February 12, 2004

Worrying About Mars

Unless you've been living in a spider hole for the past month or so, you should be aware that NASA has successfully landed two rovers on the surface of the planet Mars. So, Saddam Hussein, if you're reading this, and I know you are, you are excused for not knowing about the Mars rovers.

The Mars rovers are amazing machines, capable of toddling about on the Martian surface with an impressive array of scientific equipment intended to perform important and valuable scientific things. For example, the two rovers, which cost a combined total of $820 million (which, according to statistical reports, is a heck of a lot of money), have confirmed that the surface of Mars contains such substances as hematite and olivine.

You and I, and maybe even you, too, Saddam, would likely refer to hematite and olivine more colloquially as "rocks." Sure, they're rocks with important sounding names but, let's face it, they're still rocks. So, to recap: two rovers, at $820 million, sent millions of miles through space, combined their efforts to find. . . rocks.

I kid, of course. I think the Mars rovers are amazing technological achievements, and I think space exploration has been, is, and always will be, a worthwhile human pursuit that will no doubt continue to find more and more impressively-named rocks throughout the galaxy. And I think it's exciting that we're on the verge of sending actual human beings, otherwise known as "people," through the vastness of space to land on distant planets to verify, without a shadow of a doubt, that what the rovers deem to be rocks are, indeed, rocks.

Still, I worry about sending people to Mars, and not because of the inherent dangers and unknowns of prolonged space travel and the very real possibility of dying en-route. I mean, I'd personally consider it an honor to be sent to Mars and be the first human being, or "person," to verify the presence of rocks. That would be pretty cool.

But, no, my worries stem more from a language point of view. After all, once we start plopping people on Mars with any regularity, our language will no doubt be vastly changed.

For example, nowadays, we commonly hear the phrase "men are from Mars, women are from Venus." Heck, there's even a book with that title, I think, although I wouldn't be caught dead reading the thing. Still, what happens when we have both men AND women living on Mars. You can't quite say that men are exclusively from Mars any more now can you? No, you'd have to be all politically correct about it.

You'd start out saying "men are from Mars, women are from Venus," but then you'd have to stop and correct yourself by saying something like "well, I guess there are SOME women on Mars, too, but you get my meaning, don't you?" See? That's just messed up. Here we have a nice little linguistic method for outlining the differences between men and women, and suddenly we're all poised to discard that all in the name of the scientific pursuit of rocks.

Or, consider the whole concept of "Martians." Sure, we've pretty much established that there are no Martians on Mars, but it's still fun to think about Martians. Now, however, we really have to pause and consider the ramifications of having habitable colonies on Mars and how that will affect our use of the word "Martians." Think about it: let's say a human being is born on Mars. Well, that baby certainly isn't an earthling, at least not by the strict definitions set forth by my own mind. No, that baby would be a Martian. It would still be a human, but it would be a Martian human. That's really just too confusing.

Which brings up another thing. In today's language, if you want to point out to someone that they're totally out of touch about something, it's kind of hip to taunt them by saying, "Dude, where have you been? Mars?" But, see, in a post-Mars colonization era, you couldn't say that to someone, because there'd be the possibility that they have, indeed, been on Mars. And, holy smokes, how awkward would THAT be? It would just totally backfire on you, and then you'd be left standing there feeling all stupid.

So, although I think pursuing a manned mission to Mars is a worthwhile pursuit, I think we had best put a lot of thought into who we want to send there first. It has to be someone expendable, because there's a really good chance they'll die. And, it should really be a male, so we can maintain the "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" meme for quite some time yet. It should also be a person who we're comfortable referring to as a Martian. And, utimately, we should send someone who we're just fine with living out his final days carefully scrutinizing rocks.

Yeah, I'm looking at you, Saddam.

Posted by Ryan at February 12, 2004 12:25 PM
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