Valentine's Day on Mars


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By Bobby Neal Winters

My imagination has been captured for the last few weeks by the pictures coming back from Mars. The loss of the European probe Beagle II was a disappointment, and the rover Spirit as made anxious a time or two, but the pictures they've sent us back have been great. They present a beautiful and entirely alien landscape and remind me of pictures of Mars that I saw back in the late '70's.

I could mean the pictures from the Viking Landers, but I don't. Those were marvelous, of course, but I mean the pictures of Deja Thoris standing on the Martian plane. For those of you who don't recognize this name, it belongs to the title character from Edgar Rice Burroughs book A Princess of Mars. Burroughs wrote a whole series of books detailing the exploits of John Carter, Deja Thoris, and Tars Tarkas on a Mars, called Barsoom by the inhabitance, where their were more civilizations than you could shake a stick at. In hindsight, I can guess that these were re-issued at that time to make money of the renewed interest in Mars the Viking Landers would generate, but they were important in their own right.

In any case, the pictures of Deja Thoris were quite exotic. Change the 'x' in exotic to an 'r' and the sentence is still true. She wore, or almost wore, garments for which we then had no words, but now can speak of them as 'thongs' and 'tassels.' My father once came into a room where one of these books, A Guide to Barsoom, was laying cover-side-up on a table. The cover featured Deja Thoris attired in just such a manner as I described. He picked it up, looked at it, and asked, "What the he** kind of books are you boys reading?" I explained to him that it wasn't a nasty book. He didn't seem all that convinced, but he put the book down and said nothing more.

He was concerned about what his son's were being exposed to, and this is something that I can resonate with today. Things that I consider to be filth are coming at our children through every available outlet, and there is no way to keep it all out, so we have to teach about it.
It makes me long for the day's of Burroughs' Barsoom books which were harmless, and in fact elevating. Burroughs' managed to capture our imagination and humanized the bleak Martian landscape. I say humanize without irony; even his aliens were human. They might have been green and have too many arms, but they were still human in every way that mattered.

The stories of heroic exploits urged us on to do greater things to reach out beyond ourselves. Man needs some purpose, some way to tie himself into eternity, some way to seek God, as it were. As a Christian, I belief there is one Road, but I also believe there are many paths within that one Road. Exploring the universe, seeking to know the unknown, and perhaps unknowable, stretches us beyond our limits towards the abundant life God has planned for us. It is cliché to saw that when we aim high we might not reach our goal, but we will reach farther than if we hadn't tried, but being cliché doesn't mean that it's not true.

There are always those who correctly point out that we have plenty of problems here on earth to deal with, and we don't have to go into space to find more. It's true that we have no shortage of problems, but if I used that logic, I would never leave the house. Just as the strength and knowledge I find in my career and community helps me deal with the problems of daily living, reaching into space while will give us skills that we can use here on earth.

But I would be less than honest, a liar in fact, if I said that the technological innovations that naturally arise from space exploration should be our reason for it. It is deeper, more spiritual, and yes, more primal, than that. We don't like the pictures from the Hubble telescopes because they represent an increase in technology that will have payoffs in our economy; we like them because they are beautiful.

And it is not an accident that so many science fiction novels have their covers graced with semi-erotic art. They aren't there to speak to the rational part of ourselves, but to the animal part, the part that want to hunt mammoth and win the fair maiden in battle.

I look at the current pictures coming back from the Red planet, and in my mind see Deja Thoris dressed in tassels and a thong, standing with her back to us and looking at us over her shoulder, as if to beckon us on toward further adventures.
Okie writes:

There are always those who correctly point out that we have plenty of problems here on earth to deal with, and we don't have to go into space to find more.

Just like we have so much of life here on earth, teeming everywhere even in the hottest craters of the volcanoes to the deepest depths of the oceans, and we are so obsessed with trying to find life elsewhere in space. Typical megalomania of man. Like also instead of talking, the U.S. prefers to go to war to use their big guns and their big bombs. They want spectacular display instead of low-profile diplomacy -- lying also spectacularly to put forth a shop window of just grounds.

. . . reaching into space while will give us skills that we can use here on earth.

On the other hand, we do have skills and the means to tackle very urgent problems now on earth, like global warming. And for women, genital mutilation, and other discriminatory practices where they are victimized by menfolk. Our priorities are all topsy-turvy. That is the essence of the human sinful condition.

Education and more education in humanism can put our priorities right and make us employ our skills and high-tech inventions to noble ends.

Susma Rio Sep