I Want to Go to Mars

Humans have always stared up at the sky. We look at the stars and wonder what’s out there, who’s out there, how far it goes.

Ancient peoples populated the sky with gods and heroes, mirroring the land below. They developed myths to explain forces and happenings they didn’t understand – lightning, thunder, earthquakes, rain. Before science, these myths helped them cope with a world they couldn’t control, forces that often seemed hell-bent to destroy them.

As we came to understand things, as our scientific knowledge expanded and we developed tools to help us peer ever farther into the universe and see further into the past and closer to the beginnings, the gods and heroes receded, remembered now only in the constellations we have named after them, but our fascination with the sky has only gotten bigger and more enthralling.

The modern age has seen us set foot on the moon, our lonely little satellite. The photos from that moment – seeing our “little blue marble” in the vast black that is space – changed how we looked at the world and ourselves forever. No longer could we consider ourselves the center of the universe (although I realize some people have never really lost that viewpoint), the masters of all we survey and beyond.

As our instruments have allowed us to look farther afield, we discovered our nine planets (yes, I still consider Pluto a planet – take that, Michael Brown) are only the bare fraction of the planet population – we have discovered thousands of worlds around hundreds of suns – big, small, rocky, gaseous – even “diamond” – worlds, some of which could conceivably hold sentient life. Our vision has literally widened, and we are that much more humbled.

We now have people living in space, in a station we built. Machines we have crafted are cruising the universe, observing planets, taking measurements, photographing nebulas and supernovas and other phenomenon the ancients never imagined. We sent two contraptions on a one-way trip to leave the universe we know, to bring us knowledge of what might be out beyond our imaginings. They are close.

On Mars, one of our neighbors, and the only planet we know that might once have harbored life of some kind, we dropped two tiny rovers, named appropriately Spirit and Opportunity, to explore the red planet and bring us closer to leaving this fragile world we seem hell-bent on destroying in the name of progress. A mission designed to last a few months has expanded as those little machines pushed on past their original mission, their original limitations, and kept going – years past their expected demise. We’ve learned so much about the planet. Many of our preconceived misconceptions have been shattered, and the possibility of life besides us is even greater.

So we sent another probe, designed for more intensive experiments, named Curiosity, to gather more in depth information. Curiosity’s launch and landing captured the imagination of the world, as people who dream of exploring the vast infinite space out there realized how far we have come. It has been an amazing journey, as Curiosity sends us pictures that shatter our idea of a planet we only “know” through the imaginings of science fiction writers. Topographic and other studies have given us an amazing picture of our neighbor, and shown us how very much like our planet it is – mountains, valleys, stream beds, river courses, ice-bound pole, wind – not the bizarreness Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined. We are not unique, we on Starship Earth.

And now, we prepare for the next step – to send people to the Red Planet. Not to drive by and take shots, not to stop, take a breather and a step, and return – but to land, build, and stay.

Mars One, a consortium of people and businesses who realize the next step for humankind is to leave our little home and go west (okay, up), are recruiting people to man their planned mission to Mars, people who are eager to explore new worlds, seek out strange new life, to boldly go where …

And I want to be one of them.

When I learned that, as of May, more than 78,000 people had applied to be one of the 100 astronauts, I was really bummed. While my application is in process, what chance does a middle-aged broad with no science background, whose only talents are talking and writing, have among 78,000 people, probably most of whom have engineering, science, medical, or other technical backgrounds? What chance when there are probably thousands of younger, more able people begging for a chance to leave the blue for the red?

I posted this thought on Facebook, not realizing the shitstorm I was about to unleash. And by shitstorm, I mean among my family. See, I have three daughters, all grown, one of whom has this idea that family should stay close and accessible, and by family, she means her mother (me). Apparently, my move to Fairbanks was bad enough – now I want to leave the planet? What kind of a mother am I?

The conversation went something like this:

From Facebook:

Libbie Martin, Friday at 10:39 am near Fairbanks ·

Just found out 78,000 people have already applied for the Mars One flight. What’s the chance they’d pick an old broad whose only talents are writing and talking? Sigh.

Cori Ove Well, someone is going to need to write about the trip, right?

Holly Swift I think it would be cool to visit, but that’s like the rest of your life. I don’t think I could handle that.

Libbie Martin Holly, at my age, the “whole rest of my life” isn’t really that many years. Besides, it’s MARS.

Cori Ove Umm Mom, if you take care of yourself, you have at least 30 more years of life, if not more. That’s a pretty damn long time!

Eric Ove So…Alaska just isn’t quite far enough from civilization, eh?

Libbie Martin Eric, it’s MARS.

Cori Ove I forbid you from going to Mars! How will your grandchildren EVER see you?

Libbie Martin Umm, Cori, you cannot forbid me anything (although Bama said you would). Wouldn’t the grandkids be proud of their grandma for being an explorer? Besides, I’m sure there will be teleconferencing by then.

Eric Ove Pssh, everyone calm down, the chances of any of us being chosen to go to Mars are so slim, they are nonexistent. People colonizing are supposed to be able to work on the machinery and data collections via computer interface as well as be able to fix the computers. Only the best, brightest, and most socially awkward people are allowed to go.

Cori Ove They would probably hate you for leaving them forever! Go explore somewhere else, somewhere you can come back from!

Libbie Martin Way to support your mom-in-law, Eric.

Cori Ove Sorry, his first job is to support me!

Libbie Martin But but but Cori, it’s MARS.

Cori Ove And if you were just visiting I would be 100 percent supportive!

Libbie Martin But Cori, it’s MARS.

Cori Ove Visiting only! And that’s final young lady!

Eric Ove Woohoo, indoor living and dust all over! How often do you think Earth will send care packages?

Jen Stutesman Be sure to take Vitamin C with you. Don’t want the crew doing a Bova.

Libbie Martin Oh, yeah. C, D, the whole alphabet. And chocolate. Gotta have chocolate.

For the nonfamily among you, Cori Ove is daughter #1, Eric her husband, and others are friends.

My mother also weighed in, though not on Facebook. In a nutshell, she thinks I’m nuts. Certifiably so. And no one understands why I would consider doing such a thing. It means I have to articulate – to them and myself – why I want to go to Mars.

Next time: Why I Want To Go To Mars