If a Pakistani went to Mars…

Published: February 20, 2015

It is exciting to have a Pakistani represented in the shortlist of candidates for Mars.

Reginald Foulds is ready to go on a one-way trip to Mars. His dream may be a step closer as he is amongst the final 100 candidates chosen by Mars One, a private organisation that is planning on sending humans to Mars by 2025.

This is indeed impressive.

Initial applications for this Mars trip numbered close to 200,000. He is now the only Pakistani left in the pool. A retired helicopter pilot of the Pakistan Air Force, Foulds has a one in four chance of being picked for the ambitious, first human settlement on the red planet. If selected, he will be pushing 70 by the time of the first proposed Mars One mission.

At this time, we do not know if Mars One will even be successful in getting everything ready for a human mission to Mars. Nevertheless, this project has generated considerable amount of public interest in Mars exploration as well as some criticism. One of the most common criticisms deals with the one-way aspect of the mission. Many call it a suicidal mission, as there are no plans yet to bring the astronauts back to Earth. In fact, it is this very one-way nature that makes the mission affordable in the near future.

But I would not call this “suicidal”. The plan is to have 24 individuals initiate a permanent human presence on Mars. Cargo vessels are expected to deliver habitats suitable for Martian living well before the first human mission leaves the Earth. The goal of going to Mars is not to die, but to live. Such an adventure is not for everyone. But there have always been explores amongst humans and it is probably because of such early adventurers that some of our ancestors left Africa and eventually established presence in almost every corner of the Earth. People like Foulds are just extending this tradition to a neighbouring planet. Others in the future will take our descendants to outer planets and may be even to other stars.

What will be the impact on Pakistan’s space program if Foulds is selected amongst the astronauts headed for Mars?

On the face of it, nothing much.

Mars One is a Dutch organisation that plans on using primarily American aerospace companies to achieve its goals. The funds for the project are being collected through sponsorships with a promise to deliver, if it at all happens, the most watched reality show ever. As a scientist, the last sentence is as disheartening as it can get.

However, there are intangibles that can help science in Pakistan. Foulds’ selection in the final batch of astronauts will certainly boost interest amongst school children in Pakistan. Even without Foulds, I can imagine a spike in interest about Mars, the solar system, astronomy, and science in general. How can it not? But the presence of a Pakistani astronaut on Mars can make that endeavour that much more personally identifiable.

But there is another aspect as well. There are 35 countries represented between the 100 candidates shortlisted for the Mars mission. The reality show aspect aside, this is a stunning diversity for the case of exploration. Several of our neighbours are represented: India has three candidates and both Iran and China have two each. It is almost a certainty that the final 24 candidates will be from several different countries, ethnicities, and religions. A successful permanent presence on Mars will necessitate overcoming prejudices that divide us here on Earth. This is the good side of humanity and Foulds’ presence, if he is selected, will allow us to indirectly experience it as well. If you bet on the darker side of humanity to rise again then we can imagine that the descendants of the first batch of astronauts on Mars will end up creating their own identity as ‘Martians’ and may develop a prejudice against humans on Earth and/or vice versa. But that may still be decades away.

All that aside, it is exciting to have a Pakistani represented in the shortlist of candidates for Mars. I hope Foulds is among the astronauts that experience red sunsets and sunrises on Mars. Echoing Carl Sagan’s message to future Martian explorers,

“I wish I could be there with you.”

Salman Hameed

Salman Hameed

The author is an associate professor of integrated science and humanities at Hampshire College, Massachusetts, USA. He runs the blog Irtiqa at irtiqa-blog.com and tweets @salmanahameed (twitter.com/salmanahameed)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Bingo

    I wish all Pakistani politicians and mullahs could be included in this mission.Recommend

  • Alann

    This Mars mission if successful could, in a way, provide a big boost to science and our understanding of the outer space. Today a Pakistani has the chance to go Mars. Just imagine how much Pakistan will be lauded by the whole world if ALL of the Pakistanis were to go to Mars for the sake of mankind, and for science of course.
    Now only if wishes were horses..Recommend

  • Visibly

    Reginald Foulds, now living in Canada for >20 years.
    Would he have a chance living in Pakistan for the last 20 years?
    But, it shows: The Westerners are tolerant in terms of immigrants.
    Or maybe not. Would he have succeeded with a Pakistani name?Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Hope he does not ask for Sharia there! BTW, how can he offer Namaz there, if he sees Earth on which there is Kaba, above his head in 5he sky?Recommend

