The Mars One Initiative–Is it Real?

I’m sure you all heard about the call for volunteers last August (2013) for a one-way trip to Mars.  The call received over 200,000 applicants.  In December, the applicants were weeded down to just 0.5% of that number, a little over 1000 (one of my students made the initial application but sadly didn’t survive the first cut).

Is this exciting mission likely to really happen?  Are the organizer’s even serious?

I tend to think not.  If the organizers were serious, why not start with a colony on the Moon, where the logistics and health challenges of travel are much less, where the upfront cost is lower, and where the proximity to Earth greatly decreases the risks to life and success?  Most of the benefits of a Mars Colony would still be present on the Moon, such as the opportunity to learn how to live in space and the chance to invite tourists to come walk on another world.

You don’t have to travel half a year to get to the Moon, and, in an emergency, you might actually have some viable options.  It’s true that Mars has a very faint atmosphere, which provides a type of weather that you wouldn’t see on the Moon.  But the Moon has the compensating advantage of a living world always hanging in its sky–Earth.  The opportunity to see our world from a distance as the “fragile blue marble” might change us more as a species that a colonization of distant Mars.

Serious or not, the Mars One initiative is certainly exciting.  Does it mean a revival of human hunger for adventure?  It’s been 40+ years since humans traveled to another world–apparently we have “too many problems on Earth” to invest in such matters.  Interestingly, in that time, adventure stories haven taken a back seat to action and thrillers.  Likewise, during this time, adventure computer games never really took off after the initial boost from Myst–outcompeted by a variety of action and combat games.  More than action or thrillers, adventure stories are about discovery, exploration, and simple wonder.   Without a vision for human exploration of our solar system, our hunger for discovery, exploration, and wonder in our fiction appears to have waned.

So what is the destiny of Adventure?  Does the Mars One initiative signal a renewed hunger for discovery and exploration?  Or does its setting on far-off Mars only signal that we like to think we still love adventure, but in reality we choose grand goals which we can, in the end, decline with dignity, even while we leave the reachable Moon hanging in our sky uncolonized?

What’s your thought?

—Dr. C.

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