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Calling in Sick on Mars

I recently came down with a virus, and you may not believe me on this, but it totally sucked. Believe me.

Getting sick always sucks, of course. I’m not trying to be melodramatic or anything, it was a run of the mill flu. Actually, who am I kidding, I was on my deathbed, I’m telling you! Only through sheer force of will did I make it out alive!!

(“Don’t listen to him, it was nothing. He’s just a big baby,” is what an editor would insert here. If I had one.)

“Treat a sick man with the medicine and a sad man with the music.” – Amit Kalantri


On May 25, 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy announced to the world that the United States had a new mission, “before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took one giant leap for human history, and he even made it home, too. All done using computers the size of a school bus. The point being, assuming the will and virtually unlimited resources, we could accomplish anything.


I thought about this a lot when I was sick: we can decide to send a man to the moon and get it done in 8 years, but we still can’t cure the common cold, even after a millennia of runny noses.

The problem is that there are so many different types and strains of viruses, and to top it off, they keep mutating into new strains. It’s virtually impossible to keep up. And since regular colds are not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things, it’s not like massive resources are being funneled into the research.

The amount of attention devoted to developing new flavours of lozenges is off the charts, though.

It probably makes more sense to focus on boosting our immune systems to fight off these viruses, which is kind of hard to do when we’re stressed-out all the time and full of cortisol, eating a lot of junk, and doing presumptuous things like breathing air and drinking water (I’m looking at you, Flint, Michigan).


Richard Nixon attempted to pull off a similar plan to Kennedy’s in 1971, declaring that America’s next big project was to cure cancer. Unfortunately, we’re still working on this one.

But again, there are over 100 different kinds, and each divided cell changes the DNA in a different way. It’s not about pharmaceutical companies “burying” results, it’s just a lot of unbelievably complex work.

In fact it’s almost as complicated as deciphering those instruction manuals when you’re trying to assemble IKEA furniture.


In so many ways, it’s a microcosm of life itself. A complex spiderweb of thoughts, emotions, actions and events, along with a generous heaping of random chaos.


It’s fun to think about what will happen over the next 100 years. When you think about what happened over the last 100, it’s a lot! Two World Wars, invention of flight, television, moonwalking (kudos to you, Michael Jackson). Brain surgery, heart transplants, there’s some good stuff here. We’re still waiting for the flying cars, though. That makes me sad.

And sure, we still don’t know how to achieve peace in the Middle East, get telemarketers off the phone, or figure out how they get the caramel inside that chocolate bar, but all things considered, we probably descended from apes. Let’s just cut ourselves some slack and be happy we made it this far.


Could you imagine going back to 1916 and explaining space travel or the internet to someone? Prozac or gluten-free tofu? Of course, after blowing their minds with all the cool stuff we know, you’d briefly mention you listed to the radio the other day, just to give them a little break, let them know that, you know, it’s okay, there’s at least one thing they can conceive of that still exists in the future.

Then you quickly explain satellite radio, Napster and the death of newspapers, do that MWAHAHA laughing thing, and run away waving your arms around like a lunatic.


Of course, we have no way of knowing what will happen over the next 100 years, but I for one am really excited about the nanobots. Weird thing to be excited about, I guess, since they don’t exist, but come on. Think about it. Medical nanobots (basically teeny tiny robots) cruising through your bloodstream, cleaning and repairing stuff, guarding against infection. There’s gotta be like a 98% chance this is happening eventually, right? Will you guys hurry up, already? I’m not getting any younger over here. And I’m already sick!

Of course we will probably have blown ourselves up or invented Skynet by then, but let’s at least pretend to be optimistic.


In the future, maybe they can deliver pizzas through some kind of underground tunnel system where the stuff goes flying through at a million miles an hour. Maybe all mail and packages can be sent through this thing too. Did I just earn my future self a trillion dollars? I can already  sense Elon Musk stealing my idea.

Also, wheat and sugar are cheap and plentiful, but also really bad for you, and the population is growing rapidly. What will our futurians eat? I wondered about this for quite a while, until I finally heard the answer not too long ago.

It’s cricket protein. You heard it here first. Seriously, look it up.


So I guess the lesson here is that we’re probably more likely to land a manned mission on Mars than we are to find a cure for the sniffles. Which is pretty crazy when you get right down to it.

Can we assume there aren’t any viruses in the cold vacuum of space? Probably not, but we still don’t have a full understanding of the conditions on Mars, and as Jurassic Park taught us, “life finds a way”.


Plus, remember how we always screw everything up? We’re sure to bring some viruses along with us! So odds are someday soon an astronaut is going to have to call in sick on Mars, and spend the day watching Netflix and feeling sorry for him (or her) self. It’ll probably only cost NASA a million dollars or two. So that movie better be really, really good.

And you’d better bring the popcorn with you, because I don’t think Amazon delivers that far. At least not until I finish patenting my outer space tunnel delivery system. 3 years or it’s free, baby! That’s our guarantee. No returns, though.


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