exploration drives innovation, so let your kids explore even if they might never return


WhatsApp Image 2018-04-11 at 22.42.51
Me taking a selfie with a most amazing person – in Maputo, Mozambique

A FEW weeks ago I met a most amazing person in Maputo, Mozambique and sat flabbergasted along with 200 other people in a large conference room as she told us her crazy, feasible and totally undesirable (to us) plan for the rest of her life.

Her plan was so unfathomable and yet so amazing that I entered into an uncomfortably nauseous mental space trying to work out whether I wanted her to meet my children and inspire them or to stay tens of thousands of miles away from them so she doesn’t spread the crazy ideas she is implementing.

She came over to a Coca-Cola Beverages Africa conference as a Guest Speaker and to be quite frank our expectations of her when she was announced were on a whole different planet from the person who jumped up onto the stage.

Most of us confessed to ourselves that when we read, “Dr. Adriana Marais” up on the electronic stage backdrop, we expected a scientific nerd-type person kitted up as Doctor-people tend to be.

In her jeans and casual shirt rolled up to expose many bangles, and a wide smile that didn’t distract us from her braids, she appeared to be the ordinary type of girl you would be happy to chat with at a bar on any evening. (There is a whole other story about THAT too!)

She stood there on stage in front of the massive screen and started talking about space travel, saying things in English that we found hard to understand for a while until we just had to accept that we didn’t want to understand or believe her.

Since her childhood (five years of age) she has been excited and enthusiastic about space and space travel. Plus, along the way, she was so disturbed by our poor resource utilisation on earth she figured we would one day run out and became determined to be part of the solution.

Hence her mission to leave Planet Earth and go to discover new life forms elsewhere.

She was not talking about a bus trip or a plane ride.

Adriana Marais from www.adrianamarais.org
Dr. Adriana Marais – taken from http://www.adrianamarais.com

Dr. Adriana Marais is “an aspiring Martian”. She is one of six Africans who are part of a group of 100 candidates to join the ‘Mars One’ project – to establish a human colony on Planet Mars by 2025.

They will go to Mars and live there, NEVER TO RETURN.

You need to sit down to try to understand this properly – just to try – but for the longer story one has to go to the online edition of this (www.skaheru.com).

She described the trip to Mars, and their planned mission, and said many other things that made us all wonder how crazy her and her mates were – which she always considers a compliment.

“The ones crazy enough to think that they can change the world, or create a new one, are the ones who do,” she told me. In any case, she told our audience, space travel on its own spurs innovation here on earth; in the year Apollo 13 happened, so more children in the United States were inspired to do Engineering and the results govern some of our lives today – from the mobile phone and computers we use to the power of the internet.

The training for living on Mars is long and intense, and the trip there alone takes seven (7) months. As she said this, all the people in the room who had complained about the long, two-leg five-hour journey to Mozambique felt quite silly.

And on that trip, she casually told us, “your muscles degrade over the seven months, but since we are not coming back to earth so…it’s okay!”

And when they get to Mars, they will embark on creating water and food and even breathable air. Their disciplines are different – hers being Physics and then Quantum Mechanics – and the selection will be done so they can start a new life and population and world on Planet Mars from almost nothing.

They will send certain machinery and equipment months before they go, which will be assembled by robots when they land there (this is not a lie or a dream – people are seriously doing this while here we have friends who can’t scan a document straight the right way up…).

“We all have resources of life and resources of time. Be careful with them!” she told us, and got my skin tingling.

Travel, mind you, is embedded in her very DNA. Her family left France at some point hundreds of years ago and arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on Voorschuten in 1688 – a trip of very many months to a place where the availability of resources and was very uncertain.

I made the determination to one day get my children to meet her or read a lot about her, so they are as motivated by her very existence as I was.

When I asked her, later on, if she had ever disadvantaged as a girl or woman, she told me she hadn’t.

“In the morning before my first day of school, my mother told me never to let anyone tell me I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl. I remember thinking that was strange and wondering why she had said it. Then lo and behold, on the first day of school the (female) teacher asked the ‘strong boys’ to help move the desks. Remembering what my mom had said, I jumped up and said ‘I am strong’ and helped to move the desks. And this is the spirit in which I live. We need to avoid judging others or allowing ourselves to be judged on the basis of race, gender, culture or background,” she said.

This is what I want my children to be like – but I don’t want them to go all the way to Mars never to return. Not yet.

Here’s the interview in full:

***

  1. Have any of the first 100 of you been taken through psychiatric tests? Most sci-fi films we watch (our experience – the majority of us lay people – with outer space) contain people who engage in terrifying criminal acts because of mental health issues, and most people would ask how sure you are this won’t happen to your group.

“Are you crazy?!” is a common question I am asked as a volunteer to move permanently to Mars. Perhaps. But I take this as a compliment. As we’ve heard, the ones crazy enough to think that they can change the world, or create a new one, are the ones who do. A good Martian settler will have showed an impressive level of sanity and purpose by having trained for decades before leaving Earth in STEM, medicine, counseling, team work, fitness, growing food, working in isolation, telling jokes when things go wrong, and much more, to ensure the survival of the team in the harsh conditions there. 

