Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Hats off to NASA on 2nd Anniversary of Mars Rovers

Hats off to NASA and its brainiacs for the immensly successful Mars Rover missions. Although the missions were expected to last just 90 days, the Rovers are still roving after two years on the surface of the red planet. They have contributed an amazing amount of knowledge of humankind's understanding of Mars, and probably will continue to for quite some time.

In celebration, I'd like to rerun a column that ran on My Mountain early last year that you missed.

"The Earthings are Attacking!"

Did you hear the news? Human beings want to go to Mars. Like some kind of Martian horror novel in reverse, George Bush announced that he is beefing up NASA in support of a manned mission to Mars. Even the Europeans want in on this one, which makes the initiative credible.

When I was kid watching the Apollo moon missions, the road to Mars seemed very short. It was easy to dream that, perhaps, I would be the first person on the red planet. The pace of technology made it inevitable in our imaginations. We didn't go Mars of course (robotic missions notwithstanding).

The dream I had a child has been vividly handed off to the children of children. Take my kids for instance: where I read comic books about the conquering of Mars, they play their realistic computer games like "Magic School Bus on Mars," and view Mars Rover pictures that provide a level of experience which far exceeds the best my young imagination could muster. But a funny thing happened on the way to becoming middle-aged (41 to be exact) father of three.

Spending time in corporate structures, interacting with other human beings for four decades, and being exposed to human nature has lead to me to this conclusion: I don't think that we should go to Mars.

Not yet, at least.

I'm not convinced that mankind is mature enough to handle it. Humans have not yet shown the ability to respectfully settle new continents, let alone new planets.

Consider how we conquered the natural environment in North America, imposing a grid on the natural landscape, selling it off for profit, and then plowing under an entire natural ecosystem. We are only now beginning to appreciate and understand the value of native prairie grasses and flowers, of song birds, and clean air. Less than 1% of the native grasses in the Great Plains of North America have survived the plow.

Consider the explosion of invasive animal, bird, fish and plant species that has accelerated the loss of what little remains of the native North American environment.

"So what?" you say.

That is exactly my point. Its too late to turn back the clock here on earth. What's done is done, and maybe we can plant some grass here and restock a fish species there and we can feel good about caring enough to do those things, but we can never ever go back.

I think the interests that are driving us toward the exploitation of Mars three decades hence are the same forces that drove us to destroy the North American natural environment. As a species, human beings are too immature to be trusted with full access to Martian resources. We shouldn't go until we have matured.

Here is my test for whether we as a race are ready to go to Mars:
1) Have we put an end to War?
2) Is all of the world's citizens are fed with access to clean drinking water?
3) Do we all have access to health care?
4) Are we supplying our energy needs with non-polluting, renewable resources?
5) Are we educating all of our children?
6) Are we protecting the earth's oceans, forests, prairies, mountains, air and streams from pollution and degrading exploitation?
7) Are we able to celebrate and tolerate our cultural heritages.
8) Are we conscientiously tending our world for the benefit of future generations?
9) Are our current development efforts sustainable, or are we still building huge cities in places where they shouldn't be, such as wetlands, deserts and on top of faults?

If we can do these things, ingraining them within our governing institutions, then perhaps we are ready to go to Mars. Perhaps we won't make a mess out of this new word.

Arriving on Mars will provide humanity with an amazing new opportunity to reinvent itself.
It's an opportunity, like the settlement of North America by Europeans, that can not be repeated. To squander the opportunity to live peacefully and respectfully on Mars, respectful of the natural environment, would speak very poorly about our species.

Lets stay on earth till we get it right. One hell is better than two.

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