One-Way Ticket to Ride
From Earth to Her Twin
One thing about the planned one-ticket, privately-financed, volunteer-driven trip to Mars is that, for the first time in history, someone will actually be dead for all effect and purposes, and still in contact, albeit limited, with the living.
That’s right: the willing crew for this journey to the nonreturnable will cease to legally exist on Earth and be as physically unavailable to us as the departed. And yet, still capable of holding a conversation with those they’ve left behind.
Of course, this can’t be the calling card for such an enterprise, which will rest on a lot of showmanship and just plain convincing to attract the kind of hardy human being willing to undertake it. On the contrary, to call it a trip to death would immediately kill the hard on of every science aficionado, who’s been dreaming about getting to Mars since they were born.
It’s only fitting that such a proposition is not the least attractive to the touristic inclined. Part of the allure of traveling to faraway places is the promise of returning and flooring everyone you know with enviable tales that will forever separate you, who’ve gone somewhere, from them, who’ve remained behind.
For the record, such adventurers (almost 80,000 candidates at last count) are applying to visit an Earth-wanna be, the red twin of our blue planet who, just as a problematic sibling, simply wasn’t successful at some critical stage, and whose evolutionary arc went terribly wrong at some point.
While Mars failed at developing the ability of harboring life, at least as we know it, fell behind and it’s now a giant inhospitable desertic rock, Earth is still thriving. Which is sort of ironic, because our own piece of rock could use some solitude and even a bit less of the human imprint, if it’s to survive in the long run, but that’s another story.
So the one-way trippers striving to live and perish in a lifeless landscape, would also enter the realm of the deceased, but with the extra plus of being able to communicate with this world, something that has eluded the dead since, well, the beginning of time, psychics notwithstanding.
THE DNA OF DAREDEVILS
There will be other pluses, to be sure, and for the adventure-bent, this is what the expression ‘thrill of a lifetime’ was designed to convey, despite being now sadly equated to cliche and hyperbole. Just don’t include on that the dietary rigors and small indignities they’ll have to endure just to keep up with the basic needs of their humanity. Enough said there.
It’ll also be, by far, the most dangerous journey ever attempted by an earthling, who may not even get to Mars alive, as the lethal effects of radiation have not yet been properly tested under such conditions and may as well take hold much faster than any research has suggested so far.
Such haunting detail, far from discouraging, may be the real calling card for that special DNA-carrying individual, to whom such impending doom spells the same kind of allure most people associate to simply being alive.
For to most risk riders, life, as everybody else keeps talking about, simply doesn’t cut it; they need more and the possibility of a sudden crushing blow preventing them from ever breathing again sounds like the sweet trip to heavens, no pun intended, they’ve dreamed about their whole existence.
They may constitute, in fact, the most excited kind of living dead, to be sure, but as far as psychological profiles are concerned, they may also be the perfect fit for it as well. After all, vertigo and spare-of-moment, life-threatening decisions is the core of their daily pursuit of feeling part of the living.
BEWARE THE QUIET ONES
As such, no wonder NASA is sitting this one out, as it would never be able to put together funding for an open-ended odyssey literally populated by daredevils, dying to go to space. Risk taking by a government agency is usually not something that taxpayers take lightly.
For a private enterprise like the Mars One, the Dutch nonprofit calling the shots, though, it’s more than an option; it’s imperative. It may be a surer bet to invest in taming and priming these A-personality speed freaks than waste time trying to coach a seemingly docile, quieter, under-control type of character, who may suddenly erupt into a volatile and explosive tantrum, should the perfect storm arise.
But at stake in such a trip is much more than the isolation of spending the rest of their lives in the company of strangers, with no possibility of turning back. And NASA is not completely out of the game just yet either. In preparation for its own trek to the Red Planet, it already has a group of volunteers locked up for months deep inside a Hawaiian mountain, in a simulation of at least the most predictable conditions they will face.
For both still in the planning stages missions, there may be other unexpected factors to be dealt with as well, once they are all out there. Apart from radiation, and possible technologically catastrophic mishaps, some scientists are calling boredom the biggest challenge to such a mission.
THE UNINVITED SURPRISES
The human mind, they say, has even a default mental pattern it falls into whenever a continuous lack of stimuli is present. Previous studies in isolation, such as the doomed cult-organized Biosphere 2 experiment, have indeed documented odd behavior and unexplained personality changes displayed by volunteers.
There are many other examples of such experiences going awry, be it with solitary confinement prisoners, or pole research outpost dwellers, or survivors of shipwrecks found adrift at sea. None seemed to have coped with their predicament along the lines of say, rational thought and balance. Much to the contrary.
Thus it’s very likely that the first few of these go-and-never-return missions may become known as the first large groups of humans to perish in space. The demise of unproven theories about human nature and what we think we know it’s capable of under stress, may be their only sad company when they go.
Oh, but there are pluses, as we said, and the prospect of having a close look at the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and Curiosity, which has its own Twitter feed, are among the most glamorous of them, if not the only ones.
Except that there’s a not so remote possibility that the crews land on the equivalent of the U.S. territory, while the rovers may as well be as far away as Africa is from the Americas. It’d be a long and hard trek, to say the least, and their mission may not even require them having to undertake it. Which would be a shame.
FIRST ORGASM IN SPACE?
So for all practical reasons, these space pilgrims flying farther than any other human before (see the amazing graphic of the distance between Earth and Mars), however gutsy and imbued of the pioneer spirit of their Earthly predecessors, may as well be dead-to-be beings, albeit ones that could offer a running, most detailed account yet of how it feels like to pass away.
They should also be prepared for being memorable, since reality shows have already revealed all that’s to know about strangers living together. And it’s all boring. Heated arguments and steamy sex scenes, unless they’ll result in the first human born in another planet, may not nearly be as appealing either.
As everything being served for its entertainment qualities these days, they’d better be outstanding. Otherwise, the world’s short-span attention may relegate these pioneers to forgetfulness even before they meet their untimely, and ultimately highly predictable, end.
* The Red Chronicles
* Space Snacking