My mind is filled with misgivings on this. In the first place, reality shows have less than a proven track record at distinguishing the truly talented from the merely photogenic (Name the debut albums of any five American Idol winners). I can’t escape the notion that a genius is going to lose to an attractive mediocrity in the race to be the first extraterrestrial human.
In the second place, can humans actually, you know, live on Mars?
How are they going to get food? What are they going to live in? How will they get air to breathe? Sure, they’ll be sent into space with these things, but a lifetime’s supply?
Mars is poorly suited for human habitation. There’s some ice at the poles and perhaps some water in underground repositories. Gravity is only 38 percent as strong as on Earth. The atmosphere is thin and consists mostly of carbon dioxide (95%). So colonists would have to either take air from Earth or make air on Mars. Plants efficiently separate the oxygen bound to carbon and therefore can make air we can breathe, so colonists should take plants along.
The Martian atmosphere is too thin to hold oxygen, which would just escape to space. So the plants would have to be cultivated in greenhouses and the oxygen they produce kept in flasks.
Mars has a very weak magnetic field, and its atmosphere offers little protection against radiation from space. So the Martian colonists would have to build radiation protection into their houses and wear thick suits. Unlike Earth, where most incoming meteorites burn up in the atmosphere, many meteorites crash dangerously onto the surface of Mars.
The Martian weather is awful. It’s cold: the average temperature of the southern hemisphere is minus 60 degrees Celsius; even at the equator, it’s seldom over zero. Winds are fierce and blow at speeds of several hundred kilometres an hour, and storms can last for months. The wind whirls up fine dust that penetrates everything and sticks to all surfaces, which literally would toss sand in the gears of vital mechanical and electronic equipment.
And even if all of that is overcome, what’s the next step? Are the First Martians merely going on an extended vacation, or are they planning on breeding? Since the contest is going to narrow things down to 4 people, does that mean 2 men and 2 women? We know that sex in space is well, difficult, and reproduction in space may be highly unlikely (and inadvisable anyway, due to the hightened levels of ratiation). Will Mars be any better? Even if the radiation issue gets handled, Mars’ gravity is not going to get any stronger.
Let’s keep in mind that it takes a little under a year to even get to Mars, and that’s when the planet is closest to us. So those winners better have monastic discipline even to survive the journey. If growing food doesn’t work out, resupply operations will probably be available at three-year intervals, at best. And unless some means of blasting off the planet is developed, a rescue operation is impossible.
Bottom line: The Martian Roanoke, without the thrill of mystery.