Belfast Telegraph

Marvellous Mars has got all the mod cons

By Frances Burscough

Mars has been on the tip of everyone’s tongue this week. I’m talking about Mars the planet, not Mars the chocolate bar that helps you work, rest and play.

First of all, NASA announced that evidence of water had been discovered on the red planet. Thanks to the sterling work of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter — a $720 million unmanned exploratory spacecraft that has been beaming pictures back to Ground Control in California since 2006 — the terrain that was always thought to be too arid and barren to support life is now looking a lot more inviting. Not only that, but the likelihood of existing life (as in “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it”) being discovered there has increased by ... well, I’m guessing around 100%.

Second of all, in the very same week, it also happened — by either a strange quirk of fate, an incredible coincidence or some amazing jiggery-pokery in NASA’s own PR department — that the new Ridley Scott movie The Martian was released on the big screen. This tells the fictional story of a NASA manned mission to Mars which encounters an epic storm and they are forced to abandon base camp and head back to earth, warp factor 9.

The problem is that one man — in the form of everyone’s favourite Martian, Matt Damon — gets left for dead. The next problem is that he isn’t actually dead after all and he’s been accidentally left all on his ownsome 35 million miles from home. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

And so the problems continue ... one after another, each one more complex, unsurpassable and dangerous than the last. Nevertheless, thanks to his experience and training as an astronaut, botanist, computer nerd and all-round science boffin, backed up by the combined minds of the world’s greatest astrophysicists so many miles away on terra firma, he is able to tackle every single one.

I can’t say much more about the movie in case I spoil it for you, but let’s just say that is a truly brilliant feelgood film and, like all feel-good films, they all live happily ever after.

However, all these Martian manoeuvres and manifestations taking place at once are making me somewhat suspicious. Call me cynical if you like, call me paranoid if you will, but it does feel like the powers that be are trying to sell the idea of life on Mars a little bit too much.

Indeed, I’m starting to develop a conspiracy theory of my own and I’d like to share it with you. Now, I haven’t had much time to think it through (I only saw the movie last night and, besides, I don’t quite have the brilliant analytical mind of the likes of Matt Damon) but bear with me, because it could have serious repercussions to the very future of humanity.  But here it is, in short: I think they’re trying to get rid of us.

Yes, I think “they” (their identity is as yet unknown, but I’m working on it) are planning to ship us all off to Mars ... er ... for reasons as yet also unknown, but I’m working on that too.

Look at the facts. One minute “they” are painting a very grim picture indeed of the red planet. For decades, films, books, TV shows such as Mars Attacks, War of the Worlds, Doom, Total Recall, Stranded and The Angry Red Planet invariably depict the place as a hostile inhospitable wasteland where terrible things always happen and impending doom is utterly and sickeningly inevitable.

The next minute, Mars is suddenly being sold to us as this very warm, bright and sunny place,  not unlike Lanzarote, in fact. It has running water, all mod-cons (in base camp at least), unspoilt breathtaking scenery and it’s just a short, two-year hop away from your nearest space centre. You just watch. The next thing will be brochures landing on your doorstep.

“ Got itchy feet? Fancy a change? Why not look a bit further afield than Milton Keynes! Mars really is marvellous!”

I may be paranoid, but it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me. So if I’m not here next week, you’ll know where to look. Send Matt Damon.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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