Collaborative Research for Rainmaking on Mars

Betty Zhang
24 min readMar 21, 2017

The collaborative research component prior to the social object Rainmaking on Mars was made was crucial. I was to find, research, understand, and join a “tribe” through primary and secondary research using ethnographical methods and explore the field of design research.

These are the stories that contributed to the making of the Rainmaking on Mars social object.

Understanding the Tribe

Neotribalism is a sociological concept that postulates that human beings have evolved to live in tribal society, as opposed to mass society, and thus will naturally form social networks constituting new tribes. — Wikipedia

This notion of the neotribe originated from French socialist, Michel Maffesoli. In his book, The Time of the Tribes, translated from Le Temps des Tribes. the Forward describes a context for his idea.

Between the time one might leave one’s family or intimates in the morning and the time when one returns, each person enters into a series of group situations each of which has some degree of self-consciousness. (1996)

Maffesoli distinguishes the differences between anthropological tribes and our contemporary social life. The contemporary social life is “marked by membership of overlapping groups in which the roles one plays become sources of identity which, like masks, provide temporary ‘identifications’.”

What he says here is that when we play different roles in different tribes, we essentially take on a different identity each time acting in the way that a person with their role acts. We are living in a time when the mass has become Little Masses.

In an earlier essay by Maffesoli, Jeux De Masques: Postmodern Tribalism, he identifies “tribes” with the development of micro-groups. The masses no longer constitute as “a group that has been formed through a common concept of identity”(1988) and this becomes the tension when characterizing sociality. This is due to the fact that when a person acts their role, their individuality comes into question and possibly reduced by the actual persona of the function for this role. This relates back to the metaphor of a mask later mentioned in his The Time of the Tribes.

I think social groups and groups of common people have actually existed for as long as humans have existed. We naturally gravitate towards people who are alike or discuss similar things. Once we associate with certain groups, we also associate with the characteristics of the people in that group. The only difference in postmodernity is that we associate with multiple tribes. Maffesoli writes, “the tribes that crystallize within them are not stable: the people comprising the tribes are able to move from one tribe to another.” I could go even further to say that we belong to many tribes carrying different personas.

He goes into the detail of a society shifting from the culturalization of nature to the naturalization of culturewhich allows us to study the changes in our society. One observation is that the progressive western model has been globalized and orientalization of the world has begun. Ongoing studies show that new attitudes are seeping into the whole social fabric in various forms as well as the combination of ideologies. These new attitudes pervade the many little tribes. Using examples of the eastern influence in Maffesoli’s subject of mass-tribe dialectic, he writes, “This swarming, this seething of culture, results in an unsettling of our individualist and individualizing modes of thought.” The relationship one has with their surrounding is crucial in the behaviour that they partake. Maffesoli uses examples of Japanese trends expressing uniformity and conformity, pointing out that such groups have parameters on sex, appearance, fashion, and even ideology. In the most extreme, “one is participating in the replacement of a rationalized society by a bascially empathetic sociality.”

Collaboration is about empathy towards a community. It’s a sense of the swarm and togetherness. But I also think it’s as much about that as it is about exclusion. As a tribe it has built systems and structures, and for most tribes, people who may not believe or conform could end up being excluded. The vast amount of changes within these communities based on emotion are characterized as ephemeral by Maffesoli.

The “raison d’etre” of the neotribe, according to Maffesoli “refuses to be identified with specific political endeavors, does not conform to any single definite structure.” It only has a goal of the collective interest. I suggest that extreme groups such as cults demonstrate the most obvious form of inconformity and anti-structuralism. The mass population being a part of media culture and social media as a cult is similar.

Maffesoli specifies the dynamics in which symbolic meaning is created:

In the solitude inherent in all urban areas, the icon is a familiar image that acts as a point of reference and becomes a part of daily life. It is the center of a complex symbolic and concrete order in which everyone has a role to play within the framework of a global stage.”

