One of the most fascinating stories to make headlines recently was that over 1,65,000 people have signed up to be part of a one way mission to Mars in 2023. The company in charge of the mission,Mars One,said that Americans made up the largest group of applicants at 37,000,followed by the Chinese and Brazilians. Inexplicably,India,with around 1,800 applicants is at fourth place.
Whatever little Ive gauged about the majority of my fellow citizens,after living my entire life in India,is that they are creatures of habit,reluctant travellers and notoriously unadventurous. This could be a hangover from the ancient taboo on travel by the Hindu shastras that banned voyages with nonsensical claims that crossing oceans made you lose your religion. Or maybe,theyre just too caught up scraping together a living to think of indulging in fanciful sights. Whatever the case,horror stories abound of Indian tourists abroad,many of whom carry their own food,unable to adjust to local cuisine even for a week. So weve come a long way,if 1,800 Indians say they are willing to be part of Mars Ones hypothetical colonisation project.
Who are these people willing to give up life as we know it for a destination fraught with danger and almost certain disappointment? Are they misguided Star Wars fanatics or misanthropes with no links anywhere on earth? Apparently,Bangaloreans form a significant number of Indian applicants,possibly because ISRO is headquartered there. Are these wannabe Martians sure that the earth has nothing more to offer them,whether its the spectacular beauty of remote islands such as Tristan da Cunha or the hostile environment of Antarctica? Maybe whats appealing is the chance to shed all baggage for a completely new beginning. A mission to Mars is probably akin to Columbus setting out to sea,directionless,with a hazy notion that the Earth is round. Of course,its easy to commit to something that is 10 years away when it costs a pretty reasonable $38 (Rs 2,342) to book yourself in the long list. Theres enough time to change your mind,which will probably happen once youre subjected to the preparatory ordeal of simulated space flights,long periods of isolation and canned food,the lot of all astronauts.
A holiday to Mars would be the adventure of a lifetime. But a permanent move would be really unpleasant. A two-hour long traffic jam in Delhi is frustrating: imagine being huddled in a tiny capsule for the eight-month-long voyage,wearing layers of protective clothing to prevent radiation,with random strangers for company. You will have enough time to ponder over the realisation that youll never see anyone you know,ever again. And at the end of the gruelling journey,you have no idea what awaits you. If youre looking for glory as a pathbreaking trendsetter,there are probably easier ways to get noticed on Earth.
Writers such as Isaac Asimov and HG Wells have been able to accurately merge human imagination and science. In the eerily profound Ridley Scott film Prometheus,a human expedition travels millions of kilometers beyond the sky to have a meeting with the creator to understand belief,immortality and death. The crew suffer for their pursuit. But a time might come when science might uncover that we are not alone or unique,in the universe. Colonising Mars is another step closer to more such fascinating discoveries.