I’m not sure how this related to Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, but at the latest Geneva Book Club meet somehow the mission to mars came up and was quickly dismissed as nothing more than crazy fantasy for unstable persons.
If you are unfamiliar with the mars mission in summary the idea is that a self-sustaining human colony will be established on Mars. From 2024, missions of four people at a time would head out to the planet every couple of year for a one-way trip. Thousands volunteered for the mission.
Internet connectivity should be available so colonists can keep up with friends and family and so that some big brother-esque entertainment show could be broadcast to those at home (‘this week vote for your least favourite missioneer to get sucked into the universal abyss…’).
At the post-book-club drinks we returned to the subject and the general consensus was that firstly, it was never going to happen and secondly, even if it were actually possible, you’d have to be insane to volunteer. Clearly I fell into the insane category.
My fellow book-clubbers already suspect I am a little odd. When asked as an ice-breaker question ‘what we’d most like to be remembered for after we die?’ some replied loyalty, sense of humour, writing a great piece of fiction, etc.. My answer? ‘I want to be remembered for saving the universe.’ Not even just the earth but the entire universe. I added that this was what I’d wish for the future, not something I actually thought I’d already achieved in case their nervous laughter was a distraction technique whilst someone snuck out to call the men in white coats to come and take me away.
You could say I have delusions of grandeur, I prefer to think of myself as just being very ambitious.
I’m not saying I would volunteer for the Mars mission but I wouldn’t absolutely rule it out either. I don’t deny that leaving friends and family behind never to be seen again would be a massively difficult undertaking even if you knew that you could still stay in virtual contact. The hardest part of being in Switzerland is not being able to regularly see loved ones in the flesh and that’s just an hour’s plane ride from the UK. Even with super rocket technology I’m pretty sure it’d be more than an hour’s ride away from Mars and in any case there wouldn’t be the possibility of going back. Ever.
But throughout human history examples can be found of people leaving everyone behind for a new journey from which they never expect to return. I doubt those on the Mayflower setting sail from the UK to the newly discovered America at the start of the seventeenth century ever expected to return to those left behind. The thousands of individuals every year who give up everything and leave everyone behind to undertake the dangerous journey to try and enter the US or Europe illegally might harbour some slim hope that their families can one day join them but probably know the chances of that happening are pretty unlikely.
So there is a human precedent for leaving people behind but the challenges wouldn’t end with those final farewells. The danger of getting there and trying to survive would probably be an hourly toil. So much could and probably would go wrong it’d be like a never-ending sequel to Gravity with nail-biting tension, just waiting for one disaster from the next to strike. As much as they are trying to prepare for all eventualities the planet is such a mystery that they can’t even know what the eventualities could be? Oxygen and food supplied running out are at the obvious end of the spectrum, monster mars sea storms chewing you up and spitting you out into a black hole like an expert pool hustler could be at the other.
But, even so, the idea of going to Mars is absolutely amazing and maybe amazing enough to outweigh the negatives. To be the first colonists on another planet is just the tip of the Doctor Who imagined future I’d kind of like to be a part of.
That sense of discovery that must have sent shivers up the spines of those watching the first moon landing in 1969 multiplied into a scale as incomprehensible as the very idea of living on a different plant is really kind of awesome. It appeals to that sense of childish adventure I never really grew out of and whilst I no longer race to climb as high as possible up the nearest tree, that fear of falling has got in the way there, I am still drawn to that hidden entranceway or obscured cave or clearing or whatever presents the opportunity for secret discoveries.
Undoubtedly I’m also influenced by my love of Doctor Who and classic Sci-Fi my dad subjected me to including Blake 7 and old school Star Trek, which makes it probably a bit easier for me to imagine life on another planet than someone more grounded in reality.
On a good day I tend to think I’m both the centre of the universe and an insignificant speck in the history of time so perhaps the idea of literally being swallowed up into the unknowable fathoms of the universe but whilst leaving Earth as a hero etched, at the very least, into the genealogical tale-telling of future distant relatives (if not remembered by all humanity) does pander to my sense of (in)significance.
If I were to go I would fully expect my fiancé to come with me. I mean he came to Switzerland so it’s only right I should expect him to come with me to Mars as well, right?
What do you think? Am I a complete nutter who needs to be locked away for the sake of humanity and/or my long-suffering partner, or would you too be tempted to go to Mars if the opportunity presented itself?