The icon symbolizing meaning and the media, similar to cults utilizes this to target its audiences. The connotation of territory remains in every tribe formation. Maffesoli’s point in this essay is that a society based on dynamics such as space, body, and feelings “risks seeing its essential values reversed.”

In this unit, we are to find a tribe and research through various methods in order to understand them. So it would be interesting to work with a group that I am completely new to, and learn about their way of life. We often have to do this in design as we are designing for others unlike ourselves.

Mars One

In 2013, I was sitting in a mundane office as a graphic designer trying to figure out why I didn’t enjoy my job. I had a few life changing events happen just a couple years before that and it has completely changed my outlook on life. So as I was clearly (not) doing my job and surfing the internet, I found this project called Mars One who was looking for applications from people all over the world who want to go to Mars in 2022 on a one way trip. I thought for very long about how it would be like, being the first humans to reside outside of Earth but also saying goodbye to everything and everyone on Earth.

So for this unit, I’ve decided to try to contact Mars One to collaborate with people who have made the top 100 applicants and are preparing for this trip.

Nicolas raised a good point, would it be more of a problematic issue to go through the journey or living there forever?

Secondary Research

First, I did some research online about Mars One and created a timeline based on my findings to try and grasp the concept.

Jan 29 2017 —

  • Several unmanned missions will be completed, establishing a habitable settlement before carefully selected and trained crews will depart to Mars.
  • This mission will be humankind’s first step to become a multiplanetary species
  • Mars One consists of two entities: the Dutch not-for-profit Stichting Mars One (Mars One Foundation) and Swiss publicly trading Mars One Ventures
Timeline i’ve created based on key moments that have happened and planned to happen for the mission. You can also see an official road map on the Mars One website.
In a press release on January 8, 2013, the criteria for applicants were announced

How do you sustain Life on Mars for Humans?

  • There has been a suit prototyped by Paragon called the Surface Exploration Suit. It is a pressure suit. The suit must accommodate to the crew’s anthropometric changes (ie. size) and has interchangeable components.
  • The Portable Life Support System will use carbon dioxide from the Mars atmosphere and oxygen derived from surface water ice.
  • Surface habitat and Environmental control and Life Support System (ECLSS) and Atmosphere Management System will control the water and atmosphere.
  • The in-situ resource processing system will produce all breathable air and water using local Martian resources
  • Wet waste processing system processes human wet waste and extracts recyclable water
  • Water management system will extract excess liquid from the atmosphere and environment for recycling
  • Thermal control system will control the temperature of the habitable space

In addition to equipment, it was found that radishes, peas, rye, and tomatoes can be reproduced on Mars.

Interview with Alison Rigby

Alison Rigby, Mars One top 100 candidate

The conversation made me realize that moving to another planet is much more relatable to how social groups are formed.

She asked me why I had not applied in 2013 and when I thought about it, it came down to bravery. I did not have the courage of making such a big change in my life, I guess this is why I’m intrigued by the people who’ve made the Mars One leap. Alison said, “you tend to make home where you land” and that is so relative to how I feel about the move to the UK and how lonely I feel even in a city full of people.

When Alison applied for the program, her life was pretty settled in London but saw it as an opportunity. Life has changed a lot since, especially becoming popular in the media. The media attention raised as each selection process happened. Most people think these applicants are escaping from Earth. But what I found is quite the contrary. Alison and others in the program feel more that it is a choice to aid humanity for their love of people.

“You have to have a good reason to go, and to do it for humanity is a really good motivator towards a step into the future” Alison says.

Alison’s parents, like many others are not fond of the idea mainly because of the fact that they will lose her presence on earth. But like many other decisions we make in life, our loved ones learn to understand.

The most intriguing part about this journey to Alison is being able to build a world differently from Earth. When asked about building this new colony, Alison said,

“As the number of people increases, eventually it starts becoming a colony, people start having children, and eventually it becomes a society. And it’s really hard to find out when that exactly is, when it switches from a bunch of people, maybe a bunch of scientists on a research mission, and when it becomes a colony.”

