When We Take Our Violence to the Stars

When We Take Our Violence to the Stars

Yuri Gagarin was the first human being in space. Neil Armstrong was the first person to step foot on the Moon.

Who will the be first human to die on Mars at the hand of his fellow man?

We have a romantic and naive conception about traveling to the stars. We think of international cooperation, universal brotherhood, our innate curiosity to explore, and the need to consider continuing our species by leaving the birthplace of humanity. We've sent probes into deep space bearing instructions on how to locate us, with representations of us raising a hand in (what we hope is) a sign of peace.

But let's not kid ourselves. We are a violent and deceptive species, and any talk of establishing lunar or Martian colonies has to take into consideration that someone will be the first person to die there because another person killed him. Get rid of your pie-in-the-sky notions of humanity's "progress," and start figuring out how to deal with the consequences of a human murder on another world. We are fanatical and unforgiving and we will more than take that along with us. Let's skip the titillating question as to whether or not NASA might be working on the mechanics of zero gravity sex and dream up the protocol for giving a proper burial for someone on Mars or the Moon.

We will not only take our dreams and hopes to the heavens, but also our violent, vindictive and consuming passions. We will bring our nationalisms and our evangelism: is the universe ready to be saved? Will we have neutral colonies dedicated to exploration, even terra-forming, or enclaves of parochial groups that segregate themselves? You think it's impossible? That astronauts will be trained in such a way that divorces them from being petty and vindictive? The great thing about current missions to the International Space Station is that they end: establishing a foothold on Mars will not afford a return trip home. Once we leave Earth, we will do so with bloody footprints.

We believe in perpetual progress, in the perfection of the human being. Just wait until someone will enter the history books as the first Abel on another planet, killed by another Cain. No amount of professional training will fully excise the beast that lurks under our civilized selves. We have spilled oceans of blood on Earth, and it's ineviitable the same will happen somewhere, sometime, in the heavens.