[Will there be] Life on Mars?

What exciting news that proper, wet water has been discovered on Mars! In my fuddled, amoebic, non-science brain even I have determined from the articles and interviews that this stunning news means human life can be supported on the red planet.

I wonder what David Bowie makes of the revelation. His question, written in song and released in 1971 is about to be answered, although to the disappointment of science fiction buffs we are not about to be treated to the sight of small green creatures sporting deely-bobbers but the ‘life’ is likely to be human; that is if plans to populate Mars come to execution.

Robots are to go ahead first and construct the accommodation, which is to be connected pods like those paper lampshades you used to be able get in Habitat. [As yet there are no plans for a ‘Mars Bar’]. I have no problem with the idea of robots building a house. They already construct cars and many other items. Of course you’d have to be certain they weren’t plotting something sinister like the evil Hal in Space Odyssey-but still…

Then-what? Who is to go? Once the circus of astronauts and scientists are done with Mars, what is the long term plan? This is an entire planet. What or who will it be used for? Should, perhaps, the entire population of Earth move there and leave all the hideous mess we’ve made on this world behind? Mars will be pristine and unsullied-also COLD, which means there will be far longer before global warming takes hold. It will take aeons of greenhouse gases wafting around before the atmosphere is irrevocably ruined, by which time another life-support-planet will have been identified. Hooray!

Or should Mars be used to deposit all our detritus so that our own, cosy, familiar Earth becomes viable again. Perhaps all the poisonous waste from nuclear power, all those plastic bottles that are supposed to be recycled but float around the world on enormous ships instead, cigarette ends and doggy poop could go up there?

Or should we offer Mars to Islamic State so that they can go off and commit their vile atrocities to their hearts content and leave us to live our impure lives as we please? Oh no wait, if we are not there they have no one to bomb, behead or torture; also they are pledged to expand their territory, meaning they’d have to capture nearby planets-the nearest being-yes, Earth.

There is no rush to decide the fate of Mars. NASA is dithering about probing further into the water issue owing to worries about introducing a bug into the pristine atmosphere there. Heaven [apologies] forbid that we humans should give the Martians a dose of the measles, flu or the common cold. Isn’t it a shame mankind could not have had such scruples when our own Earth was pristine and innocent…?

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Travel or Holiday? What’s the Difference?

We are travelling across The Netherlands, meandering slowly northwards with the aim, having negotiated Germany and Denmark of an eventual stay with a Norwegian friend. The Dutch countryside, though flat as a table-top is scenic in a bucolic way and the villages chocolate box pretty with their thatched, angular, barn-style roofs and manicured gardens. [I suppose the analogy of the chocolate box must be becoming obsolete nowadays-as a child I was used to seeing the array of assorted chocolate boxes ranged along the top shelf of the village shop and all bore images of thatched cottages or streets of half-timbered houses. Heaven knows why…]

All this prettiness is, of course very uplifting. But to enjoy travel [or a holiday-whether the two are the same is a matter for debate] every sight need not be picture-book gorgeous, in fact quite the contrary-some of the ugliest views can provide the best travel experiences.

Take docks. We sailed overnight last night from Harwich in Essex [East coast UK] to Hoek von Holland [The ‘Hook’]. Harwich is a tiny port, occupied almost entirely by the two sailings of one ferry company. The enormous ship dwarfs the quay as lorries crawl up the ramp like swarming insects to be swallowed up by the gaping mouth of the vehicle decks. At last it was our turn to be swallowed, trundling across the metal gantry and shuffling into a narrow space between two caravans. We downed a couple of drinks, chatting to some touring Americans to one side and some touring Australians on the other before tumbling into bed in our cabin.

We woke to the view of Rotterdam, a forest of cranes and pylons all engaged in loading or unloading container ships. How many containers can there be in the world? One per head of the population? You could be forgiven for thinking so. The containers look like children’s bricks as they are plucked from the quayside in giant pincers and placed with meticulous accuracy on to the wide, flat deck of a ship, piled to an impossible height until it seems the vessel might topple sideways-and yet there is one on the horizon, disappearing somewhere with its unwieldy cargo.

We ground to a halt in the berth and descended to the depths to rejoin out vehicles and a long wait for our turn to disembark. Then we were away into the Netherlands and Northwards.

I attempt to make sense of the signs. ‘Slag boom’ says one, or ‘sluiz-droomen’, or broodjes slommen’. The Dutch language seems to consist of faintly abusive and insulting words although they are in fact all innocuous terms for everyday objects. We cross ‘dijks’ and wait for ‘brugs’ to open and allow boats to pass on the countless  waterways that make up the country-once passing underneath an aqueduct bearing sailing ships-an astonishing sight. We cross huge barrages like driving across the sea, where on either side cormorants are gathered, spreading their wings to dry before plunging after another fish, or tall grey herons poised motionless along the roadsides.

So to Germany then-ausfahrts, glottlestops and beer-swilling, thigh-slapping efficiency-ah, but only for one night!

Mars-Travelling Hopefully-Never to Arrive

If the writers in my writing group, The Spokes had begun writing whilst young I’ve no doubt that any one, or all of them would, by now have become best-selling authors. As it is we have left starting on the writing journey much, much too late. This is not a catastrophe-as we none of us are dependent on writing for an income [just as well] and all most of us want at this stage is some recognition.
This week there were a variety of readings as usual; one extremely hilarious on the subject of political correctness gone mad, another a whimsical tale of neighbourly domestics, one a police drama, one an extract from a [very promising] mystery novel and one a science fiction short on the subject of a manned mission to Mars. The Mars story got me thinking. An expedition to establish a human colony on Mars is no longer the stuff of sci-fi drama and written fiction. It is most definitely on the cards and is, as I write, being planned.
I understand that humans are programmed to want to know about everything within their world and beyond it. I understand that exploration and science are vital for any improvements in any area in the future. But I do think it dispiriting that having made an unholy mess of one planet, man is now set on going off to another one and messing that one up, too. It is not difficult to imagine how Mars will be in the future-over-populated, polluted and beset by tribal, religious and power wars. It all has a depressing predictability. Humankind as a species is programmed to cock up…isn’t it?
There is a wonderful children’s book called ‘Dinosaurs and all that Rubbish’, about a wealthy industrialist who, having destroyed his own environment sees a beautiful star and wants to travel there. In his absence Earth is restored by the forces of nature, becoming beautiful again and unrecognisable to him. Thinking it is another beautiful ‘star’ he returns and is taught his lesson. Simplistic, yes-pertinent, also yes.
In 2013, more than 200,000 people applied to become part of the Mars mission.          Although there is no upper age limit [applicants must be over 18], a cursory glance at the application criteria is enough to demonstrate that an attempt from the likes of me would be futile since I am defective in most areas. Besides being dependent on medication I am also prone to aches and pains, as well as inclined to believe the apocalypse has come when there is a power cut.
But surely we should be putting our own house in order before going off and getting another one?
Once you have reached that age where there is more of life behind you than in front, do plans such as these seem to ease the pressure of life ending? Or are you excited enough in your dotage to want to know the outcome of such exploits? Myself I feel we are most fortunate not to have the choice.