I never imagined this would result from my becoming a Mars One Round Two candidate: I’m having an all-out, interplanetary identity crisis. As one of “The 1058” (it didn’t take long for the group to coalesce around this moniker, at least on Twitter), I find myself connected to a planet I never cared for that much (the aggressive male warmongering thing) and on the verge of having to prove my Mars-worthiness so I can claim the grand prize: one of four one-way tickets to Mars.
We’ve received very little information so far. Except for those who have revealed themselves on social media sites, we have no idea who our Round Two peers are, or what we will be asked to do. There’s talk of Round Two being played out a public forum; some say we’ll be featured in a reality show, possibly a space-themed survivor contest.
How do I win the Mars game? Should I get the planet tattooed someplace showy on my bod? Wear a Jetsons-style outfit? Re-brand myself as “Madame Mars?” Better hairdo? Better makeup? Better moves? Find someone who’ll give me “celebrity” lessons (do people really do that)?
And how do I become this public person and at the same time remain myself? Today I pulled weeds in the garden, cleaned cat poop from the litter boxes, shopped for groceries because we were out of onions and OJ, and finished my course syllabus for the semester that starts next week. None of that sounds remotely Martian, and yet I can’t shake the notion that my life has irrevocably shifted into another mode and that it will never again be the same.
Last week when I went to the doctor to get my Mars One physical (passed!) and the nurse asked me why I was here, I said I need this form signed so I can go to Mars. I got absolutely no response. I repeated the last two words with more emphasis: “TO MARS.” “Sounds like fun,” she chirped back before leaving the exam room (as if she’d taken classes on identifying crackpot patients).
The nurse was right. Life goes on. Nothing much has changed. I still need to teach my classes, feed the cats, water the garden.
I don’t have to answer all the questions, not now. Eventually some will be answered for me. The spaceship doesn’t leave for 10 years.
Sobering up on New Year’s Day, not from over-partying, but from over-thinking my end-of-2013 Mars news. Over 200,000 Mars One applicants vying for a one-way trip to Mars, then suddenly on Dec. 30 the applicant pool shrunk to 1058 – and I’m one of those. My friend Bill Sheehan says those odds are about the same as becoming the village idiot. Maybe only village idiots apply for a one-way trip to Mars.
I feel like Schrödinger’s Jan: I’m going to Mars and I’m not going to Mars. Both outcomes are currently true because neither can be presently ruled out, and the box revealing the actuality won’t be opened until much later this year, possibly even next. For one reason or another, I’ve come to think of myself as a Martian – one of a handful, globally speaking, advancing to the next round that will ultimately select the first humans to move to Mars in 2025.
While I’m thrilled that I’ve actually moved a step closer to space travel (which I’ve craved since I was a kid), I keep asking myself – what do they want with ME? What role would I assume in the four-person crew – Mars grandmom? I’m among the oldest in the candidate pool, so I can only assume that “maturity” is a desired quality for pioneering Martians.
Maybe they’re impressed by the fact that I know a lot about Mars, not only why I’d have to wear a spacesuit to take a walk there, but exactly what would happen to me if I didn’t: how all the liquids in my body would explode in a desperate attempt to equalize the pressure inside my body with the near-vacuum pressure outside. I know how my muscle tone and bone density will atrophy without customized fitness training along the way and once I arrive. I know the places to see there – Olympus Mons, Valles Marineris – and the places to avoid, like the dust-storm-prone southern plains: one appropriately named Hellas.
If they do a reality TV series – they’re hinting at this already – will anybody take this mission seriously? Will I? And there’s my answer – I’m a filmmaker who also teaches screenwriting. I’m the creative crew for this gig, one in which “on location” is ripe with uncertainties. Maybe they’ll let me telecommute from the comfort of my Earth office.
This image – and the female symbol inside the red triangle – prove it: Venus first landed on Mars on July 4, 1997, the date Pathfinder touched down and the first Mars rover, toaster-sized Sojourner Truth, rolled out onto the Martian soil:
The history of how this came to pass reveals a lot about the overwhelmingly male dominated JPL workplace of the 1990s, and one woman who not only broke the glass ceiling there, but also put her foot down when it came to giving the rover a name – and a gender, Donna Shirley, Mars program manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
I said to the guys, “Well, all the spacecraft are named either men or after ships or something like that. I think it is time to name a spacecraft after a woman.” Of course, most of the team was men and so they all grumbled about that. But I said, “It is my rover. It is going to be named after a woman.”
Shirley spearheaded a national contest for young people to submit ideas for names based on female heroines. 12-year-old Valerie Ambroise of Bridgeport, CT, won the contest by writing:
It’s only logical that the Pathfinder be named Sojourner Truth, because she is on a journey to find truths about Mars.
So there. On Mars. Venus. Since 1997. It’s the truth.
