The Garrulous Jay – Mars In Their Eyes

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“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to Mars In Their Eyes, the reality TV show in which nation states, oligarchs and billionaires battle it out to see who can be the first to send a manned mission to – you guessed it – Mars…

“As we say on the show: not just the Red Planet, now you’ve gotta man it…

“So let’s introduce this week’s contestants. First up, from the US-of-A we have Elon. Elon is a self-made man with an ego to match most planetary bodies, whose most recent space endeavours went down something of a black hole. He’s undeterred though, saying for him it’s a ‘Musk win’ situation…

“Also competing on the show tonight we have Xi Jinping, or ‘El Presidente’ as those of you with Chinese passports might not call him. President Xi believes one day the world will say, you can’t get finer than a China space liner… We’ll see!

“Let’s get on with the show…”

I’m fascinated by space travel, but perhaps not in quite the same way as those spending billions trying to reach the far corners of our solar system and beyond.

Gazing up at the night sky and contemplating what might be out there has been a preoccupation of mankind since time immemorial. We as a species are incurably curious and that has led to some of our greatest discoveries.

But when it comes to space exploration I am reminded of the title of management guru Simon Sinek’s book: Start With Why. In other words, what’s the point?

I need to put this in context… I ask this not because I literally do not understand the purpose of space travel. After all, it might simply be an echo of George Leigh Mallory’s famous words before attempting to summit Mount Everest: “because it’s there”!

What perplexes me is that we seem to have a vastly expensive preoccupation with travelling to places millions of miles from Earth which look desolate and inhospitable, whilst at the same time we are hellbent on turning our own incredible planet into something that might look somewhat similar if we don’t change the way we live on it.

We seek answers to the big questions in the stars whilst we still understand so little of what quite literally lies beneath our feet. As George Monbiot points out in his brilliant book, Regenesis, we are only now starting to understand the incredible complexity of the soil that sustains the bulk of humanity, and a handful of which can contain millions of different life forms.

This focus on big, distant goals calls to mind the character Johnny Head-In Air in the frankly terrifying children’s book, Struwwelpeter

As he trudg’d along to school
It was always Johnny’s rule
To be looking at the sky

Johnny ends up falling in a river and, once rescued, being mocked by the fishes he startles in the process.

Might this be a lesson for us all as we think about our own business goals and targets? In the potential futility of aiming for the stars, we may miss the opportunities right before our eyes.