Michel Maffesoli in his book, The Time of the Tribes, describes a neotribe as people moving away from mass society and into smaller, more concentrated little masses. He calls it Le Temps des Tribes, meaning a time when the mass is tribalized. In the Foreward to his book, a similar description to what Alison mentioned above is written:

“Between the time one might leave one’s family or intimates in the morning and the time when one returns each person enters into a series of group situations each of which has some degree of self-consciousness.”

“Unlike anthropological tribes, our contemporary social life is marked by membership of overlapping groups in which the roles one plays become sources of identity which, like masks, provide temporary identifications.”

The only difference with the Mars One tribe is that it will be isolated from other social groups by geography. In a way, this makes it an extreme neotribe. But one that will grow and change and form into smaller masses.

I asked Alison, do you feel like you are part of a tribe of Mars One?

“We have obviously a shared interest but we are all very different. Sometimes we have arguments, it’s a good cross section of humanity” Alison says. This notion of a cross section of humanity is what creates tribes of individuals with different roles.

To select the final candidates for the first few journeys, Mars One has a criteria of what 4 ppl would work well together. Ultimately it’s up to the public who will be watching the process on a TV documentary series. 4–8 teams of 4 will be training together and becoming a family. But in reflection, Alison is glad that both scientific, logical people and emotional artists are represented. Candidates are encouraged to find their own groups which will be rearranged as the number of people lessens. This is much like how our social groups are chosen now, people gravitating towards certain others but constrained by circumstantial conditions.

Some social activities and habits will have to change being on Mars but that’s why adaptability will be an important personality for finalists. It’s not just adaptability to different conditions either, it’s being able to get along with others.

This made me think of another interesting point about how humans socially interact. Before the digital age, humans interacted a lot more gesturally and personally. Now, we barely spend many hours with anyone even if it is human nature to belong and identify with others-alike. Going to another planet means spending more time with another human and to essentially return to the natural way of human interaction.

Alison expects that the 4 people will know each other intimately and the boundaries will become invisibleas a result. The barrier that’s becoming evermore evident in large congested cities like London, causes the feeling of isolation.

When spoken of diversity, Alison is open to the challenge of meeting radically different people, “People from different parts of the world, will conceptualize differently. They will have a better understanding of a subject than somebody else.”

The time spent preparing and traveling to Mars is only a small part of this experience as explained by Alison. “When we land, it’s the rest of our lives. The journey is a small slice of a much bigger experience.” I find that this is a similar thought I had when I moved to a new country.

At the end, I asked Alison whether it would be a good idea to go to Mars with the intention of recreating utopia. She said,

“When it comes to the politics and the society of Mars, I tend to see it like the founding fathers of America. They came with an idea and said, this is the core of what we want to build here, and then let people add to that in succeeding generations. So as long as we get the core right, I think what we build will be better.

Alison used the metaphor of a relay race. From one generation to the next, no single person can dictate how a society, tribe, or community will operate. But if the goals of the people in the tribe are agreed upon, then this common interest would be the constitution of that tribe.

From this interview, I’ve gotten to know Alison from Mars One and the vision that she has for this journey.

Meeting Ryan MacDonald

I headed to Cambridge to meet Ryan MacDonald, a Theoretical Astrophysicist currently working on a PhD in Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, his research focuses on understanding the physical conditions and chemical composition of the atmospheres of exoplanets.

I got the sense that he is very passionate about his work while he toured me around Cambridge. We sat down at a cafe where I asked him a couple of questions about my focus on the Mars One mission mainly around emotional wellbeing. He said something that resonated with me, “Science is actually very emotional. It’s an emotional feeling when you’ve discovered something that nobody else in the universe knows.”

