Millions of viewers witnessed history last summer as the Curiosity science rover landed safely on Mars, sparking an interest in space science that hasn’t been seen in the United States for years. Would-be Mars explorers are already getting their applications ready to send to Mars One, a private, non-profit organization that hopes to start sending people to Mars in 2023. Young people — like high school student Abigail “Astronaut Abby” Harrison — are already pursuing their dreams to stand on the red planet.
But let’s be honest. Mars isn’t for everyone.
In preparation for a special event in St. Paul, Minn. this spring, we’ve been asking sources in the Public Insight Network about what Mars means to them — including whether they’d sign up for a potentially one-way trip to the red planet. The responses we received showed us that, while going to the red planet would be a thrilling adventure, there are plenty of reasons to pass up a chance for interplanetary relocation.
Hear are the most common themes we’re seeing:
1. I have family obligations
“The only thing holding me back from the ‘I’d be on that space ship today’ answer is that I have a son, and leaving without seeing him would be almost like dying from his perspective,” said charter pilot and flight instructor Kevin Henderson of Seattle, Wash.
Frederick Coxen of Pinehurst, N.C. echoed those thoughts: “Although an adventurer at heart, my family is important to me so the thought of never seeing them again would be the deciding factor in my decision to stay home and watch it on TV.”
A lot of our sources said the same thing about kids getting in the way of adventure, though some of them indicated it’s just a temporary impediment.
“Right now I have small children,” said Kristopher Nuttycombe of Arvada, Colo., “but once they’re independent, I’d jump at a chance to be part of the first dedicated human attempt at expansion into the cosmos.”
2. I have a health condition
For some people, the reason for staying here on Earth is not because they wouldn’t enjoy the adventure, but because medical problems would make a long-term mission unfeasible.
“If I were 30 years younger, when I was really healthy and traveling a lot, I might have checked ‘for sure yes!’,” said Minneapolis, Minn. resident Cinda Yager.
Sources cited allergies and other limiting health conditions as barriers between this planet and the next.
“I would love to go, but I would need a body transplant,” said Wisconsin resident Nancy Nagler, “for I am too heavy and -ah- older, but only in birthdays.”
Neville Abraham III of Inglewood, Calif. agreed, “I would go in a minute except that I’ll be 59 in 2023,” he said. “If I was 18, I would drop everything and apply.”
3. I’m healthy now, but might get sick later
Even healthy people find it hard to imagine getting the help they need on a planet with no clinics or pharmacies.
We heard concerns about cosmic rays, unforeseeable illness and potential issues surrounding health care benefits.
David Levine of Portland, Ore. had a few good questions about how people would interact after arriving on Mars. “What assurances will exist that they will be able to get along well for the rest of their lives?” he asked. “What are the contingency plans for resource limitations, injury and psychological trauma? What will be done to make the colonists’ lives as pleasant as possible under the very difficult circumstances?”
4. I hear there’s no food or water there
Many people wondered how those who ventured to Mars would survive without continually receiving supplies from planet Earth.
Concerns about water and food were rampant among the responses. And a lot of good questions about infrastructure and raw materials also came up. Without these basic necessities, many of our sources predicted a fun adventure would soon turn dismal.
“Ask me again after systems are in place for production of food, fuel, shelter, clothing, health, sanitation and communications are established,” said Greg Clifford of Minnesota.
5. Why would I go to Mars when Earth is right here?
Some of our sources questioned the rationality of going to a planet 35 million miles away when we have a perfectly good, habitable one right here.
For them, the idea of leaving the many positive aspects of Earth — including the scenery and people, not to mention the elements required to support life — seems absurd.
“I like mountains and deserts and rivers. I like some people, and I especially like being able to get away from them when they annoy me,” said Colorado resident Dave Morrison. “That’s hard to do in a space capsule or on a planet without oxygen.”
Susan Moskwa of Seattle said that while a trip to Mars would be fun for a thrill-seeker who “wants to push the boundaries of what we know and leave their mark on the world,” she is not that person.
“I like to be comfortable and happy. On Earth, I more or less know how things work, what to predict and what will make me happy. If I go to Mars, life will be full of challenges and unexpected things,” she said. “Mars is far less likely to provide this for me than Earth is, so I will stay here.”