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."