Saturday, March 15, 2014

More Real Than Real

Russ Colson, a writer friend of mine, posted an blog recently about the Mars One Initiative.  For those that may not know, this is a organization that is organizing and advocating for a one-way trip to Mars.  In August last year they called for volunteers to be potential colonists to go to Mars and live there forever.  They got over 200,000 applications.  They’ve winnowed that down to 1,000 candidates.  
You can read Russ’s blog by clicking here, but to summarize, Russ questions whether the organizers are serious about creating this expedition, whether it is “real.”  He offers his own opinion that a colony on the Moon is a better target site for Mankind’s first extra-planetary colony.  He then questions whether the Mars One Initiative signals a renewal of our country’s spirit of adventure, which he sees has having waned.  Russ finishes his blog by asking if they reader has any thoughts on the matter.  
As a matter of fact, Russ, I do.  Several, in fact...
Thought One: The Mars One Initiative reminds me of The Millennial Project.  
There was a book published back in 1992 entitled, “The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps.”  It was written by a man named Marshall T. Savage, and it offered his plan by which the human race could become a space-faring people, spreading life, our life, throughout the galaxy.  Mr. Savage quickly founded an organization, called The First Millennial Foundation, which aim was to work toward bringing the steps illuminated in the book into reality.  
I loved this book.  It was logical and well researched, but inspirational as well.  Its proposals were grounded enough to seem reasonable, but had a quirkiness, I guess I’ll call it, that made them fantastic and desirable.  It became a sourcebook for me in my written, using it to make the futures I was writing about in which space travel took place fleshier and different.  
Around the time the book was published, ’92 or ’93, while attending Comic-Con in San Diego, I met members of the First Millennial Foundation.  They had a booth at the convention where they were selling memberships, tee-shirts and copies of Mr. Savage’s book.  I stopped to talk to them about the book.  They told me about a proof of concept project they were trying to fund, “Step Zero,” I think it was referred to, where they were going to build a floating habitat in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas using the same methods Savage described in the book to build the floating cities in the equatorial zone of the Pacific ocean, the First Step in his plan to colonize the galaxy.  They were taking donations to fund that project as well. 
I bought a tee-shirt from them, with an illustration of Aquarius, the floating city Savage offered as the first of the aforementioned “easy” steps.  I did not buy a membership nor donate to the proof of concept project.  As much as I enjoyed the book and was excited by its proposals, I did not believe it had much of a chance of coming to fruition.  
The reason was that it was too elegant, in a way.  It was too perfectly laid out.  To come into being, it needed too many people agreeing on way too many details and sticking with them far too long.  Human achievement, I think, is driven in bursts and happens more accidentally than that.  The Mars One Initiative has a similar feel to me.  If they sell a cool tee-shirt, though, I’ll buy one. 
Thought Two: Dreams are not made up of Logic.  
The Moon is not as dreamy as Mars.  It’s the girl next door.  The one we see every night when we come home.  We dated her back in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  It was exciting at first.  But the attraction waned.  All the reasons for getting married to the Moon are good, solid practical ones.  She’s close.  We DO know her well.  She’ll help us with our problems, by giving us the resources to grow and develop, and possibly even fueling our expansion by supplying us with plentiful amounts of Helium-Three.  
Mars, on the other hand, is a fiery, red-hair temptress.  She calls to us, so close and yet so far away.  She may be the closest place where some form of life exists besides that we find here on our planet.  But she seems intent on keeping those secrets to herself.  Half the probes we send to her, like unwanted emails or text messages, become lost, leaving our questions unanswered.  
Purple prose aside, from the standpoint of the average member of society, I would think that Mars has more fertile soil for planting and reaping a crop of adventurous spirits.  The Moon has a more “been there, done that,” feel to it.  I personally would give whole-hearted moral support to any such project.  But if it were a beauty contest, and in the world of political financing and political well such beauty is important, I think Ms. Mars has an edge.  
Thought Two-point-One: If you do want a Moon base, it’ll probably be easier to get as part of a “Let’s Go to Mars,” proposal, than if you proposed it as a stand alone venture.  It would be needed as a base of operations for the final, ultimate goal.  
Thought Three: It’s one coming from Russ’s closing paragraphs, about where the spirit of adventure has gone and the waning of adventure stories in favor of action oriented thrillers.  To get to it, I first need to write about Fermi’s Paradox.  
Fermi’s Paradox, as most people reading this blog, is the apparent contradiction between the seemingly high probability of intelligent life being out there and the complete lack of solid evidence of such existence of, or contact with, that intelligent life.  We of the Earth should have been visited or contacted by aliens already.  So, where are they?  
Several possible answers have been posited.  “They just aren’t there.”  “They don’t want to talk to us.”  “They blew themselves up when THEY discovered atomic power.”  And more.  
But looking around at our society, I think I have another possible answer.  They are not looking up at the sky in wonder because they are too busy looking down at their cell phones answering their most recent text message. 
I think the “Spirit of Adventure” comes from a desire for experience.  It is based on curiosity.  But it’s a type of curiosity that needs to be satisfied by seeing for oneself.  
We have, in our internet connected world, created a sort of virtual experience sphere.  It is easier today to get some sense of experiencing anything simply turning on a screen.   The postings of photos, videos, jokes, cute kitties and puppies, give us a quick and immediate taste of someone else’s life and experience.  More interactive experiences can be found in online role-playing, adventure or strategy games.  
Is this the same as a genuine adventure, something that would expand one’s personal horizons and maybe even that of mankind as well?  No.  Not at all.  But just as someone might pull into the corner fast-food restaurant instead of buying the ingredients for a more nutritious and flavorful meal to be prepared at home, people often do make choices based purely on convenience.  
So my last thought can be summarized like this: The spirit of adventure isn’t waning because people have lost the desire for it.  I think its still there, but is being overwhelmed by a diet of experience that passes for adventure, the same way a Happy Meal passes for real food.  
In this sense, the Mars One Initiative is like a nerdy friend, telling you of the benefits of a vegetarian diet based on what he or she grew in the community garden at the end of the block.  It might not get me to adopt the lifestyle such a friend might propose.  But if it gets me to consider healthier choices, such as promoting and supporting an initiative that will bring man one step, or eight easier steps, closer to the destiny I hope we follow, then its something worth praising.  
In that sense, the Mars One Initiative is more “real” than what the average person “experiences” in their life on a daily basis.  There are at least 1,000 people who are hoping to experience something for themselves that no one in the history of our species as experienced yet.  
The effort to reshape reality can be more real than what’s really there.  


Anonymous Russ Colson said...

Hi Erick,

Some very interesting thoughts. Adventure can be thought of as hunger for experience, not just hunger for discovery as I was thinking of it. And we are indeed overwhelmed by experience through our gadgets. I do believe that hunger for experience is a bit more self-focussed, and of less advantage to society at large, than hunger for discovery. Hopefully the Mars One will awaken a hunger for true discovery, at least in the hearts of the explorers among us!

Russ Colson

March 16, 2014 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger Erick Melton said...

From the stand point of the person hungering, for experience or discovery, I think the experience is fairly indistinguishable. Most "explorers," regardless of the particularly field, do it for the personal pleasure or satisfaction it brings. They may at times be aware of the advantage to society, but the desire for the discovery is primarily a personal one.

I share your hope that people will look beyond short term experience to desire to discover truths about what might be "out there," beyond what can be easily brought to them by any service provider.

March 22, 2014 at 4:03 PM  

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