From his dissection of the card player’s hands in Rounders, to his dissertation on clubbing baby seals in Good Will Hunting, to his explanation that he knows which vehicle in the parking lot is most likely to have a gun in it in Bourne Identity and more, in just about all of his films Mr. Damon has proven he can memorize and deliver long, dry, and yet convincing speeches that seem like they might trip up other acting professionals. And that’s fine and dandy. I like those movies and I like his characters in those movies. But I don’t know if anyone likes to hear what he has to say after he clocks out, and it seems like the two are beginning to merge. Recently, he’s starred in films that sacrifice entertainment value in favor of agendas, films like the one about fracking. Soooo dramatic. And they’re probably filled with science. Again, whatever.
A year or so ago a couple handed me the book The Martian because they knew I had applied to be an emigrant to Mars. I read it and reviewed it here. This book is now a major motion picture. And all of this is very interesting to me and probably every other independent author, as its author published the book by his own self years before it got picked up by a major publisher and now Hollywood. It looks like Mr. Weir self-published it in 2011, three years before the big boys picked it up in 2014. So it seems that five years after self-publishing a quality book any one of us could watch A-listers act out our story on the big screen. That’s neat. Anyhow, back to the point. The book has nothing to do with making a statement about “every culture” of humans. Anyone that disagrees with this is flat out wrong and I would argue hasn’t read the book. And yet somehow (I picture a lot of whining and temper tantrums and threats to walk out of the room) Matt Damon opens the preview to what looks like a fantastic new space movie with this bogus notion that every culture has a basic instinct to help each other out. I can buy every human does on an individual level. There’s books about that. But the simple fact is there are plenty of cultures who don’t rescue people who find themselves stranded on Mars or mountain tops or the side of the highway. What’s worse is there are plenty of cultures who actively believe in kidnapping people for money or political statements. These cultures are generally those not labeled The West.
I buy and promote the truth that if we’re talking about the level of the soul, then we’re all just people making our way through this world and will more times than not help each other when able. But it is not true that in groups (cultures) we’re all the same and without quantifiable, measurable differences that can be labeled “better” or “worse”–no matter how hard we wish for it.
The planet’s Earth-like gravity had an unexpected welcoming effect on Mission Commander Stevenson as he stepped out of the craft. This was the forty-first world he had visited on this particular eighteen month mission. He hadn’t shared with anyone yet that it would be his last. He was sixty-four years old and while his mind was never sharper, his body was starting to say no.
NASA probably expected him to call it quits sooner rather than later, but he knew they would be sorry to see him leave. Not the first mission commander to make a career of exploring new galaxies, he hoped he would prove to be the most steadfast. He had personally stepped foot on six hundred thirty-five extraterrestrial worlds. Not one of them contained life.
Oh, sure, he had had plenty of R and R back on Earth between missions, but it was all beginning to wear on him. As evidence of this, to a person, all the other astronauts could even deliver his famous “one complaint” speech–accent and all–verbatim.
Month thirteen, almost to the day, he’d say, “For someone as fortunate as me, someone who has seen the glory of the cosmos up close and in person, to complain would be criminal.” The imitator would then pause, just like Stevenson always did. “But I am human. I do have my own thoughts. And if I had to pick one thing that I would change about the program, it would be the gloves! I have spent over half my life feeling the inside of a pair of gloves. Every celebratory hug we’ve had after discovering we got a chance to live on after opening the door, every rock I’ve lifted, every flagpole I’ve planted, every tool I’ve used, everything has felt the same. I just wish something could be done about that.” Every newbie expected the speech to end at that point and just about interrupted the old man as he continued undeterred, which made it all the more amusing for everyone else. “I miss the feel of a woman, the feel of a Christmas tree, the feel of not quite warm enough shower water. Most of all, I miss the feel of dirt–my dirt.”
As he looked back for the others to join him on the ritual first walk around the new world, he unconsciously reached for the fastener on his glove.
Finally there’s proof that I’m not the only one with Mars on the brain. Originally published as an ebook in 2009, Andy Weir’s The Martian was destined for broader horizons. Recently picked up by Crown Publishing (a subsidiary of Random House Publishing), it spent a handful of weeks on the NY Times Bestseller list earlier this year. Must be nice.
