Friday, March 26, 2010

Because It's THERE


Mike the Mars Inquisitor is back, and this time, he asks: What is the ultimate goal of sending people to Mars? I'm guessing that as far as collecting data, a robot can do almost everything a woman (or a man) can do, right? For a lot less money and not to mention the potential danger.

Equality means a lot to Mike, so we'll afford men, women and robots the same leeway. I don't see any reason why all three cannot go. Irreverence aside, you have a point: Is Mars only a metaphoric milestone? When the practical issues are resolved, are we going to Mars just because we thought it up?

Should We Go To Mars?
The short answer is: it depends on whether you ask Buzz Aldrin or Mr. Everyman collecting unemployment. Funny thing, if you Google a phrase like "should we go to Mars?" it yields millions of results; the top ten show TIME saying "here's why we shouldn't" and Apollo astronauts saying "here's why we should."

As our current cosmic Everest, it's a bold, inspiring move -– and we've been too long without one that held all eyes gazing in one direction. When we undertake something risky and difficult, it's our symbol for overcoming the impossible.

During the space race of the 60s, the number of people declaring science as their major field of study doubled at every level (high school, college, post-grad and PhD). Wouldn't a repeat of that alone carry valuable rewards?

Will there be tangible benefits, such as mining, or making Mars a habitable safety net if something happens to Earth? Is it lifeless? Is it worth the cost? According to historians at the National Bureau of Economic Research, America has had 34 recessions and 6 depressions. We weathered those, and we'll weather this one.

Humans on Mars
But Would Anything Be Different?

We'll never sell certain people on the idea that planetology, solar system evolution, and Martian volcanism patterns are scientifically important in and of themselves. BECAUSE IT'S THERE isn't good enough for some, just like there were those who thought the moon race was a waste. Perhaps we lack the visionary strength and commitment to overcome that, and proceed to the next great leap for humankind. To recap:

Nixon: "You can still have the car keys, but you can only drive around the neighborhood now. No more road trips."

Ford: [White Noise] {Trip} [White Noise]

Carter: "Hey, is that a UFO?"

Bush Sr.: "... We... have a... space program?"

Clinton: "I love you, I'm just not IN love with you."

Bush, Jr.: "Course I supportify a trip to Mars! Go on, build the ship, I'll bustificate some champagne across it! Ya'll can't have any funds though, me and my friends used it all for limos and tuxedos and caviar."

Obama: "Do you kids think I'm made of money?!"

Only Ronald Reagan was a visionary when it came to NASA, but sadly, a major disaster took place on his watch, causing a huge, humbled retraction of headway. Can we trace our reticence back to the unexpected Challenger tragedy? That may still be a larger factor than we realize.

Mars To Stay
Lives are at stake, after all. But some even want to drop all the nonsense about a round-trip, and advocate accepting that the first trips simply need to be ONE-WAY. So, selected travelers should just cowboy-up and go get it done. With all the folks who dream of being astronauts, how many would volunteer for such a mission? Plenty, I'd bet.

Robotic missions are certainly cheaper and I am not "uninspired" by them, but I'd be far more inspired to know a human being sifted through that Martian soil with his nifty digits and opposable thumb... to know that human corneas and not a camera surveyed the landscape and made the conscious decision to turn left because "the tri-corder says water might be that-a-way."


brian said...

[edited original comment]

Great post. As you hinted, I think there would be many spin-offs that would benefit life on Earth. For example, the life support system would have obvious parallels to sustainable building development on Earth. Likewise, if we develop drugs or gene therapy to mitigate the radiation exposure of space, that could revolutionize cancer treatment.

However, I think the the biggest driver is avoiding the extinction of humanity. As I pointed out in my latest blog post, it's possible and even probable that we'll blow ourselves up by the end of this century. The only way to ensure our survival is to get our eggs out of one basket and establish multiple footholds on other worlds. Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our solar system and is the obvious first planet to settle. I had another blog post last year that laid out more reasons why we should go to Mars.

Recent public opinion polls show overwhelming public support for going to Mars. It's also politically popular now. The biggest hurdle isn't technical, it's economic. Are we willing to spent about $100 billion to go to Mars? That's a drop in the bucket compared to the bailouts. If we all gave up a few Starbucks coffees, we'd have plenty of cash.

Peter said...

Hi! Space travel in general? I'm torn between the huge cost that it takes taking into consideration things such as the lack of universal health care for all in the USA, and the benefits that have come and will continue to come from space exploration and home bound research.

I can only hope that one day soon, space travel will be back on the agenda.

Take Care,

Anonymous said...

Sign me up! I get a feeling I might have better luck with Martian males. Also, I have an urge to write, "Katie Wuz Here."

PillowNaut said...

We could do a whole blog just on this subject! And I definitely agree on the Starbucks deal, LOL… imagine what we could do if everyone quit smoking, imbibing or swearing off McDs! ;) Gee, the health care industry issues would take care of themselves and Mars would be a much easier decision, hehe…

Everyone else, I encourage you to read Brian’s blog as well, he’s often knee-deep in the things I only TALK about! :)

Sach said...

Yes! There are people who get angry at the suggestion that we should send humans in addition to robots. They like to point out how amazingly fragile human body is compared to a robot!

Robots are nice - nothing wrong with them, but you HAVE to send a human there! Hopefully lots of humans!

P.S. Love the Obama label: Do ya think I'm made of money! :D :D

PillowNaut said...

Well sure, but I don't see anyone holding a gun to the heads of the humans who WANT to go to Mars. And they are not ignorant to the challenges or dangers by any means. heck, I think Brian would leave tomorrow if we let him!

Thanks... I got a nasty email about that Bush thing though (from someone who demanded I look at his evidence about Obama's birth cert, LOL!!) ... boy, some people just can't take a joke ;)