Could You Fly To Mars?


The challenge for a manned mission to Mars is neither cost nor technology, but coping with solitude. Imagine being stuck with the same people for two or three years in a confined space with minimal food, entertainment, and contact with Earth. Jason Stuster, a NASA research consultant, who studied the diaries of explorers to remote regions on earth such as the Antarctic found that many would fall into depression or suffer psychoses (think Tarkovsky’s movie “Solaris”)[1].

What Stuster found was that leaders who relied less on status and more on consulting their crew did best. After all, there is no scope to distance themselves from the crew, nor can they deprive the crew of anything as they are already on basic subsistence. As for picking crew members, social compatibility and low achievement needs were very important.

But perhaps the best approach was that of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the British polar explorer from the early 1900s. In interviews, he would ask odd questions such as ‘why are you wearing glasses?’ or ‘can you sing?’ Funny or witty answers to such questions would trump technical expertise for Shackleton hiring decisions. But best of all was his  recruiting notice in newspapers:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success”

Though I’d love to go to Mars, I don’t think I’d meet the above criteria, would you?!

[1] “Bold Endeavors: Lesson From Polar and Space Exploration” by Jason Stuster. Astronauts have commonly taken this book with them on space missions. The New Yorker magazine also has a great article on planned missions to Mars.

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