Thinking readers, where do you stand on the coming colonisation of Mars?
That process, dear to the heart of Elon Musk and others, is now given some new lubrication by NASA's exciting achievement in landing the Perseverance rover on Mars.
Meanwhile Elon Musk is saying that a prototype of his SpaceX's Starship, which may someday send humans to Mars, is likely to launch in coming days.
Thrilling as NASA's successful delivery of Perseverance to Mars is, there is something about our conquering of Mars, our Mars fetish, that disturbs. And what if those of us who instinctively feel Mars should be left alone (and who have always felt the same about poor, harassed Mount Everest) are expressing our feminine sides?
Back to my inner woman in a moment. But first to Mars.
Writing, in horror, for The Atlantic, science journalist Shannon Stirone gasps that Mars is "a hellhole" and that Muskite ambitions to go and live there (Musk has famously said that he wants to die there, albeit not "on impact" on his arrival but later, of old age) are wicked. Instead of looking for a home elsewhere in the cosmos we should, Stirone lectures, focus on caring for the home (this dear, lonely little blue dot in the immensity of space) we have.
"Mars has ... no breathable air and the average surface temperature is a deadly 80 degrees below zero," Stirone shudders.
"For humans to live there in any capacity they would need to live underground.
"[Farewell] to deep breaths outside and walks without the security of a bulky spacesuit. [You will know] that if you're out on an extravehicular activity and something happens, you've got an excruciatingly painful 60-second death waiting for you. Visiting Mars as a proof of technology or to expand the frontier of human possibility is very different from living there. Mars will kill you."
Stirone is scathing about Musk's attitude to space and to Mars.
"[Unlike Carl Sagan] he [Musk] has no longing for scientific discovery ... Musk is no explorer; he is a flag planter. He is encouraging a feeling of entitlement to the cosmos - that we can and must colonise space, regardless of who or what might be there ..."
By contrast Stirone finds Sagan musing "What shall we do with Mars? There are so many examples of human misuse of the Earth that even phrasing the question chills me. If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if [they] are only microbes.' "
Similarly, agreeing with Sagan about leaving Mars alone, I have always wanted us to stop molesting Mount Everest. As Perseverance gets to work and as Mars' colonisation is being so actively discussed I am re-reading, with the usual rapt admiration, Jan Morris' autobiographical book Conundrum.
Jan Morris has just died and so is on many minds. Conundrum is her story of how and why she, born male and living her early life as James Morris, successfully pursued her need to become the female she always felt she was. It is a book of profound reflections on maleness and femaleness by a fine and humane thinker and writer uniquely placed to dwell on such things.
As a young and manly male, James Morris, a dashing journalist, was famously part of the 1953 expedition that achieved the first ascent of Everest. But James found himself unable to revel in it all.
"On Everest I realised more explicitly some truths about myself. Though I was as fit as most of those men [the men of the manly all-male expedition] I responded to different drives. I did not share the mountaineers' burning desire to see that mountain climbed. This ... snatching at air, this nothingness ... this perfect uselessness ... left me dissatisfied as I think it would leave most women. Nothing had been discovered, nothing made, nothing improved."
In Conundrum Jan Morris is brilliantly thoughtful about these sorts of things, about what gender is and isn't, about what the Masculine and Feminine may be.
"To me gender is not physical at all, but is altogether insubstantial. It is more truly life and love than any combination of genitals, ovaries and hormones ... C.S. Lewis likened the difference between Masculine and Feminine to the difference between rhythm and melody."
It is early on Wednesday morning. Here is your blended columnist, a bearded husband and father, singing to himself (in his manly bass-baritone) while painstakingly arranging in his painstakingly chosen vases pretty flowers from his own beloved garden while also, in his perhaps womanly way, sighing at the news of his species' boyish and perfectly pointless obsession with Mars.