Growing up, I was often referred to as "spacey." Friends and teachers noticed my tendency to daydream and teased me for it. Too often I would chat with my mom the whole ride home from school, only to remember I'd left my bookbag in my locker once we reached the front door.
It's funny how society has so little patience for those with their heads in the clouds, but our collective preoccupation with the cosmos is undeniable. Did any of you gaze up at the stars this past week? On the fringes of Columbus where light pollution is nil, the sky was a blanket of light.
Fifty-six years ago last Tuesday, Congress established NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This civilian agency became responsible for coordinating U.S. activities with space, opening another front in the Cold War (Russia did get up there first!). These days, as in decades past, NASA is getting revved up for its next exploration of Mars. The Mars 2020 Rover is souped up with unprecedented technology. Who knows what it will discover?
Intelligent life? Debatable. My sister's friend's husband applied to be one of the four selected voyagers to establish a human settlement on Mars in 2024. This one-way trip would be paid for and documented by the Mars One program, a nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands.
How much does it cost to ship four earthlings to Mars? Something like $6 billion. Then to keep them alive until their natural end? That cost is yet unknown. But Mars One expects that the profit from the reality show they'll air, covering the selection, voyage, and first years of life on Mars, should be able to cover it. I don't know what's crazier: volunteering for a vaguely budgeted one-way space mission or assuming a European film crew is going to be able to work on Mars without access to cigarettes.
My husband and I watched Alfonso Cuaron's film "Gravity" last fall and immediately gushed about it to our family. It was a visual feast, we felt, but they had less glowing reviews. "I got tired of watching her freak out all by herself in space," said my brother. Fair enough.
I guess that's it, then. Space has a polarizing effect on people. I have a couple of friends that could talk for hours about the wonder of the universe, its expanse and mystery, and our own identity as little peons in the grand scheme of things. But other friends get downright freaked out when that topic gets discussed too earnestly. They'd understandably prefer to ignore our existential conundrum here in the great unknown.
And some of us will read about NASA and Mars One, then wonder why folks are funneling so much money into space when "XYZ" is going on right here on Earth? I've filled in that blank myself while writing this column.
But I must admit, there's something pretty fascinating about these "spacey" folks that refuse to stay grounded and insist on floating beyond the clouds.
Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent correspondent. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cafeaulazy.