Should the Space Program Join Forces with Reality TV?

First Virtuality, and now Defying Gravity, predict we'll someday watch the adventures of cloistered astronauts broadcast from space. But why wait? Some suggest the upcoming simulated Mars missions offer the perfect opportunity to introduce the space program to reality television.

Since a manned mission to Mars would, using current technology, take roughly 520 days, both NASA and the ESA have planned simulated missions to test their astronauts' ability to live in tight quarters for extended periods of time. Six NASA astronauts recently completed a 105-day mock mission, and a 520-day simulation is in the works. The ESA, in a joint effort with the Russian Academy of Science's Institute for Medical-Biological Problems, is also planning a 100-day lock-in, offering astronauts who survive the experience a reality show-eque incentive of $20,000 each.

Luke McKinney of the Daily Galaxy thinks the ESA has missed a valuable opportunity to increase interest in the space program by treating its astronauts like island castaways:

With all the recent work by space agencies to raise their profile in the public eye, especially in a world with people asking "Why should we spend money on this when nobody has any?" You literally don't need to add anything - the experiment will be full of cameras anyway, you've got volunteers from three different countries (Russian, Germany and France), you just need to connect it to the TV and it'll start making money. Also, elimination rounds and "voting people off" is a lot more interesting with spaceships and airlocks.

It's a cute idea, but the biggest obstacle the NASA astronauts faced in their 105 days of isolation wasn't back-biting, strategizing, or romantic entanglements — it was boredom. And the sorts of antics that fuel reality television aren't exactly conducive to a successful space mission. Still, perhaps this is the golden opportunity for some enterprising reality TV exec: finding a way to break up the monotony of space travel without sabotaging the mission, and somehow keeping audiences coming back week after week.

Manned Mission-to-Mars Simulation: The Ultimate Reality TV Show [Daily Galaxy]