Ever since the Mars rover made its penis-shaped trek around the angry red planet called Mars, some earthlings can’t shut up about how they’re seeing life there. Amid what are obviously rocks, sand, and shadows, internet wags have insisted that they’re seeing rodents, crabs, and even women just wandering around on the surface of Mars. Are they hallucinating? Is it just wishful thinking? Could it be an attempt to secure some kind of history channel reality show about aliens only some earthlings can see? While none of that would surprise me, I think there’s a simpler explanation to be had.
Rod Serling himself adapted the script for “People are Alike All Over,” a Twilight Zone episode that’s set mainly on Mars, and aired in 1960—nearly a decade before man landed on the moon. At that time, Mars seemed as distant and unknowable as heaven or hell—though just as likely to house beings that inspired fear and wonder. These days, the idea that human-like beings have been as close as Mars seems outright absurd. Even a familiar non-microscopic animal like a crab or a rat seems a little silly. Rats are legendary survivors. But I doubt that they can live on frozen water or drink nothing but brine.
On the surface, so to speak, Mars seems like it has a lot in common with Earth. Its days are slightly longer than ours, while its years are nearly double the length of an Earth year. Mars has an extra moon, which would probably impact the tides if there were any large bodies of water on the surface. But – and here’s where it gets tricky – the temperature on Mars ranges from -136 Celsius to a balmy zero degrees. So I guess if that is a woman in a flowing gown standing alone on the surface of Mars, she should put a jacket on. And this? Clearly this is indicative of giant children on Mars who like to blow bubbles.
As humans, we have always been fascinated and frightened of the unknown. That’s just how we roll. In our earlier days, humans invented higher beings to explain natural phenomena that their science didn’t know yet. Natural disasters were a god’s punishment—which makes sense if you don’t know what barometric pressure is. Eclipses were threats from the gods, because nobody knew that the sun and moon were just a few of many celestial bodies in our immediate area. Even illness was seen as the gods messing with us, mainly during periods of history when we didn’t understand that hand washing was important, and not every problem could be fixed with leeches and maggots. With that in mind, it makes sense to think that any round planet in the distance might have people, or monsters, or Kang and Kodos on it.
Eventually though, human learning grew, expanded, and we slowly came to know more about ourselves, our world, and what existed in our immediate vicinity. With increased knowledge, the idea that there are humans (or even rats) who can walk around in -100 degree temperatures is patently unbelievable. Mars is considered hostile to life. Not “hostile” like how Philadelphia is hostile to hitchhiking robots—but hostile like most Earth life would freeze or implode there in a matter of seconds. But for some, “seeing” is believing. Even if “seeing” means looking really hard at some shadows and convincing yourself that it must be a person because it kind of, sort of looks like one if you squint just right.
The fact that there are no women, crabs, squirrels, or rats on Mars doesn’t mean that the Mars rover isn’t friggin’ amazing. Ditto Pluto, which should totally be made a planet again. We should continue exploring space and other planets whenever we can—even if the ultimate result is not an alien friend we can all eat Reese’s Pieces with. As long our space exploration doesn’t end like “People Are Alike All Over,” we’ll probably come out ahead in the end.