mars, walking, and the power of a book

Recently, I have been thinking of walking on Mars. Wait…before you x out of this, let me explain…

In the news, between the local reports of spring shootings and the horrible details of war around the planet, there have been little bits of info bubbling up about the far-reaching plans of… not only getting to Mars, but living there – permanently, courtesy of the Mars One Project. This group is aiming for an unmanned mission by 2018, with a human settlement, (a human settlement!) by 2024. At this very minute, one hundred thousand people have applied for a one way ticket to Mars! We are an amazing species.

An illustration shows the proposed Mars One settlement. A manned mission to Mars is planned in nearly a decade.

I have been dreaming of and escaping to Mars my whole life. In grammar school, when I reverently accepted my very first library card, I vividly recall the Saturday morning when I first discovered the science fiction section and Ray Bradbury at the Cicero Public Library. Immediately I was hooked. Like a Lab fetching a tennis ball, I returned over and over, grabbing every story he’d written, obsessively seeking anything with the slightest scent of another world. I still have a copy of Martian Chronicles on a bookshelf today. His starry-eyed stories about Mars and Martians captured my imagination and caused me to think far, far outside of myself.

Next came the space alien – David Bowie, singing about space travel in “Space Oddity” and asking the question all of us Bradbury-philes had on the tip of our tongues…”Is there Life on Mars”?

Fast forward to today, and I will admit – I am a science fiction nerd. I have been steeped in Star Trek, mesmerized by Star Wars, and lulled into Oblivion. These movie’s, with their idealistic glimpses into the future of technology, civilization and travel, have dreamily transported me to new worlds.

This year, I have a new, favorite author (sorry Ray) –  Kim Stanley Robinson. In the last 6 months, courtesy of his elegant and visionary prose, I’ve taken an awesome trip spanning over 100 years. I’ve walked on red Mars, been part of the difficult cultural revolutions on green Mars, then happily retired on blue Mars – a hopeful place, where the air in the new atmosphere not only supplies oxygen, but a spirit of commitment by a collective of beings determined to craft a better world – the utopia Earth could have been.

I think it was fitting for me to finish the Mars Trilogy books in Arizona. I am not someone who will ever go to Mars, and I am OK with that. In fact, I wonder if it will truly happen in my lifetime, (I sincerely hope it does!). For now, I have my Arizona memories and the excellent imagination of KSR.  Hiking through the red desert, I envisioned what it would be like to walk upon Mars, to see it’s beauty with brand new eyes. I also thought about books and the power they hold when someone is curious enough to turn a page. Reminds me of walking – and that first unknown step out into a whole new world.

 

The colored sands in their patterns, the fluted and scalloped canyon walls, the volcanoes raising right through the sky, the rubbled rock of the chaotic terrain, the infinity of craters, ringed emblems of the planet’s beginning… Beautiful or harsher than that: spare, austere, stripped down, silent , stoic rocky, changeless. Sublime.    Red Mars – Kim Stanley Robinson


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