According to excitable people in the know we are going to Mars. They’re not sure when, no one is, but it is going to happen, has to happen. Sometime. In the not too distant future. The race is on. Almost. Seems pretty stupid if you ask me. No one is though so that’s alright but just in case you’re interested here’s what I know. Mars is shit. We would be much better of just going to The Moon, it’s nearer and shiny and useful but apparently it’s not a big enough challenge for modern types and it’s been done before. Going to the Moon and doing the other things is so 1960’s. Allegedly. So Mars it is then, why die a piddling two hundred and forty thousand miles away when you can die one hundred and forty million miles away?
With that in mind volunteers are being pursued, not just any old volunteers, sadly I had to decline, flat feet, though if I ever want to try the Mars experience I can always go to Chernobyl and lie naked in a bath of dry ice with a mouth full of dust and a plastic bag over my head. Just kidding, they never asked me, they’re only interested in people with the right stuff, the stuff of legend. Brilliant, fearless, suicidal, fanatics, people you would cross the street to avoid basically. They’re sticking them in portacabins in the middle of fucking nowhere and ignoring their tweets for twenty minutes to see how they will cope on the mission, because obviously that’s just what it would be like on Mars, except for the going outside without mittens will literally boil your blood bit.
Sitting in an isolation tank is not like going to Mars and walking in a desert in a tin foil raincoat is not like going to Mars and spending time in the Arctic playing spot the Polar Bear’s nose is not like going to Mars, not least because once it’s over you get to go home. Hopefully you told your Mum where you were otherwise you might get sent to your room without your tea, which is not like going to Mars either. Pretending to go to Mars and actually going to Mars is like the difference between doing two weeks at a leafy spa in Weybridge and spending your entire life on death row in a Texas Supermax.
For those lucky enough to get selected going to Mars is a death sentence to be carried out whenever the universe fucking feels like it. You may die on the journey because ten months is a long time to be locked in a hurtling caravan breathing space farts. You may die during entry or descent because the only person who knows how to fly the lander died in a space fart fire. You may die the moment you step onto the surface because you embroidered your space suit with flowers to try take your mind off the space farts.
When you will die is not certain but that you will is and it won’t be of old age. There is a reason why there’s no organic material on Mars, with the possible exception of your corpse, it’s dead, there’s no liquid water, no breathable air, no fertile soil and fuck all gravity. You would have left a beautiful blue planet that can support billions of lives for a fuck ugly red one that can’t support any. Not a single one. How clever are you? On the upside though there’s shit loads of radiation, toxins and dust storms.
Often the reason cited for going to Mars is the continuation of the species. A back up plan for when the Earth goes to shit, when we wring it dry of natural resources. We need a human reserve somewhere safe, somewhere else. Where better than another planet far from the petty travails of Earth? Which would be fine if we weren’t talking about Mars, where the only natural resource is despair. Using it as a human bank would be like stashing your life’s savings under a mattress, in a deserted building, in a dangerous neighbourhood, in a foreign, war-torn country, with a sign outside saying ‘MONEY UNDER MATTRESS’ and expecting it to still be there when you go back for it. Assuming you do ever go back for it.
Anyway how bad could the apocalypse be? Think of all those end of days movies you’ve seen. There is always a shot of the main protagonist from behind as he/she climbs to a vantage spot, usually a hill so that the camera can move over their shoulder to take in the devastated landscape. The sky will be roiling, dark and cloudy, bruised with yellow and riven with lightning. The land will be barren and grey, the sea polluted and any buildings will be smokey, black skeletal ruins. It might look terrible but the mere fact that the hero is standing there with little more than a hanky and a motorcycle jacket for protection means it is massively better than the very best day on Mars. Ever.
Mars is a truly god forsaken place, forsaken by the god of war no less. Everything is soaked in blood, it’s not called the red planet for nothing, it’s like Devon but with its skin pulled off. I can’t imagine that our intrepid explorers will be very happy with what they find. They were told it would be dangerous, reminded that people died conquering the Antarctic, that being the first often meant unavoidable losses, but it would be worth it because they too were the tip of a spear, preparing the way for the countless good folk who would follow. Yeah right, because who doesn’t love to pop down to Antarctica City for a weekend break? That magnificent bustling southern icetropolis, but oh, wait a moment, no one does because it doesn’t exist! After over sixties years the only sign of human occupation is a loose coalition of sheds that are mostly abandoned in winter when, compared to Mars, the weather gets positively balmy. You would have to be out of your mind to try and build a city in Antarctica let alone on Mars, and Mars doesn’t even have fucking penguins.
Not that the Martians will try to build anything, survival will be a full time occupation. They will realise pretty quickly that searching for life is pointless on a lifeless planet and it’s unlikely that they will be able to grow or make anything useful so everything they need will have to be delivered. This will get old very quickly, I don’t think Amazon prime will cover it, that last million miles is a bitch and inevitably the frequency of supply ships will decrease before stopping altogether. In their desperate fury the marooned might secede from Earth, try to create some kind of self-governance with the few that they have, there will never be any children of course, what with all the men being sterile, but that might be a good thing as witnessing any civilisation collapse, even a very small one, is no fun for a kid.
I suspect it will be compulsive viewing on Earth however, for a while at least, like an extremely hostile series of Big Brother where the remaining contestants sit in a homesick huddle playing strip poker, sucking the last of the meat paste from a tube. We would watch transfixed, twenty odd minutes behind the times, as life on Mars comes to a terrible conclusion, as suffering from radiation sickness, starvation and cold, the best of the best vote themselves out of the house, one by one, stepping through the airlock, splendid in their underpants and madness, anything to feel the pale sun on their skin again.
Mars is a distant ball of worthless dust and not worth the sacrifice of a single life. Wouldn’t it be better to spend all that money and ingenuity on something useful, like not bespoiling the Earth’s environment in the first place? Wouldn’t it be better to stay on the most beautiful planet in existence? Wouldn’t it be better for us to try to keep it that way? We don’t need a human insurance policy if we don’t destroy ourselves. Fuck going to Mars just for the sake of it, if we want to build a new, better society let’s do it on Earth, where it’s blue and white and alive rather than on Mars, where it’s red and red and dead.