When I was ten, my ambition was to go to Mars. I imagined stepping out of a spaceship and onto the surface of the red planet, greeting the little green natives. In my mind’s eye I would look very much as I did then: around four feet tall, bespectacled, wearing a knee-length wool jumper, my hair caught in two brown braids. No space suit. Despite practically memorizing some children’s books on astronomy, I still hadn’t absorbed the fact that Mars has very little atmosphere and an average surface temperature of -80° Fahrenheit.
Five years later I’d acquired a somewhat better picture of extraterrestrial conditions and the qualifications required to enter the space program. First, they wanted experienced pilots. There were two ways to get that experience: be wealthy enough to pay for private lessons, or get training from the military. My family was poor, so when the Air Force recruiters came to our high school, I was ready to sign up. “You’re going to teach me to fly a plane,” I said confidently.
They barely looked at me. “We don’t teach girls to fly,” one said.
“Well, what do you teach us?”
“To be secretaries or weather girls.”
I glanced at the newly-enlisted female cadets down the hall. They wore ill-fitting blue skirts that looked like they’d been cut out of cardboard, and drilled with broomsticks over their shoulders. To hell with you, I thought. I don’t need the Air Force to teach me to be a secretary. Thus ended my potential career as an astronaut.
Instead I became a feminist, fighting for women to have the opportunities I’d been denied. I have traveled as much as I could afford on this planet, and the heroines in my novels travel as much as they can, in an era when very few women left their native soil.
Just this week I read about Mars One, a foundation trying to raise money to colonize Mars. If they meet their goals, the first group of volunteers will take off on a one-way journey in 2026. They must be over 18 (no upper age limit), in good health, and between 5’2” and 6’2”. At this point I barely qualify, having lost a few inches since adolescence. In 2026 I will be 83—an unlikely candidate.
Besides, if I were organizing the expedition, I’d want the colonists to be of reproductive age. The first little girl on Mars should be born there.