When I first heard about the Mars One mission being proposed, where a permanent human settlement will be formed on the red planet by 2023, I felt an immediate yearning. Four applicants will be sent on a one way trip to our nearest planetary neighbor to live in carefully built and interconnected habitats, with four more joining every two years. Science fiction author David Brin is one of the applicants, and you can read about the reasoning here.
I cannot even tell you how much I envy those who will be embarking on this journey. Whoever goes will be pioneers in the truest sense, setting foot on alien soil, ushering in a whole new era of exploration, and I want so much to be one of them, I can barely stand it.
Some people probably think it's nuts, of course. Selectees would be confined to small living quarters. If you ever wanted to go outside, you would have to wear a space suit. There would be no blue sky, no real air to breathe that doesn't come out of a can. Nothing green outside what you can grow yourself in your little indoor garden. You and your habitat would be subjected to the very hostile Mars environment replete with solar radiation (Mars doesn't have a magnetic field like Earth does, so it gets the full brunt of the sun's rays) and vast wind and dust storms that can enshroud half the planet for long stretches of time. Mars also gets very very cold, with the average temperature being -66F and down to -225F in other areas. The gravity on Mars is only about 40% of Earth's, so issues of human physiology in that environment over the long term will pop up, and we will ultimately have to answer the question of how certain functions, like human procreation and the babies that might result from it, would work. Over the long term, would the colonists even look or function like Earthly human beings? Doubtful. And this is alllll assuming that you would even survive the 6-8 month journey in a tin can soaring through open space.
That's really only the tip of the iceberg of questions and challenges that those people will face on the Mars One mission. But that doesn't negate the fact that I would love to be one of the people to offer myself up to help answer those questions. I have been a space junkie for as long as I can remember. The study of planets and stars and galaxies and black holes and everything in between has cultivated in me a sense of awe that is in many ways the basis of my spirituality. Somewhere it's coded in my DNA that innate desire to make footprints on another planet and eventually die there. I have a strong wanderlust. My instincts are that if I die anywhere near the place I was born, especially if I haven't seen a huge chunk of the world first, I will have failed the ultimate mission of my life. I'm already approaching my mid-30s and still have yet to leave the U.S. In many ways, already feel like a failure. I'm the antithesis of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Home is great and all, but I have always felt that shelter can only be shelter too long before it becomes a self-imposed prison. I think it is in our base nature to wander and discover and learn. We just sometimes scare ourselves out of doing so, we find what we think are valid reasons for staying put, and that is when we stagnate... like fish that stopped swimming and sank to the bottom of the sea.
I have come home for a few years after being away for a decade, but I don't intend to stay here for the rest of my life. This world is too big and too amazing for us to remain in one place indefinitely. This universe too big. I sometimes feel like I was born 300 years too soon, because if it were up to me, I would be soaring through the cosmos right now.
Who knows. Maybe one day that distant dream of mine will come true. Perhaps not on the Mars One mission but on some other. If humanity continues to advance along on these tracks, who is to say where I will be in another 30 years? Maybe I will be writing books on Mars or on one of Jupiter's moons when I'm 65. A distant distant dream, but one that fills me with wonder every time I think about it. No, I haven't applied, though I've considered just filling an application out like someone tossing a penny into a wishing well, certain that nothing will actually happen but that the act of doing it will fulfill at least part of that internal longing. Perhaps one day, I can at least have the memories implanted of my having already been there. Sounds like the basis of a good story...