to boldly go where we can’t go. yet…

August 6, 2012

approach to mars

After screaming through the Martian atmosphere and pulling off a ridiculously complicated and risky set of maneuvers, Curiosity is finally on the surface of the Red Planet. Aside from the sheer fact that we have the technology to launch an SUV-sized robot to another planet and land it with pinpoint accuracy after guiding it for more than half a billion kilometers through the void of space being awesome beyond words, this landing also demonstrates how much better NASA has been getting in landing on Mars. Considering the history of many previous missions to the cold desert world, having four machines execute three different types of descent without a hitch and survive long enough to begin extended missions just shows that the more we practice, the better we keep getting at this whole space-faring thing.

Because we can’t recreate all the rigors of space travel in the lab, we have to actually go there and test our technology in situ, and the current generations of Mars missions is reaping the benefits of all this practice. But the big question is when we’ll finally send humans to the Red Planet to join the rovers and try to build outposts on another world to see whether our species can make it as a two-planet one. Well, in my humble opinion, building outposts on the Moon has to come first so we don’t take a leap into deep space just to find that we missed something crucial because we rushed. Even more importantly, we’d need to really experiment with some bleeding age medical ideas to make human bodies far more resilient to harsh environments, ideas that could have a very tangible impact right here on Earth for tens of millions, if not billions, of people of all ages across the world…

[ illustration by NASA/JPL/Caltech ]

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  • Brett

    But the big question is when we’ll finally send humans to the Red Planet to join the rovers and try to build outposts on another world to see whether our species can make it as a two-planet one.

    Not anytime soon, unless we have autonomous robots building the colonies on site for us (as well as the spaceship in orbit to take us there). Even there, I question whether you’d actually want to live on Mars. If you’ve got the technology to build a colony there, then you’ve probably got the technology to build a colony in orbit around Earth and elsewhere that can rotate to simulate Earth-standard gravity (as well as running climate conditions however you like). You wouldn’t have to worry about Mars issues, or about the possibility of long term life in Mars gravity closing you off from ever going back to Earth.

  • http://www.selenehollow.com DamianD

    That depends on why we’d be colonizing Mars in the first place. If it’s just for the sake of living off of Earth, then sure. A station in orbit makes more sense. But if it’s to start mining operations, then a station wouldn’t suffice. Maybe it won’t be Mars. Maybe it’ll be mobile stations in the asteroid belt instead. But chances are that moving our species into space will be for more than the pure joy of seeing what it’s like to live out there.