SURESH MENON

Our colum­nist has no plans of go­ing to the Red Planet.

Friday - - Contents -

A Dutch or­gan­i­sa­tion is hop­ing to send four peo­ple to Mars by 2026. In the US, there are plans to send a two-per­son team to fly within 100 miles of Mars in three years’ time (although hav­ing gone that far I can’t imag­ine why you wouldn’t want to land there). In about a dozen years from now, a friend, neigh­bour, some­one’s cousin or a news­pa­per head­line is bound to land on Mars – and most peo­ple we know should still be around. The ad­ven­ture is upon us.

So let me make my stand clear. I have no de­sire to go to Mars. Paris, yes, San­ti­ago, hap­pily, Rio, by all means, but I draw the line at Mars. First, there is the mat­ter of trans­port. I feel claus­tro­pho­bic trav­el­ling on the pil­lion of a two-wheeler; what chance do I have squeezed in with three oth­ers in an area the size of my writ­ing ta­ble, my only en­ter­tain­ment watch­ing my bones get brit­tle, teeth de­velop cav­i­ties and eye­lids drop­ping off? And for va­ri­ety, watch­ing the same hap­pen to the oth­ers?

Then there’s the fact that I am too set in my ways, and can­not land in a city (or planet) that may not have wa­ter, and if it does, then we’ll have to sep­a­rate the H from the O so we can breathe the lat­ter. Pioneers on earth didn’t have that prob­lem. Both wa­ter and oxy­gen were in plen­ti­ful sup­ply, and the wheel was just wait­ing to be in­vented.

Per­haps my great grand­child will be the ideal fit for Mars. By then the com­mute time might have be­come shorter than the time it takes me to get to work in Ben­galuru. Cities that look like ours would have sprung up, and traf­fic prob­lems would mir­ror the ones on earth. There would be a McDon­ald’s and Star­bucks on ev­ery cor­ner. The rate at which we are de­plet­ing the earth’s re­sources would mean that the Earth would look from Mars then rather like what Mars looks like from Earth now. Those born and brought up on Mars might even be ask­ing if there is wa­ter on Earth.

Although the ini­tial plan is to send two or four peo­ple at a time, soon we should be able to trans­port a cou­ple of mil­lion a week. Es­pe­cially if the old files of Cap­tain Kirk are de­coded and the real mean­ing of ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ is un­der­stood.

Pioneers have to dis­cover things afresh, fight the el­e­ments, go to war against one another, die of dis­eases, man­age with­out burgers. It is the fifth or 10th wave that en­joys the fruits of that strug­gle. Since I can’t be­long to the later group, I don’t want to be in the first.

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