Described by his friends as the “crazy Mars guy”, Ryan’s family and friends weren’t actually surprised when he made this decision. As one of the younger candidates, Ryan can afford the delays that are expected and still be young enough to go when it’s ready. In 2010, Ryan met Tim Peake, the first official British astronaut selected for the European space agency. This was when he really thought it was possible for a British person to train to go to Space. Prior to this, British citizens had to take very convolated routes to achieve this such as double citizenships to go with NASA. “The UK space agency didn’t exist before 2010. The UK has been against human flight into space until the past 7 or 8 years because space was all about launching satellites and making money. The focus changed with Tim Peake because they realized the inspirational affect of having a person going into space.”

This potential to inspire people about space and science is one of the major reasons that Ryan is so interested in the mission. “Up to this point, the biggest impact that Mars One had has been outreach.” Candidates use this as a platform all around the world to talk about science and space. Ryan has been speaking at schools and conferences and seen the effect that he’s had on younger generations. “The world is a better place if we base our decisions on rationalism.” Ryan sees science as the most important way to understand the world and solve problems.

On the topic of psychological health in this mission, Ryan says that’s why it’s important to pick the right people. He acknowledges that an integral part of the mission is isolation and some may experience negative mental health states due to this. There will be a lot of training, enduring 3 months a year of isolation for example. He says, “In this connected day and age, we don’t experience isolation very often. And so I don’t know whether I’m the kind of person who can cope with it or not.” Ryan is only going to find out more about himself and see whether he would be fit for the mission through training, “Recognizing when you have a flaw is the easiest way to fix it. I completely recognize that I don’t know whether I do have the right kind of mentality and pscyhology to cope with that, but I’m willing to find out.” Ryan confirms that you need to be self reflective and be able to modify your behaviour when you encounter new and strange situations.

Ryan says the apolitical infrastructure of Mas One is another big advantage, void of international bias. Ryan is disappointed at the overall political regulations associated with space exploration. “If Mars One is the first mission to Mars, it will automatically be much more representative of the human race.” Ryan imagines the society to be built on Mars as based on consensus. “I imagine it will be something like a representative technocracy where it still has voting and democracy as a fundamental tenant but the kind of people who are elegible for necessary roles would have to have the experience in order to to be allowed to stand.”

In this group, the participants are very different from each other, but the one unifying factor is the interest in sending people to Mars. An individual of each team has to answer a knowledge based question before each challenge. The teams really have to help each other. Ryan’s team consists of engineers, physicists, doctors, and teachers. The candidates chat and connect regularly through Facebook and have formed a family bond with each other outside of the topic of space exploration. It’s important for everyone to know how to survive and operate in space because you will only have each other. If a member does not have the skills and knowledge in a life saving situation, it may result in fatality. The small teams of 4 will be trained over 9 days of isolation early next year, then selected teams will undergo much longer isolation periods as part of the training. Candidates are also put through psychological profiling during the selection process.

In the observatory, on every wall, there are posters of the universe and space and planets hanging from the ceiling. The Institute of Astronomy Library has books on everything to do with astronomy. The most intriguing part of the tour was when Ryan showed me the traditional and modern telescopes. We stepped into 2 dome covered buildings then Ryan hand cranked open the roof and pointed the telescope into the sky.

“It reminds me that Mars is a real place, much like many of the deserts that we have here on Earth, and it’s not just an infinitely far away fictional location. It’s a place where we can actually send people, and we can live there, and it can become a part of humanity’s domain.”

Through talking to Ryan, I saw that the fears that the public would have disappeared because when you understand it, it doesn’t feel so foreign. He says that science for him is a constant discovery in that every time something new appears, it’s always a surprise. So it’s important to admit that theories can change and the universe can always surprise us.

The rest of the meeting, we talked about the food that Ryan was preparing to eat, this is only one of the habits he would be prepared to change and to appreciate the new diet that he would adopt on Mars. I could tell he fully understood the consequences as well as the uniqueness of this mission, “You could mitigate the risks as much as possible, but you could never get around it.”

Are human emotions only for Earth?

February 10, 2017 — Today is another grey and rainy day in London. I woke up feeling a bit annoyed and didn’t want to do anything. I get this feeling a lot on days when it’s gloomy outside. No matter how technologically advanced humans get, we are still powered by the blood through our veins, the organs pumping energy, and the emotions that we feel.

