Mars One: Real or Reality TV Blackhole?

Surfing around the net this morning I noticed the type of headline that you don’t expect every day. It declared that Five Britons have just been shortlisted for a controversial mission to Mars to establish a settlement on the ‘red planet’. As soon as I read that the whole thing was launched by Mars One in 2011, I began to wonder if I had perhaps drifted a little too far from the ‘Real’ world, by preferring to spend most of my time in a little fishing village, trying to edit and complete my latest book. How could I not notice something as fundamental as creating a permanent settlement on the red planet, a gig that I soon learned had seen more than 200,000 applicants for the privately-funded one-way missions due to blast off in 2024.

spaceship.jpgPhoto by James Vaughan

The project organiser is the Dutch entrepreneur Bars Lansdorp, who claims the citizen astronauts will grow their own food and be protected from deadly radiation by a “hollow water tank”. The first unmanned rover will be deployed on the planet by 2020 to chose a location where the soil contains water and enough sunlight to power the settlement. Mr Lansdorp said: “The brightest young minds of our planet are being invited to participate in Mars One’s first Mars Lander. We do this to inspire students to believe that anything is possible.”

So far so good, it all sounded very positive – apart from the One-way element of the trip. However, suspicious journalists and other critics believe the mission is nothing more than a publicity stunt to raise revenue for a reality television series by Big Brother producer Endemol. Australian journalist Elmo Keep dug a little deeper and told Sky News this week: “200,000 people did not apply; 2,071 paid the registration fee… According to the dozens of people I interviewed over the course of a year for the story, there is scant-to-no proof Mars One has any capability to make it real.”

So where does the truth lie? Forgive me for thinking it, but won’t any mission to send and sustain life on another planet be astronomically (no pun intended) expensive? Billions and Billions of Euro’s perhaps? Mars One have declared themselves to be a self financing project and a quick look at their website will show you that they have already begun knocking out quite a few overpriced items, which they are happy to exchange for our cash. Indeed, even before you are able to interact as part of their Global Community, you must, as a minimum have at least made a cash donation to the project or dented your credit card in their on-line merchandise shop. Of course something from the same stable as Big Brother won’t pass up a chance to franchise out things like the Astronaut Selection Process TV rights, with a dozen or so other spin-offs to wet the apatite’s of advertisers. A Mars One statement announced earlier that: “Endemol-owned Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP) will exclusively follow the selection and training of the astronauts.” However, a DSP spokesperson announced only last week that they had pulled out of the project after failing to reach agreement on the details of the contract. Perhaps DSP know it will never get off the ground or perhaps more alarmingly, it will go ahead, half thought out and half funded to add further peril to the almost certain early death any successful astronauts will eventually have to face.

notes.jpgPhoto by Images Money

Call me a party pooper if you must, but after reading recent research carried out at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which suggests that a manned mission to Mars would see the crew die within 68 days, I think Mars One really needs to begin thinking of how it can sex up its dire Unique Selling Point (USP) of 15 minutes of fame followed by an almost certain lingering death.

Amazingly there are some who would still go just for the thrill of getting a footnote in our history books… erm before they die. Hannah Earnshaw, a 23-year-old astronomy student at Durham University, is among the Britons on the shortlist and said the trip was really appealing. “My family is pretty thrilled. They’re really happy for me,” she said. “Obviously it’s going to be challenging, leaving Earth and not coming back… I’ve had support from my friends and family and we can still communicate via the internet.” Ms Earnshaw did admit, however that she “wasn’t surprised” there was scepticism about a project which she said was only “feasible”. But International Space Station Commander Chris Hadfield said candidates would be disappointed because: “There’s a great self-defeating optimism in the way this project has been set up… I fear it’s going to be a little disillusioning for people because it’s presented as if it’s going to happen and so all those people are excited.”

So is it just a money making publicity stunt? Challenged over the likelihood of the project getting off the ground, Mr Lansdorp still rejects claims the mission is a stunt. “If you look at the team involved in Mars One, none of us would do this as a hoax.”

It would be interesting to see if Mr Lansdorp eventually puts his money (or should I say our money) where his mouth is and flies off with them… now that really would be something I would watch on my TV.


Yes, Yes It’s Valentine’s Day Again.

Valentine’s Day is now a multi billion pound/dollar occasion but has it always been here or is it just a load of clever marketing?

A few years ago I remember suddenly being confronted with a poster asking me: ‘What will you get Them this Year?’ This over a colourful banner declaring that some date or other was now ‘Grandparent’s Day’ or as displayed in another card sellers window: ‘World Grandparent’s Day’ although I am not sure how the word ‘World’ altered the implied sentiment. I remember thinking at the time ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ Then I had terrifying visions of my one surviving Grandmother, or rather Nana, who is still around and still possess the power to whither anyone within hearing range, with a single word demanding to know what I was doing sending her such a card, and then more than likely setting fire to the thing, before lighting yet another cigarette with it.

