Throughout the course of history, man has dreamed of stepping foot on another planet. The advances in technology in the 20th century have allowed man to do what at one time was considered unthinkable for millenniums before. With the advent of the modern space program in the early 1950s, NASA has performed many inconceivable feats. They have sent and returned men to space. Theyve set up space stations orbiting the earth. They have allowed men to land on the moon, collect samples, and then return to the earth. They have sent spacecraft to explore comets and other planets.
They have even sent space probes outside the known walls of this solar system. Recently, NASA has been spending billions of dollars in researching our second nearest planet, Mars. In understanding the scientific importance that such research can mean, the United States is justified in spending this money on NASA space missions to Mars. President John F. Kennedy said in 1961 that he believed that the United States could put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. Unfortunately, he never lived to see this prophetic feat performed.
But in July of 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon before live audiences around the world. As he stepped out on this extraterrestrial surface, he stated the now famous words, That was one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. But why was Kennedy so adamant about sending men to the moon? What significance could such a feat serve in our lives? Of course, we lived in a different time then. Many believed our effort to send a man to the moon was just an attempt to display the philosophical superiority of capitalism over communism during the height of the Cold War.
If America could send a man to the moon before the Soviets, then perhaps, it was thought, that the world would come to understand that our capitalistic form of government allows scientific advancement much faster and better than a communist or socialist form of government. No doubt, the United States was involved with a space-race that was much more political in nature than technological. But perhaps President Kennedy saw something else. Perhaps he saw the benefits of such a feat in realms other than just political or philosophical.
While signing the authorization bill of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1961, Kennedy stated that the purpose of the space travel was for the advancement of all mankind. Past, present and future missions to Mars are for that purpose: to advance mankind. Recently, NASA has taken an even greater interest in Mars. With the discovery of ice on Mars, and with further discoveries of ancient bacteria on a couple of rocks in Antarctica that are believed to be meteorites from the planet Mars, scientist have speculated that life originated on Mars millions of years before it ever appeared on the earth.
Many scientist believe that much can be learned from the finding of life or evidence of previous life on the planet Mars. Many of these scientists think that missions to Mars can find out if there truly was life there, and why it disappeared. Perhaps this can lead us to understand how life will one day disappear from our planet, or even maybe, prevent that from occurring. Many critics have pointed to recent failures from NASA space missions to the planet Mars as reasons to abandon attempts to further send space probes.
These missions cost millions of dollars, and they resulted in disaster. For instance, one spacecraft was sent to land on Mars, and, as it approached the planet after its six-month trip through space, was suddenly unreachable. After a commission was formed to study what went wrong, they discovered that some engineers forgot to convert some measurements from English standard to metric rule. This little error was overlooked by hundreds of engineers and physicists. This resulted in a very costly mistake, probably resulting in the craft crashing at full speed into the planet.
It was also a source of great embarrassment to NASA, who supposedly higher only the best and brightest of engineers. Another craft recently landed on Mars and for an unknown reason, stopped broadcasting signals back to Earth. The resulting investigation speculated that engineers accidentally sent the craft to a very mountainous region of the planet, where it could easily topple over on its side, and in effect, destroy the mission. This was yet another source of great embarrassment to an agency that is increasingly coming under fire for its enormous budget.
While it is true that these missions were great failures, we should still consider the great successes that have also come recently. For instance, the Mars Pathfinder landed on the planet in 1997 and took breathtaking photographs of the surface. A high-tech remote control car was sent with that mission called the Mars Rover. It took samples of rock and soil while be controlled by scientists millions of miles away on Earth. We also currently have a satellite orbiting the planet called the Mars Global Surveyor.
This orbitor is photographing the entire planet and conducting experiments throughout its 3-year mission above the planet. The purpose of the Global Surveyor is to create maps of the planet, and to search for evidence of water, the most necessary element needed for the sustaining and creation of life. Water on the planet could also lead to the creation of fuel for a trip home, if man ever decides to make a personal visit to the planet. The Global Surveyor mission was greatly successful, because two years ago, it photographed ice over the north and south poles of this planet, meaning that water is probably present.
In the 1970s, we must remember that NASA sent two Viking Landers that also took soil samples and photographs of the surface. All of these missions were greatly successful, and resulted in much increased knowledge of the planet. It is also true that there must be greater financial responsibility in what this money is spent for, but we should not stop funding this endeavor altogether. NASA is currently reviewing all of their future Mars missions, canceling those that are deemed unnecessary and risky, and appropriating the proper funds to the ones deemed more important.
In doing so, they are giving greater accountability to the public for the missions that they undertake. We must understand that man and machine are prone to error. Our failures were not the failures of idea, but of human and technology interaction. Elbert Hubbard wrote in The Philistine, One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man. We must realize that our missions to Mars are dependent upon the successful mental advances of our engineers and scientists. There is a marriage that takes place between man and machine.
It took place in the latter part of the 19th century, and experienced a honeymoon during the 20th century. But there must not be a divorce due to a few agnate problems that develop in this union. Man developed machine, and now we must learn to live with one another allowing these new technologies to serve man as much as possible. What better ways to use these great advances than to take much of what is developed and use it to discover new worlds. It must be pointed out that the money used to send probes to Mars is not just being used for Mars, but to one day be used on other worlds.
Mars is just the second giant leap in our knowledge of the universe. Who knows what discoveries will be found on our research of other planets? To give up on space exploration due to financial restraints is like giving up on science in general. Just like the world is much bigger than our neighborhood, city, state and even country, so is science bigger than our planet. We must continue to reach out to other planets to find knowledge that may make our life on this planet more meaningful and better. The science fiction of yesterday always seems to become the science of today.
Television shows like Star Trek and Star Wars have elements that are just now being developed within our lifetime. Technology begins with a dream a concept that is realized with greater technological advances. And these advances are developed through steps. It is impertinent that the United States continues to fund the exploration of Mars. We must not fall behind or lose this opportunity that we have to discover great new truths for the sake of economic or political reasoning. When all rationale are considered, it makes social, technological, and ecological sense to continue these great missions.