Weir’s first novel is all heart. And by heart, I mean comedy. Maybe that sets the wrong tone. Beginning again then. The book is all Watney. Mark Watney is the first astronaut (we all know there’s going to be one) to be stranded on Mars. And The Martian, first and foremost, is about Mark Watney. From the opening line, to the last page, Weir’s development of Watney through how he handles the obstacles that present themselves to him as he attempts to live on Mars acts as the life-giving oxygen necessary to sustaining his life on Mars.
The critics (really anything you’ll read about the book) frequently laud Weir’s attention to detail and eloquent grasp of the science behind traveling to and living on the red planet. But that’s not what kept my attention. (Like I have any way of verifying any of the story’s science anyhow.) What I do know is that I enjoy the feeling I get as bursts of unexpected air come out of my mouth or nose. And this book causes plenty of that. It’s a weird feeling, the feeling that accompanies laughing at unmoving text. But it is as enjoyable as any other feeling I can think of.
If you’re like me, you probably won’t rush out and buy the book based on a recommendation. But you might pick it up off the bookstore shelf and begin reading it. Here’s what you need to know as you begin to feel guilty for reading so long and hurriedly put the book back before anyone can claim that you must now purchase it because you’ve read too much of it: despite the opening chapters, the book is not just a diary. I started chapter’s four and five with a bit of a groan because while funny and interesting, it was a little too much Mark Watney. Then chapter six arrived in a much welcomed third person omniscient point of view. From there on out, it is a nice balance between the two.
In the end, it is a page-turner. It is funny. And its theme is hope. If you have any interest in one of those three things and are space-curious, read it.
If you’re on your computer, it’s best to set the tone with a little mood music: open in new tab.
Dear Mars One applicant,
Did you know US astronaut Clayton Anderson was rejected by NASA for its astronaut training program 15 times, yet in 2007 he boarded the Space Shuttle Atlantis for a trip to the International Space Station. He proved anything can happen and no door is ever completely closed.
You, and just over 200,000 other aspiring astronauts around the world, took a bold step in applying to be one of our first heroes to leave Earth permanently for a new life on another planet. We cannot thank you enough for your daring effort.
At this time, we’ve made the decision to reduce our applicant pool down to just over 1000 and your application has been declined. Let’s talk about what that means.
This is not the end of your dream. We will be reopening the application process for you at a date to be determined in 2014. We want you to seriously consider re-applying. Each and every applicant, including yourself, who was not chosen in in this initial round, will have many other chances to re-enter the selection pool and try again. Don’t give up.
If you’re wondering why you’re applicant was put on hold, please review the selection criteria here. This is the criteria we used when considering your application.
Our goals are the same – human life on Mars and advancing humankind’s evolution as a multiplanetary species. Let’s continue our mission together!
Mars One Selection Committee
What do you say? Should I keep applying? I say…Yes!
Lockheed Martin just signed on to the Mars One mission.
Mars One has pushed the landing date to 2025, two years later than the original 2023.
The mission got legitimized and stigmatized in the same breath. That’s life.
Still no news on who was chosen for round two. They’re supposed to let people know yes or no by the end of the year. What do you think? I really wanted this group to have their stuff together, but that seems like it was asking a bit much at the moment. Oh well. That they have Lockheed Martin really does break the fall from the date sliding.
Cross your fingers for me being selected for round two. Can you even imagine?
Next, I turned my attention to probably the greatest source I stumbled upon during my relatively light research for this paper. I discovered an article entitled, “Revised Scenario for Human Missions to Mars” written by Jean Marc Salotti. As mentioned in this paper, Mars Direct advocates the idea of sending the recovery vehicle to Mars first, and then everything else. Salotti addresses this notion in depth, and also provides what he (and his team) think is a better scenario. The specifics are rather boring and not easily summarized here, but suffice it to say that his team believes they have a better plan, which also minimizes risks by providing redundancies every step of the way (286). What was so moving about this paper is that it was written with a tone that doesn’t hide that he fully expects a successful manned journey to Mars—and soon.
