Let’s go to Mars, I’ll explain on the way
I have a theory that about 90 per cent of the viewer interest in motor sport of any kind is the potential to watch serious crashes.
Just look at what they show from the “highlights” of the Daytona series on Sports Tonight – it’s 40 cars doing quadruple flips over each other at 200 kilometres with the commentator yelling “whoa mamma!”
As space shuttle Endeavour waits on the Florida tarmac like so many QANTAS “express” flights, any interest we maintain in the NASA space program has similarly boiled down to the initial take-off explosion and whether or not the shuttle will blow-up before it touches back home. This is a shame because space exploration is an amazing and important human achievement.
The problem with the NASA space program as it stands is that it doesn’t articulate its goals and as a consequence leaves itself open to the accusation of lacking real purpose.
As distasteful as it might sound the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disintegration has lent an element of danger to shuttle mission that were becoming thought upon as somewhat turbulent long-haul flights.
So combined with the “will they, won’t they” survival factor and the stunning launches into the Florida evening sky there’s still enough public interest in space exploration as a spectacle.
But the concept of space exploration for the betterment of human kind, as a purpose “for the good of all men” as Kennedy said in his incredible moon mission speech, has completely disappeared from our psyche:
The mission description for astronauts aboard the Endeavour (hopefully) taking off today reads more like a list of chores given to you by grandma to ensure her coast house is livable after winter: “the astronauts were also expected to undertake repair and replacement work, including installing six new batteries in the ISS.”
Inspiring stuff aye? I hope they know the spare key is in the power box around the side.
There’s only one solution to stem this tide of space apathy – NASA should says it’s sending a man to Mars and say exactly when they’re planning to do it.
NASA has a stated aim of getting a manned mission to Mars by the late 2020s or early 2030s and are planning to build a moon based by about 2020 to aid this goal.
It is baffling that NASA and US Governments don’t articulate this vision more often to America and the rest of the world. Part of the reason for that may be that NASA is not assured the funding for it and as such it cautious about stating these goals more regularly.
In 2004 George W. Bush announced the Vision of Space Exploration which included plans for moon bases and a manned Mars mission.
The Obama administration has since cooled on the idea and is planning a review of the entire space program, which involves what kind of spacecraft will replace the space shuttles when they are phased out in the next few years.
Some are keen to label Obama as short-sighted in his cost-saving approach to NASA but they should probably remember that if George W. Bush had focussed more on Mars and less on going to Iraq there would have been almost $700 billion extra floating around US coffers, some of which could have helped at the comparatively meagre $18.7 billion budget that NASA is hoping for in 2010.
The point being here that compared to military spending NASA is back of the couch cash.
Last year Stephen Hawking reiterated the importance of on-going support for a Mars mission for mankind and said that manned missions should be at the centre of any plan.
“Robotic missions are much cheaper and may provide more scientific information, but they don’t catch the public imagination in the same way, and they don’t spread the human race into space, which I’m arguing should be our long-term strategy.”
Hawking wanted to point out how important it was to rediscover the vision in space exploration and place it firmly back into the narrative of human progress and endeavor.
Specific and realistic goals, like going to Mars, are important in fostering this.
It may also reignite excitement for space programs and remind us of our potential to go places as a species rather than merely being another form of explosion-based entertainment.
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