Otherworldly experiences, sci-fi look better during youth

Have you ever been so frustrated with modern life that you mumble to yourself about escaping the rat race, leaving it all behind, getting off the grid? Yeah, me, too.

I admit to having voiced such dreams on occasion. I imagine a life free from the hassles of traffic, jobs, paperwork and media noise. I picture myself on an idyllic piece of ground somewhere away from civilization. Away from civilization, yes, but still here on planet Earth. That’s where the candidates for the Mars One project and I differ.

Mars One is a nonprofit foundation from the Netherlands that has as its goal the establishment of a permanent human colony on the Red Planet by 2024. The foundation has received more than 200,000 applications from people who want to become a member of one of the several crews and recently announced it has winnowed the number down to 100 finalists.

I’m sure these 100 people have a wide range of talents, skills and desirable traits that will help them live and survive together on Mars. They all realize the risks of long-term space flight. They understand the challenges that await them in the hostile Martian environment. And they all understand that the company will not be bringing them back to Earth. Ever.

Four of the 100 finalists are British and were interviewed by Great Britain’s DailyMail.com. One of the selected candidates, Ryan MacDonald, who is a 21-year-old physics student at Oxford, argues that the chance to live “life to the fullest for 10 years … makes your quality of life much better than if you just live the day-to-day drudge for the next 50 or 60 years.”

Spoken like a true adventurer, a pioneer of the human spirit. Still, I can’t help feeling it takes a 21-year-old to make statements like that. I think I could have related to such pluck and audacity when I was the same age. These days, not so much. Maybe that’s my loss.

But while Earthlings rocketing to the near planets is one thing, a debate has recently surfaced as to the wisdom of humans trying to contact other civilizations out beyond our solar system.

The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute has been listening and looking for signs of intelligent life in the universe since at least 1960. These scientists monitor radio waves and search the skies for any evidence that other worlds are attempting contact with intelligent life. Up to now, we have just been listening, but some researchers have recently proposed “Active SETI,” which means we humans would start sending out messages of our own, radioing welcome invitations to anyone listening.

Other scientists and thinkers strongly disagree.

The “theory of everything” genius Stephen Hawking as well as Space X founder Elon Musk, for example, have said that by revealing ourselves to the universe, we could just as likely be visited by evil, ruthless space conquerors who want to enslave us and have us for dinner as by gentle little green men who want to share wonderful discoveries that will benefit all humankind. (Well, they didn’t use those words exactly, but you get the gist of what they said.)

If it were up to me, I would not be sending out “You’re Invited to Our Planet!” e-cards to every Tom, Dick and Giant Space Amoeba lurking on the Intergallactic Net. I admit, there was a time I would have been confident that if our world were attacked by space invaders, we humans would come together and with our steely resolve, our pluck and our never-say-die spirit defeat any would-be conquerors.

But that was when I was younger. These days, I’m not so sure. Maybe that’s my loss.