It’s the cruel joke of the universe. The longevity of man simply doesn’t scale to the unfathomable expanses of the cosmos. Our closest neighbor, the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, is 25,000 light years away. Even if you could survive the trip–suspended in deep hibernation or maybe frozen in time by the confounding laws of light-speed travel–everyone you know on Earth would be long gone. In fact, the temporal expanse of our civilization’s history would have occurred five more times.
To travel the stars, we’ll likely need to leave everything we know behind.
Under this light, The One-Way Ticket, by Joseph Popper, doesn’t seem so extreme. His proposal is for a one-way trip into space, a spaceship piloted by an astronaut who knows they have no possibility of coming home. The idea unto itself isn’t entirely new, but Popper has proposed this one-way voyage for a two-year excursion to Mars, at which time oxygen and food supplies will have run out for the pilot, and the ship will continue on into the galaxy. It’s all based on current science and technology. And his “zero budget, zero gravity” film is a haunting exploration of the idea–episodes transmitted from a ship in which one man leaves Earth in a capsule of his own thoughts.
But while a one-way trip into space may not seem so crazy to many of us, a one-way trip to Mars would feel like a waste, because with enough funding we could feasibly make this roundtrip well within human lifetimes (the Mars rovers have simply proven a more prudent approach to explore the terrain and atmosphere before launching humans and hoping for the best). The biggest catch, really, is funding, and the fact that current legislation doesn’t have NASA’s manned mission to Mars on the books until 2030. (You could argue that better propulsion technology that’s on the horizon would make the trip faster, too, meaning there is some logic behind a 2030 launch date beyond budgetary prudishness. You could also argue that funding such a trip would lead to faster innovations in that space.)
Regardless, Popper’s vision reminds us how lonely space could be–that the psychological challenge may be every bit as large as the technical ones.
[Hat tip: We Make Money Not Art]