Friday, January 8, 2016

Mars Earth

We are so early in our exploration of space that we remain uncertain not only if there was ever any form of life on Mars but if even there might still be living micro-biological species on the red planet. The scientists are reasonably certain that at one time Mars held an atmosphere that could support liquid H20, which leads to considerable speculation.

Late nineteenth-century observers noted the "canals" and conjectured that they were built by Martian hands.

In recent months NASA and the US government have declared their intention to send a manned spacecraft to Mars by the 2030s. I think that is terrific, but what bothers me is the degree to which they are downplaying it, as if they do not really mean it. In the 1960s NASA initiatives designed to bring humanity to the moon, including the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, were promoted by the press and followed by a large cross-section of the American public. You can be sure that in the early months of 1967 every adult in the United States knew the names Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

(I can practically hear the voice of Walter Cronkite.)

This is because the space program was real at the time and ordinary Americans cared.

Sadly a big part of the reason that so many Americans cared was because of the Cold War competition to beat the Soviets to the moon.

When I was at the Johnson Space Center in the Summer of 2000 NASA was demoralized, or such was my impression from talking with various employees of the program, including astronauts. Today the United States does not even have usable technology to get into space on its own and must rely on the Russian space program for access to the International Space Station.

The Israelis have been getting into the game for quite some time, but mainly via non-manned satellite launches.

The private sector - in Israel, the US, and elsewhere - is also having its say and may represent the actual hope of future manned space flight.

I have a friend who some years ago, as we were drinking beer and yammering at one another, told me that he considered humanity to be a kind-of virus that was slowly killing the host planet Earth.

I disagree and occasionally - such as this moment - am willing to stick my romantic neck out and suggest that really what humanity is, despite all the bloodshed and bullshit, is the way that the planet Earth comes to know itself and its surroundings.

We are the eyes and ears of our planet.

Humanity is the self-consciousness of Earth.

We are the means by which Earth interprets itself to itself and comes to understand its surroundings.

That is our true role.

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