Holland Park is pretty special right now. Pale pink cyclamens, deep red acers, crispy leaves just starting to fall. Hell, I even saw a peacock on its morning stroll. But Earth’s Edenic charms have never been enough for the human race. We want more: we want Mars.
The Design Museum’s comprehensive exhibition features films, diagrams, models and samples relating to how to get to Mars, what to eat on Mars, how to keep fit on Mars, how to dress on Mars, how to solve the housing problem on Mars, and so on.
Some of it is fascinating, including a section about the Mars of collective imagination, ancient and modern. Because in a way, the concept of Mars is as interesting as the real life red planet. This is especially true given how there are several glitches in the ‘Relocation, Relocation’ plan including how Mars is basically an extremely cold desert with no oxygen in its atmosphere.
There’s also an unsettling melancholy to several of the displays. A short (and rather dull) film mentions designs producing ‘moments of Earthly feelings’, while a set of scented space gloves recreate the smell of a favourite horse or freshly cut grass, because on Mars pets and plants will just be hazy, tear-soaked memories.
Life on Mars increasingly seems like a gloomy proposition. Which makes you wonder what’s really behind the impulse to conquer it. The words ‘colonisers’ and ‘colony’ pop up in the commentary, suggesting this stratospheric exploration plan is uncomfortably linked to a base desire to impose and conquer ‘new’ land – the same urge that’s already contributed to screwing up one planet.
An inability to face the problems in our own backyard before building a new one in space is identified by the exhibition itself. But it’s never resolved, and instead remains as an awkward background buzz. ‘We need to be laser-focused on becoming a multi-planet civilisation,’ Elon Musk gets quoted as saying. Personally, I’d rather focus on taking care of the peacocks.