The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

September 3, 2013

Thousands sign up for a one-way ticket into history

Mankind has long been fascinated by the planet Mars.

The Red Planet, the celestial body named after the Roman god of war, one of Earth’s nearest planetary neighbors, Mars has long piqued humanity’s interest.

From H.G. Wells to Orson Welles, from “The Martian Chronicles” to “My Favorite Martian,” Mars has become a mainstay in popular science fiction.

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact it’s cold as hell,” sings Elton John in his hit song “Rocket Man.” Indeed it is. In fact, it can get as cold as minus 143 degrees Celsius (minus 225.4 Fahrenheit), though highs can climb to 35 C (95 F) on the equator during the height of the Martian summer.

Man has been exploring Mars since the 1960s, either from afar through the efforts of satellites flying by or through rovers scuttling across the dusty surface.

Humankind has never trod the surface of Mars, however, though one scientist now says we may all be Martians.

Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer and planetarium director at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, theorizes that our earliest ancestors came from Mars. Maybe his did. Mine came from Ireland and Germany.

At any rate, there are plans in the works to send people to Mars. NASA hopes to send a mission to Mars in 20 or 30 years. There is a group called Inspiration Mars, which hopes to send two astronauts to Mars to do a flyby of the planet in 2018.

Then there is a Dutch group, Mars One, that wants to build a community of settlers on the Red Planet, with the first mission set for 2022.

To date, more than 165,000 people have applied to be part of the Mars One program. The sign-up period just ended Aug. 31.

The only catch is, as Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” The Mars One mission is strictly one way.

Not all that applied will be chosen, of course. Mars One officials will soon begin selecting those applicants that will move on to round two, the job application round. The third round will involve regional reality TV contests, with applicants competing in the kind of challenges that might face them on a Mars mission. Think of it as “Mars Idol,” without any singing.

The winners of round three will come together for training at a Mars-style habitat on Earth. This would be another reality TV setting. This would be akin to “Survivor: Mars.”

Finally, six four-person crews will be selected. They will begin training in 2015 and the first launch is set for 2022.

But once you go, there’s no coming back. Mars One’s astronauts will die on the Red Planet.

I’ve heard of getting away from it all, but that is ridiculous.

The idea of going to Mars is, undoubtedly, appealing, but I believe in the old concept of, “It’s always nice to go, but it’s better to come home.”

What would make someone sign up for a trip they knew they would never return from?

“You’re kind of born knowing that you want to travel,” said graduate student Joseph Sweeney.

Travel, yes. Move permanently to a desolate, airless rock millions of miles from my nice warm bed, no.

“I’ve wanted to go to space for as long as I can remember,” said Sara Director, one of the 20 percent of female applicants.

Me too, ever since I sat in a grade school gymnasium watching flickering black and white TV pictures of Alan Shepard sitting high atop a Redstone rocket in a capsule called Freedom 7. But I never wanted to move there.

Vinod Kotiya of Bhopal, India, is one of the applicants.

“It is my childhood dream of becoming an astronaut,” said Kotiya.

The 31-year-old, however, failed to inform his wife when he applied for the one-way trip. He told her only later.

“Initially, she thought it was a joke, but later, when things got serious, she threatened to lay in front of the space craft at the time of launching,” said Kotiya.

He could always get his wife to sign up too, but something tells me Mrs. Kotiya has too much sense for that.

If Mars One pulls off this feat, and truly establishes a human colony on Mars, it will be a historic accomplishment that will change the course of human history. The Mars colonists will go down in the history books as great explorers and true pioneers.

I would go in a minute, but I want my ticket to be round-trip, not one way.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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