I’m referring to perhaps the most analytical group on the planet, NASA, and their insistence on making Mars a central focus of their research, development and majority of planned missions for the foreseeable future.
So I ask: why Mars?
Although other planets (Jupiter ala 2001/2010/2061/3001) have been the fodder for SciFi buffs over the years, Mars has seemingly been the favorite for as long as SciFi has been around. From good ol’ Thomas Edison’s ‘A Trip to Mars’ way back in 1910, to the heyday of SciFi pulp in the 50’s and 60’s, where we were treated to such gems as ‘Invaders from Mars’ and the screen adaptation of ‘War of the Worlds’, to the latest big screen flicks like ‘John Carter’ and ‘Watchmen’; Mars has certainly been the darling of Hollywood, if not of every SciFi author out there.
And NASA has been drinking the Kool Aid for years, it seems. Not that I’m saying Mars shouldn’t be considered for research, mission visits and (eventual) colonization. To the contrary, Mars should be on that list. But I just don’t think it should be first on the list.
I think we’re forgetting about a smaller, much closer target that could help us achieve our lofty Mars-related goals quicker. You remember the Moon, right? With most of NASA’s space budget funneling toward the Red Planet, it seems that they don’t recall our very own, neighborhood satellite. Sure, every once in a while one of the missions is Moon-related; like slamming a probe into the lunar surface to gauge what’s under there.
But look at the attention Mars garners: not 1, but 3 rovers, 4 current orbiter missions, and a plethora of smaller landers, orbiters and fly-bys over the past few decades.
The argument has been made that Mars is, and should be, our primary objective; and that we should focus most, if not all, of our efforts on getting to that planet first. As I mentioned earlier, I won’t disagree with most of that statement. But I believe that we should head back to the Moon before all else. It’s closer, it’s less ‘alien’ to us and…hey, hello? We’ve been there before!
So what’s the fuss over Mars? Why have we forsaken an invaluable stepping stone that sits literally days away via space travel for a much harsher, relatively unknown planet that would take us 9 months to reach?
The science hasn’t yet caught up enough to make that trip worthwhile – at least not for humans. Perhaps a study into alternate means, which my friend EA Thomson (@EAThomson) covers in his blog <here>, would yield an insight into what could be the answer for future generations.
But even with the apparent limitations of our own technology, we still persist with the dream of one day reaching (via manned missions) the Red Planet and making it our own. Of turning even it into a stepping stone to something other-worldly beyond our own Solar System.
Perhaps its Hollywood’s glamorization of our Red neighbor that drives us. They could hardly be fingered as the only culprit, however. After all, we SciFi writers have been waxing poetic about the fantastical for centuries – way back to the 1600’s with Kepler, all the way up to the present, where thousands of SciFi stories make it into print/e-book form annually.
While I, along with my SciFi author brethren, will stick to the glamour of writing stories of other worlds, including Mars, I feel from a realistic standpoint that we need to make our first destination a re-visit, and colonization, of our very own Moon. It makes sense from a practical, economical, logistical and technological perspective – not to mention, a societal boost. One where we can say “we have at long last, officially entered the final frontier”.
Baby steps, people. Baby steps.