Jokers please: first human Mars mission may need onboard comedians

Wanted: smart, fit and unflappable applicants for humanity’s first mission to Mars. Must have: crazy wig, oversized boots and a big red nose.

Wanted: smart, fit and unflappable applicants for humanity’s first mission to Mars. Must have: crazy wig, oversized boots and a big red nose.

It is enough to make Neil Armstrong spin in his grave, but researchers have found that the success of a future mission to the red planet may depend on the ship having a class clown.

Rather than the cool personality that underpinned the Right Stuff in the Apollo era, future astronauts may need to prove they have something very different: the Silly Stuff. An onboard comedian is a proven way to unite teams in stressful situations, research shows.

“These are people that have the ability to pull everyone together, bridge gaps when tensions appear and really boost morale,” said Jeffrey Johnson, an anthropologist at the University of Florida. “When you’re living with others in a confined space for a long period of time, such as on a mission to Mars, tensions are likely to fray. It’s vital you have somebody who can help everyone get along, so they can do their jobs and get there and back safely. It’s mission critical.”

Johnson spent four years studying overwintering crews in Antarctica and identified the importance of clowns, leaders, buddies, storytellers, peacemakers and counsellors for bonding teams together and making them work smoothly. He found the same mixes worked in US, Russian, Polish, Chinese and Indian bases.

“These roles are informal, they emerge within the group. But the interesting thing is that if you have the right combination the group does very well. And if you don’t, the group does very badly,” he said.

The view across Elysium Planitia, the vast lava plain near the equator of Mars, taken by Nasa’s InSight lander in November 2018.

The view across Elysium Planitia, the vast lava plain near the equator of Mars, taken by Nasa’s InSight lander in November 2018. Photograph: EPA

Nasa plans to fly astronauts around the moon in 2023 as part of its preparation for a crewed mission to Mars as early as 2033. The Russian and Chinese space agencies have proposed human missions from 2040 onwards. Private ventures such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX have also set their sights on the planet.

But a mission to Mars is no cakewalk. On average, the red planet is 140m miles from Earth and the travel time one way is around eight months. The distance alone is expected to take a psychological toll, but astronauts must also face a time delay in communications of up to 20 minutes each way. In an emergency, there will be no time to call mission control: the crew are effectively on their own.

Even minor delays in communication are bad for crews. When Nasa tested a 50 second communications delay on astronauts on the international space station, they found well-being slumped and frustration rose, with knock-on effects for how efficiently tasks got done.

Johnson is now working with Nasa to explore whether clowns and other characters are crucial for the success of long space missions. So far he has monitored four groups of astronauts who spent 30 to 60 days in the agency’s mock space habitat, the Human Exploration Research Analog, or Hera, in Houston, Texas.

“We now want to see if these types of informal role dynamics function similarly in space-simulated environments,” Johnson said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington DC. Early results suggest they do, he said.

Johnson, who also studied isolated salmon fishers in Alaska, found that clowns were often willing to be the butt of jokes and pranks. In Antarctica, one clown he observed endured a mock funeral and burial in the tundra, but was crucial for building bridges between clusters of overwintering scientists and between contractors and researchers, or “beakers” as the contractors called them.

The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen appreciated the importance of the expedition clown, Johnson said. In 1910, Amundsen picked the large, jolly chef Adolf Lindstrøm for his attempt on the South Pole, knowing that Lindstrøm’s joie de vivre would relieve the stress of homesickness and the long polar nights. “He has rendered greater and more valuable services to the Norwegian polar expedition than any other man,” Amundsen noted in his diary.

Johnson said: “Lindstrøm was viewed by others as a great entertainer who helped maintain spirits and morale over the long austral winter. His role was informal but critical for maintaining group cohesion in this extreme environment.

“Scott’s polar expedition was radically different. The crew broke into cliques, they didn’t have a cohesive group.”

But, as Lindstrøm showed, there is more to it than making people laugh. “Being funny won’t be enough to land somebody the job,” Johnson added.

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NASA Opportunity rover: Could Elon Musk and SpaceX RESCUE stranded Mars rover?

Opportunity’s end sparked a surge of emotion, and has also led some to ask whether SpaceX founder Elon Musk could come to Opportunity’s rescue.

It would be an incredibly difficult challenge to repurpose its onboard instruments to even clear dust from Opportunity’s solar panels.

And the final problem is time – even if NASA’s Curiosity rover could race to Opportunity, the Martian winter is about to arrive.

These freezing conditions should exacerbate any damage to Opportunity now it can no longer able to keep itself warm.

