Growing up I was always moving from city to city. This might be the reason I never established roots anywhere until later in life when the decision to choose a place I could call home was all mine. I am an only child and I never met my father; this experience left me unattached to the memories of family life circumscribed by a specific geographical area. I felt loose, unrestrained, unfettered by that sense of belonging that prevents people from stepping outside their comfort zone. I was already outside my comfort zone. I felt different and unable to relate to other kids who shared an extensive family life.
In my experience, the nomadic character of my childhood was beyond my control and I had to follow the two people who raised me: my mother, and my aunt who was then often stationed in different regions throughout the country as a chief nurse. They raised me together and I had no choice but to go with them – not that I have any complaints on that respect. On the contrary, I believe my life was exponentially improved by being exposed to this constant change of places. Later in life, I made my own decision of where I wanted to live.
Now I consider all those people who are nomadic by nature, who are constantly moving from one city to another, one state to another, one country to another; many times with no more than two years apart between places. What drives them to move? What impels them to start again in a new place?
Perhaps, a dissatisfaction with the way their lives are going drives them to a constant search for a different place that will give them the chance to start anew; a blank slate or canvas where they can rewrite their own stories, in an attempt to avoid the mistakes they deem responsible for their uneasiness and discontent. Starting again in a new place, where nobody knows us, might bring a nub of relief from the self-imposed pressure coming from an erroneous belief that we might have failed somewhere, somehow. We never truly fail. But we beat ourselves up when we think we did, and leaving the place where things supposedly went awry, will at least boost the morale and open the flow of energy once again.
BUT, GOING TO MARS?
In 2011 a nonprofit foundation announced its plan to take the first humans to Mars and establish the first settlement, a new colony. A staggering number of more than 200,000 people replied to the primary selection phase of the Mars One Mission. What motivates people, from all over the world, to take part in this unique scientific experiment that seems so risky and ostensibly far-fetched? It is, undeniably, a brave and laudable decision that those embarking on this journey have made when they applied to fill in the four-person spaceship on their one-way ticket to Mars.
The reasons are different from person to person, but the one aspect this varied and large group seems to have in common is the belief that they are opening a new frontier to mankind, and that they are willing to take upon the risks – even if it means disintegrating, in a matter of seconds, while entering the Mars’ atmosphere, if the angle of entry is not quite as it should be. Furthermore, they also defend the idea that life on earth, under the evolutionary pattern we have been following, is reaching its demise and extinction. There isn’t much hope, or a rational positive prognostic, that reversing this old and devastatingly stagnant model is possible to achieve. Considering the level of dissociation that human beings have been identified with, and the ensuing relationship with the very system that societies at large have adopted in their increasingly competitive global economic race, we are all in big trouble.
Through the examples of the people who responded to the initial selection to go to Mars, it is hard, and quite disturbing, to imagine someone leaving their wife and kids behind to pursue this dream of finding a higher purpose and meaning in their lives. Somehow it feels that some of these people are lost or confused in a world that spawns isolation and social dislocation due to a mechanized lifestyle that stifles one’s individuality and uniqueness. It is rather unsettling to listen to these people because we feel incapable of disputing their motivations and reasoning. It is just disheartening and doleful to see the amount of personal suffering that individuals go through, to the point that they would rather choose to be dead for the people they are leaving behind on earth than committing to struggling and finding their way around the chaos in their lives. Some may even say this mission could be a new form of suicide with a higher purpose and legacy as the main rational justification for making that choice. In any case, it is a personal choice and one that has profound social, psychological and spiritual ramifications for everyone.
The initial phase of the selection process has already started; registration opened in 2011 and it’s now closed. The cost to send the first four people going to Mars is 6 billion US$. Some of the applicants have appeared in interviews that make up interesting short movies about this mission. One candidate is only 18 years of age and mentioned that he never had sex or kissed anyone in his life. Another applicant said that love is not something that she needs and that nobody has ever had that effect on her. So are these the qualities they will be looking for in the perfect candidate to start this new era of human evolution on another planet? Love and human emotions will no longer be seen as an important and defining trait of humanity?
I have mixed feelings towards this enterprise. I can’t make up my mind as yet. I would like to think that our Earth still needs to be looked at from the perspective of a live organism and not some decaying system soon to be discarded. I am well aware of the overwhelming and critical problems we face due to overpopulation, but I would still like to think that we could revert this process, if only the focus would be given to social and economic justice and education in a large scale, on all levels. I’m not saying we should not explore the universe, but to see other human beings ready to embrace this journey, leaving Earth behind forever, makes me feel a longing and nostalgia for something that is quite indefinable and which I struggle to grasp.
The first group of four to embark on this unprecedented journey is scheduled for 2024. The crew will travel through space for 210 days on their way to Mars. Once they land safely on the Red Planet’s surface, they will go through a period of readjusting to gravity, recovering from the long journey, and starting the settlement necessary for their survival. Subsequent missions will arrive every two years with other groups of four each. Each succeeding mission will cost 4 billion US$. This is an ambitious mission, not only financially, but also in terms of the magnitude of the project.
I am a firm believer that we should explore and cross new frontiers in order to improve, evolve and expand our knowledge of the universe and ourselves. However, I also feel that the most fundamental stepping stone to humanity’s advancement comes, first and foremost, from within. Carved inside Apollo’s Temple at Delphi was the famous maxim: “Know Thyself”. This ancient maxim has been exhaustively explored in its possible meanings, but the reference to a personal investigation seems almost impossible to ignore. It is through self-knowledge that man can syllogistically come to understand others and the reality around. The inescapable, but preventable, social problems we have been experiencing since the birth of our civilization suggest a dearth of this primary knowledge, for we still feel separate from one another, and identify our relationships as possible threats to our survival, much like our primitive ancestors responded to the challenging unknown world around them.
