x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

No return ticket

There is something in the human spirit that impels us to explore, and sooner or later that element of our character will get us to Mars.

It's a daring idea, and to many people a ridiculous one: a Dutch company wants to recruit people for one-way trips to Mars, starting in 2023; there is no plan to get anyone home again. The effort is, implausibly, to be financed via a television "reality" show.

And yet almost 80,000 people have now paid as much as $75 (Dh275) and sent in applications, complete with one-minute videos, explaining why they should be chosen for this voyage of no return.

They are not, we're sure, all crazy: innate in human nature is the urge to go see what's on the other side of the mountain. True, the challenges have become more daunting; a camel train or a caravel no longer suffices. Even the bar to entry is being raised. What kind of video application might Columbus have made for his epic voyages?

Reality TV producers are not the only ones focused on Mars. The logical next goal for space travel glitters redly through our telescopes, and the idea seems to be gaining traction. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, has just published a new book advocating a manned (round-trip) Mars mission. The US space agency Nasa has been told to plan for a manned landing in the 2030s. Sooner or later, with or without reality television, humankind will get to Mars - and, with luck, home again.