STORY BY CHAMINDI WIJESINGHE
A potential reenacting of a scene from J.T. McIntosh’s novel “One in Three Hundred” propelled a debate lurking in the shadows to the forefront as NASA announced on Dec. 2, 2014 that by late 2030s, it would get astronauts to the Red Planet’s surface.
“We believe we now have an example of a long-term, cost-constrained, executable humans-to-Mars program,” Scott Hubbard, a professor in the Stanford University Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a member of The Planetary Society’s board of directors, said in a statement.
While most of the world received the news with much indifference, it was Moses’ stick that divided and parted space enthusiasts and critiques about the necessity of sending man to Mars.
Undeniably, the reflex reaction was to cringe at a notion where our finances are thrown into a dark, hollow unknown. Let’s stop right there. How many are truly aware of NASA’s budget? The majority would shrug, argue that it’s too much and bend the truth.
NASA doesn’t have enough money.
As Professor Herbert Folsom, a Drake professor in the Physics & Astronomy Department said,
“I do believe we should send people to Mars, and that it isn’t a waste of money. First of all, in this country at least, NASA receives just 0.5 percent of the U.S. budget each year. Doubling that would still only be one cent per dollar. Still a small amount, but enough to go to Mars soon and beyond.”
Indeed the fact that each fiscal year, a share of the U.S. Budget is allocated to NASA has inevitably led the space exploration giant to cut its budget, and Ernest Shackleton accurately spelled out in his fabled newspaper advertisement, the job description for the future mission crew: “Men and women wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold and long months of complete darkness.”
Despite all this, there are people willing to risk their life for science and advancement of the human race.
After Neil Armstrong’s giant leap forward, almost five decades ago, it is a matter of time before we realize that manned exploration to Mars is a form of future insurance when faced with the caprices of the highly dynamic nature of the universe.
Indeed, if the origin of life as we know arose from a Big Bang in an unknown distant area of the Universe, who can contest that solutions to problems on Earth may lie on Mars? It is no secret that we are impacting Earth’s atmosphere to an extent where it is critical for us to better scrutinize all aspects of our environment.
However, on Earth, where political will and customs will always get in the way of new research projects and explorations, Mars is open to study and can provide more accurate results (unless there is a hidden government of Martians whose goal is to exterminate Earth).
Mars knowledge is valuable as its structure is similar to Earth. Past expeditions have shown that there is a possibility of sustaining life on Mars and having man colonize the planet will speed up the terraforming, intentionally adjusting Mars’ climate and surface to render it hospitable to humans, which in turn will propel mankind to participate in a pioneering new world.
This snowball effect will enthrall the future generations to help benefit the world, through innovations and breakthroughs in medicine and other technological aspects, creating a newly structured society.
Indeed, expanding our horizons to Mars will drive humans towards possible peace. As surprising as it sounds, with a successful Mars mission, the new era opening up would require the cooperation of research programs across the globe. Though conflicts are inevitable, the advanced technology would require the ultimate collaboration of all countries.
As such, humanity has an opportunity to carry forward the best that Earth has to offer and, ironically, on the long run, solve the same problems on Earth that critiques feel should be addressed prior.
Moreover, as we telescope deeper into the 21st century, we realize that the eccentric nature of humans to go beyond has had a large number of benefits that only manifested themselves afterwards.
From artificial limbs to pollution remediation, today we come in contact with everyday products that we ignore are the results of NASA’s curiosity all within a constrained budget.
Should the manned mission to Mars be successful, it will be as life changing as Copernicus’ enlightenment and the moment on July 20th 1969 when millions of people, around the world huddled in front of the television to watch the Eagle, with three men aboard, touch down on lunar rock.
The excitement of man expanding beyond visible horizons dispelled all doubt and reservations regarding the project and the world, space geek or not, came together as one. 70 years later, in 2039, when NASA launches the first space ship destined towards Mars, the new generation will have the honor and joy to relive that moment in history that bought their forefathers together. As Professor Folsom summarized, “Human beings have been explorers throughout our history. I fear that if we stop being curious about the unknown we will stagnate,” Folsom said. “The inspiration of reaching for new horizons, particularly for younger generations, will allow us to continue to progress as a species.”
Those resisting the project should realize that there is a purpose in sending people to Mars: better and greater purpose.