We Are Voyagers
The seat felt so small, uncomfortable. My boots were too tight. Like rented ski gear, they didn’t fit right, but there was nothing to do about it now. I could see the tarmac just outside the tiny window.
My stomach churned as I felt the rumble of the engines warming up.
I turned to my left and through the helmet I could see my wife. She had her eyes closed, and her fingers crossed. She always did this when a plane was taking off or landing. It was her little ritual. Her little way of adding luck to a situation outside her control.
We weren’t in an airplane though. We were strapped into stiff jump seats of the latest SpaceX rocket, seconds away from liftoff to begin our months long journey to Mars. The kids were on each side of us, lucid but barely so. Long ago scientists had figured out it was best to give them a heavy dose of sedatives for this part of the trip. They were unafraid, maybe it was the drugs, or maybe they just trusted us. The SpaceX agents told us the kids would do better than us in transit to Mars, something about adjusting to low gravity much faster than adults.
As the rocket began to lift off, I felt myself pushed back into the seat. I took a deep breath and tried not to clench my jaw.
Through the 8 and half minutes of heavy acceleration I silently repeated:
We’re doing the right thing
There’s opportunity on Mars
We’ll start a new life
Find our own patch of soil
We’re doing the right thing…
The heavy engines cut off, we’d reached orbit. My fear vanished along with the roar of the engines. I looked over and my wife’s hand, fingers still crossed, floated up. The weightlessness brought a rush of excitement, and I glanced out the window. I could see all of Earth, a glittering ball of blue, green, and white suspended in the black of space. No turning back now.
Born to roam
Humans have always had an innate drive for exploration. It’s an ancient trait that runs deep. We have a desire to explore, to discover new things. To push outward to make a better life for our families. Our first big wave of exploration began when we pushed out of Africa and covered the far reaches of the globe in a few thousand years. Some nomads sought out new lands because the spirit of adventure was in their nature, other’s pushed out in small groups that splintered off from a tribe that reached its carrying capacity.
When Columbus set sail, he ventured forth into the vast emptiness of the Atlantic looking for a route to the Indies and “discovered” the new world, setting in motion the second big wave of human exploration. Thousands of young sailors boarded boats heading for the new world. Soon after the Europeans began exploring and conquering the globe, charting the globe as they sailed the seas.
The last big human exploration phase ended when the United States was settled. It was the land of opportunity. Within reach of even the poorest in Europe. They could buy a ticket to the new world and push west with their families. Claim a patch and make a life for themselves.
When those last pioneers settled the western coast of North America that was the end of the opportunity for an everyday person to strike out, to explore, to voyage.
We can all feel it. A great sadness that the world is known. There’s no new land to find. No exotic locales to be discovered. We’ve settled the globe all the way to the freezing bottom of Antarctica and now a malaise has set in. Even traveling on vacation brings no new rush, what’s the point of being the billionth person to take a selfie at Machu Picchu or the Taj Mahal?
Many long to explore. For some it’s an instinct they’re born with. Others feel the carrying capacity of the tribe has been reached. They’re compelled to splinter off, to find a new land. But there is no land.
The end of the Earth Era
We have only just begun our initial forays into space. And it’s only scientist, specialists. Years of training and selection by committee grants access to the ISS.
Neil Armstrong said it was one giant leap for mankind, when he first stepped foot on the moon. But, the everyday man cannot yet follow in his steps.
Just as we became a multi-continent species, we’re soon to become a multi-planet species. Mars is coming into reach. NASA has landed multiple rovers on the surface of the red planet and there’s a budding new space race in the private sector, led by Elon Musk’s SpaceX that is rapidly innovating space travel. SpaceX is testing rockets that will dramatically lower the cost of space flight, soon the cost of a ticket will be in reach of the everyman, just as a ticket to the new world was within reach for Europe’s poor.
The first thousand Mars settlers will be specialists, but in a wide reaching set of skills that goes far beyond astrophysics. We’ll have to build initial Martian cities and all their underlying foundations. There will be a need not just for engineers, but construction workers, biologists, farmers, plumbers, electricians, and more.
As soon as the first few thousand builders have settled in, there will be a demand for all kinds of people to come to the new land to serve those already there. The first bar and grill on Mars will need bartenders, cooks, and waiters.
Then the floodgates will open to millions of eager Earthers looking for their own slice of the Martian land, just as we’ve done for millions of years here.
We will spread across the planet, establishing frontier cities bursting with excitement and adventure.
“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore” Christopher Columbus
I pour myself a shot of whiskey and marvel at how slowly it falls from the bottle to the glass in Mars gravity, ⅓ that of Earth. Since we opened the bar I’ve poured countless drinks for the pioneers of our new town, and yet I’m amazed every time. Mesmerized by the slow-motion tumble of the liquor into the glass, splashing against the ice and bouncing up, droplets suspended in the air for an eternity before returning to the glass.
The door chimes and I look up. The kids come flying in from the street, laughing and pushing each other. They bound like graceful gazelles towards me in two strides. On the third they leap, effortlessly clearing the bar with a foot to spare. I snatch them both out of the air and clutch them to my chest, pulling them tight.
Hearing the noise, my wife pops her head in from the kitchen and I catch her eye as she smiles and laughs.