Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Why on earth would I go to Mars?

On February 16, Kobus Vermeulen was one of five South Africans (including a woman who lives abroad) among the 100 candidates selected by Mars One to begin training to live on the Red Planet. The Dutch not-for-profit’s aim is simple: establish a human colony on Mars. Kobus writes: 

Why? Why do you want to go to Mars? Since I have embarked on this journey, the one question that people ask more than any other, the one thing that seems to bug them more than any other, is why. Why would you want to leave a perfectly good planet for a barren wasteland? Am I stupid? Gullible? Haven’t I thought of the consequences? Don’t I realise the mission might never happen? What if I die? The why runs deep, and so do the answers.

I have been fascinated with Mars since I was a child, and I always thought that, should the opportunity arise for me to leave the planet, I would take it.

So the why begins with a child’s dream. However, as I grew, so did the why. In my eyes, humanity has somewhat stagnated since the 1970s. We’ve put our dreams aside. We’ve developed collective tunnel vision and an aversion to anything outside the tunnel – perfectly happy hobbits living in our comfortable hobbit holes and not looking for any adventure, thank you very much. We’re content with getting our dose of the future from sci-fi movies and comic books.

And so the first part of my motivation is to get people thinking about space travel and the colonisation of other planets in real terms again instead of just as sci-fi visions of the future.

If we want that future, the truth is we’re going to have to build it, and anything worth doing comes with risks. Somebody has to take the risks, and I, along with thousands of other people, am willing to take it.

Kobus Vermeulen wants to explore Mars not only because it’s there, but also as an insurance policy for the human race.

But it goes deeper still than that. If the Mars One mission is even partially successful it will inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers that will build us an even better future.

Without a dream, there is no reason to build those things. A public that is not engaged with science and technology does not elect leaders that are. Leaders who don’t care for science and technology do not allocate budgets for it. And, without the money, the dream dies. Projects like Mars One are like a focusing lens for dreams. It is an opportunity to change hearts and minds at grassroots level.

Even if Mars One is not successful in raising the funds for its mission, we can still achieve the goals of getting the public interested in space flight and in inspiring a new generation of scientists and engineers. If the mission is successful, however, it will be the most important event in the history of our species.

Not only will we be turning our visions of the future into reality, we will also be taking out an insurance policy for our survival. If humankind wants to be around in a million years, we have to get off this rock.

And, to top it all off, technologies invented to cope with Mars’s harsh environments could help people survive right here in Earth’s.

The fact is we live on a planet with dwindling resources and a changing climate and, at some point in the future, we might face an asteroid impact. We can’t ensure the survival of our species if all our eggs are in one basket. And so we must at least try. If not me then someone else. But we must try.

Why? Why climb Everest? Why land on the moon? Why explore the planet? Why do anything at all? How many people died trying to invent flying machines, climbing mountains, or diving to the bottom of the sea?

Adam Steltzner of Nasa once said that there is something fundamentally human about the act of exploration. George Mallory famously answered “because it’s there” to the question of why he wanted to climb Everest. Ultimately he died trying, but others succeeded in his stead so they could find out for themselves what was up there.

I want to go to Mars because it’s there and I want to explore it – but also because I want our species still to be here and able to explore in the future.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

R270m ‘housing heist’ bid deprives people of decent homes

After alleged attempts to loot Eastern Cape housing funds, 39 200 people in the province will continue to live in atrocious conditions

Cabinet reshuffle not on cards yet

There are calls for the president to act against ministers said to be responsible for the state’s slow response to the unrest, but his hands are tied

More top stories

R270m ‘housing heist’ bid deprives people of decent homes

After alleged attempts to loot Eastern Cape housing funds, 39 200 people in the province will continue to live in atrocious conditions

Stolen ammo poses security threat amid failure to protect high-risk...

A Durban depot container with 1.5-million rounds of ammunition may have been targeted, as others in the vicinity were left untouched, say security sources

Sierra Leoneans want a share of mining profits, or they...

The arrival of a Chinese gold mining company in Kono, a diamond-rich district in the east of Sierra Leone, had a devastating impact on the local community, cutting its water supply and threatening farmers’ livelihoods – and their attempts to seek justice have been frustrated at every turn

IEC to ask the courts to postpone local elections

The chairperson of the Electoral Commission of South Africa said the Moseneke inquiry found that the elections would not be free and fair if held in October
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×