We Are the Martians: Why we’ve never lost our enthusiasm for space travel

Stefany Anne Golberg in The Smart Set:

ID_PI_GOLBE_SPACE_CO_001 Really, it’s hubris that we imagine ourselves in space at all. That same hubris led us to the bottom of the oceans, though we lacked fins, and into the clouds with aluminum wings. They say that Nature abhors a vacuum, but human beings really can’t imagine a place that doesn’t need us. Space is there, so it must have something for us, and we must get that thing. Over time, our fantasies of what space could be got all tangled up with what they needed to be. Suddenly, the reasons we were exploring in the first place got confused. This is the fundamental dilemma of all exploration. Human imagination sees possibilities; human necessity seeks to exploit those possibilities. Somewhere along the way, romance fades.

In The Martian Chronicles, the Settlers traveled to Mars for all kinds of reasons. “They came because they were afraid or unafraid, because they were happy or unhappy, because they felt like Pilgrims or did not feel like Pilgrims. There was a reason for each man…. They were coming to find something or leave something or get something, to dig up something or bury something…. They were coming with small dreams or large dreams or none at all.” The first astronauts came just to be the first and were never heard from again. The second astronauts wanted to solve the mystery. All the black people in the southern United States pooled their money to build their own rockets and leave Earth for a freer life. Old people came for new experience. Young people came to name towns and rivers after themselves. The old Martian names were of “buried sorcerers and obelisks.” The new names were solidly of Earth: Aluminum City, Detroit II, Corn Town. In short, the Settlers came with the same dreams they had on Earth, imagining nothing more or less. Moving to Mars was like moving anywhere new. Space was the receptacle for the same competing human ideals they had on Earth.

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