And why I won't be coming back...
SANTIAGO - I have taken the irreversible decision to be a part of the first group of earthlings that will move to Mars.
This is not the beginning of a novel. There is no space for lies in this story. I want to be a “Marsling.”
It would be a little simplistic to justify my decision with childhood memories. I was not a typical kid who dreamed of becoming an astronaut. My dream was the dream of a kid who grew up under a dictatorship – to be a policeman. I dreamt of joyful patrols in a Chevrolet C10 pickup truck, having as much fun patrolling in my truck as I would driving a jeep on a dune or on a beach.
The first human colony on Mars will settle in 2023. The Mars One project is led by Bas Lansdorp, a Dutch entrepreneur who, upon learning that a group of Americans were working on sending a human on a one-way mission to Mars, had epiphany and said: Let’s get to work!
If it were a round-trip I would not be interested. Yes, I am sane and no, I have not taken psychoactive drugs. My desire is based on the calculations of someone who has certain knowledge of the conditions on Mars. The gravity is only around one-third that of the Earth and temperatures in the southern sector are unbearable.
And most importantly: once you are there, you can’t come back. Your body would not be able to sustain the physiological changes. Bone density, muscle mass and circulatory systems would decrease in capacity.
“While a cosmonaut on-board the Mir was able to walk upon return to Earth after thirteen months in a weightless environment, after a prolonged stay on Mars, the human body will not be able to adjust to the higher gravity of Earth upon return” explains the Mars One website.
Four people will be sent to Mars in 2023. And then, in successive missions, more humans will join the colony, to create a “protoculture,” (a term from Japanese animé meaning the first extraterrestrial humanoid civilization) – this could be the beginning of a better society, more equitable and diverse. Not the strongest, but the most balanced. A “permanent settlement on Mars in order to accelerate our understanding of the formation of the solar system, the origins of life, and of equal importance, our place in the universe,” says the Mars One Website.
Covering the Mars beat
My parents do not know. My boss found out and sent me an email with a link to the page on Mars One website where they explain what a one-way mission means. I know, I said. I told him he could consider it as a – long – resignation notice.
Some of my friends found out later on about my application (as I am writing this there are three Chileans that have applied online). On Twitter people have said I am not okay in the head. As a good sign, a person I didn’t know sent me a friend request on Facebook that day. Curious, I accepted and minutes later on Facebook chat he told me he supported my decision. I smiled and thought it was the first nice gesture I had received as an astronaut.
It will be quite extraordinary to tell this story, a first for humanity. To be the first news correspondent from Mars, a chronicler who will have to travel for seven or eight months on a rocket to get to his destination, exposed to the dangers of solar storms, locked in a small space with strangers, the noise of the rocket’s engine – but mostly, the huge weight of leaving my life behind, travelling with nothing but memories.
When 2023 comes around, I will be 48 years old. Cameras will transmit the landing and our everyday activities on the red planet. It will be the first reality TV show outside of Earth. Or a disenchanted science fiction sitcom, where no one ever comes back to Earth.
But what everyone really wants to know is whether there is life on Mars. Are they like us? Better? Different and powerful, a threat to our settlement on Mars?
On the day that we find this out, I will be there. I will speak through the intercom in my astronaut suit to all Latin Americans. I will narrate the anxiously awaited encounter from behind a rock, whispering. Heads or tails? Heads: the grass is always greener on the other side. Tails: a smile does not have the same gravity thousands of millions of kilometers from Earth.