So I started thinking about how important weather is to the mood and wellbeing of people. How would this affect humans on Mars with a complete different set of weather system? In my interview with Alison, we had talked about this briefly. The weather will radically different to Earth and it will be EXTREMELY cold. There will be training in places like northern Canada for the candidates to adapt to this kind of temperature.

The average temperature on Mars is minus 60 degrees C. According to NASA,

One of the most dynamic weather patterns on Mars is the generation of dust storms that generally occur in the southern spring and summer.

I did a bit of searching on how weather affects mood and here’s what I found:

  • A lack of sunlight can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • Cold temperatures reduce sensory feedback, dexterity, muscle strength, blood flow, and balance.
  • The lack of sunlight associated with rainy days can cause serotonin levels to dip, and as serotonin levels decrease, carbohydrate cravings increase.
  • The reduction of atmospheric pressure during rainy days can cause pressure on your nerves and joints.

Although there will be no rain on Mars, but rather the dust storms covering the whole planet months at a time may block and absorb sunlight. Aside from the weather, would the redness of the planet or the high iron level affect mood as well?

On the other hand, humans are highly adaptable creatures. We have evolved to our ever changing environment naturally and technologically. So in which ways would mood be evolved on Mars and how could I think about creating social objects to help the wellbeing of these people we are sending to colonize Mars?


In a film about a candidate chosen to colonize Mars, Seat 25 captures the emotional effects that this decision has on their life and relationships.

I especially like the emotional rather than the scientific side to the story because it talks about the basis of human beings in a new and unimaginable situation. But this is only the emotions BEFORE the journey.

In a tough and hostile environment like Mars, survival comes first, but how much of that survival is based on the mental wellbeing of these astronauts? What’s interesting about the Mars One project is that it is not only recruiting scientists who may be more interested in the scientific exploration aspect of the mission but also recruiting artists and others who are not necessarily able to control their emotions as logically. Dr. Norbert Kraft and Raye Kass compares the selection model of Mars One to Ernest Shackleton’s method of team building for an Antarctic exploration.

In the call out of 2013, Mars One only stated that candidates must be resilient, adaptable, curious, trusting and creative. I think these traits are quite vague, naive and unmeasurable. In their their FAQ page, psychological feasibility is briefly mentioned.

So I did a bit more research into what psychologists think of the emotional side of this mission.

In an article on The Guardian, research shows the 4 major challenges of space missions from a psychological point of view: social isolation, confinement, loss of privacy, and lack of mental health services.

“I think these will be bigger challenges than technology challenges,” said Jason Kring, a researcher at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida who studies how humans perform in extreme environments in an article for National Geographic in 2013.

On privacy

Mars One is intended to be broadcasted to people Earth in a reality show type of format. Much like, Big Brother, you know that thousands of people are watching you at all times. Surveillance can cause stress, fatigue, depression and anxiety.

On isolation

Jane Poynter; co-founder of Paragon Space Development Corporation, the company developing life-support systems for Mars One, said, “Isolation was the hardest part of living in Biosphere 2”, a self-contained habitat meant to simulate Earth’s various environments in the Arizona desert.

Decades of research shows that prolonged social isolation in astronauts can lead to depression, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, boredom and emotional instability.

Professor Nick Kanas, a NASA-funded expert in the psychological effects of space exploration, says that when Earth is out of view for an extended time, “crew member psychology may result in increased feelings of isolation, homesickness, dysphoria, or even suicidal or psychotic thinking.”

The Guardian 2013

The Mars One crew will only be able to get instantaneous feedback from the 3 other people who’ve joined them on the first journey in a 50 sq m space. Confinement causes similar symptoms to isolation.

In 2013, The Verge published an article on NASA’s efforts on mental health in space. Pock-sized psychosocial badges will be attached to the crew to monitor blood pressure and heart rate.

Other than sensors, NASA is also sponsoring research on computerized therapists.

