Do You Really Think We’re Throwing Our Lives Away?

Image credit: Bryan Versteeg

So you might have heard that Mars One has issued a press release addressing a fatwa that came out of the Muslim world, basically saying that people who signed up for Mars One are throwing their lives away. While the authenticity of this fatwa has been called into question and the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment, the organization it was credited to, denies that it ever existed, it’s good to see that Mars One isn’t ignoring something that might affect them.

Just to make it clear, I really don’t worry much about most Muslims. I can pass one on the street and not flinch with fear that he might set off a string of bombs strapped around his waist, not because I’m braver than most, but because I tend to assume that most people aren’t terrorists who want to kill me. I’m sure most Muslims know that’s a cowardly way to do things. You want to talk about people who throw their lives away, there you go. Suicide bombers don’t really accomplish much beyond killing themselves and a few others, stirring up some fear, and making most mainstream Muslims look bad.

Any religion is going to have its violent fringe element, and people who are inclined to violence don’t always need faith as an excuse to kill people. When it comes to people who might try to kill us all in a spectacular manner before we even get off the launchpad, I often picture that long-haired freak who blew up the spacecraft in the movie “Contact.” I know the movie is a work of fiction, but to me, that represents the fact that any serious space effort could well involve many nations, billions of dollars, and the efforts of many thousands of people, and then get blown to smithereens by one crackpot with a bomb. It becomes a symbol of what people like that dude would like to do if given a chance, if only because the media will take such a thing and run with it. Some people will do anything to get their fifteen minutes of fame, including hold back human progress and kill a few wannabe Martians who haven’t even left the planet yet. Religious or not, such things can’t be ignored.

Really, what is the point behind this maybe-fake fatwa saying that the Mars One mission is suicidal? I’ve mentioned in at least one other blog entry that I care more about personality than I do about the hajib somebody might be wearing. As far as I’m concerned, if any Muslim wants to ignore the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment’s maybe-opinion and join the party, they’re welcome to do so. I don’t even care if you are an atheist or worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster as long as you are comfortable enough in your own skin to not try to validate your own beliefs by constantly harassing your crewmates about theirs. All I care about is that we all get to Mars safely even if it means frustrating that crackpot in “Contact.”

If I wanted to throw my life away, I would probably go out and do something really stupid like, say, jump into the Illinois River. I’m not that great of a swimmer and the currents would probably pull me under. It probably wouldn’t accomplish much beyond maybe getting attention from some local newspapers and forcing the region to spend money putting up better protections to keep suicidal people from jumping into the river on their turf. By signing up for Mars One, at least the risk I take has a point. It could start people thinking about the challenges and the benefits of colonizing a new world in ways that we haven’t for at least a hundred years.

It’s good to see that Mars One recognizes that they can’t make the colonization of Mars completely safe even if they’ll do what they can to manage the risk. However, just because we might get smeared across the Martian landscape doesn’t automatically mean we’re throwing our lives away. It’s going to be a high-risk learning curve and I think the Mars One senior officials realize that. They even offered to work with the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment to assess the risk. Anyone who is applying to Mars One will have to stare both the risk and all the hard work right in the face and decide whether the potential rewards are worth it. I’m sure most of us would agree that it is.

Why We Should Take The Risk

Colonizing Mars isn’t going to be easy. Really it’s not. However, if you aren’t convinced that this is worth all the risk, here’s a good book to read.