During this last year there seems to have been a renewed interest in outer space. Larry Page of Google and others have started Planetary Resources with the aim of mining asteroids by 2020. Newt Gingrich promised a lunar colony during the republican presidential primary. And a couple weeks ago Mars One, a private company, announced their planes to send four people (one way) to Mars in 2023 as part of a reality show.
Is any of this really possible? Do we have the technology to fly all the way to Mars or to send a team of miners up into space with oversized drilling rigs? According to most sources the answer is ‘Yes, a lot of the technology already exists.’ The main detail that has been standing in the way is the lack of funds to pay for the expeditions. Mars One estimates it will cost 6 billion to send four people to Mars and set up a colony there. They plan on paying for it by putting on the biggest media event the world has ever seen. Planetary Resources is being funded by individuals like Hollywood director James Cameron, space tourism pioneer Eric Anderson, and Ross Perot Jr.
What does this have to do with writing? Besides the fact that being a novelist isolated on a Martian colony wouldn’t be so different than being one on Earth, both writing and space exploration offer the world hope. As Margaret Atwood elegantly noted in her 2012 keynote address, “Hope is a human constant. Without it we don’t get out of bed in the morning. But it is also a literary constant… We can’t possibly succeed unless we do in fact hope.” Like writing, the dream of a new frontier and a hero fighting his/her way to get there, offers us hope. Many of the people financing these space adventures were once boys in the 70s who felt that hope when we landed on the moon. Now, they’ve come back to try and turn that dream into a reality as well as give hope to a new generation. So, while spending billions of dollars on any of these privatized programs may sound insane at first, they may be worth it. Can you really put a price on humanities hope? As a writer I’ve always felt that giving people hope was the only real reason for spending over a decade scribbling out stories.
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