Mars Versus Earth
Like millions of others, I watched with fascination and wonder as NASA’s space probe Spirit touched down safely on Mars and began to transmit back to Earth images of our planetary neighbor. As a child who enjoyed reading the science fantasies of Arthur Clarke and Ray Bradbury, among others, I didn’t imagine that sending a spaceship to Mars was really possible – but it was fun to dream about such fanciful missions, particularly when puberty was a land from which I hoped to escape.
Now that the space dream has come true, I’m still awestruck by the power of the human mind to figure out problems, to conjecture and subsequently achieve. But now that I’m an adult I’m more ambivalent about the value of sending rockets around our galaxy.
The value of space exploration is obvious: The more we know about our universe, the better life ought to be in our little corner of it. Knowledge is power – the power to improve our lot on Earth before it’s too late.
But what of the exigencies of life on Earth that won’t go away no matter how many distant atmospheres we plumb? What of starvation and malnutrition? What of cholera and influenza? What of wars fueled by religion and poverty? It’s difficult to garner much excitement for a space probe landing on Mars when your belly is distended by infection and a gang of child-soldiers is intent on hacking off your hands with dull machetes. I don’t mean to suggest that the money spent on sending rocketships to distant planets ought to be spent instead on food subsidies or more medicine. The money spent on bombs and Senatorial pork ought to be earmarked for that. What I mean is, my formerly unbridled enthusiasm for astronomical scientific achievement has been tempered over the years by seeing how much we still must achieve at home.
I’m hoping the spectacular accomplishment of Opportunity will remind us of the opportunities that await us on Earth.