30 June 2012

One Way to Mars?

I wrote this little ditty this week, and recorded it on my phone last night. I've been a fan of space exploration since I was a small child (no news there), and back at the age of 10, if you'd told me that there would be no-one on Mars, or even the moon, when I would be 42, I'd have assumed civilisation was doomed.

Here's the deal - getting to Mars, while challenging, is relatively straightforward. Getting home on the other hand is pretty darned tricky, since you have to bring everything with you on the trip to effectively launch a full space mission from your destination. Not trivial.

To that end, some people have been exploring the notion of "One Way to Mars", i.e. sending a manned mission where return to Earth is not in the plan. Volunteers would be going to go to Mars to spend the rest of their lives there - possibly without the prospect of old age, with a high probability of relatively early death through medical problems (even if the radiation doesn't get 'em), habitat systems failure, accidents, and any number of additional hazards that might crop up in forty years (let's say) on the Martian surface.

Pretty scary, since most people harbour at least some longing for Earth and to see their family again. Worth it? Undoubtedly there would be many volunteers, but could they stick the pace? Perhaps the bet isn't so bad, because if a "colony" was going and building infrastructure for (say) 10 years, perhaps the ability to return the original colonists (should they wish to go back) would grow. Maybe the "One Way to Mars" option wouldn't be such a problem after all, especially if we launched several of them over the course of (say) a decade. The potential for this is better now than ever before, thanks to the entry onto the stage of companies like SpaceX, who are making great strides in opening up the Final Frontier.

Anyway, this song is dedicated to that pioneering urge, in the hope that maybe some day we will indeed build a home in the canyons of Mars.


  1. "Canyons of Mars" (C) Shane McKee, 2012.

    We work the red ground here - I can't call it earth;
    This isn't the soil of the land of my birth.
    "We can't bring you back," they said, leaving no doubt we were true pioneers.
    In this desolate landscape we're staking our plot,
    But dreams still return me to one pale blue dot
    Lost in the heavens, whispering out to our hopes and our fears.

    But all we can do is step forwards each day,
    Because entropy's journey is only one way
    From the footprints they left in the Turkana clay,
    Walking under the stars I can see from the canyons of Mars.

    The next ship from Earth will bring eight new recruits -
    We'll fit them with visors and helmets and boots,
    And we'll set them to work on reactors and rovers and solar arrays.
    They'll join the endeavour and never return
    To the places and people they loved, and they'll learn
    To adjust to their destiny,
    Factor it over the course of their days

    But all the psychologists can't tell me yet
    If it's best to remember or try to forget
    How we stood there in Belfast when the sun had long set,
    Gazing out at the stars I now see from the canyons of Mars.

    Sarah and Ravi have just had their kid;
    You followed the pregnancy - the whole of Earth did,
    Through broadcast and podcast and media storm -
    She's the first of her breed.
    So we're extending the habitat under the ground,
    We'll fill it with air and with colour and sound;
    We'll love them and feed them and keep them all warm -
    Is that all that they'll need?

    Because her generation's the next link in a chain
    Stretching out from a planet of forests and rain,
    And the one point of reference that can help us explain
    Is: we saw the same stars they can see from the canyons of Mars.

    But the frail force of gravity won't hold them here
    As they look to the heavens with no trace of fear.
    And we'll watch them take off, and then disappear,
    As they carry our dreams to the stars from the canyons of Mars.

  2. Setting up habitats underground in the early stages actually seems like a pretty darn good idea.

  3. What a magical idea...and story concept! (You think in song. I, in short story.) I love the twist of a first "Martian" baby...

  4. Thanks folks - some of these concepts are relatively well-trodden scifi fare, eg the great Ray Bradbury and Kim Stanley Robinson. Also, the very first American colonies (including Vinland) found it incredibly difficult to get established, yet once the foothold was secure, expansion became possible (with all the ups and downs that involves).