THE MILKY WAY GALAXY contains millions of stars, all of which are suns in their own right and, as astronomers and astrophysicists now know, many of those stellar objects have planets orbiting about them the same as the Earth orbits about our own sun. Meanwhile, the Milky Way galaxy itself is moving in tandem with what is known as a “local group” of galaxies at a speed of approximately 1.34 million miles per hour in the direction of the Hydra constellation.
What an utterly stupendous, mind-blowing reality to imagine!
Astrophysicists say that there are trillions of galaxies in the universe and this, to me, is a fact so mesmerizing that it leaves me literally starry-eyed.
I like that expression, though. Being “starry-eyed” has always been a powerfully inspirational turn of phrase for me. Yet, I have never been one to fantasize about becoming an astronaut myself, let alone actually pursuing such a career as have the few and the brave.
Indeed, aspiring astronauts and cosmonauts around the world have always dreamed of rocketing skyward, attaining escape velocity and breaking through into space and some have been able to actually achieve that dream. A few, the super dreamers, aspired to orbit the Moon, then land on it and that came to pass, as well.
Now the world’s super dreamers are starry-eyed over the prospect of being among the first team of astronauts to land on Mars and set up the first ever interplanetary space colony there.
It doubtless goes without saying that stellar ambition of that nature will require extraordinary effort and colossal determination on the part of those who carry such a spectacular dream in their hearts and minds at present.
Quite paradoxically and ironically, however, those with an eye on Mars will probably need to be the most down to earth people of all.
“Down to earth” is another popular turn of phrase which people often use. It is one we need to put alongside “starry-eyed” here for a reason. The former is generally used to describe a person who is practical through and through. The latter is exactly the opposite. Starry-eyed people can as easily be total slackers as people with a desire to rocket off across the heavens for real. They can be lotus-eaters, so to speak, who are good for doing little save daydreaming their lives away.
In my novel, Crimson Firestorm Mars, I delve deeply into the unspeakably critical importance of choosing the right personalities for a mission to the Red Planet. Why? Because life on Mars is going to be rough going. It is freezing cold there just for starters. Not only will there be no facility to take shelter within when the first expedition touches down there, the astronauts will need to assemble the place themselves straight out of the hatch after almost a year of being cooped up in a relatively small spacecraft and hardly moving about.
That is providing, of course, that the spacecraft lands near enough to the cargo vessel or two which will need to be sent ahead in advance with the materials for assembling that facility.
In other words, two or three bull’s-eyes are going to be required in this undertaking: a cargo vessel or two and then the landing party itself in its own spacecraft. In short, all will need to be absolutely within reach of each other.
And, yes, that is only after each of the vehicles has traversed some 35 million miles or so…
The notion of that kind of distance summons yet another cliché. People say, “It’s not rocket science” when they want to make a point about what a “no-brainer” some activity is. Only, in this case, it is precisely that, of course. Rocket science of the highest degree will be required for this undertaking and that effort will need to generate and incorporate within its structures the most unprecedented, concerted, collective, innovative technological designs ever created to date on our fine planet.
Science definitely has its work cut out for it here. The astrophysicists, engineers and astronauts are all being called on to contribute their expertise, courage and intelligence to the single most complex and dangerous undertaking humanity has ever known.
We who are mere spectators can root all we want for our favorite space program to win this particular competition, but one thing is sure: if the spacecraft carrying the first pioneering team veers off course and fails to go into orbit around Mars or crashes onto the surface of the Red Planet once it does go into orbit and attempts a landing, those responsible for the disaster will be made to answer for that failure. That mission, having dared to risk human life in what will surely be perceived as a premature rush to win this epic space race, will have a ruined name for years to come.
In other words, “Haste makes waste” as the saying goes.
The starry-eyed Martians among us must, therefore, proceed with extreme caution. The most complex expedition in world history offers a worthy goal, but in the name of the first Apollo spacecraft, which turned into a raging fireball on the launchpad in 1967; in the name of Challenger which was tragically destroyed in 1986 and in the name of the Columbia space shuttle lost in 2003, this is not a race for wild-eyed daredevils.
Still, without starry-eyed dreamers among us, humanity would be living a far more primitive existence than it now enjoys. Clearly, the ability to dream must and can be followed by the courage to take action alongside the will to pursue ever higher levels of knowledge.
Humanity made it safely to the Moon and back. It can make it to Mars and one day will. When is another question, but we do already know how. That alone is a marvel and it does give humanity every reason to press on with excitement, determination and the most colossal, stellar enthusiasm we can muster.
Let’s just take the time to do it right, though, and not risk even a single life in the process.