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Red Planet Bound
by Evan Plant-Weir

Mars, Meaning and COVID Fatigue

Image by Author using Licensed Elements

As we quickly approach the grim milestone of two consecutive years in a global pandemic, many of us are experiencing a feeling of growing despair. Once again, our holiday season is marred by uncertainty in the shadow of a new and potent COVID-19 variant.

The rapid and shocking spread of Omicron is pushing us apart, precisely when we are meant to come together. The closing of a year should be a time for celebration of the little victories, and yet we find ourselves battening down the hatches in preparation for yet more sacrifice and loss.

What we initially hoped would be a brief skirmish with this tiny, unseen adversary has become a prolonged and convoluted siege. Consequently – once more – we find ourselves behind a blockade that is restricting our access to a sense of human closeness, stability, and relative normalcy.

At times like this, the dream of Mars settlement can feel remote. In the torrent of media and shifting pandemic information, the red planet might feel a little more distant than usual. Even for the strongest space exploration advocates, the goal of humans-to-Mars can seem somewhat inaccessible in the face of such a pressing global issue.

In truth, however, the dream of Mars has never been so important as it is right now.

We are experiencing a moment of exhaustion as a society. After more than 600 days under siege, with questionable prospects for an end to the ordeal, how could it be otherwise?

In addition to the urgent need for us to take direct action against this shared enemy, it is also increasingly critical that we tend to our mental health as individuals and as a society.

There are various important resources and tools for building our cognitive immunity to this crisis. Perhaps among the most impactful is the preservation of a sense of meaning.

The dream of Mars offers this to every human in plentitude. Whoever you are, wherever you live, you can play an important role in the future of our species by participating in that vision.

You don’t need to be an astronaut or physicist. There’s no dubious, expensive 10-step program. You can get involved as little or as much as you like, and the ways in which you can contribute are virtually endless.

Reaching beyond our atmosphere isn’t just about doing hard science and building rockets. Successful settlement of the red planet will depend just as much on a shift in our culture, that unfolds as the result of a million small efforts by everyday people.

Whether you’re a physicist or plumber, coal miner or Nobel laureate, one of the most important projects in the history of our species has a place for you. You can make a real difference today, and you can do it during a pandemic lockdown.

Ancient river beds on Mars (Credit: NASA, Source)

Normalize the Conversation

The easiest way to play a small part in the settlement of Mars is to simply bring it up in conversation. Many (and perhaps most) individuals in your network may never have actually considered it. Sure, they might have browsed some science articles in passing, or briefly pondered the idea while watching a Hollywood film, but they haven’t yet considered the possibility in earnest.

For me, some of the most meaningful discussions on this subject have been with those for whom it was a completely new and challenging proposition.

“Wait, you’re saying that this might actually happen?”

“Why would we do that?”

Whether they love the idea or find it bizarre, having these fascinating (sometimes enjoyable, sometimes difficult) conversations with our peers will ultimately constitute the foundation of our cultural shift into a multi-planet species.

By normalizing the subject, we gradually close the conceptual divide between Mars as a far away, alien place, and Mars as an inevitable and essential part of our shared future.

As a bonus, it gives us an opportunity to focus on exciting and hopeful things to come, rather than dwelling on the latest dreadful covid statistics.

Get Involved

If you want to take on more than just casual conversation, there are numerous ways to get involved. If you’ve got some time to spare – be it a few hours a week, or just one day a year – there are various volunteering opportunities for anybody who shares the dream of Mars.

As a volunteer myself, I can attest to the quality and character of the humans-to-Mars community. We are a quickly growing collection of scientists, laborers, engineers, tradespeople, artists, writers, and everything in between.

In a time punctuated by social distance and lockdown isolation, joining that community can offer a unique and meaningful way to make new connections.

There may even be a chapter in your area and, if not, you could consider starting one yourself.

Support the Cause

When Robert Zubrin, founder of The Mars Society spoke with Elon Musk during the 2020 Mars Society convention, Musk pointed out:

“Where the will and the way intersect, we will have a multi-planet species”.

He was referring to both the desirability (the will) and the affordability (the way) of Mars Settlement.

Whereas the blooming private space industry – including of course Musk’s own SpaceX – is developing the technical means to get to Mars, it is largely up to us as citizens of Earth to develop and spread a willingness to take on that project.

“You provide the way, and we’ll provide the will” proposed Zubrin, to which Musk enthusiastically replied “yes, exactly!”.

The Mars Society is working hard to educate and inspire the public on Mars settlement, and to share a positive vision for our future as a species.

One of the most impactful ways for you to contribute to that mission is to donate or become a paying member. By doing so, you can play a direct and meaningful role in one of the most significant transitions of human history.

However you choose to participate, the dream of Mars settlement has never been so relevant as it is at this moment. We need a hopeful and exciting version of our future to aim towards, especially during dark times.

Happy Holidays to all. Be safe, be well, and keep dreaming big.

Evan Plant-Weir HBSc, is co-founder of The Mars Society of Canada. He is a passionate space exploration advocate, creative writer, science communicator, and content creator. Access Evan's LinkedIn Page.