Mars One: Drama queens not welcome

Mars One is sending 100 people to the planet. Why and secondly, who?

planet mars close up with sunrise in space 158456999
Credit: Thinkstock

There's a curious project underway in the Netherlands right now: not-for-profit Mars One wants to land the first humans onto Mars and establish a permanent human colony by 2025. It recently winnowed down a list of hundreds of applications to select 50 men and 50 women to settle Mars, sent in groups of four every two years starting in 2024. Of course, though, there is a long way between selecting a team and actual liftoff for the storied planet.

Still, watching events unfold for the trip is fun and – for the inner geek in most of us – thought-provoking as well.

Why, for example, is Mars One sending humans instead of robots to the planet? But since humans are going, what would make the best mix of skill sets and personalities? Finally, perhaps the biggest question of all, why colonize Mars in the first place?

Keep this in mind about the Mars One mission, Bernard Bates, an instructor of Astronomy at University of Puget Sound tells me when I asked him the above.

"This is not about exploring Mars in a systematic way – it is about colonizing Mars quickly." And the press is clearly nice too, he says.

For that reason robots, even though they don’t get jealous or turn into drama queens for example, won't work. Also, Bates can't help but add, "it's hard to raise money and sell t-shirts by proposing sending intelligent rovers to Mars."

Picking just the right mix of teammates is therefore crucial to the mission's success.

Some thoughts:

No square pegs. Team members have to be a natural fit for the extreme working environment of the Mars One mission, says Matt Poepsel, Vice President of Product Management at PI Worldwide. "For example, if a geological scientist would naturally prefer ample time spent in quiet solitude thinking about complex problems, that opportunity may not be possible on this mission. Putting a square peg into a round hole may have dire consequences for the Mars One team."

Diverse personalities. While certain personality traits can be ruled out – no drama queens need apply – the mission should have a wide range of personalities, Poepsel says.

"Some people are naturally people-oriented while others tend to be task-oriented. This mission will require both due to its interpersonal and technical requirements," he says. "Some people tend to be dynamic, proactive and venturesome. Others prefer to adhere to systems, structure and rules."

 Some nurturing types. Whatever they do, they shouldn’t populate the team with nothing but right-brain personalities, says Michael Lee Stallard, author of the forthcoming book, Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work.

 "There is a very real risk of loneliness," he says. "Human connection makes people more productive, healthier and happier where feeling lonely makes people vulnerable to stress, anxiety, depression and addiction."

 Maybe the decision not to send robots was a good one, after all.

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