Sunday, May 25, 2008

Minutes from Mars

I'm watching and waiting for the Phoenix probe to land on Mars! There are some who argue that the space program shouldn't take precedence over health and education programs here at home. I beg to differ. I think health care and education are extremely important. But I don't see them as incompatible with a robust space program.

Now, there's a big difference between gaining knowledge that is shared, that makes our lives better, and developing weapons in space. The former I'm very much in support of. The latter I only support from a defensive point of view, but I'm well aware that defensive weapons can usually become, all too quickly, offensive ones as well.

If we really provided excellent health care to our citizens and strong educational programs we wouldn't need missiles. Every country on earth would want to join the United States. But that's not "fun" for combat oriented types. They don't want to win by luring others to their point of view. They want to conquer them explicitly.

Whenever I see this question in the Zogby poll, "Do you consider yourself to be mostly a resident of: your city or town, America, or the planet earth?" I always answer planet earth. And I vote that way. I look for who is best not just for our country, but for our planet. Who really understands the urgency of addressing the issues raised by global warming? Who is really suited to cut our carbon levels dramatically?

We're running out resources on this planet. That may seem hard to believe if you drive across the United States, or spots in Europe, or Australia. But what I mean is, we're running out of energy sources to fuel our daily lives. We're running out of fresh water supplies. Some use that as an excuse to talk about population control. I don't want to talk about that. I want to talk about places to which we can eventually expand.

Look. Our little sun is going to die in another few billion years. We need to prepare for that, and it will take us hundreds, if not thousands, of years to reach beyond our solar system.

What's the rush, you might say? I think that exploring othe planets spurs creativity, studies in science and invention, and technologies and products that could help us long before those billions of years are up.

I grew up as a child of the space age. I used to watch, utterly fascinated, as rocket ships took off, and, when I was older, the space shuttle. I drove to the desert one time to catch a shuttle landing. It was like a bizarre fair. All different kinds of people were camped out there - from hippies to retirees, families with children and solo musicians. It was a great experience. When you first see the shuttle, it looks like a little white fly in the sky - it's zigzagging, and looks like it's coming straight down. But within a short few minutes, it's on the ground. It happens so fast it's hard to believe it just popped down from outer space. I just love all of this.

So today I'm in hog heaven, camped out on the couch, awaiting touchdown. I've been disappointed in the past - not all probes survive the landing! But NASA learns more each time. I hope all goes well.

Update: Touchdown! A beautiful, safe, soft landing. Now I'm waiting for the first images to arrive. Wooo-the-heck-hoooo!


Blogger JJR said...

I share your enthusiasm, Lisa. I grew up watching COSMOS with my science teacher Dad, and still enjoy the series THE UNIVERSE on History channel.

But I appreciate the more jaundiced views of Tom Lehrer, for example, who saw in the Moon missions a good way for the military-industrial complex to collect better data on how ICBMs work, etc. That military angle will probably never be far from space science & tech.

I would like to see a manned mission to Mars in my lifetime, but the chances are not likely (and I'm only 37). I think the human race itself will go extinct before the sun does. I'm very pessimistic about our long term ability to escape from earth and resettle somewhere else. If we could terraform Mars, that would be fantastic, but I don't know if it would be enough in the long run, but in the short term (of our galactic time scale) it would give humanity a new lease on life.

9:39 AM  

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