What Am I, A Clanger?

Driving home tonight, my attention was caught by a radio discussion of this story, the gist of which is that NASA is seriously considering sending a one-way manned mission to land on Mars within the next twenty years. Volunteers for the mission would be facing the prospect of a nine-month journey across the solar system, with no possibility of returning to Earth should the swimming pool turn out not to be as advertised in the brochure.

The biggest, shoutiest question I had for the radio was, “Who the hell would volunteer for that?”.  I cannot envisage circumstances in which a rational, well-balanced (oh hell, let’s just say ‘normal’ and get it over with) person would see a one-way ticket to Mars as a positive life choice.  I can’t imagine anyone with healthy, positive relationships with their friends and family being willing to put them through what would, effectively, be a bereavement without any prospect of closure; so our field of likely candidates is already narrowed to lonely sociopaths who are not on speaking terms with their relatives, should they have any.  Many of these individuals will not, presumably, wish to be separated from their collections of public transport memorabilia and Star Trek DVDs, which will narrow the field further.  There is (as far as I know) no World of Warcraft in space.  

But even supposing we did manage to draw up a long enough shortlist, what are we proposing to do? We’re proposing to shut half a dozen of these ‘special’ people in a tin can, throw them at the sky, and hope that by the time they get to Mars nine months later, they’ve at least plucked up the courage to find out the others’ names.  Once that tricky initial obstacle is out of the way, the whole ‘colonising a hostile planet’ thing should be a breeze.

My second, slightly less shouty, question was, “What the hell FOR?”.  The argument seems to be that we need a human colony on another planet as a backup for when we’ve finally wrecked this one. There’s a fundamental assumption being made here: the human race is Too Big To Fail, and we must do whatever it takes to ensure our own survival. As a real writer put it recently: ‘What we really mean by “saving the planet” … is “saving the humans”’.

We are one species of millions that have existed, and will exist, on the planet. We evolved, just like all the others did, to live in a specific ecological niche. That niche is made largely of iron, nickel and silicon, with an oxygen-rich atmosphere, plenty of water, a handy gravitational field that stops us accidentally straying too far from home, and an abundance of other delicious species for all those times when we fancy a snack.  Thinking that we could probably make a go of it on Mars is like thinking that a basking shark could probably make a go of it on Mount Everest.

So, in short: please assume that I won’t be volunteering for this one. I’d rather live with my friends, family and 37” plasma screen on a doomed planet, than with a handful of weirdos on a slightly less doomed one 50 million miles from the nearest Costa Coffee.  And I bet Pizza Hut wouldn’t deliver, either.


~ by somethingblonde on October 28, 2010.

4 Responses to “What Am I, A Clanger?”

  1. But if life becomes intolerable here (as it may do in coming decades) it may be easier to find volunteers. If you joined up for one of the big exploratory voyages in the 15th-18th centuries, chances were you wouldn’t return; but your chances of living to a ripe old age in a European city were pretty slim as well.

    Or they could just staff the thing with condemned prisoners and religious loonies.

  2. I’m liking the religious loonies idea a *lot*…

  3. Could we not do a kind of press gang thing a bit like we did for Australia, one minute you pissed vomiting in the toilets of Witherspoon’s – the next you wake up on the way to Mars ?

    You’d not be happy about it but what are you going to do, get out!

    This would have the added benefit of making sure people don’t binge drink too much.

  4. […] So a couple of days ago I wrote a blog post, for the first time in […]

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