Most Americans are raised with the idea that something just over the horizon might be better.
It’s part of our national heritage, a psychological hand-me-down from immigrant ancestors who fled their native countries to come to North America. Many European arrivals, or their progeny, eventually pushed west across the continent to the Pacific Ocean.
It all helps explain the popularity of two recent Netflix science fiction series, “Away” and “Mars,” both of which summon up a 21st Century intergalactic Manifest Destiny to travel to the Red Planet.
“Away” is as much a study of human dynamics as it is an interplanetary space-travel thriller.
“Mars” is more complex, almost a docudrama, mixing real Earth events and 2016 film footage about space exploration with the tale of a fictional spaceship mission to Mars 14 years later.
The goal of the 2030 mission is to colonize the planet.
Both programs contain the unsubtle message that for humans to survive as a species, we must travel to our solar system neighbor and conduct a planetary overhaul to make it habitable for humans.
It’s no small undertaking considering how manifestly inhospitable Mars is to human life.
As a lifelong science fiction aficionado, I have always been enthralled with tales of space travel and planetary colonization. I grew up reading H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke, among many others.
I would happily sign on for a tour of duty aboard Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets’ starship Enterprise. Just beam me up, Scotty.
But as a firmly earthbound environmentalist, I am appalled that these programs suggest Earth is essentially an unsalvageable wreck and the only future for humankind is to pile into space-traversing, Conestoga-wagon-like caravans.
Excuse me, but we’ve got a pretty good spot staked out here on the third planet from the sun. Ask anyone who lives in the Finger Lakes or who visits our region.
We are known nationally for how fiercely we protect the clean air and clean water of the region, thank you very much.
That’s not to say the Earth doesn’t have a nearly bottomless grab bag of serious manmade problems.
We have epic disasters occurring because of escalating climate change, out-of-control air and water pollution in many nations, and the granddaddy elephant-in-the-room problem of overpopulation threatens to overwhelm us like a tsunami.
Today the population of Earth had a net increase of about 225,000 people. Ditto for tomorrow ... and on ... and on.
This is not meant to be an anti-space travel or planetary colonization screed. The many benefits accrued from associated science and technological advancements and research are well worth the investment.
During the worst of the smoke from California wildfires, I was envious of the fancy spacesuits worn by the “Mars” program astronauts.
And for those howls of protest like those heard in the ‘60s lamenting wasting money “on the Moon,” during the Apollo Missions, it’s important to note that every dollar, Euro, yen or ruble of investment is spent on Earth.
Right here. Right now.
We can’t spend a dollar on Mars, but we can spend it here on manufacturing, education, and hundreds of associated space-travel related businesses.
There’s nothing wrong with dreams of a Martian colony. Some of the most inspiring parts of the “Mars” series highlight Elon Musk’s SpaceX Corporation founded 18 years ago with a goal of colonizing Mars. We need dreams like these.
But we should fix up this planet just as eagerly as we reach for the stars. We’re the ones who despoiled it.