A few blogs ago I enthused about Rosetta and how it seemed to have reignited interest in space exploration. And anyone who’s read my past blogs (e.g. ‘The human race needs to leave earth’) will know that despite all the problems we have on planet earth and the cost of space exploration I believe we are a better species for it. Exploration and wondering what is over the horizon is in our DNA.
Rosetta was a great piece of long term planning to achieve something that to most people seems outrageous. But from my point of view the start of Orion, although the actual event seemed much simpler and got less press coverage (at least in the UK), is much more significant. Why? Because it means the restart of manned space exploration. It almost appears, in some ways, that mankind has been marking time for the last forty years. I know people have been visiting the space station and we’ve had the space shuttle. But Orion signals the begining of, once again, sending people beyond earth’s influence to the Moon and Mars. It’s the start of that long held science fiction dream, manned space stations, permanent homes on another world. And yes, I know this was only testing the first launch system, there’s a long way to go. And the goals are to send men to an asteroid in 2025 and Mars in the 2030’s (and I guess those timings are likely to go back), but still to someone who watched the first steps on the moon (aged 11) this is what I’ve been waiting for.
What’s more Mars has always held a fascination for mankind ever since we could see it clearly. There are those huge canal like structures, the tantalising idea that it might have had water in the past (or that it might still have, locked away), an atmosphere, that life might have existed there. And while the unmanned missions to Mars have done little to find evidence of life, we still haven’t given up hope.
And when it comes to fiction Mars has always had a mystical quality. In early science fiction it’s where aliens came from as in H G Well’s ‘War of the Worlds’. More recent authors such as Ben Bova and Kim Stanley Robinson have given us their visions of what it might be like when man settles on Mars. In my own book ‘Project Noah’ my characters use Mars as their base to strike out into the galaxy (well you would wouldn’t you?).
What those robot missions to date have done is shown us what’s waiting for us. Unhospitable, perhaps, but we know that. What we need now is for it to be seen through human eyes, to hear it described by the voice of a person that’s standing there. How does it feel, what does it smell like. Also those humans can explore as only humans can, they can do things on a hunch, make those jumps in logic that machines can’t and maybe they can find what we’ve been looking for. Then once we’ve established ourselves on Mars who knows where else we might go?
As always comments welcome.