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On the Dangers of Attempting Mars [Feb. 18th, 2015|10:30 am]
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[Current Mood |awake]

So all of a sudden articles are sprouting up warning that the people who may (or may not) be headed for Mars on a private venture are likely to die, they're all *doomed*, and this is horrible, and it can't be allowed to happen.

Seriously?  Everyone making that argument is ALSO going to die (albeit not on the way to, or on, Mars) and some of them are likely to die even sooner than the Mars crews (if they actually take off) from any of the many causes of mortality right here.  People die.  It's what we do.  It is, besides being born, the most comprehensive and universal thing people do.  We all die.  We don't all eat any particular food.  We don't all have sex.  We don't all speak any particular language.  We don't all have sight (some are born blind) or hearing (ditto) or like/dislike/believe/disbelieve/ any particular thing, but we're all born (with or without medical assistance) and we all die (with or without medical assistance.).

So fretting that people who choose to go on an expedition they know is dangerous are going to die...is silly, and also presumptuous.  Humans have been dying for tens of thousands of years.  The ones who stayed home died.  The ones who migrated died.  The ones who went out and did dangerous things, new things, died in droves. The ones who fought in wars and the civilians in whose lands war raged died.  Every time someone set to sea in a boat, or went down a mine to return with some treasured mineral, or went up in the air in a balloon, kite, dirigible, aircraft...the possibility of death rode their shoulders, and many times the reality of death came to them.  People die of their own carelessness, their own ignorance, their own refusal to think ahead...but the prudent who may live somewhat longer will did in the end, of something else.  Nothing--not a "healthy diet," not the right supplements, not "staying fit", not  excellent medical care, not "healthy genes"--will keep someone alive forever, though it may (only may) make one's lifespan more pleasant longer.

I am alive as I write this, a few weeks from being 70, and my death may be less than a minute away (if I have a catastrophic stroke, a heart attack, or the house blows up--we use propane for heating--or an angry person barges in and blows my head off.  Or it may be thirty years (with one parent who lived to almost 102, that's a possibility) or more, or any point in between. Today, tomorrow, the day after, next week, next month, next year, next decade...or two...  In one or another scenario (the kind novelists can think up easily) I might die of suffocation, of poison gas, of drowning, of deliberate attack by individuals or groups, of unintentional (but effective) carelessness or incompetence of an individual or group, of the incidental breakdown of technology designed and maintained by fallible humans, of infectious disease, of non-infectious disease like cancer or auto-immune disease, of attack by an animal or unintentional injury by an animal.  Like many of us, I have thought about how I'd like to die...but I know (six years as an EMS volunteer in a rural area taught me) that this is a wish, not a reality.

I will continue to put myself in situations in which such deaths are slightly more likely (driving a car on a crowded highway, riding on public transportation, riding my bike on streets shared with cars and trucks, disagreeing with people who may turn violent, joining others to protest policies I think wrongheaded, quite possibly riding horses at speed again (I hope), trying new foods (to which I might, though unlikely, be allergic), because a) that's what life is, and b) I know that no amount of being careful will keep me alive forever.  I know my death is inevitable, and I'm a lot closer to it now than I was at birth.  And that's the way it is: it's like gravity, just there.  When I fall and hit the ground and it hurts, I can wish gravity didn't have that effect  (not a fan of broken ribs, personally), but it does have that effect and wishing doesn't change it.  Death is in my future.  I feel no desire to "rage" about that.  I feel a desire to knit more socks, cook more meals, walk the land as long as I can, sing more great music, write more stories, love friends and family, do stuff, keep on being alive until...I'm not.

So: assuming the people planning on that trip to Mars weren't shanghaied off the street corner, snatched from their own homes...yes, they will die, but they will die in no worse case than many others in human history.  They are no crazier than the people who went on one or another exploratory voyage, the ones who left a familiar place to go try to find a better one, the ones who experimented with electricity or steam power, or internal combustion engines.

(EDITED today, February 19)   Note: All "Anonymous" posts go to moderation.   if you are not a LJ member and post anonymously, you should identify yourself in some reasonable way in your comment ("Hi, I'm J. Brown from Iowa, a soybean farmer.  I've read your LJ before and this is the first time I've posted..." or "I'm Mary S, I post as @[some interesting moniker] on Twitter and this is my first time here")  before the comment.  Otherwise, you may sit in moderation a LONG time as the moderator ponders whether this is a can of worms best left untouched, and gets on with the moderator's other work.  Posting as "Anonymous" without introducing yourself at all is like wearing a ski mask when you walk into someone's house...there's a certain suspicion about people who aren't willing to disclose their identity. 

[User Picture]From: judith_dascoyne
2015-02-18 04:43 pm (UTC)
It makes me wonder what 'they' are trying to prevent. As you say, we all die. Going to (or trying to) Mars sound to me like a truly amazing thing and well worth that risk.

There is no such thing as safe. Safe, like perfection is only an indication of intent, not an attainable goal.
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[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2015-02-18 05:26 pm (UTC)
Who wants to be safe? If I'd wanted safe, I'd have stayed in small-town America, married the boy who grew up to run his father's gas station and never lived in Greece, Italy, England, Finland & Estonia.
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[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2015-02-18 05:11 pm (UTC)
Totally agree. No way I could have put it better.
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[User Picture]From: aunty_marion
2015-02-18 05:15 pm (UTC)
Hear, hear. *applauds quietly*
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[User Picture]From: saare_snowqueen
2015-02-18 05:27 pm (UTC)
Totally agree. No way I could have put it better.
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From: geekmerc
2015-02-18 05:59 pm (UTC)
They are just afraid of their own mortality and trying to impress their concepts of control and safety on others; refusing to realize that control and safety are an illusion.