  • Scorpion_King

    It is exciting to go to Mars and it might even be alright for some people if they were told there is no coming back. The thing that scares me the most is that scientists say that with today’s technology the maximum one can stay alive on Mars is 68 days. It scares the hell out of me that once you land there the count down to death starts.Recommend

  • Parvez

    It turned out to be a somewhat serious attempt………..I was looking for satire.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    The people of Pakistan should start a pool to send ALL politicians to the red planet. Recommend

  • p r sharma

    He will be declared a non muslim by Mullahs in PakistanRecommend

  • Alp Arslan

    Ok so at the same rhyme, I can ask you. Hope your seculars and atheists don’t ask for new world order there? or implementation of capitalism,usury there? or permission for fornication, homosexuality, blasphemy, pornography, nudism there? Secondly Allah is the King of whole universe and what is beyond even if we his slaves not ruling this world.
    Now I return to your confusions. First is direction of Qibla. Although the Raginal Foulds here is not a Muslim but I will talk about the issue. There was problem at the time of prophet when people couldn’t find Qibla direction due to darkness or other reasons. When problem was brought Allah gave the solution. “Whereever you direct yourself you will find Allah”. So for special cases where direction of Qibla can’t be found you can randomly chose a direction for prayer and worship. This fatwa has already been practiced when a Malaysian Muslim went to ISS. He prayed five times in 24 hours although on ISS there are 16 sunrises/sunsets daily. So ijtehad is made in such situations. Similarly Muslims in Norway make ijtehad for fasting and praying times. Similarly ijtehad will be made for prayer time in the arctic circle. So it is no problem for us. We have been given the rules and brain to deduce rulings.
    Secondly your view of 5th heaven. The sky of world is from the surface of the earth up to the edges of the universe. This all is ‘sama ad dunya’ (sky of the world). The other six heavens are like other universes which we can’t see and measure. We believe that they exist on the bases of ‘faith on the unseen’ because Allah told that.Recommend

  • Guest

    At the same balance can I ask? That your atheists and secular visitors don’t ask for the implementation of new world order on mars? or capitalism and usury there? or veto power is maintained there too? or fornication, homosexuality, pornography, nudism is allowed there too?
    The absolute kingdom belongs to Allah. And Allah says “Wherever you turn you will find Allah”. This verse was revealed when early Muslims had problems determining Qibla in darkness. When you can’t determine Qibla just turn randomly anywhere and pray.
    5th heaven is not visible to us. From surface of world upto 13.8 billion years is all worldly (earthly heaven). Other heavens are are like parallel universes.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    He IS a non-muslim so no need to declare him a non-Muslim. His name is Reginald Foulds. Declaring someone a non-Muslim is needed when someone commits a major disbelief and claims to be a Muslim.Recommend

  • Guest

    Now I know why there are no comments of religious people on these blogs. I expressed my views and all of my comments were rejected. Secular/atheist admin of this blog! this comment is intended for you because i know it will not be published. But I think there was nothing wrong with other comments. ‘Sacred Cow’ of the west Freedom of expression again being slaughtered. My belief that ‘Absolute freedom of expression do not exist’ is more stronger now. The ‘god of freedom and liberty’ will not rule long.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    I think mullahs have no wish for space exploration so leave them behind. We are more interested in earth.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    There is no base 1 light second away on moon. How can there be a base 1000 light seconds away on mars. It’s above my understanding. Moreover they haven’t even shortly returned to the moon since 40 years.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    He IS a non-Muslim. Read his name carefully.Recommend

  • Salman Hameed

    Alp Arslan: Moon has never been considered a place for humans to live permanently. It will most likely serve as an industrial/military/scientific outpost for specific purposes but not more than that. Mars on the other hand, has a comparable gravity to Earth, underground liquid water, a comparable day length, and even temperatures at the equator that can be warmer than some of the places on our planet. For those interested in space exploration, there has been a vigorous debate on whether to first go to the Moon and then Mars or as many argue, directly go to Mars. Zubrin, who is also an advisor to Mars One, is one of the most prominent advocates of a “Mars Direct” approach. It is through a combination of these reasons that Mars may see a permanent human presence before the Moon.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    I am pretty sure that he would have lived here for >20 years. Thousands of foreigners live here SAFELY.Recommend

  • Alp Arslan

    Ok! ThanksRecommend