By The Bakersfield Californian
The past two or three weeks have been busy ones on the extraterrestrial front.
First we had a brush with extinction when a 130,000-ton space rock traveled within 17,000 miles of Earth, a distance that qualifies as a near-miss. Then, literally hours later, we had a mini-asteroid the size of a school bus vaporize over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk, unleashing a force equal to that of a 500-kiloton nuclear bomb. Then, just last Friday, President Obama delivered a sci-fi-themed mixed metaphor of intergalactic ineptitude. Complaining about Congress' unwillingness to heed his pleas about the looming across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, Obama said "most people agree ... that I should somehow, you know, do a Jedi mind meld with these folks." Jedi being the telekinetic samurai of "Star Wars" films and the mind meld a psychic specialization of "Star Trek's" Spock.
But Obama's trivia-challenged one-liner wasn't half as horrifying as the other imagined space adventure that made the news last week: Multimillionaire space tourist Dennis Tito announced plans to send a man and woman, presumably betrothed, on a 501-day fly-by around Mars.
Tito wants to send the couple to the Red Planet (and bring at least one of them back) in 2018 -- a no-frills, 16-month RV trip that would test not only the bounds of quasi-hygienic mutual tolerance but the fine print of traditional wedding vows.
The challenges will be many: For Tito, coming up with enough sponsors to pull off the $1.5 billion feat; for the engineers, building a reliable, affordable spacecraft in five years; for the medical staff, equipping the astrocouple with the tools to endure 16 months of weightlessness and space radiation.
None of that approaches the toll this will take on the marriage, however. A young couple might be intrigued by the possibility of 16 months of zero-gravity sex, but the rest of us would be thinking about 16 months of zero showers, a finite amount of toilet paper and a daily ration of processed urine. ("Look, honey, the international space station! Let's toast!")
Having already survived a high-voltage hot-air balloon crash, the wife and I have already checked off "flirt with death" on our bucket lists, so we will pass. But, given the choice, I'd rather dodge power lines again than share 600 cubic feet of space with her for 501 days. Certainly not if I can't at least take the dog for a walk when things get tense. As Sigourney Weaver might once have said, in space no one can hear you argue.
On this Lois-and-Clark expedition, there'd be considerably less to argue about, of course. There'd be no "Honey, you forgot to take out the trash -- again." There'd be no magazine solicitors at the front door. No broken sprinkler heads in the yard. No laundry days, no grocery store lines, no dishes piling up in the sink.
Flying around in a capsule built on the cheap by time-constrained engineers does not fill me with confidence, but if decades of homeownership has taught me anything, it's that a guy can accomplish a lot with duct tape and WD-40. This mission will need plenty of both.
Two things for the medical staff to review before takeoff: The appropriate crew member's birth control needs will have to be accounted for, lest a third member of the crew arrive mid-flight; and all appendixes (appendici? appendices?) should be in good working order in advance of departure, assuming that's possible to ascertain. Because once this tin can separates from the launch pad, the commitment is etched in granite. Sort of like marriage itself, theoretically speaking.
A couple of common sources of road-trip marital strife shouldn't be issues on this trip. Your spaceship knows which way to go, so there will be no need to ask for directions. Then there's the driver's tendency to tailgate. Traffic should be light -- but if it's not, we'll really have something new on the extraterrestrial front.
Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at rprice@ bakersfield.com.