Thursday, September 5, 2013

Space Madness

I recently came across a news story that left me so affected, I had to walk away from my computer to try to clear my head of the images and thoughts that had begun to race uncontrollably through my mind. A private company is devising plans to colonize the surface of Mars over the next several decades. In the first part of the Mars One project, they would like to send a small crew on a one-way trip to the red planet in order to set up the rudimentary phase one colony. A couple of cramped cubicles that will make up the living and lab spaces. This team will serve as canaries in the coal mine to learn how long humans can survive in the harsh Martian environment, before supplies and crews for future phases are sent. This first crew is paying dearly for a one-way ticket, without the possibility of ever returning. According to the news report, more than 100,000 people have filled out an application to be selected for the opportunity to make the trip.

Confined to a small space capsule for a year, the effects of micro-gravity will quickly wreak havoc on their skeletal, circulatory, and immune systems. After only a few days of travel, they will begin to experience mind-numbing tedium as they are confined to a space scarcely bigger than a pup tent, with the Earth big and inviting in their rear-view mirrors. Here they will soon realize that there is now no chance to back out. A sort of space madness will slowly take over as they begin to understand that any desire that they have come to know on Earth will never again have an opportunity for fulfillment. In for a penny, in for a pound. No way out, no way back. If they can last a year, they will have a short burst of excitement and activity if they survive the perilous descent into that thin, dusty atmosphere. Their new reality will be a rugged, inhospitable land stretching out in all directions to infinity. Average temperatures of about 80 degrees below zero.

The small crew will labor to set up their water collectors and food production units, praying that the kinks have been fully worked out. Rations will be tightly regulated and sealed away with electronic controls to prevent the crew unauthorized access. After the initial dealings with mission control, they will find that the all-too-brief period of newness has gone flat. Then they will somehow have to live in the dreams that someone else created. While the dreamers get the attention and accolades, they can look up into their new night sky and catch an all too surreal glimpse of the blue spec that they gave up for the chance to ... what? Have their names listed in some history book? Do they realize that Armstong got to come back and live his place in history? How long until they come to understand that the reality that they have accepted is nothing like the non-stop Las Vegas-themed vacation that Hollywood has filled their minds with? How long until they realize that the company supplied cyanide pill is the only sensible out for the insanity that they created for themselves.