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Future Mars colonists could revolt against mission control on Earth, new study warns

The settlers could become ‘detached’ from mission control due to time delays in communication, as well as prolonged isolation and monotony

Adam Smith
Thursday 18 November 2021 11:32 GMT
(AFP via Getty Images)

Future Martian settlers will grow increasingly autonomous and could slowly stop sharing information with mission control, according to a study of ‘colonists’ simulated in an extra-terrestrial environment.

Project Sirius, 120-day isolation test that is taking place in Russia, seeks to investigate the autonomous behaviours of potential crew.

Future missions to Mars, and further planets, will require individual action as the delays between mission control and spacecraft become an insurmountable issue.

During the test, which recreated pressurised chambers, landing operations, and a five-minute delay between the subjects and mission control, it was found that the crew quickly functioned confidently and worked collaboratively.

"The communication characteristics of crew members with different personalities, genders and cultures became more similar during the mission," co-author Dmitry Shved of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Moscow Aviation Institute said, as reported by Cnet.

"The negative side is that the mission control loses the possibility to understand the needs and problems of the crew, which consequently hinders mission control’s ability to provide support”.

The subjects were dissatisfied with the inability to confirm opinions from mission control immediately, which “leads further to the mistrust and breaking of the established information circuit between the crew and the MCC”, according to the research paper published in Frontiers.

“Both sides became more and more dissatisfied with these contacts, based on their further decisions not on the current data about the mutual positions, but the assumptions”, which the researchers call “detachment” enhanced by isolation, monotony, confinement, and lack of physical activity.

“Such a ‘detachment’ may lead to resistance of crew members to the recommendations of the mission control and predominance of their decision-making based on their knowledge, values, and priorities”, the research hypothesises, but this will likely take generations to happen - if it does happen at all.

"During the period when the Mars colonies will still be dependent on resupplies and people coming from Earth," Shved said, "the probability of severance of diplomatic relations seems rather low."

With the development of other planets growing ever-more possible with funds generated by private space programs, agencies and governments will need to decide on extra-planetary law sooner rather than later.

Much of the legislation now is significantly out of date, and that which does exist has been described as “motherhood and apple pie” – generally positive and reasonable, but with no focus on the hard issues that will arise.

Legally, future astronauts have more chance creating a community rather than a colony, as those missions will still be under the governance of the host country, but it seems likely that there will be planetary-wide laws on Mars rather than the country-specific legisalation we have on Earth.

In 2016, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said his intentions for a Martian government would be a direct democracy, where people vote on the issues themselves rather than through politicians under representative democracies as we do now.

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