I was thrilled to hear about NASA’s discovery of water on Mars. I am hoping it will contribute to interest in a human mission to Mars. Ideally, such a mission would not be under the banner of a single nation but rather include team members from around the world.
Why travel to space at all when there are so many problems to solve here? Many of the problems here have old historical gripes attached to them that will take a long time to overcome. Mars offers a unique opportunity to co-operate globally in a way that starts from scratch. The moon is much too close to Earth by comparison and still feels like a logical extension of our regionals squabbles. It doesn’t help that the initial space race was closely associated with the Cold War.
A counter argument would be that it will be impossible to assemble such a program . I think that’s true if we put politicians in charge. But most scientists and engineers care more about the thing itself than giving their nation some extra advantage. So if the right initial group came together it becomes more a question of funding it. Here too is an opportunity for some innovation. Over time some (maybe all?) of a mission could be crowdfunded and that would be an interesting opportunity for the leading crowdfunding sites to collaborate to have the same project raise in all places.
Bringing humans to Mars will have other benefits in addition to giving us a common rallying point for bringing humanity closer together. For starters, it would be great to have a backup strategy for Earth. Having been involved with building several high performance resilient computer systems, I abhor single points of failure. And Earth is currently a single point of failure for humanity. It would also be nice to show that we don’t need to worry about overpopulation even if lifespans were to suddenly start growing a lot.
Most importantly though I think the actual difficulties of establishing human life on Mars will make us realize how important it is to take better care of Earth. When embattled in whatever conflict here on Earth, from the petty to the catastrophic, it is easy to lose sight of just how magical our planet is and how inhospitable the rest of the universe is to human life. Attempts to put humans on Mars and sustain them there followed by all of us will provide a constant reminder.
Until we embark on the mission in reality we will have to make do with fictional versions. And there I am excited about seeing The Martian this weekend after thoroughly enjoying the book.