Bee My Valentine.jpgPhoto by Karen Horton

Of course it didn’t take too long for me to get to the bottom of what I suspected was going on. Yes you guessed it – The UK’s Carlton Cards and a few smaller brands had joined forces with that Global behemoth of them all: America’s Hallmark Cards and decided, Cartel style, to reveal to us a whole new stable of “Celebration Days” that from what I can see, they created almost singlehandedly. This move against an unsuspecting public of people like me, who not only forget their own birthdays, but worse, often remember too late, when an obligatory card Must be dispatched. The scary thing is that this blatant ploy, to squeeze more money out of more conscientious card and gift senders than I could ever be, almost worked. If only they had squeezed out Grandparent’s Day alone, which may have been a slow burner, it may have ultimately carved out a place in our annual list of anxiety making celebrations. Not unlike Halloween, which as a kid we only celebrated with a carved lantern, which stunk out our houses with scorched turnip for a few days, before being quickly forgotten, but now has become a multimillion pound annual business of plastic tat, costumes, trick or treat, and oh yes, celebration cards.

Anyway, as I was saying, the Card Cartel just got plain greedy because it wasn’t too long before their shop windows had some kind of celebration poster up almost every week. Here’s a handful dates that they have been trying to sell to us:

January 11th World Ex’s Day – yes you guessed it where you are suppose to touch base with your Ex with a card or a phone call… yes your Ex Girlfriend/s, Boyfriend/s. Nooooooo don’t do it!
April 10th May 5th Brother’s day – for some reason there are now 2 days so if you forget the first you can…
July 26th Uncle & Aunt’s Day
August 11th Son & Daughter’s Day
October 2nd World Sister’s Day
October 3rd Grandparent’s Day
The-Sunday-after-Mothers-Day Step Mother’s Day
April 1st* 2nd Cousin Twice Removed Day
*Sorry I couldn’t resist making that last one up, maybe an April Fool’s Joke? Although, I could also argue that my dates share just as much legitimacy, as those thrust onto our high streets at the behest of someone’s marketing department.

I digress…
Returning to Valentine’s Day – It all began as a liturgical celebration one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Several martyrdom stories were invented for the various Valentines that belonged to February 14. A popular hagiographical account of Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.

The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and eventually sending greeting cards. Of course peer/ partner pressure has pushed the envelope on what is expected until now, for some, a simple card is not enough and many people now expect at least a weekend city break or an upgrade of last year’s Cartier watch. Whereas in the world I once inhabited a decent night out, maybe a candlelit dinner was usually the minimum expected to keep that special person smiling. Although in my own experience, the annual wrestle to find a table, even at just a half decent pizza restaurant needs a degree of planning in order to avoid having to accept a vacant table at 10.30 at night.

Of course Valentine’s Day is not welcomed everywhere, and not just by the most pathologically none romantic amongst us.

Love is a human right.jpgPhoto by Lewisham Dreamer

Iran Most Islamic teachers see the celebrations as opposed to Islamic culture. So the printing and distribution of any goods promoting the holiday, including cards, gifts and teddy bears could land you behind bars.
Malaysia Islamic officials in Malaysia warned Muslims against celebrating Valentine’s Day, linking it with vice activities. Even the Deputy Prime Minister said the celebration of romantic love was “not suitable” for Muslims
Pakistan While most Islamic political parties have called for the banning of Valentine’s Day celebration. Despite this, the celebration has become popular among urban youth and the florists expect to sell a great amount of flowers, especially red roses.
Saudi Arabia Religious police have banned the sale of all Valentine’s Day items, because the day is considered a Christian holiday. In 2012 the religious police arrested more than 140 Muslims for celebrating the holiday, some who were reportedly struck with canes, and they also confiscated all red roses from flower shops.
Turkey Although many people say Turkey is losing much of its Secular identity, and while some in the ruling Islamist leaning AKP, might welcome similar measures to the more conservative minded states listed above, Turkey has actually avoided much of the Christian connotations associated with St Valentine by simply renaming the day in recent decades as Sevgi Gunu, which roughly translates to Love Day.

After reading this you may think I posses a slight degree of cynicism if not outright dislike for the 14th of February, but dear reader you would be very, very wrong to think so. Although I don’t claim to be this great romantic I have still enjoyed some incredibly close and romantic Valentine’s days over the years. However, this date only became important to me for one massive reason a few years ago, on a day that was quite possibly the best day of my life. It was the day I witnessed the birth of someone very, very special.

Photo by Adrian Pratt

Baked it myself!