And now for a new national anthem – for Mars!

Another planet: Oscar Castellino (above) was born in a car on a street in Mumbai. © BBC

Does Mars need a national anthem? Opera singer Oscar Castellino has just given the first performance of his composition, Rise to Mars!, written to encourage colonisation of the Red Planet.

Imagine waking up on Mars in 10 years’ time.

It is cold outside – maybe -150C – and as one of the planet’s first inhabitants, you have a hard day ahead of you: either mining for minerals; tending vegetables in the colony’s greenhouses, or maintaining the space shuttle that brought you from Earth.

You probably want something to remind you why you made the 35-million-mile journey – and Rise to Mars! playing on the tannoy might just be it.

The anthem, commissioned by the Mars Society that promotes the settlement of the Red Planet, has a rousing tune and inspiring lyrics. “Rise to Mars, men and women,” it begins. “Dare to dream! Dare to strive! Build a home for our children! Make this desert come alive!”

“When people sing it and hear it,” says its composer, Oscar Castellino, “I want them to dream about this future that we have: of our children, and their children, living across the solar system, and a great step that our generation can take.”

The president of the Mars Society, Dr Robert Zubrin, believes that every successful movement needs an anthem.

“It’s truly a ‘Marseillaise’ for Mars,” he says. “I would not at all be surprised if it, some day, became the national anthem of a Free Martian Republic.”

The idea of an official national anthem began in Europe in the late 18th Century, though sometimes songs were adopted that had been written much earlier: God Save the King – now God Save the Queen – was first performed in 1619.

When Europeans set up colonies, anthems became important to these countries’ identities too.

Only one country in modern times has not had a national anthem – Afghanistan, when it was ruled by the Taliban and all music was banned.

How soon Rise to Mars! might be sung on the planet itself is unclear.

Elon Musk’s company SpaceX hopes to send people there by 2024; Nasa is aiming for 2030, and the Mars One project for 2032.

But Castellino hopes to see a performance in which people on Mars harmonise with people on Earth: “Because the Martian anthem is not about a planet – it’s about our species taking a great leap forward.”

What do you think? Does Mars really need a national anthem?

A song for the stars

Some say that the anthem is a great idea. To make a go of living on Mars, colonists will need a sense that the planet truly is their home – and Rise to Mars! will help them feel that. It is a song catchy enough to capture the public imagination, and persuade people that inhabiting another planet is a genuine possibility. That in turn will bring the project closer to reality.

Others argue that there is no point in setting up a colony unless it benefits Earth, so colonists should continue to think of this planet as their home. A Martian national anthem would undermine that. The more a colony develops an independent identity, the more likely it is to rebel. In any case, given how many problems today are blamed on colonisation, it would be perverse to colonise Mars.

You Decide

  1. Is colonising Mars a good idea?
  2. Do you think national anthems make an important difference?

Activities

  1. People with a national anthem also need a flag. What should the Martian flag look like? Draw a picture.
  2. As well as a national anthem and flag, Mars will need a constitution. Make a list of seven articles it should include.

Some People Say...

“What kind of world is this that can send machines to Mars and does nothing to stop the killing of a human being?”

Jose Saramago (1922-2010), Portuguese writer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Oscar Castellino has written an anthem called Rise to Mars! It was commissioned by the Mars Society, and had its premiere in Wales last month. Castellino grew up in India, and was a software engineer before he became an opera singer and composer. The idea of a national anthem dates from the late 18th Century. Afghanistan had no national anthem under Taliban rule. SpaceX is aiming to put humans on Mars by 2024.
What do we not know?
If and when astronauts will actually land on Mars, and whether they will manage to establish a colony. Will the colony even want a national anthem? We don’t know if the colonists might rebel against Earth and establish a Free Martian Republic.

Word Watch

Tannoy
A loudspeaker system for making public announcements.
Solar system
The sun and the planets and moons that it controls.
Marseillaise
The French national anthem of France, written in 1792 after the declaration of war by France against Austria.
Afghanistan
A mountainous Asian country, slightly larger than France, whose neighbours include Pakistan, Iran and China. In recent decades, it has been ravaged by war, and the present government is still in conflict with the Taliban.
Taliban
A violent fundamentalist Islamic movement which controlled much of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
Elon Musk
A South African-born entrepreneur, whose companies have included the online payment service PayPal and the electric-car company Tesla.
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, responsible for the US space programme.
Perverse
Deliberately or stubbornly unreasonable.

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