Ray Bradbury's claasic novel, The Martian Chronicles, tells the story of the colonization of the planet Mars by people from the planet Earth. Since it was written in the 1950s, it is in someways dated; for example, we now are fairly certain that Mars does not currently have intelligent life, though whether it did so in the past is still an open question that probably won't be settled until we actually get there. However, the story it tells of the human spirit of adventure is far from dated. Nor are some of the other motivations that led the settlers in Bradbury's book to go to Mars absent today, such as the threat of war and environmental pollution. So, in many respects, The Martian Chronicles was ahead of its' time. Today, we are engaged in a debate as to whether we should go to Mars in real life. In fact, one of the reasons the Constellation program, which was basically a rehash of the Apollo program, was canceled was because people felt that, rather than just repeat the past, we should instead take a bold new step and go to our sister planet Mars. The success of our robot explorers, such as the rovers Opportunity and Curiosity have served to whet our appetites for going there ourselves. Yes there exists a debate as to whether we can afford to go there, because going to Mars would be far more expensive than going to the moon was in the 1960s, both because of inflation and the fact that Mars is much further away. As with the Apollo program to the moon, the most expensive and difficult part of the exploration of Mars would be, not the going there, but the coming back. Yet, why would we need to come back? Recently, tens of thousands of people signed up to go to Mars even if there was no possibility of them returning to Earth. The settlers who came to the new world from Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries knew they were probably never going to go back, because at that time America seemed as far away from them as Mars does from us today. Similarly, the millions of immigrants who came here from other countries knew they weren't going to go back to where they came from. They came here for better opportunities and to make a new life. Nor did the people who settled the American West. Just the fact that so many thousands signed up for a one-way trip to Mars shows that there are many who would do the same today, each for his or her own reasons, whether out of a spirit of adventure, or like the settlers in The Martian Chronicles, to get a fresh start. I believe that we should stop worrying about how we are going to come back and start making plans for a bold new leap for mankind, the kind of leap that Neil Armstrong would be proud of. Then, like the settlers at the end of The Martian Chronicles, we would know that there really are Martians, because we would be the new Martians.
August 31, 2013