By David L. Brown
In the news today are headlines about a “suicide” mission to Mars being planned by a private company. Here is a link to an article at Fox News about the plans announced by the Dutch company Mars One.
Now I know a bit about the meaning of words, and suicide this is not. Suicide is when one kills one’s self outright or embarks on a course that will inevitably result in their death (think Kamikaze pilots and terrorist bombers). That is not at all what Mars One has in mind. In fact, their plan is to create a habitat on Mars and then send volunteers to actually live there and continue to build the base for further expansion. Yes, it is envisioned as a one-way trip, at least for the time being, but no suicide is intended. In fact, the idea is that the volunteers will live out their natural lives on Mars, or even possibly return to Earth later when advanced technology makes it possible. They may even reproduce and create new generations of Martians.
In short, the word ‘suicide’ should never have been applied to this plan (and I’m not saying the idea itself might be without danger). The correct terms are migration or colonization, the processes through which people permanently move to a different location, in this case on another planet
It’s not suicide when you decide to move to another city (although come to think of it, it could amount to the same thing if one were to relocate to certain inner-city neighborhoods in Detroit, Philadelphia or East St. Louis), so why should one-way trips to the proposed Martian colony be described with that word?
We didn’t call it suicide when John Glenn soared into space, or when Buzz Aldrin touched down on the moon. Of course, we hoped they would survive and they did. We will hope the Mars colonists will, too, if any should ever arrive there. I’m not optimistic about the prospects for human habitation in space, but let’s not put the wrong labels on new ideas. It would be a wonderful achievement to see a permanent presence on the Red Planet.