“Men went to the moon but everyone will be going to Mars,” NASA’s Colleen Hartman says.
The first foot to step onto the surface of Mars will be the greatest small-step/giant-leap event in space exploration since the 1969 Apollo 11 landing. Here’s why that first footstep could, and perhaps should, be made by a female.
The early years of space exploration had a distinct military mindset, emerging as it did from the cold war pursuit of global dominance and fueled by leftover WW2 missiles that could be repurposed for more peaceful pursuits, but make no mistake about it – the space race, the whole idea of sending the first humans into space, was to win and win big. The first space explorers had to be heroes: big, bold and brave.
A successful mission to Mars will require a different mindset. The goal is not to endure the hardships of space travel until we can get back to Earth for parades and medals, but to land on the red planet and stay there. Moving in is different than showing up to plant a flag, and creating a permanent community on a distant planet will require far more than a warrior mentality.
There’s no reason to go to Mars if we aren’t planning to stay.
“Unless we are able to commit to a permanent growing settlement, then I don’t think just going there with humans and coming back is worth doing,” says former Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
The enormity of the mission – the expense, the time it will take to travel there (and the toll this will take on human physiology), the mental challenges of extreme and prolonged isolation, and the widely spaced launch windows that must be timed when Mars and the Earth come close (about every two years), all add up to a mission that must be sure of its goals – to settle down, to set up camp and eventually to build self-sustaining communities.
The person who takes the first step onto the red surface of Mars will most certainly be noted and remembered, but this event is less likely to be preserved as an iconic moment than Buzz Aldrin’s boot on the moon – and the “selfie” he snapped:
Eventually the first native children will be born on Mars, second-generation Martians who have never known life on Earth. What their parents have built for them, and what they create for their descendants, will become the over-arching themes we will remember and value: Mars missions are for both men and women because building and sustaining communities requires the skills, knowledge and contributions of all.
More than four decades later, Aldrin’s footprint is still etched perfectly in the moon dust; with no atmosphere, there’s no wind, no rain to blur this imprint into obscurity.
On Mars the first footstep will soon be blurred by devilish winds so prevalent there, and, more importantly, permanently erased by the other footsteps that soon will follow – not just because we’re going to Mars, but because we plan to stay.
To the ancient Chinese, a sighting of Mars in the night sky signaled “bane, grief, war and murder”.
Because the Martian soil contains iron oxide (rust), the planet’s reddish hue inspired early observers to associate Mars with blood and bloodletting. The Babylonians called it the “star of death,” but the name that stuck was the one provided by the ancient Roman god of war: Mars (actually re-appropriated from the ancient Greek war-god Ares).
From that time forward, the planet Mars became synonymous with male aggression as personified by bloodthirsty Mars and his henchmen Phobos (fear) and Demios (panic) – the names given to the two Martian moons.
It’s worth wondering whether this “warrior” version of Mars would have taken hold had the ancient Hebrews’ take on the red hue and the name they assigned to the planet caught on – Ma’adim (מאדים) — “one who blushes.”
“Naming a thing is man’s nearest approach to creating it,” wrote astronomer and Mars Maniac Percival Lowell (and what he created with the surface features he called “canals” can be cited as a prime example).
Would a more refined and less combative name for the red planet have meant no War of the Worlds, with Martians intent on invading and conquering the Earth? Would a kinder and gentler demeanor have allowed us to skip all the violent Edgar Rich Burroughs stories in which Earthly hero John Carter is just as intent on maiming and killing the Martians as they are him?
In the early years of the space race, would our all-out rush to get to Mars still have utilized penis-shaped rockets (probably so – they’re aerodynamic)? Would we have called the machines we designed to transverse enormous distances in space “probes” (if space is empty, as we then believed, then what were they probing)?
And once our hardware arrived and photographed the planet’s surface details, would we have still named one of the gigantic Martians canyons Ma’adim Valles (as if it were an enormous vagina – who wouldn’t blush upon seeing that)?
Would our stereotypical Martians be less gender-specific than the proverbial “little green men?”
Perhaps, finally, we have entered a less combative and more gender-neutral phase of Mars exploration, as we prepare to go there ourselves.
What it will take to get humans to mars is not single-minded aggression, but a more diverse set of tools designed and created to sustain us there; what food we will grow and consume, what shelters we will construct and inhabit, what exercise will keep us fit in low-gravity environment, what psychological support we will need as isolated colonists on a desolate and dangerous world, how and when we will decide to couple and generate offspring on Mars.
Ironically the color that suggested blood to long ago observers is not evidence of death on the red planet, but of life. Iron oxide (iron and oxygen combined as rust), was created long ago when the planet had more liquid water, and in its current form, the iron oxide so abundant on the Martian surface can be transformed into life-sustaining energy.
Accomplishing all of this will require contributions by men and women alike, humans not intent on conquering and claiming, but on building, supporting and nurturing.
