Columns / Discourse / September 18, 2008

The luscious red planet

On July 31st, NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander collected a sample of real, honest-to-goodness liquid water on our friendly neighboring planet. There had always been hints that Mars was host to nature’s Gatorade; there are long ditches criss-crossing the planet that look remarkably like dried up rivers, and it is capped on both ends with extremely frozen ice, but never before had NASA-bots collected a moist, gooey surface sample. This is an exciting discovery for both extraterrestrial life enthusiasts, who have since been citing the Mars water as evidence for everything from crop circles to UFOs to why their spouses have left them, and hydrologists, who have not gotten this much press since it was determined that water was a convenient substitute for mastodon blood. The collection of Martian H2O, however, is a major breakthrough for the entire human race, and as such, we should be much more pumped about it. It means we can end this will-they-won’t-they nonsense, ditch Earth, and finally hook up with Mars.

Earth and humanity got together about 200,000 years ago, and people, you have got to admit, it has always been pretty bumpy. Earth was still in the process of getting over those giant lizards, and we were just so young and new to the scene, that it was easy to believe Earth really thought we were special. The early parts were good. We spent years, centuries, just marveling at Earth’s chiseled mountain ranges, its feather-soft grasslands, its sea-blue oceans… in those days, Earth took care of itself, and it definitely showed. We were little more than schoolgirls, fascinated and awed by our crush and thrilled at our unbelievable luck. Earth wanted us. We were engulfed in that hazy infatuation period for a long time.

Even then, however, it was obvious Earth had its eye on other creatures. When it froze up during the ice age, or when it blew up all over us at Pompeii, we felt worthless and scared, but the tramp-tastic cockroach, with its huge thorax and glistening pincers, never seemed to suffer. Earth also spent ages making things like parrots and lemurs comfortable in their precious rain forests, while we were stuck slaving away in a desert, wandering aimlessly and eating sand. Hey, Earth, we would have liked some mangoes, too. Of course, Earth always buttered us up with unexpected oases and cool rain. No matter how horribly it treated us, Earth always made up for it. We could not stay mad. We noticed that red light, winking at us at night while Earth thought we were sleeping, but we did not give it much thought. We were with a good planet that just had some problems, that was all.

When we started trying to get Earth interested in things we liked, like irrigation and pottery, it seemed happy to do so. We got to spend a lot of time together while we farmed Earth’s surface, and it made us feel connected. Also, we got free meals out of the deal, and that was not so bad, either. Older now, we naturally started looking beyond Earth, scoping out what was out there, but never with any serious thought of getting together with, say, the moon. All of that astronomy stuff was harmless, idle fantasy, and it was empowering to have a little secret, while Earth was away stuffing pandas with bamboo. Always, there was Mars, peeking just over the horizon to watch us do our little dances. Just a little innocent flirting, nothing more, but we cannot say we were not intrigued.

Eventually, all of our efforts to better the Earth and ourselves were met with frightening hostility. Whereas once our agriculture was a fun activity we both enjoyed, more years than not we got nothing for it but famine. When we tried to mine the earth of all of that filthy coal, we got black lung. Though we spent eons trying to figure Earth out, all of it was still a mystery, even after being together for so long. It was not healthy, and with our telescopes and astrolabes, we were growing more interested in that loner in the distance.

Going to the moon was the first step. Sure, it was just a couple of short, sweet flings, but it really got us thinking about what we want out of a planet. Do we want to be in an environment where all of our good ideas, our cars and landfills and decimating forests to stock up our hardware stores, are met with ridiculous passive-aggressive attempts to stop us? Are we content with Earth’s rising sea levels and soil erosion? No, we are not. Our ever-increasing efforts to make the Earth happy, recycling plastic and riding bikes around like idiots, take a tremendous amount of time and energy, time and energy we could be using to do things that make us happy. We never roll seals around in oil anymore, and we have completely stopped harpooning whales. All that just so we might convince Earth to stop flooding us with acid rain? Forget it. It is time to move on.

Mars has always been there for us; always keeping a comfortable distance and yet quietly letting us know it cared. There are no other living creatures on it, so we will never have to worry that it likes some eight-legged harlot more than us. It has a beautiful red, rugged landscape and just enough atmosphere to keep us guessing, not to mention that it is slimmer, and has a much longer orbit. This latest romantic gesture, Mars whispering softly, “I can give you what you need,” should serve as humanity’s wake-up call. Come on, everybody. Rise up against this bloated loser, against this relationship that has been circling the drain for millennia, and raise your glasses of Mars-water to new beginnings.

Rachel Perez

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