How can we explore other worlds as possible sites for the perpetuation of our species if we are not able to establish a functional community here on earth that is no longer defined in terms of force, economic clout and political anomaly? How can we envisage a new society on a far-away planet if we can’t embrace each other’s differences, and as a result, often resort to war, segregation, violence and genocide to resolve disputes? How can we create a new community if we carry the old model within? My biggest fear in such a visionary enterprise, that the Mars One Mission is planning to carry out, is not the recognizable and conspicuous risks of this journey, but how the individuals who succeed to land safely on the red planet will engage in a healthy relationship among themselves. Are they going to be able to create a new community, or will they repeat a similar pattern to the one we already have here?
Whoever wishes to apply to participate in this mission needs to be at least 18 years of age; there’s no maximum age to apply as long as the candidate meets the normal medical and physical requirements. One fact that needs to be understood is that once you initiate this journey, there’s no ticket back to Earth. The astronaut will be saying good-bye to family, friends and loved ones forever, and Earth will only be a distant image in their cherished memories. It is a hard choice to make. I admire those people who are brave enough to sacrifice their lives by leaving our planet and their homes to open a new frontier to mankind; their true motivations only known to themselves.
I feel that there’s an intense thrill of discovering a new world, much like the way the early colonizers sailed away in search of new places to explore. Wasn’t it the way the Americas were colonized by Portugal and Spain in the 15th century, and later on the West Indies by the British, the Danish and the Dutch from the 17th to the 19th centuries? Are we starting a new phase of colonization with a space imperialism of sorts?
Godfrey Reggio’s movie “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance” came out in 1982 and left me with this impending sense of doom that our civilization was led to despair and extinction. In the movie, sumptuously choreographed with startling images and haunting soundtrack and cinematography, Reggio silently and eerily suggests, that technology is not to blame for the state of moral corruption and turmoil (in the Hopi definition of the movie title), we are experiencing, but rather our own relationship with the systems we have created in our society from politics to language, culture and religion – to name a few of the interconnected elements that influence our perceptions of the world we live in. It is our relationship with these systems that will define how we approach technology and make use of it to recreate the paradigm of society founded on the blueprint of our beliefs. Before we attempt to save our species by transporting people to other planets, we need first to activate a shift in conscience that will validate the reason to perpetuate our species and our evolution. Or else, we might end up saving a failed civilization that has long become extinct without our knowing.
Of course we need to explore, of course we need to investigate, but not without acknowledging our own problems first, lest we don’t recreate the same images of crumbling existence and ongoing suffering we constantly see in the world today in astounding proportion. It is as if man is still the prisoner deep down below in Plato’s Cave, taking the shadows he sees as the real world while some freed men dare to escape and realize for themselves the truth of the real world. Never fully understood, these “freed men” are, ironically, taken for fools or lunatics. In Plato’s theory of education, knowledge is the process of remembering or anamnesis, but in our civilization we seem to remember nothing. We don’t seem to learn from history because the facts show that we continue to repeat, through new technology, the dominant and savage model of warfare. Are we doomed to live in the darkness of ignorance as the cave men we once were?
I like to think that the world is still a beautiful place filled with inspiring examples of love and tenderness brought forth by people like us all over the world. These people inspire me to be greater and to believe in the pure essence of the human spirit, unencumbered by the illusion of separateness and isolation. I believe in life and that we are able to recreate a model of existence with our choices and actions, breathing together as one live organism rooted on this planet in absolute interconnectedness.
I salute and command these courageous people who are dreaming of leaving their legacy, as explorers of a new planet, to the future generations. I admire their courage and support their decision. As for me, I am ready to continue my journey of self-exploration, on this planet, with the other more than seven billion individuals, not quite ready to leave this wonderful world yet.
MARS ONE MISSION PAGE: http://www.mars-one.com/
For those interested to learn more about this mission here are four short films that show the thoughts of some of the people who registered for the initial selection phase:
1- MARS CALLING
2- IF I DIE ON MARS
3- MARS ONE WAY
4- MARS ONE
All photos are from Wikimedia Commons. Credit and info below:
1) By D Mitriy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f7/Colonization_of_Mars.jpg
2) “Winternomade” by Honza Soukup – http://bit.ly/1FYjpb7
3) “Syr Darya Oblast. Kyrgyz Migration WDL10987” by Kun, Aleksandr L., 1840-1888 – http://bit.ly/1BfsRUJ
4) By D Mitriy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1d/Man_on_Mars.jpg
5) By Viking mission team (NASA/JPL) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a9/MARS-Viking.jpg
6) By NASA/JPL/Cornell University, Maas Digital LLC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d8/NASA_Mars_Rover.jpg
7) By NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/69/MarsSunset.jpg
8) “ArtificialFictionBrain”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ArtificialFictionBrain.png#mediaviewer/File:ArtificialFictionBrain.png
9) By NASA/JPL-Caltech [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons – https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/df/Comet-SidingSpring-Passing-PlanetMars-On-20141019-ArtistConcept-20140905.jpg
10) Koyaanisqatsi – movie credits – http://eviltwinbooking.org/films/koyaanisqatsi/
11) “Messier 91 (M91)” by Jschulman555 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Messier_91_(M91).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Messier_91_(M91).jpg
12) “Copy of earth and moon photo taken by ISS” by Larrypearson1 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Copy_of_earth_and_moon_photo_taken_by_ISS.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Copy_of_earth_and_moon_photo_taken_by_ISS.jpg