Looks like the lack of consideration on mental health for Mars One raised a lot of skepticism. In addition, the lack of modern medicine, sexual relationships, pregnancy, raising children, ageing and death are all natural human needs only available on Earth at the moment.

More than Mars One

In September 2016, Elon Musk presented his Space X expedition in an 1 hour presentation. His thinks that colonizing the Red Plant, and becoming an interplanetary species, is our best bet for survival. This is a similar vision to the people at Mars One who are planning to use the Space X Falcon Heavy, an upgraded version of the Falcon 9, which is in use by Space X currently. His plan is to send 1 million humans to Mars in 40–100 years.

And of course, NASA also has plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Going to Mars has been a constant goal for many scientists, however, most of the studies have been done on the journey and not the habitation. Much consideration will have to be put into the living conditions if we plan to colonize the red planet.

At the moment, scientists have doubts about all of these plans and predicts that people sent to Mars will die within months. From this, I can really think about what it would be like to live there and what essential objects or experiences need to be built for people to actually enjoy living on Mars.

Other than space exploration organizations, individual countries are deriving their own plans at different speeds to send humans to Mars:

UAE prime minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum explained the monarchy’s Mars plans in a series of tweets on Feb. 14, “The project, to be named ‘Mars 2117,’ integrates a vision to create a mini-city and community on Mars involving international cooperation,” Sheikh Mohammed said. Officials are using this project to inspire young people.

Obama made the announcement for the CNN, “We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and then returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time.”

None of the missions other than Mars One are as ambitious as sending humans to Mars on a ONE WAY mission.

BBC Radio covers the psychology of Mars mission

While searching for more clues on the most important psychological features the crew needs to have, BBC Radio published a podcast interviewing psychologists and candidates, one of them Ryam MacDonald.

Sheryl Bishop, University of Texas specializes in the psychology of space, she says in our known universe, it’s the human reaction that remains unknown. This was described as the known unknown scenario, one of curiosity and worry.

“Since we’ve never had a long duration mission, there is a great deal of concern that we don’t have all the pieces necessary to do as good a job as we’d like to in order to select for long duration. And that’s why there’s such a high activity right now in looking at analogue environments to look at and flush out those factors that might be really critical.” Bishop says.

Simulation is very important

Bishop continues, “you don’t know what you don’t know and it’s very difficult to understand what you don’t know if you don’t have an actually environment in order to go ahead and test out some of these ideas about what would be the best person for a long duration mission”

Another psychologist believes that personal time and space is going to be the big issue. It was found in programs such as the Extra Behavioural Activity test done in Hawaii, cultural clash could become difficult to cope with and cross cultural boundaries communication was vital.

Dr. Norbert Kraft Chief Medical Officer spent 110 days in an isolation chamber in Moscow, “We were 2 groups so 1 one was a Russian group and our group was an international one but what happened is that the culture clashed with each other because they were not trained on what another culture expects so 2 of the Russians and one of our members started a fistfight. But after that they were good buddies again. However the Japanese was completely shocked…he left the isolation chamber after 60 days.”

It seems that there would be 2 steps to picking the right team:

  1. Identify individuals who are good on their own
  2. Create a healthy dynamic for the group from these individuals

There is NO group that will not have conflict but you can train a group to be resilient. Quick resolution, highly cohesive group tend to be autonomous. But may not be obedient to group control so how much of a problem is that?

Mars One is controversial and uncertain. Humans are most curious when we know a lot about something but are a lot is still left to be found. This is called “the information gap theory of curiosity” when probes are sending us tantalizing clues, filling in the gap with hypotheticals can make people more curious.

Another aspect that’s important is the sleep wake cycle, which helps humans in time keeping.

It was mentioned again that the view of our planet has sustained and inspired previous astronauts. But now it won’t be seen and this detachment is going to be a big unknown challenge.

