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Mars, you better brace yourself, there are aliens coming your way

Dear Mars,

You may have noticed things haven't been so great on Earth lately. Or maybe you haven't. I know you've been busy, orbiting the sun, trying to mind your own business, hoping that if you seem all cold and distant we'll leave you alone.

Fat chance, my friend. If you've got a cloaking device this might be the time to pull it out, because we're coming. We've wiped our nose on this planet, and you're next on the list.

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There's a bit of a competition going on down here to see who will be first to visit you. There's a Dutch outfit called Mars One that's got this great idea: It's going to finance its mission by turning the expedition into a reality show. Seriously! The contest to find potential astronauts starts this week, and Mars One says they don't need to possess any particular scientific qualifications, apart from "having a can-do! attitude" and being able to fit their credentials on a one-minute video application. Please forgive me if you end up with Kim Kardashian instead of Roberta Bondar, Mars. It's in the hands of the global viewing audience now.

One other small thing: The four explorers that Mars One intends to send to you in 2023 won't be coming back. You'll be stuck with them. So it's a bit more like herpes than an actual gift. Sorry about that. But I'm sure they'll bring tulip bulbs and chocolate and in time they'll open some hash airlocks where they'll sit around talking about whether the pot isn't way better on Neptune. The Dutch aren't bad colonizers, Mars. They've had 400 years to work on their technique.

But your new guests might be a wee bit grumpy when they arrive. You see, they'll have been travelling through space for eight months in a module that looks like a prison cell and probably smells way worse. I know! It sounds exactly like a cruise ship, doesn't it? You're probably thinking: Why can't those people just go to the Bahamas and get their hair braided on the beach and contract Norwalk virus and leave me alone? Because you're there, Mars, and it is in our nature to want what we can't have. Or, perhaps it's better to say: "We have always reached for the stars." Or "I think this house is on fire. We'd better look for a new one!"

Anyway, you'll probably have other visitors before the Van Beefcakes from Mars One arrive. There is another earthling, a very rich and clever man named Dennis Tito, who plans on sending two people, probably a married couple, to take a spin around your atmosphere in 2018. They won't set foot on you, thank goodness. Can you imagine the state of a married couple after they've been trapped alone in a metal tube for months with no magazines and no way of knowing who's won any of the arguments? My husband and I tried to drive to Montreal once, and the police had to separate us in a Harvey's outside Belleville.

One way or the other, it will be private citizens heading your way. Governments just don't have the cash or the cojones, at the moment. Even though President Barack Obama pledged to give NASA the money it needed for a manned mission within 20 years – "I expect to be around to see it," he said from the steps of the Kennedy Space Center – he's reneged on that promise. He's had to deal with Republicans in Congress, so at least he's learning something about Martian behaviour.

It's not like NASA scientists have given up on you, those cheeky minxes. They've got their Curiosity rover pinching you all over like Frank Sinatra at the Playboy mansion. And you may not know it, but high on a volcano in Hawaii, they've got a Mars simulation going on: Six people are locked away, pretending to be on a long-term space mission, seeing which foods will best sustain them. I would have suggested a hundred cases of Nutella, which may be why NASA has not yet invited me to join its astronaut program.

You've always been special to us, Mars: You're more than a dot in the sky, you're a dream and a metaphor. During our Cold War, Hollywood made all sorts of movies about Martians attacking Earth, and they were all terrifying and robotic and enslaving, kind of like Russians. Of course, the average North American had about as much chance of meeting a Russian as a Martian in those days – and that's why it worked.

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Yes, I hear what you're saying. There is no such thing as a Martian, and you'd like to keep it that way. It might be too late. Our eyes have been caught by the wonders of space travel once again; it seems like escape and possibility. If I were you, I'd blame Chris Hadfield and his camera. You can find him on Twitter if you want to complain.

I'm really sorry, Mars. It looks like you can spin, but you can't hide. I just hope your guests have the sense not to trash the new place like they did the last one.

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