It’s good, in times like these, to be reminded of the human spirit — of its capacity for wonder and courage.

What seems impossible, what seems ever out of reach, is exactly what we seem most driven to get, to explore, to know.

Mars, on average, is 140 million miles from Earth. A trip there would take a good part of a year, assuming speeds in the range of 35,000 mph.

Once there, a person is faced with a “hostile” environment, to borrow the word of the nonprofit organization Mars One. Deadly is more accurate. The atmosphere is some 95 percent carbon dioxide. The average temperature is 80 degrees below zero.

When Mars One announced it wanted to establish a colony on the Red Planet, it minced no words about the challenges of the journey.

“Mars is an unforgiving environment where a small mistake or accident can result in large failure, injury and death,” the group’s website tells us. “Every component must work perfectly. Every system (and its backup) must function without fail or human life is at risk.”

More than 200,000 people immediately applied to go.

That number has been whittled to 100 candidates. Those in the final selection of a handful of colonists will undergo years of training before a planned launch in 2024.

There is an important catch. If they go, they cannot return.

According to Mars One’s website, the technology isn’t yet available to get colonists back from Mars.

That people would readily, even eagerly, seek life and, yes, death, on Mars is what fascinates us about this possibility.

One of the 100 finalists cleverly dismissed the concern about never coming home.

“I would probably die on Earth if I stayed here, too,” he said.

That’s true. But life here is a far different thing from life all but alone so very far away in such a cold and desolate place.

It’s been centuries since explorers set out on wooden sailing ships over uncharted water to lands that they didn’t know. What drove them we cannot always say, whether search for fortune or something else.

Whatever the impulse, the act itself is extraordinary. To cast oneself into the unknown, out into the abyss of a place as cruel as Mars, is a monumental testament to our will.

To do so with knowledge you could never return is ineffable.

Editorial by The Dallas Morning News


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