Expert Artemis Westenberg and writer Bertina Mulder: ‘Red planet, we’re coming’
NOTE: This editorial has been translated by Artemis Westenberg, President of Explore Mars, Inc. and repurposed for use here. Credit goes to Bert Dijkstra of De Telegraaf (Dutch Newspaper) 16 March 2018 by Bert Dijkstra
The rush to go to Mars is growing by the day. Elon Musk from SpaceX wants a first test flight in a year’s time, “…because we have to be able to avoid a Third World War that can destroy the Earth.” In the meantime, NASA and the Chinese are not sitting on their hands either. In this field of space travel, two Dutch women are also eagerly awaiting the future: Artemis Westenberg, ambassador of Explore Mars, Inc., and Bertina Mulder, author of the thriller De rode magnet.
“Gentlemen,” Artemis Westenberg spoke to her audience of mainly male space experts in an American convention center. “Take out your electronic calendars.”
Surprised faces in the hall. Westenberg from Capelle aan den IJssel, president and director of the international foundation Explore Mars, Inc., waited patiently. She knew that her power of persuasion would not let her down this time either.
And yes, the calendars came out. “So,” said Westenberg, “now note: October 6, 2033. The day on which humans will set foot on Mars for the first time.”
Although the date was chosen completely randomly (on October 6, 2033 the Earth and Mars are the closest to each other relatively speaking and that saves travel time), it came directly from her intractable brain. “Then it is jolly, when you not much later encounter that date as the date it will happen: humans on Mars”, she says at home in her cozy, untidy house, where floor and table are strewn with Christmas ornaments. “I have not found the time yet to finish taking down the Christmas tree,” she says.
That is what you get, if you are giving lectures from India to Delft about Homo Sapiens & the Red Planet. If you are expected to mentor astronauts and geologists in the role of ‘capsule communicator’ during simulation training on analogue Mars in Utah, Hawaii and the Canadian Devon Island. If you are as manager within Explore Mars, sponsored by companies such as Google, IBM and Boeing, working closely with NASA on your mission, then the Christmas tree has to wait.
But why is it necessary to go to Mars? Is life on earth not convoluted enough?
The answer bursts from Westenberg as a machine gun fire. “Because people are inclined by nature to always want to look over the fence. Because we want to know if we are alone in the Universe. Because Earth and Mars are born simultaneously as sisters and we can learn on Earth from the things we are going to discover on Mars. Because hopefully on Mars the astronauts can work on a society in which no one is excluded, since you will need everyone to survive.”
That is all nice and dandy, but during the months-long journey to get there the chance of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and brain damage seems to be vast.
“Exaggerated,” says Westenberg. “The average person on Earth runs 20 percent risk of developping cancer, in space that is 21 percent. It is not Chernobyl there! What is more worrying is that your eyeball distorts. Astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year in space and sustained permanent damage. That problem must be solved. Yes, in the Mars mission humans remain the uncertain factor, but that is like it always is.”
It is this certainty, which on the other side of the Netherlands fascinated another woman and drove to writing the psychological thriller ‘The Red Magnet,’ released during the Book Week. ‘Nature’ was the Book Week theme and Bertina Mulder thought with feminine logic: “If a new community was set up at the South Pole, the world would be turned upside down and environmental activists would scream bloody murder. Apparently, Mars is being looked at differently.”
At home in Emst on the Veluwe: “We take out insurance for pretty much every conceivable happenstance, avoid as many risks as possible, but if you can have an uncertain future on another planet 400 million kilometers away, complete tribes are fighting to obtain a one-way ticket, knowing that they can never go back home. Fascinating.”
Mulder merrily waives her ‘boarding pass’ for a flight to Mars. She is one of the 2.4 million mortals who has put her name (not her body) onboard NASA’s Mars InSight Lander to be launched on May 5th, 2018. She grew up with Star Trek and was shaken up by an advertising campaign by the Dutch organization Mars One six years ago: “Who wants to walk on The Red Planet in 2027?” She coasts along in the conviction that the ever-expanding life on Earth must be given a branch on Mars. Still, the reader of her book does not really develop the urge to also travel to Mars. In ‘The Red Magnet’, because of the ingrained wickedness of man, the Mars colony is disrupted already at an early stage.
“That’s why it is a thriller,” says Mulder. “If everything goes smoothly on board, you do not have a thrilling story. While writing, I became convinced that the mission will succeed. But I kept asking myself: how can you let people travel together in a small space for six to eight months, far from Earth? What does that do to the human psyche? Can you really train enough in a desert for that? How should we view reproduction on Mars? Settlers excercised their own free will, but their child will not have chosen that life. And if more and more people are going to live on Mars, how do you prevent administrative chaos? “By having the settlers vote directly on dilemmas and not through governmental layers,” Elon Musk said in an interview last Saturday.”
About billionaire Elon Musk, top man of Tesla and SpaceX, among others, she speaks passionately. The ambitious entrepreneur is in a hurry about the Red Planet: as early as 2019 test flights to Mars should take place, Musk said in the same interview. Because, according to the billionaire: “When the Third World War breaks out, we have to ensure that enough people are housed elsewhere. This way we can ensure that we survive.”
There is also something ironic in the whole story: Mars as a fallback place when the Earth becomes virtually uninhabitable due to warming, and what do you have to do to create better living conditions? Raise the planet’s temperature …
“Not really a requirement”, says Artemis Westenberg. “You can also live at -63 degrees now, but if you want to go outside regularly, Mars has to become a second Earth by terraforming. That is not easy, but neither impossible.”
Other experts have even mentioned that humans can make it rain on Mars. Just a matter of creating a runaway greenhouse effect by directing an immense sun sail at the south pole of the planet. Because of this sail’s mirror effect, the dry ice on the pool will evaporate, rise and provide a thicker atmosphere.
Westenberg: “We have to be careful with our new environment. Yes, the space we intend to use is nature that is protected. By the officers of Planetary Protection, the planets police.”
She calls herself ‘one of the girls’, a rare phenomenon in space dominated by men. “That has advantages, because you stand out among guys in pintstripe suits.”
To manifest herself as woman, she used that, when she just stepped into a UN conference on the position of women (just graduated in history and with a university degree in Arabic language and literature in the baggage). The result of her decisiveness: a spot in the Dutch government delegation led by Jeltien Kraayeveld-Wouters.
Nowadays she has to convince the world of the benefits of Mars colonization. In the United States, she commissioned a survey on behalf of her organization. It showed that 74 percent of Americans believe in the Mars mission and a large majority were surprised to see space travel swallow up “only” half a percent of the federal budget. “With those results, we of course immediately approached the US Congress.”
Shortly after midnight my iPhone signals a new e-mail. From Artemis Westenberg. She has borrowed Bertina Mulder’s thriller. “Exciting enough to read in one evening,” she writes.
Two women with a fascination for Mars. With different views, but respect for each other. Models of the new humankind of the Red Planet.
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