On Being Martian
It has recently occurred to me that I’m Martian.
My friends have taken to smiling and nodding when I talk about this. Some of them have been persuaded. Some of them think I’m sort of harmlessly crazy, in general, and ignore me when I get on these subjects (a special kind of depressing that we can talk about later). I also believe there’s a very good chance that our reality is simulated, for example, a thought that, when discussed in earnest, tends to ‘rub people the wrong way.’
“You should keep some of this stuff to yourself,” once said a boy I liked.
“It’s just… a lot to take in,” has said my mother (often). “You’re a lot to take in all at once.”
But I can defend the Mars thing. More, I believe that I must. Because I am not the only kid on this virtual block with roots on the Red Planet. I am Martian surely as I came from the heart of the grunge-y, angst-y, suburban teenage wasteland of the Jersey Shore. Surely as I made myself a New Yorker. Surely as I’m human (if, again, perhaps simulated). And I know it. But you might be Martian too, even if you aren’t yet sure, which puts you at great risk of tremendous heartbreak and a kind of crippling anomie that will destroy you and, en masse, will weight our culture down to Earth forever.
So let’s unpack this.
I was the first and youngest of the Young Astronauts in my elementary school, at 5 with big brown eyes and questions about the universe that made adults uncomfortable. My mom, a by-her-nature troublemaker with a great love of instigation, took me to the planetarium at the community college what felt like every other weekend, or whenever I’d ask, and I would watch the story of the stars unfold from the Big Bang to Planet Earth and my tiny life on top of it transfixed. Like, ‘What? People know this? That we’re floating in space?!’
The universe was huge. It was too huge to comprehend, even. I became transfixed with the idea that we were not confined to Earth; there were other worlds, and we could go to them. Then, I learned that we could make them.
The really cool thing about Mars is, chemically, we almost couldn’t have imagined a better planet to make more earth-like. First, its surface is covered in iron oxide (where it picks up the red coloring, and which will make for excellent reactions with our likely future introduction of hydrogen for additional water) and its atmosphere consists of 95% carbon dioxide, with enough additional carbon dioxide in the poles and in the planet’s soil to, when released, increase the planet’s atmospheric pressure to the point that a human won’t need a pressure suit to survive on its surface. Now, there are a variety of ways to heat the surface and release the carbon dioxide (bombs, greenhouses, importing ammonia, hurling asteroids at the planet’s surface, etc.), but when the gasses do begin to release, they’ll kick up dust, creating massive storms that accelerate the warming process. The ice of the Martian poles will melt, forming bodies of water ripe for the introduction of phytoplankton. Because — oxygen! Then, there’s just this pesky matter of death by way of crazy radiation levels while living on a planet with no magnetosphere, but there are plenty of ways around that one, too.
And we’ll get there, I thought. We’ve got this.
So I started to talk about it. Really, what I started to do (or, attempted to do) was evangelize. We can go to Mars, I’d say. We can make Mars like Earth and live there. On a new planet. We can rocket to another world and build. Cities. Other rocket ships. We’ll – are you listening to me? Are you hearing the words that I’m saying? Why are you not excited about this?
To me, the importance of Mars was self-evident. It was obviously what, with advances in medical science and nuclear physics, people should be working on.
But what I began to encounter was this:
“We should fix the problems on this planet before we kill another one.”
At first, I had a difficult time comprehending the sentiment. On looking back, I’ve come to realize that there was a kind of language barrier in place. I was speaking Martian, of course. But I picked up the language of my antagonists fast when I saw that I had to, and okay, I thought. Jesus Christ. But sure, I will engage with you. Because I live with you on this one planet — that we are stuck on together, by the way, because of people like you. So here we go. Your logic. Let’s go ahead and challenge all of the premises you’ve built upon in order to say and believe such a behemothically stupid thing.
One: Mars, like the moon, is not alive. It is a celestial body composed entirely of non-sentient, inorganic matter. Two: we are not (only) a threat to life, we are also (more importantly) the only known living species capable of carrying life — not simply human beings, but all life — beyond the expiration of our solar system, which actually makes us the most important species in known existence. Three: life on Earth is at this moment not terrible; life today is, on average, far more healthy, wealthy, and peaceful than it has been at any other time in history. And finally, a question: how many problems did Europe have in the 1400s before Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean? I will give you a hint. IT HAD ALL OF THE PROBLEMS. Roughly every problem that a civilization can have outside of ‘asteroid,’ I think, Europe had. Crippling poverty, disease, war, famine, and the scariest torture devices that you have ever seen — seriously, Wikipedia this and have nightmares — were ubiquitous. This did not impede humanity’s push to the future. If anything, it drove us forward.
The frontier does not distract us; we are a race that forever seeks the frontier because it renews us.
But what I have discovered is, none of my objections to the objections of Martian exploration have persuaded the firmly anti-Martian. This is because the philosophical root of objection to Mars is not concerned with Mars at all, and it has nothing to do with improving life on earth. It has nothing to do with sparing the — again, NOT ALIVE — universe a “viral” humanity (thanks for that, Matrix). It isn’t even about practical things like resources since, really, when have Americans ever cared about that? The objection to Mars is more concerned with what Mars means to human beings, a sense of which we all have, if even only subconsciously, as our emotional responses jerk us immediately toward or immediately against the planet. Insofar as Mars represents both figuratively and literally humanity’s first step out of this solar system and toward a kind of immortality, the question of Mars is really a question of Man: do you believe that people are worth keeping around for a while, or do you think we sort of suck?
People who stand opposed to Mars think we sort of suck.
People who stand for Mars stand both for Man and for what mankind can be. We may think people are good, or we may be agnostic on the very general matter, but we uniformly believe that people have the potential to be amazing. I have found that we tend to forgive ourselves our distant pasts completely, to only concern ourselves with the present occasionally, and to dream about the future relentlessly.
A love of Mars is a belief in humanity’s potential, and destiny. It is a destiny that we are writing on our own behalf. It is a destiny that we chose with the Apollo Mission and Star Trek. This is the story that Icarus told and the Wright Brothers fixed. We may not be a creature made to fly, but we are something far greater. We are a creature made to dream. We are a creature made to become whatever we want to become. Again, we can build worlds.
Not a home. Not a nation.
Whole entire worlds.
My grandmother was born in Spain but never considered herself Spanish. She was American. She said that all you had to do to be American was want to be it. America wasn’t a place to her. America was a religion that you could be converted to. America was salvation from the communists and fascists in the nation of her birth. America was Walt Disney, and ‘if you can dream it you can do it.’ America was freedom, which my grandmother’s father sought above all things for his family. In this way, both he and they were American before they ever landed on this nation’s shores.
Today, Mars is freedom. But Mars is also every beautiful thing that Man might make himself. Mars is the sum of advances in science and philosophy that span the whole history of our civilization. Mars is a place, but it is also an idea. To choose Mars is to choose humanity. To choose Mars is to say, “I believe in us, I love us, but I also believe that we can be better.”
We can go farther. We can build higher. We can dream the dreams of gods, and then we can become them.
To be Martian is to subscribe to these ideals; to subscribe to these ideals is to be Martian. I am Martian. You may be Martian too. If the unfathomable nature of reality has ever kept you up, if you’ve even once looked up at the stars on a clear night and felt so small, but so uplifted by the tremendous beauty of them, and by the thought that we are of them, ourselves composed of the same matter and energy, I’m thinking that we’re family.
So sister, brother, let me tell you something: we have work to do. It’s time to build our way home.
Mars or bust.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Follow Michael Solana on Twitter @micsolana