  1. When did your love for space travel and such extreme exploration actually begin? At what age or stage, considering that you made your decision as soon as you read the headline about MarsOne?

When I read in the paper for the first time about the possibility of applying to go to Mars on a one-way mission, I froze. Suddenly a strange early childhood memory rushed back to me so clearly: We were riding plastic scooters up and down the driveway where I played after school some days, and when we stopped I asked my two friends, “If you could go into space on a spaceship to see what was there, further than we’ve been before, but you knew that you wouldn’t come back, would you go? Just to see what was there…”

They wrinkled their noses and scooted off, not understanding what I meant, while I said determinedly, “I would!”. We must have been five or six.

Humans are explorers by nature and now for the first time the possibility to expand our society beyond Earth has arisen. I can think of no greater purpose than being a part of this adventure, whether going in person or creating awareness that enables future generations to go. 

  1. What did you study, exactly, and why?

I studied physics initially because of thoughts of becoming an astronaut,
 but soon became interested in quantum mechanics after learning about the impossibility of observing something without interacting with it, and therefore disturbing it in some way. I have been fascinated with the implication ever since – that the observer
 is always inextricably part of the system under observation, and that the way a question is posed can influence the answer, from the level
 of human interaction all the way down to measurements performed on single particles.

I began to study photosynthesis on a molecule by molecule, photon by photon level as a part of a field called quantum biology. This led me to the famous question, “What is Life?”

In my opinion, if life can exist on Earth, in an unimaginably large universe, it must also exist or have existed elsewhere. The study of living systems on Earth, and the mystery of how life emerged here, is always going to be severely limited by a lack of precise knowledge of the conditions under which it emerged around four (4) billion years ago, in a possibly singular event. 

Billions of years of evolution of life on Earth have culminated in the possibility of us calling another planet home for the very first time. Untold discoveries lie in wait, including the possibility of finding evidence of life there. The reason I want to go to Mars is simple: The allure of the unknown is far more powerful than the comfort of the known. And the possibility to contribute to the first off-Earth settlement, and potentially find evidence of life on another planet, is something I would give up almost anything to do.

  1. What did your parents say when you told them you were applying for MarsOne and would never return?

They are worried about the logistical feasibility of the mission, and that they would miss me, but they are also proud and fascinated by this proposed adventure.

They likened the mission to that of our ancestors, refugees who escaped religious persecution and all the people they had ever known in Europe to come to South Africa in the 1600s, with no idea of what challenges lay ahead and no chance of affording a return trip. I must have this inclination to explore in my blood.

They know me best of all, and have said it is totally in line with my character to have volunteered for this mission.

  1. What did your bank and landlord (separately) say, whether you have a mortgage or not?

Well, apparently plans to leave the planet doesn’t effect one’s credit rating, so I plan to keep paying my bond in cryptocurrency from Mars if I haven’t done so by the time I leave 🙂 

  1. Did your parents support your choice of education or study course all through or did they ever try to push you in another direction?

My parents have always encouraged me in everything I have done. I wouldn’t be the courageous person I am today without my parents having always allowed me to ask an exhausting amount of questions and to make my own decisions.

Imposing your ideas on how another human should live based on your personal experiences can restrict that person from achieving their full potential. Love is accepting and supporting! I am grateful for having such wonderful parents! 

  1. When you leave Planet Earth and get to Mars never to return, what do you think (at this time) you will miss the most?

Things I won’t miss include: Inequality. Advertising. Pollution. Long queues. two-minute showers in drought-stricken Cape Town (Jokes – our showers on Mars will probably be shorter) 🙂

What I will miss is life – all the people I love who have meant so much to me, all the animals we share our habitat with, all the plants with which we have been living side-by-side for so many eras… I’ll miss being able to breathe and smell the air, the feeling of the wind, sea and sun, the feeling of the ground on bare feet. I’ll miss good steak, and good wine, which I understand after my time with several winemakers, may be hard to produce on Mars… (The oak barrel is an issue).

  1. Did you ever feel disadvantaged as a girl or a woman at any point in your life? When was that and why? (I ask this because I am a father of girls, brother to my sisters, son to my mother(s) and husband to my wife, and I want them to emulate you but NEVER to leave me so absolutely!)

No I have not, but I do have unstoppable determination and a thick skin when I need it.

In the morning before my first day of school, my mother told me never to let anyone tell me I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl. I remember thinking that was strange and wondering why she had said it. Then lo and behold, on the first day of school the (female) teacher asked the ‘strong boys’ to help move the desks.

Remembering what my mom had said, I jumped up and said ‘I am strong’ and helped to move the desks. And this is the spirit in which I live. We need to avoid judging others or allowing ourselves to be judged on the basis of race, gender, culture or background. 

In order to create a future of which we can be proud, we need all of our contributions, and for this we need to view each and every human as the unique, precious resource of intelligence and life that they are.

***

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