluded an es­say, a video, var­i­ous ques­tion­naires, and a thirty-three­dol­lar en­try fee. Both Christy and her hus­band ap­plied. Fo­ley got the good news late in 2013, be­tween Christ­mas and the New Year. “I was goof­ing off be­cause it was just af­ter Christ­mas, and I was on Face­book and I read that [the e-mails] were go­ing out. So I hit re­fresh on my e-mail over and over again and then I screeched, and my co­worker next door to me was like— ‘What what what?” Mo­ments later, an e-mail from her part­ner for the last ten years also ar­rived. It was a for­ward of the Mars One re­jec­tion let­ter.

The two of them quickly worked out an ar­range­ment. They would stay to­gether, and Fo­ley’s hus­band would help her do ev­ery­thing she needed to do to ful­fill her dream. And when and if the time came for her to leave for­ever they would di­vorce and, as she tells me, “he gets ev­ery­thing. Eas­i­est di­vorce ever!”

And so the plan is hatched. Christy’s plan and the plan of the

Mars One mas­ter­minds, who have been re­leas­ing a steady rain of press re­leases doc­u­ment­ing their progress in­clud­ing an ini­tial pur­chase of satel­lites and plans to raise the es­ti­mated six bil­lion dol­lars nec­es­sary to send waves of equip­ment, then peo­ple, on a one-way trip to live out the rest of their lives on Mars.

The se­lec­tion of can­di­dates is a big part of the plan. Hence­forth, Mars One is hop­ing to raise money and fur­ther sup­port by turn­ing the se­lec­tion process into a re­al­ity TV broad­cast, which could even con­tinue af­ter they’ve left Earth, with cam­eras on­board to chron­i­cle their ar­rival and es­tab­lish­ment of the colony. But that’s a decade down the road. For now, Christy is one of 1,058 peo­ple se­lected from around the world for the next phase. (There are 75 Cana­di­ans and 301 Amer­i­cans tapped for fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion.) I ask Christy what comes next as her life and the Mars One plan be­gin to in­ter­sect. She says she’s wait­ing to find out. (At the time of our con­ver­sa­tion, it had been three months or so since her se­lec­tion.) So far, not much has been es­tab­lished be­yond the hazy plan to turn the whole thing into a TV show. I ask Christy if she knew she was sign­ing up for a re­al­ity TV production. “That’s not my fa­vorite part,” she says flatly. But she’ll per­se­vere. She’s hired a per­sonal trainer. She’s tak­ing classes on­line to in­crease her sci­en­tific knowhow. She’s do­ing in­ter­views, prac­tic­ing her abil­ity to be a Mars One am­bas­sador, an­tic­i­pat­ing that she’ll be ex­pected to, as she puts it, “evan­ge­lize for the project.”

I ask Christy to tell me more about what good she thinks will come out of all of this. I mean, it’s not as if there is much of a fu­ture for a hu­man colony on Mars, a planet with no breath­able at­mos­phere (as of yet!), a planet

where ev­ery­thing from drink­ing wa­ter to seeds and soil will have to be carted from home, a planet we can send peo­ple to, but can’t bring them back from. Christy tells me about her mo­ti­va­tions. First off, is, of course, the chance to go into space. Ever since Christy met Cana­dian as­tro­naut Roberta Bon­dar in grade school, she’s dreamed of be­ing an as­tro­naut. “In my ele­men­tary school year book, I said I wanted to col­o­nize the moon. That’s not go­ing to hap­pen, but Mars will be just fine.”

But be­yond the per­sonal ful­fill­ment of her dreams, what good will the trip do for the world at large? Christy talks about the insurance policy el­e­ment of the plan. If things don’t work out on Earth, at least there will be peo­ple off planet to carry on the species. She de­scribes her­self as an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and says that she has “a bit of a sta­teof-the-earth com­plex.” But over­all she’s hope­ful that it won’t come to that. In fact, the real ben­e­fit set­tling Mars will bring to hu­man­ity will be new ways to ap­proach the chal­lenges fac­ing Earth. Who knows what kinds of tech­no­log­i­cal boons might come from fig­ur­ing out how to make the trip hap­pen? “Space travel has al­ways been a cat­a­lyst in de­vel­op­ing new things,” Fo­ley tells me. “While we are try­ing to fig­ure out how to feed our­selves on Mars, maybe we de­velop a food that will help stop hunger, maybe a new way to process wa­ter to stop the wa­ter wars, an in­oc­u­la­tion against un­known bac­te­ria and we get rid of an­tibi­otic re­sis­tance, maybe we can cure the com­mon cold.” She says that last part jok­ingly, but she’s se­ri­ous. Go­ing to Mars will change ev­ery­thing.

And what about the sac­ri­fices she will have to make, leav­ing ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one be­hind? “I don’t see it as a sac­ri­fice in the sense of los­ing my fam­ily,” Christy tells me. “I will be com­mu­ni­cat­ing with them, and there will be the new fam­ily, my team. There is go­ing to be a feel­ing of loss, but the ac­com­plish­ment and the daily grind of sur­viv­ing and thriv­ing on Mars will make up for that.”

I hope she’s right. I hope what she gives away—her mar­riage, her chance to raise and know chil­dren, what­ever more pro­saic con­tri­bu­tions she might have made to her com­mu­nity here on Earth—will be worth it. For now, the fu­ture beck­ons, the per­sonal trainer is wait­ing, and it’s time for Christy to go.

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