For years science fiction has been making us consider what it might be like to travel through space, visit other planets and colonise them. But with the Mars One mission and Virgin Galactic space tourism, the question has become more personal. People can apply to join a one-way mission to Mars, agreeing to leave everything behind in the hope of becoming one of the first human colonists on another planet.
I have friends who’ve signed up for Mars One. I have other friends who’ve said they’d jump at the opportunity to go to Mars. And while I understand where they’re coming from, I can’t empathise. I don’t want to leave Earth. Not even for a return space flight, and certainly not on a one-way mission.
I got to thinking about this because I’ve been watching the documentary series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on Netflix (a brilliant, fascinating series that I highly recommend). I noticed that while its scientific explanations and images of far-off worlds fill me with wonder and a yearning to know more, that yearning never extends to wanting to physically leave the Earth.
Of course, things like money and the necessity of leaving behind family and friends come into play. But even if these were no obstacle (i.e. I’m rich enough for a space trip, or I can bring all my family and friends along on my colonisation mission), I still wouldn’t go, for a variety of reasons.
Even a stable flight in a passenger aeroplane makes me edgy. Rocketing into space on a potentially explosive craft and enduring insane G-forces is just not in any way appealing. Sure, I could probably overcome this if the payoff was great enough… but as you can see from my other reasons below, it wouldn’t be.
The Void of Space
The idea of the walls of a tiny spacecraft being the only things between me and the endless, freezing, de-pressurised, deadly void of space is terrifying. The film Gravity pretty much brought all my nightmare scenarios to life. As I watched Sandra cartwheel off into space I knew with renewed certainty that I could never be an astronaut.
(coincidentally, Sandra Bullock stars in another film that brings a phobia of mine to life: in Speed 2 one of the characters nearly gets sucked into the propeller under a cruise ship. I always hold on tight at the front of boats and I imagine if I ever fell off one I’d swim madly in the opposite direction… which is probably a bad move survival-wise, but ever since the 10-year-old me heard a story about someone who fell off a boat and got chopped up in the propeller, the phobia has stuck)
Hostility to Life
I love learning about and looking at photos of other planets and moons. I find them truly fascinating. But living there? There’d be no trees, no oceans (of water), no breathable air. The temperatures and pressures often aren’t survivable without space suits, not to mention there might be toxic gas and radiation. Every planet and moon we know of is hostile to human life. Andy Weir’s The Martian illustrated this perfectly, as Mark Watney battles to survive the martian environment. I’d hate to live somewhere so harsh, where everything seems out to get me and I can’t just stroll outside and take a breath of fresh air.
Space is Lonely
Even if I were on a mission with other humans, space and other planets would still feel lonely to me. There is just so much emptiness and lack of life. On the long voyage to another planet that feeling of loneliness would only compound, especially if I knew I was getting farther and farther away from the rest of the human race and my home. Space would constantly remind me of the vastness and emptiness of the universe, which I like to be reminded of on occasion but am not keen to be reminded of constantly.
I like travelling and I’ve lived on three different continents, so I’m not particularly prone to homesickness. But if I left Earth, I know I would feel homesick. All it takes is a shot of our home through the window in a movie like Apollo 13, or the shot of Sandra’s feet touching sand in Gravity, to make me feel a surge of empathetic homesickness and longing. In the sci-fi novel Hyperion, references to the destroyed and near forgotten “Old Earth” make me feel terribly sad.
I Love Earth
Most of the things I’ve listed above could be overcome, especially if other planets were terraformed life-filled places, but in the end it comes down to one all-important thing: I love planet Earth.
When I watch documentaries or travel I am constantly amazed by the variety and beauty it has to offer. I’m fascinated by its plants and animals, its mountains and oceans, its weather systems (I love watching storms roll in). I am fascinated by its history, as well as our human history on Earth. I know I will never be able to explore every corner of it and yet I still want to try. Sure, if Earth became a dead, uninhabitable place, I would leave it given the chance… but bar that circumstance, it’s just got too much going for it.
So I’m Staying
If humans are ever setting off to explore or colonise the universe within the next couple of decades, I’ll eagerly watch footage of the space explorers, read everything I can about their missions, and tune in to new reports. I’ll be fascinated by what they discover and awed by the significance of what they achieve on behalf of humankind. I’ll support them and admire them. But I’ll gladly do it all from my home on planet Earth.
It seems I’m an earthling through and through and would make a terrible martian. But how about you? Would you go on a space flight? Would you leave Earth to colonise another planet? If so, why?