Science Corner: Mission to Malacandra

Image of Earth and Mars

Warning: interplanetary distances may not be to scale. (Public domain)

Several stories about traveling to Mars came my way from multiple sources; with all that is going on here on Earth, maybe everyone is thinking about getting away. Also, a new round of mission simulations is beginning, to answer questions about whether humans have the right stuff for the long voyage and relatively isolated experience on-planet. Some concerns are physiological, while others are psychological and sociological — will the minimal human contact drive the astronauts mad, and will they get on each others’ nerves? Previous simulations have suggested that an all-female crew might be the best bet, for logistical, medical, and mental reasons.

While these simulations may be necessary, I wonder if this is an area where stronger engagement with religious communities might be beneficial to the scientific endeavor. There are a variety of monastic traditions that might provide insights on how well humans can cope with living in small, self-contained communities. Their experiences might also be informative about habits or organizational structures that are most effective in those conditions. Who knows? Maybe nuns would make the best Mars colonists.

Traveling to Mars also makes me think of C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy. In those tales, Mars (or Malacandra to the locals) is inhabited by beings living in unbroken fellowship with God, having never chosen to sin. Perhaps our desire to visit our red neighbor is a manifestation of our longing to leave this broken world and be restored to relationship with our Creator.

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Andy Walsh

Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two elementary school students, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog.

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