Friday, May 24, 2013

Journey to Mars

There is a project called "Mars One". This project aims at sending people to the planet Mars. The only, but sizable, caveat: you're not coming back ever. If you're selected and trained as an astronaut for the mission to Mars, you are to stay there, live there, and die there. No more coming back to Earth... unless by chance new technology makes it possible before you die, but that's not likely and that's not part of the plan.

This project is appealing as humanity's first beyond-Earth settlement. It is as thrilling as the migration of settlers towards the New World (without the "killing the local population" aspect). It is also a definite step forward towards what Michio Kaku describes as a Type 1 civilization, using the Kardashev scale, even though Mars' colonization is more about expanding the geographical boundaries of humanity's settlements than about increasing our harness and consumption of energy.

It is also frightening in the social aspects of the chosen ones' lives. Sharing dinner and birthday parties with the family and close friends becomes an absolute impossibility. Getting married and having a family of your own also becomes an impossibility... unless members of both genders are sent within a narrow timeframe to Mars, but that poses new questions like jealousy, sexism, and health for a pregnant woman on Mars and for a Mars-born youngster. So if you're sent to Mars, you'd better enjoy the company of the other select few, because there won't be a lot of others to turn to, and you're going to spend a hell of a lot of time together.

What will life be like every day on the red planet? It's hard to tell. Certainly, there will be quite a lot of construction involved at the beginning. There will be some gardening too, because the Martians will need to reach self-sufficiency. There will be work related to the production of liquid water and the production of an atmosphere. There will also certainly be some work dedicated to biology and the artificial selection of strains of micro (and not so micro) organisms. If we can bring life forms that will do the work for us, to produce an atmosphere, or life forms that can thrive on Mars and become food, then it's a big victory. The only problem is... so far, the only lifeforms that are likely to survive the trip might not be super friendly: tardigrades and the likes.

If insects like grasshoppers could make it, that would be neat... because grasshoppers are good food. The shell is a problem because it bursts into small shard that try to get between your gums and your teeth, a bit like the remains of corn in pop-corn... but grasshoppers are tasty (if you ever travel to Thailand, give it a try!). But for the foreseeable future, Martians will have to make do as vegetarians.

Oh yes... I was about to forget: the astronauts will have to accept being filmed most of the time, like in reality shows, because part of the project's financing will come from broadcasting deals with a 24/7 broadcast, including certainly both outdoors and indoors activities. And of course, these first settlers won't get huge villas with lush gardens and swimming pools. Instead, they'll have to settle for small, totally closed and air-conditioned, units. Because of this and because of the tight space shared by the astronauts during the several-months journey, the astronauts will be required some out-of-the-norm qualities of keeping calm and respectful of each other even in stressful situations.

Conclusion:

It's one of the most ambitious projects in a long long time for all of humanity. It's also a project that requires significant sacrifices (and qualities). Am I gonna apply? I am not sure yet. Not sure of my chances. Not sure of my willingness to make these sacrifices. But it's damn interesting. That's what you call a real dilemma.

Further reflexion:

Supposing that the mission is a success and that true cities end up emerging on Mars, I feel there will be a need for Mars to live by its own rules, its own codes, and to establish political independence. How would that work? And how would Earth react? And what kind of society would emerge on Mars? A society dedicated to science? Unburdened by the ethical nonsense of Earth societies like stem cells? Would the Martians be able to devise constitutions and laws that are better than all of those currently in effect on our blue planet? Time will tell... maybe.

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