Mars Exchange
Is broadcasting the human Mars mission as entertainment opening up moral risks?

Is broadcasting the human Mars mission as entertainment opening up moral risks?

by Vince on Thursday, 6th November 2014 in Expert Opinions, People, Mason Peck

We’ve sometimes been asked why Mars One will be televised, and if there’s a risk of converting a human exploration and settlement project into a marketing venture. In this edition of Mars One Exchange, adviser Mason Peck, PhD (see http://www.mars-one.com/about-mars-one/advisers/dr.-mason-peck-usa) addresses those questions. A professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University, Peck served as NASA’s Chief Technologist from late 2011 through 2013, advising the head of NASA on technology issues. In addition to his doctorate in aerospace engineering, Peck has an academic background in humanities.

In a previous installments of Mars One Exchange, Mason Peck answered the Mars One community questions Is a one-way mission insane? and Are we invading Mars? In this installment, he answers the question Isn’t funding this through reality TV unethical, especially since people may die?

“Coverage would be unethical if you were using these people unawares, through a hidden camera. Reality TV and the prospect of profits for some third party is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It’s ephemeral, like so many pop culture phenomena. Fifty years ago that means would be something else—maybe fear based on Cold-War paranoia would have fueled attempts to settle Mars—and there will be some other motivation fifty years hence. What’s constant is our desire to explore, to be fulfilled (personally and as a community) because we’re a species that continually reaches for new heights and reveals the unknown. That’s the nobler end. Human nature will always be with us, and we’ll have to take the good with the bad."

“People will tune in for all sorts of reasons. Some will for the same reason that some people watch NASCAR races hoping to see a driver slam into the wall. But more people will watch this because it is a great adventure. They will be cheering the astronauts on. They will be living vicariously through the astronauts. That’s nothing but good."

“And entertainment isn’t an end in itself, either. The goal is to settle the solar system. So reality TV is about funding, a means to an end. Frankly, if the public or philanthropists would put up the money without the need for TV, I’m sure Mars One would be glad to accept it!”

How can we be sure that Mars One will always remain a human achievement and never become a marketing plan in disguise?

“Mars will eventually become a source of economic activity—noble, crass, and everything in between. In that sense it will be just like Earth. We are what we choose to be. Consider the history of utopian societies, some of which Europeans began in America. They had mixed success, most of them failing because of despotic and incompetent leadership. Eventually our nation settled into an imperfect mixture of subcultures with a range of values, on average a middle ground between utopia and dystopia. I don’t imagine Mars will be any different in the long run. In the near term, though, the first settlers can and will aspire to something greater, holding onto lofty ideals as long as they can in the face of danger and privation."

“The general point I’d make is that very few things in the real world happen without money. Something as extraordinary as colonizing Mars or settling the solar system is going to take some money no matter how you do it. We have to be realistic and come up with the means we can within the limits or morality and the law. What Mars One is doing is inventive, and I don’t think it is particularly harmful. I think making an adventure like this entertainment is just acknowledging how people would respond anyway.”

What do you think? Looking forward to hearing your opinions!

Story contributed by Vincent Hyman, a Mars One volunteer living in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. 

Photo credits header image:

  • Left: NASA / Bill Ingalls
  • Center: WPI Marketing & Communications / Boynton Hall
  • Right: NASA Goddard / Bill Hrybyk
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