Wednesday, August 31, 2016


The space agency created a special committee just to review the flood of applications that came in for the new program. The criteria: old age and a happy life. 

The reason for old age was obvious. There was only enough fuel for a one-way ticket to Mars. Classic cocktail-party question: "Would you go?" If you answered yes, you were adventurous; no, you were boring but pragmatic. 

There was no then-conceivable way to bring more fuel for a trip home; the cost and logistics boggled the genius scientists' brains. Maybe someday they could do that, but right now this was the best they could do.

The reason for requiring the applicants had lived a happy life was less scientific, more superstitious, and formally objected to by more than one member of the normally staunchly rational committee: the agency didn’t want any ghosts on their hands, moaning about unfinished business from beyond the grave. 

(It was also a PR thing: The mission was to be seen as a glorious sending-off, a tearful hero's farewell complete with YouTube montage set to Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World"; sticking an embittered curmudgeon in the ship would send the wrong vibe.)

One-way ticket, no coming home.

Yet they received a flood of applications.

Even from young people. They would die young but be immortal. These applications were discarded as soon as the reviewers looked at the DOB.

An English professor was brought in to scrutinize the life stories. A psychologist, too. Who had lived the happiest life? Who had seen enough, done enough, to be ready to go?

After months of reviewing applications in a top-secret room, amid speculative reports in the news, the committee issued its unanimous recommendation: No one was ready to go. Each candidate still had life to live. They would send no one to that glorious but certain death far from home.

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