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Destler Dodge

The Mars One mission has been met with intense skepticism throughout its brief existence; it’s been called dangerous, improbable, even a scam. The organization’s basic goal – to land the first humans on Mars in an attempt to create a permanent human colony by 2027 – undoubtedly raises eyebrows. With criticisms of the mission’s selection processes, safety, and ultimate feasibility, many doubt that the mission will ever get off the ground. While it's true that there are questionable aspects of the organization, we must avoid cynicism about private space exploration given its ultimate importance.

Here’s an unfortunate truth: the government doesn’t give a shit about space exploration anymore. Or rather, it gives .5 percent of a shit about space exploration; that’s the amount of the Federal Budget given to NASA by the US government in 2015. As a point of comparison, the government gave NASA 4.41 percent of the Federal Budget in 1966. While the specter of the Soviet Union was once a solid motivation for the U.S. to fund space exploration, the dread of paying higher taxes is more of a motivation for the average modern American. Whether more funding should be allocated to NASA or not is another argument entirely; the reality is that the U.S. government can’t be relied on for the future of space travel. That leaves the private sector to pick up the slack.

However, there are many problems that private space exploration has yet to overcome. For one, the capital necessary to successfully fund a venture into space would have to be both enormous and steady. With something as unpredictable and dangerous as space travel, attaining that capital through investors would be a gamble; one accident and it could mean millions down the drain. That’s why most of the big names in private space exploration – SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and Blue Origin – were all founded by owners of well-established companies (PayPal, Virgin Group, and Amazon, respectively). As promising as these companies may be, an entire industry cannot be propelled solely by the endeavors of a few motivated individuals.

Private investors and eccentric billionaires can’t be completely relied on for the funding of private space exploration. This is where Mars One shines; Mars One intends to partially fund their project through crowdfunding. In addition, Mars One plans to monetize the mission with sponsorships and broadcasting rights as they document the mission for the whole world to see.  By emphasizing the media aspect of the mission, they embrace the current cultural landscape and attempt to utilize it in their business model; entertainment is a vastly more powerful motivator than the pursuit of knowledge and the good of mankind. Regardless of success, wouldn’t you watch a mission to Mars? Crowdfunding allows for large sums to be raised with less financial commitment to each individual backer, which is ideal for something as risky as space exploration. But Mars One’s greatest asset is its ability to communicate with a large audience and energize them about the prospect of space travel, something that most other players in the field lack.

This is why we can’t be cynical with endeavors like Mars One. Yes, the organization’s methods are sketchy. Yes, the mission will in all likelihood fail. I’m not going to dispute facts or argue against a scientific consensus. But we shouldn’t completely discount the project and throw the baby out with the bathwater; its grasp of modern culture is something all space organizations can and should learn from. Most importantly, we can’t let cynicism define something as important as space travel, especially when it’s future depends on public opinion now more than ever. So instead of ridicule, let’s treat Mars One with the serious consideration it deserves.