Throughout our lives, there has been both a fascination and an expectation to physically send humans to Mars. And this isn't specific to one culture or one era - it permeates through all of humanity, and it’s been around for a very long time, dating back from literature all the way back in the 1600s to video games and television streaming today.
In reality, we’ve been coming up with plans to go to that bright spot in the sky, that at it’s closest is 54.6 million kilometers (~30 million miles) away, and at it’s farthest 400 kilometers (250 million miles) away, for over sixty-five years. During all those years we have sent landers and rovers to Mars; the Mars-2 satellite holds the title of being the first manmade object on the surface of Mars and simultaneously the first manmade object to crash into the surface of Mars. Then, there was the Viking-1 lander in 1976 which was not only the first spacecraft to successfully land on Mars and complete its mission, but also gave us this: the first photograph ever from the surface of Mars.
Then skip ahead twenty-one years to Sojourner, the first successful rover mission. After that came Spirit and Opportunity. The most recent rover is Curiosity, which instead of being solar powered like Spirit and Opportunity, is powered by a nuclear generator and has more Twitter followers than most humans.
But here’s the truth: sometimes, humans are more efficient than robots.
Take, for example, Spirit. It’s been sitting idle on Mars for eight years now, ever since it got stuck in some Martian soil, unable to pull itself out. Conversely, Opportunity hasn’t been that much better. It’s been in operation for almost thirteen years, but has only travelled a distance of twenty-six miles. It’s been said that what a rover could do in six months, a human could do in two hours.
Not to mention, a human wouldn’t have to wait twenty-six minutes to get their next command. It takes anywhere from four to twenty-four minutes to send a message from Earth to a Martian rover, and the same amount of time back. And that’s the thing - rovers move by command, they extend their arm by command, and every action is dictated by a person on Earth. So not only is there the time delay between sending and receiving, but also the time to decide the best course of action.
You don’t have to give a human a command to walk forward 100 centimeters. In conclusion, humans can be much better than robots.
So how does this answer the question: why Mars?
Why not Venus, if it’s closer? Why not Europa, if there's more water? Why not revisit the Moon? Why bother with other planets when there is so much for us to work on here on Earth? These are all good points, so let me break it down.
Venus is closer than Mars by about 69 kilometers (~40 million miles). Additionally, people always tend to think of Mars as being Earth-like, but Venus is the planet who holds the nickname “Earth’s twin.” However, none of that really means anything when Venus is also a whirling ball of toxic, corrosive greenhouse gases.
Every lander or probe sent to its surface had a fairly short life, with the longest one lasting only two hours before being destroyed by the environment. Its pressure is also that of 300 meters (~1,000 feet) into Earth’s ocean, so everything gets totally crushed, too.
The general consensus is that the other planets are inhabitable either due to temperature, distance, or a lack of a surface to stand on. So, in terms of planets in our solar system, Mars becomes the obvious destination.
But when asking ourselves why go to Mars, I think about what Benjamin Franklin said on one of the first manned flights in a hot air balloon ride when he was asked why? His response was “What use is a newborn baby?” It’s a beginning, it is the first step that turns into something greater.
To go to Mars, it takes all of us, from all different countries, from all different backgrounds. And when we come together for a common goal, we truly can achieve anything. Even if it is planting the seed of human life on Mars, no matter how seemingly small, it will grow into something that we could have once never imagined.
And those branches will extend into the rest of our solar system and into our galaxy and so on and so forth. Going to the Moon pumped blood and new enthusiasm for science and engineering in our own world, so just think about what stepping foot on another planet would do.
As the famous polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton said, “Optimism is true moral courage; Difficulties are just things to overcome.”
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Source: This story was originally published on Vsauce3. I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest on the subject. Roper, Jake. "Why Mars?" Vsauce3, YouTube. 10 Nov, 2016. Web video.
Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "Why Should We Go to Mars?" SkyFeed. 5 Dec, 2018. Web article.