Termination: Worse Than a Trip to Mars

Worse Than a Trip to Mars.


11 November 2015

Text:/ Graeme Hague

Have you ever been to jail? I have, and trust me, it’s worse than going to Mars. I was in Queensland at the time and, in my humble defence, I had a broken heart, prompting me to drink gallons of beer before getting behind the wheel. Some 50m down the road I was abducted by aliens using flashing blue lights (or so I thought) who turned out to be the coppers and I was nicked. 

This is where I hatched a cunning plan. I showed them my Western Australian driver’s license. My theory was that the Queensland legal system would be so utterly confused by my out-of-state license that the police would let me go. Unfortunately, instead of sending me home with (at worst) an appointment with the Beak next morning they decided I was a ‘flight risk’ who might flee back to WA and threw me in jail overnight. Bastards. They even took my shoelaces in case I tried to lynch myself. When I queried the logic that I was apparently incapable of controlling a three-on-the-tree Holden HQ panel van, but could figure out how to hang myself with a shoelace from a brick wall… well, let’s say no one appreciated my sense of humour.

I shared a cell with an armed robber who was quite pleased he’d squirelled away $1100 before he got nabbed. A job well done, he reckoned. The next morning I discovered that it’s impossible to eat cold tinned spaghetti on cold toast with a plastic fork and paper plate. Next time, I’ll opt for the water-boarding – a lesser torture.

Being in jail you start off thinking, “Wow, I’m in jail…” Later, it’s more like, “F**k! I’m in f**king jail!” until you quickly reach the point of “Get. Me. The hell. Out. Of. Here! I wanna go home!

Which, of course, is pointless. No amount of wailing, bashing on the door or promises of good behaviour will result in the wardens letting you out. That’s the thing about jail. You simply can’t get out no matter how much you want to.

This is why I find it hard to take NASA’s latest HI-SEAS experiment seriously. HI-SEAS is a try-hard acronym for Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue Simulation. A crew of pseudo-astronauts have been locked inside a fake spaceship on the side of a Hawaiian volcano – presumably because the outside world is the closest thing to a Mars-like environment, but they obviously didn’t consider Bondi Beach – and they’re to pretend it’s a real, live trip to the Red Planet. When things go wrong they’re absolutely on their own. To make the situation even more diabolical, NASA has chucked in a ukulele player. No one’s allowed in or out for a whole year. 

Bollocks. Can it possibly work? What can NASA really do about that tiny voice in the corner of each astronaut’s mind that they’re not really, really on Mars? That if stuff goes seriously pear-shaped, then the jailhouse door will open. It’s a flaw in the experiment. A small speck of corruption in the psychological Petri dish.

The answer will be blanket AV monitoring to ensure everybody is obeying the rules. Yeah… but so what? We’ve had a decade of Big Brother series to figure that one out. Anyone can game that system.

It becomes a tricky contest of trust versus privacy. For example, while NASA can swear on a stack of Isaac Asimov paperbacks there are no cameras in the toilet, is it honestly completely private? Which, in turn, presents a dreadful temptation to the astronauts, because who can genuinely resist sneaking into the dunny for a quick fag, if you can get away with it? Especially on the way to Mars, which can be a pretty stressful experience.

Within this conundrum is a more interesting problem for NASA. That massive amount of AV information that monitors the astronauts’ every move is manageable from the side of a Hawaiian mountain, but what about from Mars? Because when the genuine space-dudes finally do reach their destination, nobody back home is going to care about soil samples, atmospheric tests and growing limp lettuce. The punters will want to see Mars stuff – and hear it. We’ll want a constant stream of high-resolution vision and audio to make the whole project worthwhile. We want to look at the red mountains on the horizon and actually hear the alien’s claws scratching down the outside walls and the astronauts’ terrified screaming inside.

That’s a lot of data to stream back to earth; a lot of AV technology on Mars recording and transmitting continuously and sending it 225.3 million kilometres to our Facebook newsfeed. We’ll accept nothing less. The entire world will be infatuated with the first live sound and vision coming from another planet for… oh, several days probably (the Moon isn’t technically a planet). Or at least until the next episode of The Bachelor.

It’s fascinating to consider that the efforts being made at HI-SEAS now to stop the pseudo-astronauts smoking in the toilet or stabbing the ukulele player to death are a significant step towards preparing for one of the most challenging AV projects ever – a constant Facebook feed from Mars. Awesome.

By the way, would you want to be one of those astronauts? For me, given past experiences, it’d depend on the breakfast menu.

Graeme Hague failed the Mars Mission ukelele audition.


To make the situation even more diabolical, NASA has chucked in a ukulele player. No one’s allowed in or out for a whole year.


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