New Reality TV Shows Promise to Bring Contestants to Space

A crop of three new shows want to bring the space race to your screen

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Virgin Galactic unveils its new SpaceShipTwo spacecraft at the Mojave Spaceport on December 7, 2009 near Mojave, California. The eight-person VSS Enterprise, named after the Star Trek ship of the same name, is the first of a series of SpaceShipTwo spaceplanes.

One small step for man, one giant leap for prime time television.

A new crop of reality TV shows plan to take the Survivor premise to galactic levels by training their contestants for space flight — and granting the winners a taste of the real thing. NBC’s Space Race, a collaboration between producer Mark Burnett, best known for creating Survivor and The Voice, and Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company run by billionaire Richard Branson, appears to be the program closest to launch. According to Reuters, the show would involve contestants competing for a spot on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, and will feature “unprecedented access” to Spaceport America, the ship’s New Mexico base of operations.

The only holdup is that Virgin Galactic has yet to actually launch a commercial space flight, or enter into space at all. Galactic initially announced that flights would begin in 2008, but they have since been delayed as the company continues to test its rocket technology. Branson recently said he intends to start launching trips in 2014, so if the company can meet its founder’s ambitious goals, Space Race may be ready for blast-off in the near future. The lack of a working ship has not stopped Virgin from selling tickets to its space flights, and over 600 have already been sold at $250,000 a pop.

Luckily for Sci-Fi fans, New Scientist reports that two other space-themed reality shows are also in the works, although both are admittedly little less far along than NBC’s project. The first is Milky Way Mission, a Sony-backed project, which intends to film various celebrities and sports stars as they compete for a ride aboard a spacecraft made by the California based XCOR Aerospace. But don’t plan on tuning in any time soon. The ship has yet to perform a single test flight.

Last, but certainly not least, Dutch not-for-profit Mars One continues to plan a reality show featuring astronauts on a one way trip to Mars. As of now, the company lacks a ship that can leave earth at all, much less make it to Mars, and has raised only a tiny fraction of the $6 billion necessary to fund the mission, making the actual space flight aspect of the program is a long, long way off. However, Mars One CEO Bas Lansdorp plans to reveal the first show in 2014 featuring the crew selection process, and then use the proceeds of that show to help fund the remainder of the project.

“This is much more serious than selecting a few people who are going to become pop stars, it’s more like The Apprentice,” Lansdorp told New Scientist “It’s a very serious job position that we’re selecting the best people for.”

Who would be brave (or crazy) enough to consider leaving earth on a one way mission to a deserted planet?  Apparently, there are quite a few willing participants. Mars One has attracted thousands of applicants for a spot on the program, and its official website allows users to view each prospective astronaut’s profile and application video.

“I am just the right combination of smart and foolish for this mission,” explains one hopeful cast member. “Hopefully, you’ll be seeing more of me!”