Rosetta, Mars and all that

rosettaYou can’t have watched the news, seen the papers or been on social media in the last few weeks without seeing Rosetta.  As a science fiction writer it’s great to see people getting excited again about space exploration and with good reason.  I’m a firm believer that it is good for mankind (see blog: Space exploration and scifi – why we need them both).  It’s mind boggling that you can send a space craft 500 million kilometres and land something the size of a washing machine on an object 5k long that’s travelling at 30,000 k / hour.  Also that you had to launch that thing 10 years ago and plan for it I guess about 20 years ago.  I applaud such long term commitment.

It was especially good news after the Sir Richard Branson shuttle crash.  This was tragic, firstly because of the loss of the pilot (is it just me or did this fact seem to be largely ignored by the media?).  It was also tragic in what it might do to the commercialisation of space travel which, if we are to shake off what I see as a very conservative attitude to space travel, I think of as essential.  If there is a profit to be made, in the long term, then perhaps more people might be persuaded to invest.

So I was wondering what next?  The only thing I can remember hitting the press recently is this one-way mission to Mars that pops up every now and then.  Most recently because of a young girl (11 or 12?) in the US who is determined to be part of the mission and is already in training.  I must admit I find it slightly worrying that someone so young, who has seen so little of what life has to offer, can be so certain.  Perhaps it is just me, I’m always a bit suspicious of people who know without a shadow of doubt what they want to do, even before they’ve started on something.  What happens if it doesn’t work out?  On one of the few bits of X-factor I’ve seen (honest) two girls were told by Simon Cowell that they couldn’t sing (and he was right).  Afterwards, in a tearful interview the girls said, ‘he can’t tell us that, it’s our dream.’  Well that’s the thing about dreams sometimes that’s all they are.  I’m also not sure I would want to be on such a mission with someone who had had no ‘plan B’.  In my experience very single minded people can a mixed blessing.  Yes, they are very determined, but they also tend to be very inflexible, not perhaps a great quality for a small group of people who are going to be stuck together, like it or not, for a very long time.

That’s another thing, why no return plan?  I can understand that you may send people out without the means to be able to get them back immediately, but surely you would be working on it?  If you are serious about establishing a base on Mars, you have to be able to get people there and back.  I would think you want the best possible people out there with the skills to make a success of it, to lay the foundation for others to follow.  Whereas some of those people might be prepared to commit themselves for ten years or more (as with Rosetta), would they commit if there was absolutely no chance of coming back?

Ah, well, as I say at the beginning it is good to see space exploration back in the headlines again.

As always comments are welcome.

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

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