Consider your place in our interplanetary future. Let us speculate. Suppose that SpaceX or some similar enterprise has succeeded, that in the aspirational year 2024 crewed missions settle Mars. Their base is serviced by rockets — Big F***ing Rockets, according to Musk — launched regularly from Earth to Mars. The colonies grow, slowly but seemingly surely. The technical challenges have been immense — but man’s resourcefulness greater. The looked-for scientific and technological discoveries materialize with exhilarating speed. Are you happy?
You are Elon Musk. You have achieved your boyhood dream of laying the foundations of towers on other worlds, so that humanity may scatter to the stars lest mankind die upon the Earth. You have made a name for yourself. You have brought forth water in dry places, made gardens where there was only dust and ice. You are dating Grimes. You are very rich. You fight with strangers on Twitter. What is your stature? Where do you fit? Why?
You are a colonist on Mars. You have left behind your country, and your kindred, and your father’s house, to go scrape an existence out of the thin infertile regolith of the fourth rock from the Sun. You will live the rest of your life maintaining an assembly-line routine of actions that, along with those of your crewmates, will slowly turn the red around you green. You will die here. Your body will be used for fertilizer. Musk payed off your college debt. You will miss your sister’s wedding and your mother’s funeral. You will not have children: Cosmic radiation, hardly blocked by the planet’s scant atmosphere, causes each rare impregnation to swiftly end in miscarriage, and many crewmembers are now as sterile as the Martian surface. Is it worth it?
You are a scientist on Earth working on the colonization project. You are trying to solve the fertility problem. For now the settlers will simply not be allowed to breed. You may sterilize those still technically fertile until a solution is found. It would be easier. But first there are tumors and leukemias to deal with. We are too fragile, it seems, the god of war too harsh. Heterocephalus glaber, the naked mole-rat, would make a far better colonist than the human being. The rodent is cancer- and pain-resistant. It is hive-socialized. So you are breeding mole-rats, tinkering with their DNA using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to try to find lines of their genetic code that could be useful to you. If man became a little more mole-rat, he might survive and reproduce on other planets. You are addicted to porn. You have not been on a date in months. Does Heterocephalus glaber love you?
You are a member of the general public. Humanity has gone to space, is on Mars. You watched all the livestreams. You bought a poster of the first colonists to hang in your second bathroom. It is a print of a painting in the style of Soviet space-race propaganda. You bought your son a tin lunch box shaped like one of Musk’s BFRs to take with him to school. You worry your son knows what the F stands for in BFR. You worry he might have ADHD. His teacher, Ms. Perkins, says he is not as well-behaved as his sister was and has suggested you take him to a pediatric psychiatrist. Your insurance will not cover that. Is the achievement of humanity conquering space and colonizing Mars your achievement?
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org