The twisting terrain of Vera Rubin Ridge on Mars has been home to NASA’s Curiosity for the last year.

As a final gesture before trekking toward a nearby region rich in clay, the probe captured a stunning 360-degree panorama of its final worksite at the ridge.

Curiosity, which has been exploring the Martian surface since 2012, continues to truck on.

This is despite worn wheels, a drill requiring significant repair work, and a memory glitch severely limiting its capacities.

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Tickets to Mars may be cheaper than you think, SpaceX founder Elon Musk says

SpaceX is currently working on a rocket called Starship, which it hopes to eventually send to Mars with Earthlings who want to colonize the Red Planet …

When asked this week on Twitter what the estimated cost for tickets to the moon or Mars would be, the tech titan responded that the price might go as low as under $100,000.

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Want to Move to Mars? A Round-Trip Ticket Will Only Cost $100000 According to Elon Musk

Elon Musk just suggested that the price for a trip to Mars and back could be as low as $100,000. He added the qualifier that the price depends on …

Elon Musk just suggested that the price for a trip to Mars and back could be as low as $100,000. He added the qualifier that the price depends on volume. So it looks like the price is anything but astronomical.

In a tweet on Sunday night, Musk had this to say:

Very dependent on volume, but I’m confident moving to Mars (return ticket is free) will one day cost less than $500k & maybe even below $100k. Low enough that most people in advanced economies could sell their home on Earth & move to Mars if they want.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2019

Sunday night. He said it. He really said it.

Not everybody’s buying it, of course. It seems pretty optimistic. One Twitter user was particularly succinct in his skepticism:

“Move to Mars for $500,000”. Fyre Festival Part Deux.

— Perk (@perk) February 11, 2019

In case you missed it, the Fyre Festival was a failed music festival, a luxury music festival in fact, that was going to be held on an island in the Bahamas. It was promoted by people with big names in entertainment and social influence.

The problem with the Fyre Festival was that many of the famous celebrities and social media influencers had actually been paid to promote the festival, but hadn’t disclosed that info. In the end, the Festival was an abject failure. People paid big money but didn’t receive what they promised. Right now the Fyre Festival is the subject of several lawsuits, and the founder was convicted of fraud, sentenced to prison for six years, and fined $26 million. Netflix even made a documentary about it.

But enough about that fiasco. Back to Mars.

Musk is no dummy, and he knows that his statements will be met with healthy skepticism. In a follow-up Tweet, he seems to be banking on his track record of openness to counteract the skepticism.

Just planning on keeping the public informed about progress & setbacks. Will be some RUDs along the way, but excitement is guaranteed!

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2019

It’s a little unfair to compare Musk’s statements about trips to Mars to the Fyre Festival. The Fyre Festival was a scam, while Musk has delivered on many of his projects. While the Starship program seems so futuristic and science-fictiony that it’s kind of hard to believe, his track record with rocketry and space flight speaks for itself.

It’s fascinating to think that we’re on the verge of private citizens travelling to Mars for a few hundred thousand dollars.

What do you think? Is it realistic? Would you do it?

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Elon Musk Says a Seat To Mars Will Cost You $500000

Elon Musk says it could cost up to $500,000 to earn a seat on a SpaceX rocket sending Earthlings to colonize Mars, Extreme Tech reports. With news …
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That includes the return ticket.

9 hours ago

Elon Musk says it could cost up to $500,000 to earn a seat on a SpaceX rocket sending Earthlings to colonize Mars, Extreme Tech reports.

With news that Mars One has bit the dust, Mars lovers seeking a new, more legitimate opportunity to travel to the Red Planet are looking to SpaceX for their next shot at colonizing Earth’s neighbor.

Very dependent on volume, but I’m confident moving to Mars (return ticket is free) will one day cost less than $500k & maybe even below $100k. Low enough that most people in advanced economies could sell their home on Earth & move to Mars if they want.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2019

Hopefully, the cost will decrease to less than $100,000. “Low enough that most people in advanced economies could sell their home on Earth & move to Mars if they want,” the billionaire tweeted.

If you think the price tag isn’t worth the trip, keep in mind that your return ticket is included. Meanwhile, currently the cost to take a sub-orbital flight with Virgin Galactic, which only lasts a few minutes, comes in at a cold $200K.

There’s still a lot of work to be done before SpaceX can rocket Earthlings up into space and to Mars. Musk’s team still has to finalize plans and build the actual habitats on Mars, as well as train the Martian pioneers how to actually colonize.

Read the full story at Extreme Tech

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