I made a decision when I was a teenager and could actually give thought to my future. I could live forever and have a safe and boring life, or I could have adventure, excitement, and actually do and learn things at the expense of dying young. As a teenager, it was simple. We live forever or we die young. I made it to 38 and I don't regret my life. It has been fantastic. In fact, lately it seems to be a little boring so I've been making a lot of changes. I still think I'll die young. My definition of young has just changed. :)

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2015-02-18 07:02 pm (UTC)
What you realize at my age (and boy is it fun to be able to say that without feeling silly!) is that if you continue to live rather than run from death, at whatever age you die, you will have died young. It isn't the years that age you (they age the body, dagrabbit) but withdrawing from life, usually in an attempt to avoid something. (OK, I avoid being without dark chocolate, yarn in the stash, something to read and something to write on, but that's not quite the same thing. I hope.)

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From: geekmerc
2015-02-18 07:45 pm (UTC)
That is exactly the theory I've been holding to. I plan to feel the same way if I do reach your age.

My life probably won't affect millions as yours has, but then I suspect the knowledge that your books actually change lives doesn't hit as close to home as your closer relationships do.

Okay, I might be exaggerating. I only can attest to one case where your books have made an impact, but it is the only important one; mine.
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From: abwarwick
2015-02-18 09:14 pm (UTC)
Hear, hear!
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[User Picture]From: livejournal
2015-02-18 06:32 pm (UTC)
Hello! Your entry got to top-25 of the most popular entries in LiveJournal!
Learn more about LiveJournal Ratings in FAQ.
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[User Picture]From: calico_pye
2015-02-18 09:32 pm (UTC)
Love this entry :-)
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[User Picture]From: msminlr
2015-02-19 05:21 pm (UTC)
As credentialled rocket scientist Dr. Jordin Kare wrote of the first cosmonaut:

"And he knew he might not make it,
For it's never hard to die,
But he lifted off the pad
And rode a fire in the sky!"
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2015-02-19 05:37 pm (UTC)
Another point to consider--and some of you probably have--is that exploitation is rampant in many areas, from the Third World sweatshops, to international human trafficking, to land theft from indigenous peoples, to pollution of air, water, and soil resources damaging the health of those who must live near the sources thereof, to the ruination of the entire planet via resource extraction causing climate change for the profit of a few.

What is the claimed "exploitation" of a few volunteers--people with the money, education, and privilege to apply for a place on the trip to Mars--against this? And where is the indignation from the sources worried about the fate of a few volunteers when it comes to the victims of existing exploitation? There is indignation--and contributions and action--from others--but we others aren't nearly as worried about the people on a rocket to Mars. They had a choice. Children born into crushing poverty, into an area where they can be killed, mutilated, stolen to be sold into slavery because they're in school, into an environment where the air, water, or dust may shorten their lives--have no choice. People whose homes are inundated by rising sea level have no choice. People whose previously clean rivers are fouled by "mountain-topping" have no choice. People whose protein source--fish--disappears because of deep-sea destruction of entire fish stocks have no choice.

That's where the indignation about exploitation should be going.
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[User Picture]From: Gareth Griffiths
2015-02-23 09:22 am (UTC)

Risk assessment v Risk averse

In the UK I'm seeing a few hopeful signs that we are slowly emerging here from a culture that that has lost the sense of taking responsibility for ones own actions. Risk assessment had turned into Risk Averse. Taking risks is part of life - risk assessment is an essential skill - from the simplest should I walk down that staircase (normally fine... but when older or with a leg in paster on crutches?) to shall I climb that tree (when younger). Learning to assess risks and potential consequences is a critical skill. These days we see everyone trying to say that someone else should have done the assessment for you - 'caution hot water' on taps etc. What is acceptable risk for a particular gain is a personal judgement - some people are born entrepreneurs - they take risks for potential large reward, others are not. Trying to make either 'conform' to the norm is cruel. We are individuals not elements off a production line.

Note that I'm not saying people should take stupid risks - exploring the wilderness with no proper equipment is foolhardy. Exploring the wilderness with equipment and skills is wonderful.

Without explorers and pioneers many lands would not be what they are today (especially the US). I can see 'should not be allowed' if it would cause major risk to other people. Traffic laws apply constraints for the good of all, but if someone chooses to explore new territory (space the final frontier...) I would warn them that there is no hope of rescue if it all goes wrong but applaud their attempt.

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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2015-02-24 09:04 pm (UTC)

Re: Risk assessment v Risk averse

Yeah, that's pretty much my view. Are the foreseeable risks disclosed? Then bon voyage, I hope you make it, and if you don't I'll write a song about you. Or something. Plant a tree (as I've done for Shuttle disasters.)
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[User Picture]From: kkatowll
2015-02-23 09:30 pm (UTC)
People should let other people peaceably risk their lives. It would be an awesome trip.

That said, I would discourage it if there was a reasonable likelihood of the ship exploding or otherwise failing to get to Mars. I'd like it to be successful so that investors are encouraged to continue to invest and eventually get a fullblown colony on other planets.
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