I watched Alien Planet today. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a study in the hypothetical. A bunch of scientists, physicists, biologists, et, all, come together and discuss what different types of life could be like on a planet that may or may not exist. It features at first some singular and multi-celled organisms, and then gradually builds up to more and more complex creatures. It showcases one animal, dubbed a “Groveback” that I found particularly striking, mostly because it looks so damn happy.
When the Groveback was first mentioned, the immediate thing that came to my mind was, “ADF rituals in motion!”
In all seriousness, the space documentaries always leave me with a bit of an odd feeling, often bordering on a kind of a sadness. Sometimes it’s due to the sheer immensity of space. It just feels overbearing and so lonely. Often space documentaries tell of what is the predicted demise of a planet, solar system, or galaxy. While I understand the death or entropy is an inevitability, the destruction of such beautiful worlds can be heartbreaking. Phobos will someday crash into Mars, Deimos will break orbit and leave the red planet. Our Moon continues to move further and further away from Earth, and if wasn’t for the excellent shielding provided to us by Jupiter, we would have long ago been smashed by all the huge, fast-moving balls of ice, metal, and dust.
There is the theory that at the middle of every galaxy is a black hole, and we all just lurch toward the center, awaiting the time when all that we are or ever were gets sucked into oblivion, into nothingness.
It’s hard not to feel a bit nihilistic after that. Usually after watching something about space, I watch or read something about the oceans. It seems to calm my nerves and because it’s teeming with life and abundance which tends to make me feel like everything is going to be ok, or I watch a documentary about ancient civilizations. The pyramids, Stonehenge, Newspaper Rock, the cultural leavings of my ancestors is equally soothing. After learning about the tininess, the improbability of this haven of life rocking through dust older than any concept of time, there’s something to said about looking at what our ancestors accomplished. We matter.
I recently found out about the Mars One mission when I heard about the Fatwa placed on space travel by General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment. In short, they feel that attempting to reach Mars (and the Mars One mission is designed to be a one-way ticket) is akin to suicide and that is prohibited by the GAIAE. Per the reasoning, “Man’s life is not his or her own property; it is God’s creation, and therefore suicide is prohibited in all religions, and of course by law.”
I was talking to my partner about this, and asked if he would go to Mars if given the opportunity. He said he absolutely would, and I began to think on the question deeply. Leaving friends and beloved family would be difficult enough, but could I live without ever seeing a tree again? Or forests or rivers, or great, wondrous oceans? Could I live somewhere without any birds in the sky? Even in the city, there are pigeons and squirrels and stubborn grass poking through the cracks in the concrete, and ants milling about. On earth, life persists. Could I practice my religion on a space ship, and then on another planet? What about looking upwards and seeing a moon that is not that one that has been present for every day of my life? Or living somewhere so far away from my ancestors?
I honestly don’t know if I could.