This week NASA announced that they’d found evidence of liquid water on Mars. Wow. That would have been really handy for Mark Watney (‘The Martian’, Andy Weir) to have known. He spent a good portion of his time on Mars struggling with the problem of creating water—even blowing himself up once before he got the process right.
Then again, perhaps just knowing that water was there might not have been enough. Unless something dramatic had changed between his time and today, he might not even have been able to make himself his early morning cup of tea (“I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’.” Andy Weir), unless he checked his paperwork first. The internationally ratified Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (not making this up, honestly) has very strict rules about who, or what, can be allowed in the vicinity of any water source on any other planet for fear of contaminating it with life from Earth. Again. Wow. Way to think ahead. (It’s a shame we can’t be as thoughtful in our considerations of what we contaminate our water supplies with closer to home, but that’s a whole other blog.)
Because of this discovery of water on Mars scientists are now even more excited about the prospect of finding life there, but, sadly, it would likely not be the kind of life that could have given Mark directions about how to get home. Arthur C Clarke wrote “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” I have absolutely no idea whether there is life out there in the vast dark reaches of unexplored space, but I have to say I really truly hope there is. How cool would that be? And how sad if we ‘puny humans’ (as the Hulk likes to call us) are the best that the universe has to offer.
I am well aware of course that there don’t appear to be hordes of other-worldly beings lining up at the local spaceport to pop over for a visit to our blue planet. And now our ‘fly-bys’ of Mars have given us a much better idea of what is actually down there and what is not, it appears that ‘Martians’ at least will not be among those likely to drop by Earth in the near future. It seems we are going to have to look further afield for our first off-planet visitors (that’s always assuming ‘they’ haven’t surreptitiously visited us already of course).
Shame really. Don’t misunderstand me—science–fact is pretty fabulous these days. No end of wonderful discoveries, breakthroughs and possibilities, but it is not nearly as much fun as science-fiction. It seems to me that we had much more enjoyment out of Mars before we knew so much about the reality of it. We fantasised about it, wrote books about it, made TV shows and blockbuster movies about it—we even had our favourite Martian cartoon characters (mine is Marvin, not in small part because he has a dog as a sidekick. A green dog. And that’s weird—not the dog, who wouldn’t want a dog for a sidekick—but the green thing. Why would we ever have thought that Mars, the ‘Red Planet’, the colour of blood and fire, would generate a population of ‘little green men’? Do we really imagine Mars, the Roman God of War to be a little green man with wobbly antennae??)
Anyway—maybe the reason we have not yet been visited (if indeed we have not) is because any prospective interplanetary callers are already well aware of how they would be received. They would only have to take out a three-month subscription to Stan or Netflix and watch ‘War of the Worlds’, ‘Independence Day’, ‘Battlefield: Los Angeles’ or ‘District 9’ to see that many of us would automatically assume that any unearthly visitors would surely be out to rape and pillage our planet, take over our brains and bodies (although that might be enough to send them back screaming from whence they came) and rain wave after wave of horror and destruction down upon us. And, after becoming aware of our propensity for do-unto-them-before-they-do-unto-us thinking (They don’t come in peace!) it is hardly surprising that they probably decided to make a lucrative deal with the next solar system over to the left and spend their annual holidays where the host beings are much more hospitable. Our loss.
Now having said all that you might think that I have a problem with sci-fi movies. And you would be absolutely wrong. I adore them. Even the really bad ones. Even the really old and really bad ones (with the really dodgey alien masks, where you can see the fingers moving the plastic monsters and the wires holding up the spacecraft as they wobble past). And, yes, even the ones where we are all mortally terrorised by marauding invading aliens and, after two hours of unrelenting mass destruction and millions of deaths, we the underdog, send them all packing back to where they came from with their tails (antennae?) tucked firmly between their legs (tentacles?), and rise triumphant from the ashes to rebuild our shattered world. (Cue the epic music.) And if there is actually some kind of story lurking amongst the myriad special effects . . . well that’s just a bonus.
I am perfectly aware that this makes me sound like a 14 year old sci-fi geek trapped inside this 56 year old body but, you know what, that’s OK. If a ticket to the movies can make me feel like a 14 year old anything again I’m all for it— and it’s a whole lot cheaper than other options out there. 😉 I wish I was clever enough to be considered a real geek. It is the sci- and sci-fi geeks that got us to Mars in the first place, and with luck and a whole lot of talent and far-reaching imagination, they will will be the ones to get us a lot further out there.
But until that day, and until my kind of science-fiction become science-fact, I think I’ll go fix me a Pan Galactic Gargle-Blaster (considered by the ‘Guide’ to be the “Best Drink in Existence”. Its effects are similar to “having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick”. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams), and cruise the channels in search of some wild and woolly space pirates cutting a swathe aross ‘a galaxy far far away’.
Live Long and Prosper . . .