Thursday, July 24, 2014

Onward to Mars?

In connection with the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing, there are stories in the media about Buzz Aldrin's proposal to skip returning to the moon and instead focus on reaching Mars. The major obstacle to achieving this milestone with current technology, he maintains, is the assumption that the voyage must resemble the moon missions, with astronauts landing and then returning to Earth. Aldrin advocates a one-way journey—or, more accurately, permanent colonization. He compares prospective Mars pioneers to the Pilgrims, who left England with no expectation of returning. Even more extremely, the Polynesian voyagers who settled Hawaii presumably lost touch with their homeland altogether.

While I can't imagine ever wanting to do such a thing, examples such as these illustrate that plenty of people in history have been adventurous or desperate enough to transplant themselves permanently to a new home. Our hypothetical Mars pioneers, in fact, would be much better off than the colonists at Jamestown, having the advantage of constant communication with home, not to mention more reliable resupply ships.

Some critics insist the red planet is too inhospitable to attract permanent settlers; instead, they envision a research station with rotating staff, like the outposts in Antarctica. Either way, I'm reminded of Heinlein's various Mars novels. The first expedition as described in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND didn't fare well. They all died by murder or suicide, leaving baby Michael Valentine Smith to be brought up by Martians. In RED PLANET and PODKAYNE OF MARS, however, the human inhabitants think of Mars as their home and Earth as an exotic foreign world their ancestors left behind. I'm optimistic enough to hope I'll live to see the first beginnings of that kind of future. I'm sixty-five; with luck, I may have another thirty years. Consider how far we've come in other fields of technology over the last thirty years.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

1 comment:

  1. Correction: I turned 66 a couple of months ago. I can't believe I'm becoming so flaky in my old age that I've lost track of my age!

    OTOH, I often have to stop and think to subtract in order to be sure of the ages of my children, and this tendency has been going on for years. So it probably isn't senility.