Will there be Life on Mars?

Just recently five British nutjobs…..I mean five of our bravest and smartest citizens….were chosen to join the other 95 successful, international lunatics…..er candidates….to begin training as astronauts for the Mars One mission which, if you believe the folks out there in the Netherlands, is still going ahead as a viable, scientifically sound, adventure in outer space.  As the date for take-off is 2024, it’s to be hoped that these one hundred hopefuls will have undergone a change of heart by then, deciding that maybe a death mission to the red and dead planet wasn’t such a good idea after all.  Alarmingly, the families of most of the chosen few couldn’t be more supportive of their nearest and dearest’s desire to end it all on a planet far, far away – whilst well intentioned, I’m not sure how I’d take that myself – are you?   One applicant, however, has yet to tell her mother that she made the grade, believing that the news will not be received in an equal spirit of adventure.

One of the personality requirements of the Mars One mission is a lack of psychiatric disorders.  Let’s think about that for a fleeting second.  How sane do you think you need to be to apply for a one-way ticket to this freezing cold, and depressingly barren, fourth rock from the sun?  The flight to Mars will take 7 months, which is more than enough time for that hidden psychopath with axe wielding tendencies to do the rest of the crew in.  This hardly matters though, as the boffins at MIT have declared that you’ll die anyway, 68 days after landing, from some sort of Mars induced suffocation (I’m not clear on the science stuff but, more importantly, neither is the Mars One mission by the looks of things.)

I really think suffocation is the least of your worries here though, because by day 2 you’ll have made yourself a cute little countdown to suffocation clock, once it’s sunk in that planet Earth is that distant dot over there – and you’re no longer on it.

One of the successful applicants, who reached the interview process, has written of his disappointment on finding that the usually rigorous, weeks long, astronaut selection process was, in his case, cut to a 10 minute grainy skype interview.  This rang alarm bells in his clever astrophysicist head (you can’t help wondering why they didn’t start ringing a little sooner) and he now believes the mission to be ‘naive’ and unlikely to ever get off the ground.  Funny that us scientific morons kind of knew that in the first place.

Maybe the 200,000 original applicants’ heads were filled with visions of Star Wars and Star Trek.  But the distinguishing feature of most science fiction is that nobody is walking around in a heavy, claustrophobic space suit.  Instead the recognisably human characters seem to be able to mingle with the alien lot, whilst breathing the same alien air.  Star Trek got around the breathing issue by creating a universe bursting with earth-like planets, but Star Wars seemed to side-step the oxygen thing altogether.  The reality for these Mars wannabee’s won’t be quite so comfortingly earth-like.  The Mars One mission website has some useful tips re: living on Mars, which we could have worked out ourselves, without the benefit of a degree in Physics.

Mars’ atmosphere is not suitable for human life.’   (really?)

‘all astronauts must wear their Mars suits when exposed to the Mars atmosphere’.

(OK, this is good advice.  I should think it’s perfectly possible to open the airlock of your inflatable module one morning, entirely forgetting you’re on another planet.  ‘I’ll just go for a morning stroll’, will be your happy, but final thought.)

I’d like to add some further facts about Mars:

I imagine a good few of these aspiring Marsonauts see themselves as Luke Skywalker, staring romantically off into the distance, at the two glowing suns of Tatooine.   What you have on Mars are two ‘moons’, which are actually a couple of small, misshapen rocks, going by the names of Phobos and Deimos – otherwise known as Fear and Panic.  This is likely to cause some confusion.  ‘How are you?’  your space pal will ask, while you’re busy marking off day 3 on your countdown to suffocation calendar.  ‘Well, the worst things are fear and panic , you will say.  ‘Yes, they’re not as good as the old Moon back home but they’re not that bad – are they?’,  he’ll reply.

The surface of Mars is geologically similar to Death Valley in California.  Note: the only place on planet Earth that compares to the Martian landscape has the word ‘Death’ in it.

Mars has the largest volcano in the known solar system, at 25 km high – just imagine that thing going off a week into your arrival.  Conversely it has the deepest canyon in the solar system which, if you can’t make it to day 68, offers another way to end the mind-numbing boredom.

The ambient temperature on Mars  is not so ambient, being -50 degrees Celsius in the mid-latitudes, which is where you want to pitch camp ideally, as the poles reach -153 degrees Celsius.  So, no more picnics or trips to the beach then, which are off limits anyway due to the lack of sky, grass, water and air; and the inability to get a sandwich past your space helmet.  What there is plenty of is DUST.  Every so often the Mars winds like to kick up a dust storm, which covers the entire planet and lasts for months – at least you won’t be able to see good old Fear and Panic.

Lastly, the Mars year is twice as long as that of planet Earth.  That’s twice as long to wait for birthdays and christmas.  It’s not all doom and gloom though; there are some positives – no EastEnders, ever……………….and I’ve run out of positives.

Anyway, good luck to the folks who paid to become Martians.  If their training programme, and subsequent landing on Mars, does become a reality TV show, as promised, then there’s only one suitable title:




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