Life on Mars... and Beyond
I wonder who'll be going? I mean, we're not talking covered wagons any more when we talk about the next frontier, are we, Bush? If Stephen Hawking, the eminent British astrophysicist is right, we humans might have a colony on Mars in the next 40 years. We might need it, he says, if our species is to survive the excesses of its own kind.
Here's Hawking--one of the greatest human minds of our time, wrapped up in the most dreadfully deprived of human bodies: "It is important for the human race to spread out into space for the survival of the species," he said at a recent lecture in Hong Kong. "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of."
So your idea of an outpost on the Moon as a way station to Mars might turn out to be not such a bad one after all. The newest Wild West might be a tad less inviting than the one that Ellie and I watched in the Robert Duval miniseries the past couple of nights. Oh, there were the bad guys alright, with their grim faces and scars, their six-shooters and shotguns, but at least the scenery was pretty terrific--the vast prairies and the snow-covered mountains, the majestic rivers and green alpine meadows... None of that on Mars, Bush. "We won't find anywhere as nice as Earth unless we go to another star system," noted Hawking, adding that we might well have self-supporting, independent space settlements within the next hundred years.
What I've seen of Mars has not, honestly, been hugely enticing. Long stretches of red dirt relieved by the occasional boulder or crater. It might be fun driving one of those rovers around for the first half hour or so, but after that... what's to do? Besides, the climate sounds awful. I guess we'll be living in self-sustaining bubbles of some sort, with all the usual amenities--condominiums, restaurants, movies, a concert hall here and there. Maybe even a library. Though I guess we won't be taking all that much in the way of books with us. Too heavy. Might as well take the digital versions.
Will it come to this for our species, Bush? Survival in a bubble in some distant, inhospitable planet? Or will we, as Hawking suggests, with perhaps more optimism than is warranted by our human capacities, discover some alternative green and blue Earth in another star system--and start polluting that one too?
I was chided just the other day by a reader who scoffed at my credulity when it comes to global warming. If you look back over millions, not thousands of years, he insisted, you'll see times when the Earth warmed up, and times when the Earth cooled down. There's nothing we humans can do to control these climate changes, in this reader's view, and to add one's voice to the current dire predictions about global warming is no less reprehensible than your administration's shameless fear-mongering about global terror.
Well, I must say that I'm happy to have no less a brilliant mind that Stephen Hawking's on my side--along with the vast preponderance of scientific research and the mounting, by now surely irrefutable evidence that the current phenomenon of global warming has been brought about by human activity. I had not, honestly, gone so far in my thinking about other possible catastrophes as Hawking has done: nuclear war, yes. I have certainly entertained that possibility. It would be foolish, given the misplaced power of the dangerously deranged Kim Jong Il and the fanatical, hate-fueled Ahmadinejad, to ignore that possibility. But a "genetically engineered virus"? Mon Dieu! I must, however, concede the field of scientific prediction to Hawking's superior intelligence.
On which happy note...