Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed by all the stuff that gets thrown my way — school board stories, personality profiles, obituaries, weddings and engagements, crime stories, gossip and hard news from Montpelier. All the nitty gritty details that make up the grubby lives we human beings endure on this patch of rock hurtling through space. Good grief! Occasionally a guy just wants get away from it all.
Now, thanks to the Dutch, I may just get to do that.
Recently I heard about Mars One, an international project (based out of Amersfoort, The Netherlands) to put a human colony on the Red Planet in 2023. It was exhilarating to read about such a grand and uplifting project — an imaginative leap into the future that recharges all the youthful enthusiasm I felt for space exploration as a boy during NASA’s manned missions in the ’60s and ’70s.
In their mission statement, the organizers of Mars One state that “Mars exploration offers opportunity to celebrate the power of a united humanity. As with the Apollo Moon landings, a human mission to Mars will inspire generations to believe that all things are possible, that anything can be achieved.” Heady stuff.
Their language at times is moving: “Mars One believes it is not only possible, but imperative that we establish a permanent settlement on Mars in order to accelerate our understanding of the formation of the solar system, the origins of life, and of equal importance, our place in the universe.” Boy, talk about losing yourself in a monumental project that could change all of humanity. Sign me up.
It could be a little rough, as with any pioneering experience, but I don’t think it will be that bad. Space cadets on Mars will get 50 square meters of living space, and, according to the website, get to “prepare fresh food that they themselves grew and harvested.” The gig comes with rovers that are able to race around the surface of the planet; since it is not yet populated, there are no speed limits.
The group that is organizing Mars One will be accepting applications for the trip to Mars from anyone in the world. Last month Mars One issued the basic qualifications. It says a cadet must be of normally good health, psychologically stable and stand between 5 foot 1 and three-quarter inches and 6 foot 2 and four-fifths inches tall. I qualify!
I suppose I should take pause to wonder why the qualifications spend so much time talking about cadets having lots of “resiliency” and “the ability to trust.” One qualification pointedly states, “You are at your best when things are at their worst.” Is that a red flag?
A little deeper read of mars-one.com yields the information that the trip to Mars will be seven or eight months long, in a very small space, with lots of noise from ventilation and other life-support systems. Showering with water will not be an option, and cadets will instead wipe themselves with “wet towelettes.” They pointedly say the trip will push cadets “to the very limits of their training and personal capacity.”
Looking for some reassurance elsewhere on the Internet, I stumbled across a recent report on a simulated mission to Mars carried out by the European Space Agency. They put six men through intensive training, then locked them in a windowless “spaceship” in Moscow for 17 months. Their only contact with the outside world was through the Internet and phone lines with a 20-minute delay to mimic how it would be to phone home from Mars. Turns out the men were incredibly bored and spent up to 20 hours a day sleeping. When awake they hung out playing the “Guitar Hero” video game. The study in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” said two of the six “astronauts” were OK at the end of the simulation, but four of them had problems, including mild depression. And they never even left Earth. Yikes.
Worse yet, M. Kerry O’Banion, a professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center, recently released a report saying radiation during space travel poses a significant threat to future astronauts. He said in a press release that his study shows that “exposure to radiation levels equivalent to a mission to Mars could produce cognitive problems and speed up changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.” Double yikes.
Upon reading the fine print in the Mars One deal I see that the pioneers are being sent on a one-way trip. “They will spend the rest of their lives living and working on Mars.” The voice of Mars One is starting to sound a lot like the voice of HAL, the super computer run amok in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Plus, I found this little tidbit on mars-one.com: “To finance the mission, Mars One will create an international media event around the project. The audience will help decide as the teams of settlers are selected, follow their extensive training and preparation for the mission and observe their settling on Mars once arrived.”
It’s a reality TV show! With real people putting their real lives on the line! Triple and final yikes!
OK, OK. I get it. Maybe I haven’t got that kind of right stuff.
It’s time for Plan B. Today I’m signing up for cable TV, and tonight I’m going to my 185-square-meter home, making a big bowl of popcorn, and snuggling up with my honey on the couch in front of the tube to watch “Desperate Housewives of New Jersey.” This level of excitement I can handle.