Sunday, January 31, 2016

The View from Mars and the Copernican Perspective (Part III)

In my previous post, I said that the early Martian settlers might become frustrated as they experienced the Copernican Perspective and gazed at their former home (Earth) hanging like a star in the night sky of Mars.

            Why would they be frustrated, do you think?

            One simple answer is that life on Mars is going to be very difficult for the first settlers. There isn’t much of an atmosphere on Mars, it is cold, and the gravity is only 38 percent of what it is on Earth.

            Of course, we could see some immediate benefits in the low gravity. Moving large objects around and building shelters, for example, will be easier. When the Apollo missions traveled to the moon, we watched the astronauts bounding around on the lunar surface in ways that would have been impossible on Earth. And the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) find zero-G to be a delightful experience.

            Overall, however, the challenges will outweigh the benefits because human beings evolved over a long period of time to live on Earth, with its unique gravity, atmosphere, and weather. Mars is going to be very, very different and the first settlers will be millions of miles from the home planet.

            Like the early explorers of the New World on Earth, these “Martians” are going to feel dependent on the organizers of the mission back home, but they are going to quickly realize that they need to be as self-sufficient as possible. They are also going to realize that Earth can’t be much help to them, and might prove a hindrance.

            There is a time lag for communications between Earth and Mars that will make it even more difficult to have a good relationship between the settlers and those back home.

Imagine a crisis on Mars, such as a habitation dome collapsing, or a medical emergency, and the Martians need quick answers from the Earthlings. Waiting for the response, they gaze up into the night sky and see that tiny spot of light they once called home, unblinking and so far away, and the answer takes far too long.

            They will be…frustrated…

(To be continued)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The View from Mars and the Copernican Perspective (Part II)

We cannot predict, with any certainty, the impact on human thought, of seeing the Earth from Mars, but we can make some educated guesses.
            To begin with, we have, in a way, already seen the Earth from the Martian surface, through the eyes of the Curiosity Rover. On January 31, 2014, our robot explorer took a photo of the Earth and the moon just after sunset. Without enhancement, you really can’t see the moon, but the Earth from Mars looks a lot like Mars from the Earth. It resembles a bright star that doesn’t blink the way that stars do.
            In the context of the Overview Effect, it is worth noting that all the distinguishing features of our home planet, such as oceans, continents, and ice caps, disappear when seen from that great a distance. This is relevant because seeing the Earth from orbit or the moon still provides the viewer with those features. However, what is more striking is coming to understand that these features are parts of a whole system, the Earth itself.
            That is the essence of the Overview Effect.
            At some point, however, the Mars mission astronauts will move out beyond the moon and begin to see the Earth shrink in size until, closer to Mars, it looks like that unblinking star. At this singular moment, if not sooner, they will experience an enhancement of the Overview Effect that I have called “the Copernican Perspective.”
            The Copernican Perspective is a realization that the Earth is not only a whole, but is also a part, in this case of the solar system. While the Earth is relatively large as seen from orbit, and still quite an impressive sight when viewed from the moon, it will be rather easy to miss, or even ignore, when seen from Mars.
            Early Earthlings on the red planet may respond to this situation with homesickness. When we travel on the surface of the Earth, we often long for the familiar sights and sounds of our home country, which we can no longer see or hear.
            They may also react with a form of denial. After all, anyone who has volunteered to leave their home planet and establish a new civilization on an alien world must have settled accounts with themselves and their families, making the case that the adventure would be worth the sacrifices it entails.
            As they settle in and begin to create a new civilization, another sentiment may begin to develop: frustration.
 (To be continued)


Saturday, January 9, 2016

The View from Mars and The Copernican Perspective (Part I)

            Humanity is going to Mars.
            After decades of thinking about it, talking about it, planning for it, and imagining what it will be like, a critical mass of key people have now made the decision that this is our next major step in human evolution into the universe.
            Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, has made it clear over and over again that his vision is to establish a human settlement on Mars. His company is accepting contracts to supply the International Space Station (ISS) from NASA, and will send paying passengers into Low Earth Orbit to pave the way, but Mars is the ultimate goal.
            NASA, thanks to a major shift in policy, has abandoned Low Earth Orbit to private enterprise, and canceled plans for a return to the moon. Instead, the agency is turning its attention to Mars as well.
            Then, there is MarsOne, the private nonprofit enterprise offering settlers a one-way trip to the Red Planet.
            Many other nations are participating in what might be called “The Mars Project,” and there is much to say about it. However, let’s focus for a moment on what it means from an Overview Effect perspective.
            Bear in mind that when we talk about the Overview Effect as a shift in worldview that astronauts experience in Low Earth Orbit or on lunar missions, the moon represents the greatest distance anyone has traveled away from the Earth. At some point, the astronauts traveling to Mars (or the Martian settlers) will see the home planet from the greatest distance ever.
            We can only speculate on what impact that moment will have on their psyches, but we suspect it will engender an experience of the “Copernican Perspective,” a realization not only that the Earth is a whole, interconnected system, but that it is a part of a larger system, the solar system.
(To be continued)