In this weeks episode (week 4) Canadian film maker James Cameron explores the human aspects of a manned mission to Mars. The planned crew of 6 people will need to live and work in the equivalent of a small apartment for over two and a half years. There are many potential problems, and they need to be addressed before we head off on this journey of discovery. The human mind is a complex and often confusing place.

I love my wife dearly, but on occasions we do not see eye to eye. I have the luxury of retreating to another room, or even sitting in the garden. The explorers on their journey to the Red Planet however will not have a place to hide, there will be no sanctuary of the bedroom or the garden.

Finding 6 people that can peacefully co-exist for almost 1000 days is a huge issue. In the 60’s and 70’s NASA used Air Force Test Pilots as their human Guinea Pigs to as one put it “sit in a damn can”. They were rough, tough, and not afraid to die, and indeed several did perish. This kind of ‘Right Stuff’ will not work on a mission of this duration. Big ego’s, and a cowboy attitude will most certainly cause conflict and mayhem, but equally you need a crew that is forward thinking, and resourceful. As William Shatner alludes to in his excellent job as the shows narrator, “you can’t just run out to your local Home Depot and get tools or materials, so you better have the Duct Tape with you”.

The psychological problems are enormous, and both NASA and the Russian Space Agency have already had their share of problems with astronauts even on relatively short excursions to space. Threats of suicide and murder have emerged from even brief space trips.

Isolation from the Earth, and confinement in a small space is going to provide a huge challenge to those brave souls that take this historic trip. ‘Idle fingers do the devils work’, so the saying goes, and with 6 months of absolute monotony just on the journey to Mars who knows if 6 people can co-exist in such a small space. Reality says that conflicts will occur, the big question is how they will be managed? There will be up to a 22 minute delay with radio communication with the mission controllers here on Earth, and a lot can happen in 22 minutes!

The Human Factor airs on The Science Channel Tuesday 20th of November at 9pm.

Simon Barrett

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