Friday, April 22, 2005

Mars Mission Madness

Mars capsules

My parents wanted to go to Mars. Back when the California Institute of Technology kids would go to Devil's Canyon to shoot off homemade rockets before WWII, my parents promised to go to Mars if they got married.

So now, Bush has decided to go to Mars.

Why am I totally sceptical?

Readers of this blog can answer this queation. To travel anywhere you need the funds and the technology and the desire to travel. Interplanetary travel needs all this in spades. This means focusing on a goal. And money. Lots of money. A human Mars mission will be fabulously expensive. Not only must a craft be crafted, it must be built and launched and supported.

Back in the late seventies, the space exploration clubs we so painfully built through the Science Fiction Conventions began to implode when the leaders of this movement got derailed by the will-o-wisp of the Star Wars nuclear shield system. Developing this useless extraterrestrial Maginot Line diverted precious money and talent. Always, it was funded, always at the expense of other programs.

The Mars Society was started with the remnants of the earlier clubs pushing for space colonies and human exploration. They worked hard for their goal which is to colonize the desert planet of Mars. This was always possible except for one huge problem: you can't buy what you can't afford. To pay for this we have to cut funds somewhere else. Like the $81+billion every seven or eight months for the $300+billion war to make Iraq an outpost of democracy. It would be tons cheaper to make Mars and outpost of democracy but this strangely isn't high on the Bush agenda. We can't buy everything we see. We have to make choices. And the Mars Society has decided the choices should come from within NASA rather than from outside NASA.

This means mocking the scientific work done with the Space Shuttle and worse, the work involving studying our own planet. Bush would love to see the funds for that cut drastically. This is because he doesn't want information about the degradation of our planetary systems known since Americans are causing a great deal of the destruction.

Dr. Zubrin talks about the Hubble Space Telescope and admits it is worth saving...thank goodness. Only this costs money. And money is what NASA will see less and less. And the Hubble, unlike the Mars mission, has excited great interest and genuine calls for saving it and improving on it.

Here are the terrifying words of the head of the Mars Society, Mr. Zuberin:

If the United States is to lead the West, it must not only carry its sword, but the banner of its most sacred cause. And that cause is the freedom to explore on the wings of human reason.

The French may sneer, with some cause, at our fast food restaurants and TV sitcoms, but the Hubble Space Telescope can inspire nothing but admiration, or even awe, in anyone who is alive above the neck.

A human Mars exploration program would be a statement about ourselves, a reaffirmation that we remain a nation of pioneers, the vanguard of humanity, devoted to the deepest values of Western civilization.

It would be truly an irony if we gain Mars only to lose the Earth! A tragic irony. No planet is more important than this planet.

Right now, going to Mars is merely a joy ride. Taken because it might be fun and romatic. When my parents were young, life was exciting and knowing the unknowable, fun. Today, we know a great deal about Mars thanks to the unmanned missions. It is an awe inspiring place but is also as nasty as Death Valley after a nuclear bomb. What ever life is there, it is microscopic and dessicated. While Dr. Zubrin calls for the elimination of many unmanned space programs he doesn't call for an end to the military spending that has ballooned recently as detailed here on this blog. He doesn't call for tax hikes and belt tightening here in America, either. Indeed, he assumes along with his friends in the White House that the money for this will magically appear from Asia and no choices will be made. Cutting existing programs at NASA will save pennies and the Mars mission is not a subway ride. This is like saving 5 cent bottle returns until you can buy a first class ticket to tour the world on the Queen Mary.

Humans can't live on Mars. This is certainly obvious now. Pretty much nothing can live there. Yet we will slit our throats here at home rather than focus on saving planet Earth, the Jewel of the Solar System. We cannot plant a flag on another planet unless we first bring peace to Earth. It is a joint effort. It must be international. It must come from everyone, not some flag waving, sneering, Napoleonic American with delusions of grandeur.

More news:The chairman of a House panel that makes decisions about NASA’s budget said Wednesday that he opposed a White House plan to cut spending on aeronautics research next year at the U.S. space agency.

The NASA budget request the White House sent to Congress in February would cut aeronautics spending by $67 million in 2006 to $852 million. In 2007, according to White House projections, aeronautics spending would drop a further $191 million to $728 million before leveling off.

This is pork protection, of course, by a pol. But again, we can't buy everything in the Earth Store, we have to make choices and pick wisely. This seems to be nearly impossible now. Just like we pig out at home, we do the same in public.

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