By Siddharth R Bagri, Opinion Writer
Mars is cherished planet, which has marveled countless generations of humans. It was known as the Red One to the ancient Greeks and the Fire Star to the ancient Chinese, and the Romans named it after their god of war, a name that has stuck to this day. Ever since humanity’s colossal achievement of landing on the moon and even before then, dreams of visiting Mars have persisted, but they never materialized. After 1969, concerns over federal spending and urgent international crises drew attention away from the Space Race. After all, America won right?
Policy makers saw little need to keep financing NASA’s expensive equipment and the idea that money could be better spent elsewhere convinced much of the public to temper their expectations, and thus the space program waned. However, NASA’s tremendous technological strides and discoveries as well as the proliferation of private space companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have dawned a new era of space exploration. NASA plans to launch a manned mission to Mars within the next 10 to 15 years and talk about colonization finds a serious audience: ambitions are soaring once again.
Since the planet seems to be little more than a dusty wasteland, there does not seem to be much of a need to go there. I disagree. Going to Mars is not only a necessary step, but there will also be benefits to doing so. Three particularly strong reason for going there come to mind.
The first reason concerns humanity’s long-term survival, a notion that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Physicist Stephen Hawking pointed out. Humans only live on one planet and while the risk of some planetary catastrophe is extremely low, it cannot be ruled out. After all, a meteor strike was responsible for killing off the dinosaurs and hurling Earth into an Ice Age, evidence of which can be found at Chicxulub Crater in Mexico. If humanity can become a multi-planet species, the risk of being wiped out by some existential threat is greatly lowered.
The second reason for a trip to Mars would be the technological innovation it would spawn. For example, according to TechRadar, the control system used by the Gemini rocket was used to help test whether a moon landing would be possible and thanks to this technology, computers became more efficient, error-proof, and smaller in size. Actions such as docking ships in space, determining the exact route of a space craft and organizing a re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere are extremely complex, and the Apollo missions demanded even more precision from our computers.
The technology developed during this time made computers into what they are today, and something similar could happen with a mission to Mars and renewable energy. It is impossible for a rocket to carry enough fuel for a roundtrip to Mars while carrying people, which means that some form of renewable energy will likely be necessary for any planned mission. In a world dominated by pollution and rising carbon dioxide levels, a revolution in renewable energy would have welcome benefits for humanity’s future.
The third and final reason is discovery. No one can be sure about what people will need in the future to survive or what kinds of things will benefit mankind, and the only way to figure these things out is by exploring the unknown. For example, when the electron was discovered in 1897, there was no practical use for it at the time and few people knew what its benefits could be.
Over 100 years later, we now live in a world that runs on electronics, and there is no shortage of potential discoveries on Mars. It is now common knowledge that there are canyons and basins on the planet that was carved out by running water implying that Mars was a much more habitable place in the past, not to mention that massive ice caps at the Martian poles.
Last year NASA discovered that there is still flowing water there; the possibility that there could be life on Mars can no longer be ruled out, and at the very least there is a good chance that life once existed there. It is impossible to know what the implications of such a discovery would be, but there is only one way to find out, and I have a feeling that such a discovery would be worth every penny.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 22nd print edition.
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