When I think about what living a life one way might mean, I sometimes look back in my own family history at those brave ancestors who set sail for the new world, never to return to the old one. How did they find the courage to undertake such a dangerous journey and uncertain future? When you consider the relative ease with which people are able to shuffle about the planet today, it can be hard to fathom just how irreversible the decision to migrate from one place to another really was. Of course many if not most of the people who left their homeland did so out of necessity, to find a better or more sustainable life for themselves or their families.
Today, the decision to live life one way is a choice. Very few people, at least in the better developed parts of this planet, would ever have the need to leave home for other lands. And should someone need to make such a move, the cost of returning at some future time would likely be within reach.
Will there ever again be a time when people are faced with the decision of embarking upon a journey with certain knowledge that there is no going back, only forward?
The most challenging impediment to human travel to Mars does not seem to involve the complicated launching, propulsion, guidance or landing technologies but something far more mundane: the radiation emanating from the Sun’s cosmic rays. The shielding necessary to ensure the astronauts do not get a lethal dose of solar radiation on a round trip to Mars may very well make the spacecraft so heavy that the amount of fuel needed becomes prohibitive.
While the idea of sending astronauts aloft never to return is jarring upon first hearing, the rationale for one-way trips into space has both historical and practical roots. Colonists and pilgrims seldom set off for the New World with the expectation of a return trip, usually because the places they were leaving were pretty intolerable anyway. Give us a century or two and we may turn the whole planet into a place from which many people might be happy to depart.
Moreover, one of the reasons that is sometimes given for sending humans into space is that we need to move beyond Earth if we are to improve our species’ chances of survival should something terrible happen back home. This requires people to leave, and stay away.
The last bit is the most interesting for me – that people may need to reconnect with the realities of living life one way in order to help ensure not just the survival of oneself or one’s immediate family, but the survival of humanity.