Would You Give Up Everything To Step Foot on a New World?

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Just over a year ago Mars One announced an ambitious plan to establish the first human colony on Mars by 2024. Their website is quite detailed and professional; a number of serious, intelligent, accomplished individuals are involved in the project. Nevertheless, I have no idea whether they will accomplish their goal, in 2024 or a later date—that's not the topic of this post.

Though in the news recently for somewhat dubious reasons, the initiative has sparked the imagination of scientists, researchers, adventurers and dreamers. More than 200,000 people signed up for the chance to go to Mars—and never return. The first round of 1,058 candidates has been selected; they will eventually be narrowed to 24 aspiring settlers. You can read excellent profiles on two candidates who made the initial cut, a medical researcher and a soldier, here and here.

I did not apply, though I’d be lying if I said the idea didn't catch my interest. But I would of course never go without my husband, and ultimately I’m looking forward to the rest of my life here too much (I have books to publish!). Still, I can't help but admire the hundreds of thousands of people who jumped at the opportunity.

A fair amount of the press surrounding the project has been somewhat derisive, poking fun at the idea of “agreeing to die on Mars.” Much like the skeptics I discussed in my previous post Daring to Dream, from my perspective their viewpoint is woefully narrow-minded and myopic.

The United States (for one) would not exist were it not for the thousands of pioneers who boarded ships bound for the New World. Those people never saw or even talked to their families or friends again. They “died on the Americas.” But they also lived there, and gave birth to the many nations of North and Central America. Even most of the pioneers in the western expansion who climbed into wagons and journeyed to the Rocky Mountains or California never saw their families again.

Why did they do it? Some did it because they sought a life better than the one they had, some to exploit new opportunities, and some merely in the spirit of adventure and discovery. Admittedly, those settlers founded communities of hundreds (and later, thousands) on their arrival and, as a rule, lived full lives within a functioning society. 24 settlers on Mars will be a very limited ‘community’—but it will be one. And thanks to modern technology they will be able to keep in touch with 'home' in ways the settlers of the Americas never could.

Nonetheless, making such a choice—whether it be in 1614 or 2014—is not a frivolous matter. Choosing to forever leave behind everything and everyone you know and the life you've built, for a slim chance at a difficult, likely hardship-filled life in relative isolation? While I respect those who would, I by no means fault those who wouldn't.

In my science fiction writing, space travel is rapid and humans live a long time. Choosing to move to another planet is no more momentous than choosing to move to another state. The characters in my fiction get to have their cake and eat it too, as it were (at least in this respect—they do have a host of other problems). This is the world I hope one day exists, so I write it. Some would probably say this is ‘cheating;’ more would probably say it means my writing is not ‘hard sci-fi.’ And I’m okay with that. After all, I already admitted to being a dreamer.

But what if stepping foot on a new world wasn't easy? What if the choice and its consequences were difficult? For us today, and likely tomorrow, they remain so.

What if you had to leave behind everything, forever, in order to see the frontier and explore new worlds? If you could do it, would you?