“Madam Mars” most certainly would approve.
When I read yesterday that 76-year-old Valentina Tereshkova has applied to go to Mars, I thought: well of course she does.
Ever since she made news as the first woman in space (June 1963 in Vostok 6), Valentina has wanted a return trip – and has been denied it. The Soviets would not hear of it – I read that instead, they dressed her up pretty and sent her out as an ambassador for their space program – public relations, not space exploration, was how her amazing adventure turned out.
Granted, her space adventure offered far more than a young female textile-mill-worker might have dreamed of: with her 48 orbits around the earth and 3 days in space, she logged more flight time than the combined times of all American astronauts who had flown before her. She married a fellow cosmonaut (some suggested this marriage was arranged – yet another PR stunt by the Soviets – Nikita Khrushchev himself officiated at the ceremony), and her baby was the first child born of two space-traveling parents.
And yet Valentina wanted more – another chance to test her limits, to prove herself, to add to the scientific knowledge amassed by each space mission.
Government-led space exploration by humans in both the US and USSR severely limited the application and approval process for astronauts and cosmonauts. Valentina got lucky the first time around – the Soviets searched in vain for a female pilot, couldn’t find one, so opted for what they considered the next best thing – a female sky-diver, and Valentina belonged to an amateur sky-diving club.
Mars may be her last, best chance to get lucky again. You go, woman!
Venus on Mars is all about the Martians. Did they build canals? Are they trying to contact us? Can we send spaceships to photograph them? Can we go there ourselves? Are there more transcendent ways to experience “Martian-ness?”
When I began researching and writing this book just a few years ago, we had not yet entered this particular phase of “Mars madness,” which started, I think, with live coverage of the Curiosity landing (2012) and ongoing announcements of its amazing findings (like water – lots of it – just under the hard, dry surface).
But even more responsible for fueling Mars madness are the widely publicized plans by Mars One (in the Netherlands) to send humans to Mars within a decade and establish a permanent colony there – and the fact that the astronaut recruitment process (currently in progress) is unrestrictive – the pod doors leading to Mars are wide open. Anyone in the world, anyone over 18, any gender, any ethnicity, any educational level, any skill set. Mars One (unlike NASA) is casting an enormous net to insure that the first Earthlings to land on Mars will truly represent their home planet.
What’s changed since I began writing my novel is that the long-imagined Martians are no longer the stuff of sci-fi and bad space-adventure movies. The Martians are real – and they are us. Humans are poised to become the first Martians.
Hope we can make better movies when we get there!
Posting the best news Venus on Mars has received in a long time:
Venus on Mars will be released in late 2013/early 2014 by Jaded Ibis Press. Plans are to produce the book in five editions: full color print, b&w print, ebook, interactive multimedia, and fine art limited edition.
What this means:
I am in the process of “unpublishing” all current versions of VoM (pulling print copies from bookstores and retiring print and ebook editions from all online venues). The book may seem dormant for a while, but I will be working behind the scenes with Debra Di Blasi of Jaded Ibis as she re-creates my novel before releasing it in multiple, amazing editions. Most exciting to me is the fully interactive, multimedia version – the future of the novel as I’ve been envisioning it for some time now – finally I have found a publisher who embraces this change!!! (Yes, I need multiple exclamation marks to express the thrill I get from saying this.)
I will post updates as we move toward new release date!
A friend who teaches high school English in South Carolina wants to incorporate Venus on Mars in her literature class as a way to demonstrate how writing and technology can combine to present a story.
She plans to use a passage from the book with a scannable QR code as an example. Then we’re going to follow up with a Skype session, where the students can ask me questions about the book and the technologies I’m using to augment the printed pages.
A book without boundaries, indeed!
I’m preparing my Keynote (Mac version of Powerpoint) presentation for my Wednesday book event at SFSU library, “Book Without Boundaries.” While thinking of how to organize it, I realize I’ve written more than one book.
There’s the book, “Venus on Mars.” Then there’s the book inside the book, Lulu’s secret journal, suppressed for generations until her grand-niece Venus inherits it. The journal is frustratingly incomplete, urging everyone who reads it to add their own pages – which actually makes it an infinite number of books.
The book outside the book is what I think of as the “geek” layer – the scientific and historic context surrounding the fictional story inside. This is the part accessed by the QR codes scattered throughout the book. I learned so much while researching and writing the book, it just didn’t seem fair to keep it all to myself. It’s a nonfiction layer superimposed over the fictional story – each one a brief but illustrated treatise.
This realization makes me feel a little bit like Steve Jobs when he introduced the iPhone in 2007 (the only MacWorld keynote I ever attended). We have three new products, he said: a phone, a music player and a web browser – only they’re all included in this one device. Everybody jumped up and ran to get one at the Apple store.
I only wish for comparable results!