NASA is figuring out how to take the next great leap into space. The difficulty is, if we leap to Mars, we might not make it back.
Roman Mars (no relation) probes into the “One Person, One Way” proposal for Martian exploration.
Roman Mars is the creator of 99% Invisible, a short radio show about design and architecture, which recently reached #2 in the iTunes rankings for all podcasts, as well as #1 in both the Arts and the Design categories. Mars is also the host and program director of Public Radio Remix from PRX, a 24-hour, innovative public radio story stream broadcast on XM 123 and public radio stations across the country.
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BEHIND THE SCENES with Roman Mars
This story is like an Arthur C. Clark book come alive. Or Ray Bradbury. Or maybe Twilight Zone. But as we know, truth is often stranger than fiction and the idea of one guy alone on Mars without a way to come back definitely qualifies as strange. But so intriguing. Where did you find out about Mr. McClane and was it tough to get him to talk to you or was he dying to talk to you?
I came across a couple of McClane's articles early in my research, but it took a bit of searching to get to him. I finally contacted one of the magazine publishers in order to track him down. Once I got his email address, we were off to the races. The same reason I was attracted to his writing made him a very responsive and helpful interviewee. He's a great advocate for an idea that's important to him. You can't find a better subject. I would characterize him as very eager.
I love the tone of this piece: informative, funny, playful, interesting. And it is reinforced by the sound design. Did you know right away how you wanted to approach this piece or did it evolve after a few dozen crumpled pieces of paper were hurled into the garbage can?And what thoughts went into the sound design?
Getting assigned a space story is a dream, because the sound design has been so firmly established by SciFi movies, that you have a lot to work with and build from. I knew the design had to give the subject the proper reverence, because standing on the surface of Mars for the first time should feel big and sweeping. The music does a lot of the heaving lifting there, but I also varied my tone greatly to match. Music from "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is there, plus lots of astronaut radio chatter.
Whenever I can legitimately use radio static, I'm over the moon (so to speak), because I use it for no good reason all the time anyway. I loved going through the moon mission audio mining for clips to use. I always tend to think of myself as an audio producer and sound guy, but this piece marks the start of me relying much more heavily on writing and narration. I wanted to be sure that it was funny and the copy was clever, because my major mission in life is to be Sean Cole. He is the best at creating a tone that's joking and his personality really shines through, but the subject of the piece is always the subject of the piece. His radio work is never about him, even though he is often my favorite part.
I was also doing the piece for Peter Clowney and John Moe of APM, who are both really funny and great writers (Peter corrected my overuse of gerunds in an early draft!), and I felt a tremendous pressure to deliver something they would want to put on their new show (I can't tell you how awesome it felt to make John Moe laugh in a phone edit). I think I put together something good enough, but their input made it so it's something Third Coast would actually want to feature on the site. I'd say it is pretty close to how I imagined it from the beginning, but tighter. I had a lot of big philosophical ideas or digressions I wanted to cover, but couldn't fit in for some reason or another. All in all, I'd say once I got started, it came together rather quickly. One major sideline I wanted to explore, but just couldn't fit into the piece is the singular awesomeness of Chris McKay, the NASA guy, who in this story mainly serves as the splash of cold water on the one-way plan, but in real life is also wildly imaginative and has great ethics and ideas about how we should treat Mars once we colonize it. He deserves another story just about him.
What side of this (non) debate do you fall on, the send-a-man-to-Mars-with-no-way-of-getting-home? Or be-patient-let's-figure-it-all-out-and-then-go? If you are on the side of the first argument, can you imagine the disclaimers?
I'm definitely more on the "send-a-man-to-Mars-with-no-way-of-getting-home" side. Two reasons (1) it'd be fucking awesome, and (2) this is the limit case, so we better get comfortable with this at some point, or space exploration stops dead in its tracks. Meaning, we can make it to Mars and back with the right technology and planning, but beyond that, all trips are going to be one way. Anywhere else in the solar system and beyond, if someone's going to get out and walk around, they are staying, or at least not coming back to Earth. So we can table this philosophical argument for now, but it's going to come up again. As I stated in the piece, I don't think getting volunteers would be hard at all. We might lose our spine while it's happening and attempt rescue if something goes wrong, but this will be the biggest thing in humankind's history. Someone will jump at the chance.
Do you see McClane as a seer, a maverick, a prophetic visionary? Or just a little bit off his rocker, not that the two are mutually exclusive.
I'm not sure how I see him. I know I like him. I hear in his voice a real passion for going to Mars and a sadness that it'll never come to pass. His father worked on the Apollo program, so his life has been dedicated to the idea of space exploration as the noblest of pursuits. Given the choice, I know he would love to be working on spacecraft engineering again, if NASA were the agency that they were during the Apollo heyday. He's quixotic, to be sure. He's trying to get a large government agency to listen to his plan and act, knowing full well that NASA is loathe to take bold steps even when those steps are advocated by voices inside the agency. You have to love that.
If you got the chance to go to Mars, Mr. Mars, would you take the challenge?
If I didn't have a family, I think I would consider it. Keep in mind, I sometimes watch prison movies and think that being in solitary confinement sounds pretty good too. And this prison would have an amazing view.
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