Posted at 11:06 AM on April 2, 2008
by Sanden Totten
For those of us already giddy over the thought of the world's largest particle accelerator going live, yesterday's announcement that Google has teamed up with space pioneers Virgin Mobile to plan a future colony on Mars practically made us fall out of our seats. That is of course, assuming you first fell for the press release.
Okay, so it's a joke. But Mars exploration isn't. In fact, NASA plans to launch another red rover to our planetary neighbor in 2009. And folks, this one is a "mega rover", which in my mind means it will be able to drill for core samples, stream live video and have sweet tail fins and a custom paint job.
But lacking the financial capital of a Google or Virgin Mobile, NASA is struggling to pay for this project. Not surprising when you consider it's $2 billion price tag. And to make matters worse, it looks like sending humans to Mars may be a suicide mission. Experts are now realizing that cosmic radiation and solar storms could wipe out any explorers before they even touch down on Martian soil.
I love the idea of colonizing Mars. It's one of my top science fantasies, right up there with seeing dinosaurs brought back to life. But you got to ask, is it a dream worth pursuing? Between an ailing economy and the threat of global warming, I'm starting to wonder if $2 billion is too much to ask for something Hollywood managed for only 1 million.
But I could be convinced otherwise. To rove or not to rove: what's your take on it?
Perhaps, in looking forward to Mars, it would be helpful to look backwards, at the moon. Was it worth it to visit the moon? The answer is 'it depends'. If you place value on gains in science that trickled down to consumers, it seems that, yes, the moon program was worth it. Everyday things like aluminum foil and microwave ovens are largely a result of the moon program. Is there a lot of financial payback from having a couple moon rocks sitting in museums? Probably not. But in generating the necessary technology to get there & back alive - and then sharing that tech, the payout was huge. I think the same thing will happen with moon colonies & trips to Mars.