The journey nearing an end, I found an article which seemed a fitting punctuation mark with which to conclude the paper, “Can Humans Live on Mars?” by Ken Kremer. The short answer is “Yes”. Kremer focuses his question and subsequent answer specifically on radiation levels. For the lay reader, the article reveals that astronauts today already operate within preset radiation exposure limits (Kremer). He goes on to conclude that all the data argues that Mars’ thin atmosphere actually reduces the radiation exposure an astronaut would encounter when compared to current trips to the International Space Station (Kremer). This is encouraging news. There are, of course, still many uncertainties, but the overall point is that settling Planet Mars, as Mars One intends on doing, seems to be more than a joke. While the details are being fine-tuned, it is clear that prominent members of the larger space exploration community argue that humanity possesses the ability to fly to and land on Mars. Furthermore it seems that humans should be able to live for at least a short time without ill effect.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This goal to inhabit Mars in 2023 is achievable and realistic. More than the research this paper reviews, I know this to be true because I am a member of the human race. I know this to be true because I possess the innately human quality intuition. I know this to be true because when backed by the history of human experience and achievement, intuition proves itself accurate. The human race is a super-organism that does not give-up. When we direct our attention towards manifesting an idea, the rest is history.
Kremer, Ken. “Can Humans Live on Mars?” Universe Today RSS. N.p., 19 Nov. 2012. Web. 17 Sept. 2013. <http://www.universetoday.com/98509/can-humans-live-on-mars/>.
Salotti, Jean Marc. “Revised Scenario For Human Missions To Mars.” Acta Astronautica 81.1 (2012): 273-287. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Sept. 2013.
So far my research had been exclusively American. I decided I needed to change it up a bit, so I looked to discover what the motherland had to say. My most relevant findings weren’t about the future, but the past. BBC News’ Race to Mars webpage had a nice timeline which emphasized most that humans hit Mars with man-made materials in 1971 and 1972. Educating uninitiated space junkies, the site reveals that starting back in 1965 humans were taking close-up pictures of the surface from orbiting satellites. This was exciting and a good sign for two reasons. First, from taking close-up pictures to landing–albeit crash landing–took less than a decade. Second, Mars One has given itself a decade and there are rovers right now on Mars. Remember Mars One’s claim…they’re only going to use existing technology. That was becoming more and more believable as my research continued. Moreover, 10 years to prepare was beginning to sound more like 10 years to perfect the plan.
Scrolling down to my Works Cited page, I decided to see what James Bell III had to say. In an extremely impressive article called, “The Search for Habitable Worlds: Planetary Exploration in the 21St Century,” Bell plainly and eloquently explains the situation. The situation is that Mars is definitely mankind’s chosen priority at the moment (9). Before going further, I need to clear the air and acknowledge that Bell never does discuss placing humans on any of the once habitable or possibly habitable worlds; instead he emphasizes the current strategy slogan adopted by NASA is “flyby, orbit, land, rove, and return” (9). One particular article highlight is that it sounds like Mars likely had water at one point, but it is difficult or impossible for water to remain stable on the surface today because of the lack of atmosphere (12). So, this article then is a mixed bag for my quest. This writer, Bell, seems to be a very respectable voice in the community, but he doesn’t mention settling people on Mars. However, he does an excellent job of delineating that humankind is in the “third great Age of Exploration” as historian and author Stephen Pyne has labeled it (8). As always, I take this to be a great indicator that we are moving quickly and will soon be living on Mars. I take this to be a great indicator because the first two ages of exploration (the first personified by Columbus; the second, Lewis and Clark) were successful. Among the many things humans, as a group, seem to be skilled at, exploring tops the list–and I see no reason for this skill to have perished simply because we’ve reached the end of the Earth.
Bell III, James F. “The Search for Habitable Worlds: Planetary Exploration in the 21St Century.” Daedalus 141.3 (2012): 8. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 5 Sept. 2013.
BBC News. BBC, 04 Feb. 2008. Web. 17 Sept. 2013. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/sci_tech/2003/race_for_mars/default.stm>.
