Thoughts on National Geographic’s “Mars”

I’d be dishonest if I came out and said I was impressed with National Geographic’s’ weekly serial “Mars” as I’ve erased it from my DVD timers and all but stopped watching after the first episode. However, the episodes over the past two weeks have caught my interest as they have focused more on the human equation of establishing an outpost on Mars rather than the technical challenges. Particularly, the schisms forming between the public and private bodies of the venture are showing the challenges that could develop and the added risk it creates for those sent to perform the task of establishing a presence on the Red Planet.

Let’s be clear, a manned mission to Mars to establish an outpost is going to be an immense undertaking, and the best way to accomplish that task is for private industry to partner with government. It’s also going to be extremely dangerous, and the likelihood of death is high. That said, “Mars” entered a new phase in the last two episodes where it focused on the schism between private and public interests and how the high-risk approach of the private sector clashes with the more cautious approach of the public sector.

Certainly, this is a scripted show, but it does raise the concern about the human variables and how differing perspectives ultimately could affect life or death decisions. Moreover, when it comes to choosing the personnel, the question is raised as to what the influence of the private sector is willing to ignore. For example, an individual may be the top in their field, but if the psychological profile would not be conducive to the severities of the mission, should that lacking be overlooked and more critically, would the interests of the public or private partners override or dominate and check off that box regardless? In the world of new space, which is driven by a lot of ego and charisma, the concern of whether those dominate personalities would prevail and potentially endanger others is cogent.

This concern is valid for the world of space policy and space law as well. As noted by one of the policy experts, who was instrumental in shifting the paradigm of the Outer Space Treaty to create “space resources”, in that

Space policy is just words. Words without money are goals. Add money and things happen.”

That may be the case, but policy and the law are not just words. They have a real world effect on how legal instruments like the Outer Space Treaty are interpreted and those interpretations ripple across the framework of international law sometimes with unintended consequence. Indeed, space policy may be just words, but when money is added for the sake of creating money, are the consequences of those policies beneficial in the long run.

This is where I begin to warm to  “Mars” as it presents these real world issues and brings home a reality that is sorely lacking in online arguments and assertions and ventures like Mars One and the snarkiness underlying The Martian.  Not only does “Mars” appear to address the potential of Mars for human-kind, but it blows away the star dust and romanticism and gives the viewer an opportunity to further examine human-kind to show the variables both on Earth and a Mars outpost that might ultimately spell success failure for such a venture but also could be the difference between life and death.

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