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The Ache of Mars One

I wrote about Mars One when it was announced back in 2013.  Since then, I’ve bookmarked every article I’ve come across on the topic, almost as if trying to pin down pieces of these people’s stories before they’re gone forever.

200,000 people applied.  200,000 people (or 2761, if you go by this story). That’s a lot of people willing to take a one-way trip to Mars and die, far away from anyone and anything they’ve ever known.  The pool has been winnowed down to 100 people.

I watched a short documentary on the mission, and everyone makes sense when they speak about their reasons.  Dina’s point that she has already done this (said goodbye to family forever) when she left Iraq. The idea of leaving a legacy. Of starting over in a place that doesn’t have unsolvable problems.  It was interesting to hear the thoughts of family and friends talking about how they would feel to say goodbye to the people going on the mission.

But then, at the end of the day, amid all the melancholy that thinking about people applying for this brings, there is the fact that Mars One likely won’t happen at all.  And if that is the case, how do these 100 people return to their regular lives?  How does the first man who spoke about wanting to leave a legacy find a legacy to leave here on Earth?  How does the third man who spoke about being unable to exist on this broken planet continue to live out the rest of his life amid the chaos and hate?

Was Mars One just a cruel joke, jerking people’s emotions around with no real promise of ever transporting them to another place, another life, another goal?

The whole thing makes me unbelievably sad.


1 andy { 04.08.15 at 8:07 am }

Interesting…. Liam and I have talked a lot about this, and why people would want to go and how hard it would be to leave everyone behind. It is sad that this won’t be happening anytime soon.

2 loribeth { 04.08.15 at 8:56 am }

I have absolutely no desire to go to Mars, but I admire people who have the courage to undertake such a mission. I do find it sad that it’s been more than 40 years since we went to the moon. I’ll have to admit, I was 12 then and the novelty had worn off for me by then — I would be pissed off because the moonwalk coverage would cancel out my Saturday morning cartoons, lol. But from an adult perspective, thinking about what they accomplished, with technology that was so much more primitive than what we have now — wow. Just wow. And it’s so sad that, space shuttle & International Space Station missions aside (which are important in their own way), we haven’t gone back to the moon, or gone any further afield. I find it incredibly sad that the U.S. astronauts have to go to Russia or Kazhakstan these days to hitch a ride to the space station!! Who would have thought, back in the 1960s??

I recently read an interview with Eugene Cernin, the last man on the moon, who just had a documentary made about himself. He had a T-shirt with the acronym GYATM. I had to look it up: it stands for “Get Your A** To Mars,” lol.

3 Katherine { 04.08.15 at 3:31 pm }

Sad as this may be, I think it’s very recent that we would think of this as extraordinary. I mean, in the history of mankind, many many people left — to fight in faraway wars, to become explorers, to inhabit colonies, to immigrate — knowing they would likely never, ever come back.
The world is a much more connected, much smaller place these days, so this “one-way travel” now seems alien to us. But it’s precisely because of the world’s smallness that one-way travel will become necessary again, no?

4 Lori Lavender Luz { 04.08.15 at 3:53 pm }

I was going to say something similar to what Katherine says. I’m teaching history, and the thought of getting on a ship setting our for unknown shores, or gathering up your stuff on a covered wagon (or just a horse)….wow.

I hadn’t heard the Mars mission was so sketchy. Your questions about how those people will reconcile that have me thinking, too.

5 Mel { 04.08.15 at 4:43 pm }

But there is still a divide between won’t and can’t. Though few did it, it was still technically possible to get on a ship or a covered wagon and travel back to your original land. Whereas with Mars, the space ship will not be able to lift off again. And they won’t have supplies to build another space ship. So unless someone comes and gets them, that’s it. There’s no way off of Mars.

6 Katherine { 04.08.15 at 7:16 pm }

Agree! But acquiring the means to return (or to sustain a life back home) was probably akin to the Mars colonists having someone drop through space and save them — it’s not something people would realistically rely on. I think goodbyes were meant to be forever…

I think a more significant difference between the potential Mars One and the colonists of yesteryear is that the modern experience would probably be a very lonely one. When you have seen no one leave to go through what you are about to go through, there is no way to normalize your experience, to prepare yourself, to brace yourself for what lies ahead. Once you do leave, there will be very few people to connect to; and it might not be possible to find someone who processes things in the same way you do. There will be no collective experience to rely on — no songs, or books, or movies or blogs — to express the exact excitement, or disillusionment, or yearning, or grief you will be going through. But I guess that has always been true, with all trailblazers. It will not be unique to the first space colonists.

I understand your point that it’s the irreversibility of the Mars One project that makes it so sad and scary. But in the end, I think we all take irreversible steps, all the time: We quit our jobs; we move to another country; we get divorced; we have children. Sometimes the consequences of our choices might not be a priori obvious, so we are not too scared by them. And sometimes we just don’t dwell on them too much, because others around us are constantly going through the same. (Take having children, for example. Nothing is the same before and after, and there is no going back. Ever. Yet it doesn’t seem so incredibly terrible to most of us, as it’s just what most people do.) But I think we all live through a series of such little “deaths” — we may just not be mindful enough to internalize them all.

7 Ann { 04.09.15 at 12:51 am }

I worked the Mars mission MSL (aka the rover named Curiosity) for *way too* many years and then on the beginning stages of Mars 2018, which is now Mars 2020, and know a little about the insane amount of people and time and money it takes to get an unmanned spacecraft to Mars. The timeline for Mars One as a manned mission is laughable at best. The suppliers list includes a few companies who have provided hardware for previous Mars missions, but there isn’t anyone listed who has even had a successful unmanned mission to Mars. A budget funded by donations will be hard pressed to reach the billions required. A manned mission to Mars *might* be possible in our lifetime, but Mars One is not even close to being it. Just my enginerdy 2 cents.

8 torthuil { 04.09.15 at 6:30 pm }

I really doubt this mission will happen, so I hope these people have a Plan b for their lives. But I think the worst reason to go is that the world has “too many problems.” If problems are caused by people then they will go with them to Mars or anywhere else people go.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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