Inspirations with Ben Bonnema

Whenever I get obsessed with something, I add a section to my Google News. Right now, there are sections on Nanotechnology, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Lady Stoneheart (don’t google that last one if you don’t want “Game of Thrones” spoilers). And, of course, Space. A couple years ago, my Space section featured a National Geographic documentary short called “Would You Go To Mars If You Could Never Come Back To Earth?” I clicked, I watched, and I immediately forwarded it to Chris Staskel, adding WE NEED TO WRITE A MUSICAL ABOUT THIS.

He agreed.

by Ben Bonnema and Christopher Staskel

by Ben Bonnema and Christopher Staskel


Something I didn’t know when we started writing the piece, but seems like the most crucial thing now, is exactly why going to Mars is important. Or at least, why humans should someday live there permanently. Maybe this whole “Mars One” private mission will work or maybe NASA will go the 2030s. Either way, it seems clear that Mars is in our near future – and we’re not just going there for fun. We’re not even going there primarily to explore.

There are, at any given moment, at least seven ways in which all humans on earth could die. I hope you’re sitting down:

Nearby Supernova (you know, when a star dies and then rudely explodes, destroying everything within 30ish light years)

Solar Super Flare (when the sun gets bored by regular solar flares)

Nuclear Warfare (as Carl Sagan said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Why the fuck aren’t we constantly talking about global nuclear disarmament?!”)

Climate Change (unfortunately self-explanatory)(unless you’re Republican)

Aliens (there’s a real theory that says there’s a group of Super-intelligent Aliens who wait until a civilization is technologically savvy enough – i.e. becomes a threat – before wiping them out. So maybe we should be less excited about the next iPhone)

Magnetic Sphere Reversal (happens every half million years or so, and while it’s happening, our planet’s magnetic sphere is just at 5% strength – which would likely kill us all. Bye!)

Asteroid (what wiped out the dinos. In fact, there have already been five mass extinctions on our planet before. We’re kind of due for the next one)

Most of us walk around everyday as if this stuff isn’t true. We go to work, worry about the L-train shutdown, and wonder how hard it could possibly be to spell names right on coffee cups. But unless we think about these doom-and-gloom things sometimes, and make a plan, we’re destined to end up like the dinosaurs.

The website WaitButWhy puts it like this:

“Let’s imagine the Earth is a hard drive, and each species on Earth, including our own, is a Microsoft Excel document on the hard drive filled with trillions of rows of data. Using our shortened timescale, where 50 million years = one month, here’s what we know:

  • Right now, it’s August of 2015 [when the post came out]
  • The hard drive (i.e. the Earth) came into existence 7.5 years ago, in early 2008
  • A year ago, in August of 2014, the hard drive was loaded up with Excel documents (i.e. the origin of animals). Since then, new Excel docs have been continually created and others have developed an error message and stopped opening (i.e gone extinct).
  • Since August 2014, the hard drive has crashed five times—i.e. extinction events—in November 2014, in December 2014, in March 2015, April 2015, and July 2015. Each time the hard drive crashed, it rebooted a few hours later, but after rebooting, about 70% of the Excel docs were no longer there. Except the March 2015 crash, which erased 95% of the documents.
  • Now it’s mid-August 2015, and the homo sapiens Excel doc was created about two hours ago.
  • Now—if you owned a hard drive with an extraordinarily important Excel doc on it, and you knew that the hard drive pretty reliably tended to crash every month or two, with the last crash happening five weeks ago—what’s the very obvious thing you’d do?

    You’d copy the document onto a second hard drive.”

    I love this analogy because anyone who’s ever had their computer crash without a recent backup knows the corresponding despair. But in this case, no one would despair because no one would be alive!

    Stephen Hawking said, “Once we spread out into space and establish independent colonies, our future should be safe.” To ensure the survival of our species in the long run, we need to become an interplanetary species – and Mars is our best bet.

    Not everyone who’s applied for the one-way mission wants to go for this reason. Some want the glory, some want to explore, some just want to escape problems on earth. But this is why a Mars mission is important for all of us. As Jodie Foster says in the severely underrated film “Contact” (and a favorite of both Chris and I): “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been searching for something, some reason why we’re here. What are we doing here? Who are we? If this is a chance to find out even just a little part of that answer… I don’t know, I think it’s worth a human life. Don’t you?”

    Ben Bonnema is the composer of co-bookwriter of ONE WAY (lyrics and co-book by Christopher Staskel). Other full-lengths: PETER PANIC (with James Marion); BOYS WHO TRICKED ME; THE LOST GIRL (with Arianna Rose). www.benbonnema.com

    ONE WAY plays May 30th & 31st at 7pm at Playwrights Horizons. Click here to make a reservation.

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