Finding the ordinary in the extraodinary

After these 2 months of discovering more about the crew of Mars One, I have seen that a group that has been seen as extrodinary to the public really consists of ordinary humans who are very passionate about science, humanity, and curious about the universe that they live in.

I have met 2 members from the top 100 candidates and even though both are scientists, they are very different in the way they think about what Mars One can do for humanity, how this decision affected their relationships, as well as the emotions they have when imagining the actualization of the mission. I learned that as scientists who know about the technicalities of sending humans to Mars, they are much more fearless about the mission. This is also a general consensus that I see in the online videos I’ve watched on other candidates. They are learning about the planet, the mission, as well as curious. Curiosity I think is the biggest deciding factor and rediscovering humanity seems to be the common goal for many candidates.

Next, I want to think about the social objects that they could possibly use in order to understand each other emotionally outside of verbal communication. This is because emotion is not something everyone can express verbally, especially when it comes to people who are used to communicating logically. When looking at the psychological risks involved in the mission; isolation, depression, loss of privacy, and proxemics, to name a few, I notice that it is only possible at the moment to predict based on common scenarios on Earth and to prepare by simulating the experience in order to find out if candidates are ready. But designers could also be preparing by examining the ways to mitigate these risks. I think art and design is integral to the psychological wellbeing of human emotions. How do I create something that could make them feel like they could have personal space as well as boundaries? How do I make these boundaries react to emotional needs?

The reality TV series that Mars One will be documented on will certainly add to changing the behaviour of candidates. But this isn’t just another season of Big Brother (one of my favorite shows). Like Alison said, “when we get there, it’s the rest of our lives.” This show doesn’t end when the season is over. Reality TV tends to alienate those who are participating in the show but as Nicolas mentioned, it could be done in a more supportive way.

Bill Gaver’s Provocative Awareness talks about designs that connect remote lovers, or strangers in an urban setting. I can use his methodologies and the ones discussed in his text to think about designing something for the candidates. He talks about workplace awareness systems, and in a way, the spaceship and pods on Mars will be the workplace AS WELL AS living space for astronauts. This place of work eventually will become home and community so the system must be especially designed to accommodate both and fuse the transition seamlessly.

Another important feeling for human emotion is intimacy and connectedness. The 4 members will have trained together for years before embarking on the journey to Mars but the training is not aimed at facilitating more than just comfort and knowledge amongst each other. It may be interesting to incorporate familiar feelings of Earth into the design of the space. Similar to The Bench Object designed by Fiona Raby, some objects can imply “intimacy with strangers, challenge assumptions of public inaccessiblity to which urban dwellers are accustomed.” Can we use feelings such as warmth to indicate relations and connections to another person? These are the new possiblities that new awareness systems might serve. Later, Gaver also refers to interaction designer and jeweller, Rachel Murphy’s heartbeat jewellery, “emphasising how the sensual experience evoked by various materials and interactions might be appropriated for use in conveying emotion.”

Gaver writes about the importance of awareness of what’s going on around us rather than just in front of us, “it will be good for some as-yet undetermined collaborative activity.” The candidates will have to collaborate in almost everything they do. The is especially true, Gaver writes, “As collaborative technologies move out of the office and into the home or local community, new goals emerge, and thus new requirements for information and media.” In the home, we need to have more emotional connections and be more sensible to values, moods, and attitudes of others. This is vital in the living environments for the candidates as well as bridging the emotional connections between them and distant people on Earth, even if it takes 10 minutes for 1 message to get through. What Gaver mentioned and would be undesirable is, “systems for community settings, intended to create contact among people who are physically close to one another, but emotionally and culturally distant.” In Mars One’s case, you need both.

A few weeks ago, I tried to watch a movie on Netflix with my distant fiance. The extension allowed us to start and pause the video at the same time and chat through typing. But this gave me no feeling of having the presence of him beside me and rather made it even more evident that he was far away. It seems that systems that only facilitate 1 sense is not enough to stimulate feelings of togetherness.



Betty Zhang

Strategist, designer, and researcher working in digital innovation, strategic foresight, and customer experience.