I came across this article on CNN earlier this evening. It may interest you to take a moment to read it, but if you're not a science-oriented person, I will sum it up for you as best I can.
Dutch company "Mars One" is offering the opportunity to apply to be among the first people ever on Mars. The mission is currently slated to depart earth in 2022, arriving at the red planet 7 months later, in 2023. The catch? There is no return date. Those arriving will live out their lives on the red planet.
Unless you're either some sort of super depressed psychotic or the world's biggest hermit, the idea of traveling to another planet never to return is probably stomach-churningly offensive to you. I know I myself would LOVE to visit Mars someday. But that's the key, visit. and at first brush, I nearly entirely dismissed this idea as lunacy. The only people who would apply would be those you least want on such a mission. But then, I began to rethink myself. "Is this how we, as a species, take our first real steps beyond the earth?" A few brave souls who, like so many before them, want to kick the dust from their boots and head for the horizon, come what may?
Read just about any science-fiction novel set in the very near future (though they're quickly becoming science-fact), and you'll see a recurring theme. A new, brilliantly fast form of travel, or a totally revised financial system, or one of a hundred other possibilities that makes there-and-back-again space travel possible. That's comfortable, fun and fantastical to us as readers. It allows the characters to have far off adventures that hit close to home. It's a theme that stretches back as far as Greek tradition. Odysseus had to travel the most bizarre odyssey, but he still made it back alive. After thinking on this article, I no longer believe that this is the future of humanity, anymore than it was truthfully the past. Pioneers did not pick up to start a new life over the Rockies with the intent of going back, and if they had, the boom-towns and the growth that give a permanent foothold on the west coast would have never happened, or at least been severely delayed.
No, rather than being dismayed or offended at the idea of essentially sending people to die on Mars, I'm enthralled at the idea of sending people to LIVE there. Provide them the basics, an ability to grow their own food, clean their own water and oxygenate their own air, likely all from the same aquaculture facility, and watch them do what human beings do. Watch them live.
No, the next steps in the human journey won't be made by people hoping to retrace their steps right back the other way. They'll be made by explorers, by the industrious who will look out on their new frontier and wonder how to invent the martian wheel. How to till the martian soil and create a new land where they can prosper. They'll have no thoughts of coming back, because they see plenty of opportunity ahead, instead. They'll see growth for themselves and their children, and salvation for humanity. They'll have fear, but it will make them feel alive.
The image at the top of this entry is a screen-capture from the movie "The Abyss", and the title is from the same scene. In the movie, Bud Brigman (Ed Harris) uses the latest technology to travel himself to the deepest part of the ocean to save the lives of his friends and family. He doesn't tell the others until it is already clear, but he knew all along he would not be coming back. It didn't matter. He knew it was a one way trip, but there was no alternative. To those who choose to help humanity grow into the future, there will be no choice. To stay is a slow and pointless death. To go is a rich and vibrant life.
I won't be among them. I have too many people here that I love far too much, and they have no interest in such a journey. But I commend the idea, not travelers to a new world, but settlers. It's not unsettling. It's necessary.