Lynn Hummel column: 300 million miles from reality
Is the Mars mission really necessary to do this or are we just scientifically curious?
Let me be clear. I believe in science.
I believe in the science that tells us we have a limited time for dealing with the problems of climate change. I believe in the science that tells us how to deal with the sickness and death of the coronavirus pandemic and the continuing need for masks, social distancing and vaccinations. I own a Fauci Fan Club coffee mug. I believe we ignore science at our hazard.
But I do not believe in the science of the NASA Mars Perseverance Mission. I believe it is 300 million miles and $2.98 billion dollars from reality.
On July 30, 2020 NASA launched a space rocket with a car-sized rover payload named “Percy” headed for the Red Planet Mars. The rover, flying at 24,000 miles an hour, arrived on Mars, 300 million miles from earth, seven months later on February 18, 2021. The project, started in 2013, will cost $2.7 billion, up to $2.9 billion with inflation, plus an additional $80 million for the design and construction of an “ingenuity” helicopter and $5 million for 30 days of helicopter operation.
The goal of the Perseverance project is to determine whether the Mars environment is capable of supporting life and to test whether oxygen is produced or can be produced on Mars to prepare for the future of human life there. The vehicle is equipped with seven payload instruments, nine cameras and two microphones to collect rocks, sift soil samples and dust to bring back to earth for analysis. The temperature on Mars drops to -130°, so oxygen is questionable and gravity is almost non-existent.
But there is the underlying optimism that humans can live anywhere by persevering and not giving up to conditions we presently consider to be unlivable.
My question: Is it really necessary to do this or are we just scientifically curious?
Private non-government curiosity is also interested in Mars. Elon Musk, one of the wealthiest individuals on earth, has what he calls the SpaceX Program featuring a 165 foot long Starship being developed in his south Texas facility. Musk says it is possible to a launch spaceship to Mars every 26 months when the earth is aligned with Mars and that the next opportunity will be in 2024. He says the cost of sending the first humans to Mars will be $6.85 billion (5 billion pounds) per person. He proposes to colonize Mars with human beings. He says there is a 70% chance he’ll go to Mars during his lifetime. He is 49 years old.
Mars does have an atmosphere by the way, but it is 100 times thinner than earth’s atmosphere and it has very little oxygen. An astronaut on Mars (or a private citizen) would not be able to breathe air without a space suit (including thick mittens for the -130° chill).
I salute Musk’s curiosity, but I’d rather see him throw his money away than have NASA continue this pie-in-the-sky scheme spending taxpayer money on it. Musk says the option to colonize Mars would be a “lifeboat strategy” to avoid annihilation of the human race due to a wipe-out disaster that destroys human life on earth.
What a crock. How would you like to sit in the middle seat in a space ship on a seven month flight to Mars?
There will never be a colony of human beings on Mars. While the space program has produced many spin-off benefits: weather forecasting through satellites, mapping the earth, traffic direction and safety, the Hubble space telescope, advances in health and wellness, space study, high tech jobs, cultural depth and inspiration to name a few – there must be limits.
Further exploration directed at occupying Mars is past the point of diminishing returns. April 22 is Earth Day. Instead of blowing more bucks on the dream trip to Mars, we should dedicate funds to patching up our damaged earth.
Besides the need for dealing with human poverty, hunger and disease, we need to seriously address climate change. How long can we endure more floods, hurricanes, tornados, melting glaciers, rising seas, rising temperatures, thawing permafrost, dangerous weather patterns, and the rest of the damage?
We can’t trash the earth, leave it as a loaded landfill, then move to another globe to start all over. I believe that in the scheme of things, it was planned that there was only one place where people can live and that is the planet earth.