Let’s give Duke University senior Laurel Kaye an A for ambition, even if it – ahem – leads to a dead end. Kaye is among 100 candidates out of 200,000 worldwide vying for a one-way trip to Mars.
Kaye is a 20-year-old physics and pre-med student at Duke who has also studied at Oxford University. So she is more than bright enough to fathom going to Mars with three others to establish humanity’s first colony on another world.
Kaye still faces the final cut that will produce 24 candidates for 10 years of training by Mars One, the Dutch outfit behind the venture. One aspect of the mission the candidates must endure is appearing on a daily TV reality show for all those years.
No, it won’t be called “Survivor” by Mars One, which plans to raise money for the colonization project via the reality show.
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No business like show business, as they say. And what a show this one would be: You know how and where it ends.
Laurel Kaye says she is comfortable (as is her family) with the idea of a pioneering trip to the red planet.
My question is, why?
She has a world to win here on the blue marble. On Mars, she would be a captive of technology on a world that exists in an eternal present – nothing changes except the temperature (average: -64F) and an occasional planet-wide dust storm.
MIT researchers say the life expectancy of an expedition such as Mars One is 68 days. By the 68th day, everything that can go wrong will have gone wrong – no air, no water, no food, no nothing save a descent into the blackness of eternity.
This is not the Mars imagined for so many decades by astronomers and dreamers, who convinced themselves that intelligent beings existed on the fourth rock from the sun. Of course, it was an illusion, the “canals” and all the rest.
By 1965, a U.S. spacecraft was sending back black-and-white photos of a planet pockmarked by craters. It was a barren, inhospitable place with a thin atmosphere consisting mostly of carbon dioxide. Even the white polar caps were nothing more than frozen CO2 – dry ice.
If Kaye reaches Mars, she and her fellow pioneers will never touch the surface with their bare hands. Neighborhood strolls will have to be made in spacesuits and at high hazard from radiation. Mars has no ozone layer, no appreciable magnetic field to help deflect it.
That would be sunburn with a vengeance, even though Mars is 34 million miles farther from the sun than Earth is, well outside the “Goldilocks” zone of habitability.
Nonetheless, while we might question the voluntary sacrifice of lives in a far-fetched quest to colonize Mars, you have to admire the sheer guts of Kaye and the other candidates.
The four-person crews (two men and two women) must – somehow – live together in a cramped spacecraft for seven months just to get to Mars, survive the terror of atmospheric entry, and make a safe landing. Waiting will be modules for living and work, and maybe small electric vehicles for field trips.
Whatever the physical conditions, I suspect the mental stress of a one-way trip would be the most vexing.
The trip from Earth to Mars would be wearing enough, but once on the surface, you aren’t really in touch with your brave new world – you’ve gone all that distance, only to be totally insulated from it.
And then you die.
Red Planet Mars? No, more like Dead Planet Mars.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.