Tuesday, named in most Latin languages after the god Mars (mardi, martes, martedì), an appropriate day for a quick blog post about the red, red planet of the same name.
NASA are currently inviting members of the public to submit messages to planet Mars in haiku form, for a DVD that will be carried aboard the Maven spacecraft, launching towards the end of the year. The deadline for submissions is 1st July; public online voting will then decide which three haiku messages will be burned onto the DVD.
It’s doubtful the selected messages will be read by any Martians, not least because the Maven will remain in orbit around Mars, studying its upper atmosphere. Its mission is to attempt to determine what caused the planet’s water to be lost to space, thus rendering the climate inhospitable to life. Indeed, as Stephanie Renfrow of the MAVEN Education and Public Outreach program makes clear, the main objective of their Going to Mars haiku campaign is to raise human awareness of the Mars exploration project, and moreover, to offer people worldwide “a way to make a personal connection to space, space exploration, and science in general“.
Following on from Chris Hadfield’s breathtaking (and often highly poetic) photo feed, educational videos and heartwarming Space Oddity tribute from the ISS (which I look forward to blogging about in detail, in conjunction with my Atlas project), the haiku competition seems another great way to engage everyday citizens and villagers via social media, with two important differences. Firstly, it calls for a more open and direct involvement on the part of the individual, via the challenge of writing and (self-)expression. Secondly, the haiku campaign is less susceptible to a journalists’ injection of sensationalism – when Hadfield returned to Earth, commercial media unfortunately proved to be a lot more interested in his newly acquired ‘superstar’ status than in what I believe were the true objectives and success of his mission: not only to continue awakening our planetary consciousness by sharing his experience of the overview effect, but to make the planetary ‘cool’ again, less ‘nerdy’, and more accessible to greater numbers of people.
The deadline for the submission of haikus for Mars is almost a month away, so there’s plenty of time to explore and mull over haiku possibilities before logging onto the Maven site and uploading our entries. My more ‘pointed’ haikus tend to come either very spontaneously – leaping out in a flash from the subconscious –, or slowly and patiently, after taking the time to carve and mould (that is, to utterly simplify) an initial, insatisfactory version. The five haiku below should be considered mere starting points, which I hope to fine-tune progressively over the next few weeks.
There are of course many possible angles worth exploring. Perhaps the most obvious one is the message of goodwill:
Blue Earth to red Mars:
we come in peace, children of
the same orange star.
This haiku says nothing new, but it could be developed somehow. Speaking of peace, it would be good to bring out a clearer (yet subtle) contrast with Mars’ symbolism as god of war. Who are we to baptise the planet with that name, if it is us who invented borders, missiles, and the atom bomb?
Dear people of Mars:
are our borders visible
in your evening sky?
Through the mushroom cloud,
planet Mars looks on in awe
and ponders its name.
Another option, in reference to Maven‘s investigative mission, would be to ‘adapt’ Matsuo Bashō’s classical frog haiku:
Ancient Mars streambed,
a frog jumps in,
And as we mentioned Space Oddity (thanks to Hadfield, I’m seriously hooked to David Bowie’s original version these days), a reference to Bowie’s deceptively simple lyrics:
Ground control to Mars:
any sign of Major Tom
spinning in tin can?
Ultimately, given that the three haikus to be sent into Martian orbit will be chosen by online voting, it’s likely that humour will attract the most votes. Searching around the internet for examples of Mars-related haikus, I came across this little gem by Laura of the blog Unlikely Explanations:
Two hundred million
miles from home. Did I forget
to turn off the stove?
I would probably vote for this one myself, for it pokes fun at our uncanny fallibility: homo sapiens sapiens may be intelligent enough to reach Mars, and yet we remain capable of the silliest and most dangerous mistakes.
I’ll finish off with a ‘space haiku’ by one of my favourite contemporary poets, Nikola Madžirov. Taken from the book A new wave of Macedonian haiku (Struga, 2011):
Falling stars tonight.
I made a wish: let them
fall on something soft.
UPDATE 15/7/13 – Voting now open: