Wagon Train to the Stars
From Slate’s Michael Chorost @ Future Tense:
“Eighty thousand people recently applied for a trip to Mars, an excursion that will allegedly be funded by selling reality-TV show rights for the voyage. The company running this curious venture, Mars One, estimates that the price tag for an expedition of four astronauts—currently slotted for 2023—would be $6 billion. But the ticket’s one-way: There is no budget for bringing them back.
It wouldn’t be a suicide mission, though. The travelers would be going as homesteaders, intending to make Mars their permanent home. If you’re going to have permanent colonies, say boosters of the idea, you might as well do it from the start.
…Mars itself will be fantastically dangerous. The surface is bathed in solar and cosmic radiation. The temperature rarely gets above freezing. There’s omnipresent dust with toxic chemicals in it. There’s a total lack of breathable air. And if you have a serious medical problem, the nearest emergency room will be at least 34 million miles away.
But there’s another, more subtle hazard of Martian homesteading that people have barely begun to think about: the lack of soil. It may be hard to keep people healthy in the long term on Mars without Earth-made soil. Lots of it.”
Okay, so, are you up for the challenge of interplanetary colonization? Maybe not now, but imagine a future where tens or hundreds of thousands of people are clamoring for a seat on the wagon train to Mars. My question is, “What terrible misfortune is unfolding on our planet to make you want to endure the horrible conditions of colony life on Mars?” (Check out the extended earth scenes in James Cameron’s Avatar for what a taste of what I’m laying down.) Mass-exoduses of many varieties come to mind. In the mid-1800s, gingivitis, dysentery, rickets and amputations were the fate of many, yet, thousands of Americans still bolted from the eastern states for richer digs in the western frontiers through events such as the Oklahoma land rush. (Ungrateful swines!) Technology followed (not the other way around) with the telegraph, the railroad, the gatling gun and the innate human ability to transmit disease faster than a fevered three-year old at a church social. Who or what kicked off this rampage for a “better way of life”?
Hm. Right now I’m thinking of a certain two military explorers commissioned by their commander in chief to go west and to explore and map “the newly acquired [Louisiana Purchase] territory, find a practical route across the Western half of the continent, and establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.” (Thanks Wiki!) It was called the Corps of Discovery Expedition and it lent a hand in the great exodus that ensued in the preceding decades as men, followed by women and children, pursued their American Dreams across the frontiers in caravans of covered wagons. (What did they call these? Hm…)
The exploration for Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, as defined by Thomas Jefferson, (Lewis and Clark’s commander-in-chief), remained at the core of the western genre. This ideal persisted as a main staple of entertainment throughout the 1940s and 50s in cinema, television and literature. The domination of westerns on television also inspired writer, Gene Roddenberry, to re-imagine those wagon trains trekking across the plains as starships following stars routes, all in the spirit of exploration, colonization and adventure.
So let’s all raise our glasses and toast a big hearty thank you to Lewis & Clark, and to you too Thomas Jefferson, for without you, we would never have Star Trek.
It’s all your fault.