Next, I stumbled upon a more scholarly article written by Mehdi Lali. In “Analysis and Design of a Human Spaceflight to Mars, Europa, and Titan,” Mehdi Lali discusses why these three un-earthly bodies are the best choice for manned exploration and when the best time to do it will be. He also incorporates some graphics which illustrate several gee-whiz techniques which will make the trip quicker and safer. He begins the article by clarifying that, “Among the terrestrial (rocky) planets, only Mars can potentially be host to humans” (557). As space exploration isn’t limited to planets he further discusses options like Europa and Titan which are moons of outer planets. After he presents his ideas and methodology he concludes, “A rare launch-window opportunity is conceived to occur in 2078, in which these sites i.e., Mars, Europa and Titan will be aligned in such a way that they can be visited in one mission taking advantage of the gravity assists from Mars and Jupiter” (563). Sign me up. Obviously, the year 2078 is quite a bit later than 2023; likewise, the specifics that Mr. Lali recommends for Mars exploration are quite a bit different from Mars One’s plans. This second source then really only conveyed to me that the area of manned space exploration is not very stable. It seems that depending on a set of almost unlimited factors, different scientists perceive different capabilities. Overall, my takeaway is that Lali’s article is clearly not about settling Mars, so its conclusions aren’t very relevant to my question. I have to admit that an article like Mr. Lali’s was kind of draining. It had too much specific data (read: numbers), and most of it went way over my head. That’s okay. With every failure comes a learning opportunity. I learned that I needed to focus my research a little narrower—easy enough.
What I found next was an article called, “How To…Land a Human on Mars.” Piers Bizony writes a much more digestible article explaining…how to land a human on Mars. It seems Mars One isn’t the only game in town. Since the early 1990s something called Mars Direct has been floating a six step plan to explore Mars in person. Essentially, the plan is to send the recovery vehicle first (empty), then gear, then people, then recover everyone; after which they would rinse’n’repeat (Bizony 42). While this wasn’t the plan Mars One had, it was still an encouraging bit of information. Making it even more intriguing, was that it claimed that the technology to create fuel and water on Mars already exists (Bizony 41). At this point in the project I decided to close the laptop and pack my “go” bag.
Bizony, Piers. “How To… …Land A Human On Mars.” Engineering & Technology (17509637) 8.1 (2013): 40-42. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Sept. 2013.
Lali, Mehdi. “Analysis And Design Of A Human Spaceflight To Mars, Europa, And Titan.” AIP Conference Proceedings 1208.1 (2010): 557-565. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5
The question remains: “Are humans really going to be living on Mars in 2023?” To begin my research, I found an editorial written by former moon-walker himself Buzz Aldrin. This year he wrote that notions of going back to the moon should be discarded in favor of exploring Mars; and he said, “Going to Mars means staying on Mars…” (Aldrin). Well, for me, that about settled it; we’re going to Mars. Okay, maybe it didn’t settle anything, but I liked that he agreed with the requirement that the trip be one way. I was also excited to see that an authority on the subject is clearly as excited as I am about this trip. Why? Because while Buzz Aldrin clearly passed muster regarding astronaut-hood, I really don’t know how credible he is regarding the specifics of space exploration. But here’s the thing–I don’t care. His credibility, for me, comes from the fact that he went. And having went, he recommends going farther. Imagine my elation then, being one source into this paper and already having one reassurance that 2023 will be the year of the Red Planet. Nice!
Aldrin, Buzz. “The Call of Mars.” The New York Times. (June 14, 2013 Friday): 734 words.
Of course, that it takes 9-months to get there means I won’t actually arrive until 2023. The fact remains, I’m going. Back in 2011 Mars One announced its purpose. The Mars One home page reads, “The Mars One Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars in 2023.” As far as a mission statement or S.M.A.R.T. goal, they don’t get much better or simpler than that. Precisely that kind of focus will ensure achievement of the mission.
For me, the idea became a reality when I first heard the quote, “What is possible is done; what is impossible will be done.” The quote is diluted enough to not really be associated with any one person, and more important than who said it is the idea it expresses–that being, everything is first an idea, even if only an impossible idea. Growing up in the 20th century surrounded by pop culture that included “Star Wars” and “Star Trek,” it is more than clear that humans as a group believe we’ll be zipping around the universe in the future. What I didn’t expect, but have now come to believe, is that it will begin during my lifetime…and could be me.
Placing all my fever-pitched excitement aside, I can’t deny that there is a nagging voice in my head that says, “Nobody is going anywhere.” Now Mars-One assures me that the reasons they are going to succeed include all the technology already exists, they’re eliminating the return trip (which was probably the single largest hindrance to past Mars plans), and they will be able to privately fund the project by giving the people what they want—a front row seat to the whole thing via some amalgamation of reality TV programming. This all still sounded crazy to me until they pointed out the ad revenue the last Olympics generated was nearly enough to fund this mission. And that was a recurring entertainment event. Settling humankind on Mars will be a first-time-ever event, and will change the nature of human existence.
Part 2 Monday…