Would you go to Mars?

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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.

martian poolBut, 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?

Unstuck in time

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This week I have been trying to plan a number of international calls for my boss. I have a useful device on my computer where I can easily compare the times of our office with those he regularly connects with around the world. So usually this is pretty straight forward, except that I have been trying to coordinate calls that will happen after the clocks have changed in Geneva. In some countries clocks don’t change at all and in others they don’t change when ours do. And for some reason trying to figure this out makes my brain bleed.
I can check a hundred times that in a particular week Geneva will be an additional hour ahead of New York but when I look at the time scroller I can’t compute the adding on of that extra hour and have to start again. It’s like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face and I can’t get it to slow down enough for me to figure it out.
P1000461The concept of time is a strange thing and I’m not 100% sure that I believe in it as I am supposed to. A month or two back we read Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ for book club. The book is told in a non linear fashion and centres around the character of Billy Pilgrim who becomes ‘unstuck in time’.
I read the book and listened to the club debate whether it should be classified as science fiction, whether Billy should be considered to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or whether the unsticking in time is simply an old man reminiscing. Being the somewhat simple person that I am I read it and just accepted the time travel as a perfectly normal aspect of the narrative.
To be honest it kind of made sense. I think I know that time moves in a regimented, chronological, one-minute-follows-another-minute sort of way, but that’s not how we experience it. So I wonder if the concept of time that I think I know is just one version of the reality of this?
I’ve been experiencing déjà vu quite a lot recently, that sense of half-remembered names and faces that I’ve already encountered some time ago. I looked online and found a lot of simple(ish) scientific explanations for déjà vu. But what if the explanation is even simpler, a moment or experience feels familiar because you actually have seen or experienced it before at another time?
Perhaps time is much more like a wheel within a wheel than the straight line we think, and every so often whilst spinning around one wheel we might get teeny glimpses of something that’s on another wheel we aren’t supposed to be circling yet? Like the fleeting moment of identifying a face in the crowd when on a ride at a fairground before the image is snatched away.
When they first turned on the large hadron collider at CERN, which I visited last weekend, there were fears that it would create a black hole and destroy life as we know it. The scientists involved said that was ridiculous and wouldn’t happen but when asked what would be the outcome of their work they didn’t, and still really don’t, know what the effects might be. Nerds (myself included) across the world are mostly keeping our fingers crossed for the coolest possible scientific outcome, that is to say time travel.
LHCbI like time travel stories and the fiancé and I have just decided to start watching all the rebooted Doctor Who (from 2005) from episode one, series one. I love the show but it always leaves me with a lot of questions.
Like how is anything ever a surprise for the Doctor? For example when he meets a potential new companion, how does he not instantly recognize them from future memories? When he’s in a sticky situation why can he never remember how to get out of it? And also, why are his companions always pretty young women? My constant questions become words that jangle in my head and are probably evidence of my tendency to over-think things rather than just go with the flow but the whole concept of time travel is just a circle in a spiral that keeps on spinning!
The idea of being able to visit different ages and different periods in history is definitely appealing. I’m pretty sure I’d make an excellent Tudor and would obviously love to see if hover cars ever do become the reality futuristic films promise.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut if you had the ability to time travel would you be able to avoid the temptation to visit your own history? If you could change the things you are not proud of or glimpse into the future to see what happens, would you? And if you could time travel and could make the odd adjustment here and there would this change who you are? If you knew your future would you experience your life differently?
And if time isn’t altered so easily and isn’t so much a line as a circle would we, like Billy Pilgrim, live our lives on a constant loop, that never really ends or begins but rather lurches from one key moment to another? Would life become a trap, a nightmarish existence of endlessly reliving every moment?
Would I at least be able to figure out what time zones Geneva and connecting cities are in, relying on future successes, or would I have to experience the pain of figuring this out for an eternity?