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!