Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mars by 1978!

Last night my wife showed me an article in the June 15, 2013 issue of Science News that made me wince.  For those that don't read it, Science News provides an easily accessible summary of the week's science stories for in a less technical format than a journal.  It's a great resource for non-scientists interested in science and for scientists who may have expertise in one field but not in all.  (For example, this physicist likes to keep up with the latest breakthroughs in biology and geology.)

The article she pointed out was really a retrospective feature in which the magazine will give headlines or excerpts from articles published in previous issues.  In this case, the article was from the June 15, 1963 issue and titled, "Thirty Years to Mars."  The gist of the story is that the author of the 1963 article fully expected that we would land people on Mars in the late 1970's and certainly no later than the end of the 20th Century.  For those that aren't keeping up, we missed the mark and are still waiting on people to go to Mars.

It also speculated, "Even before man lands on Mars, however, the question of whether some form of life exists there will be answered ... next year when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will send Mariner on a Mars fly-by."   Multiple spacecraft and landers later, we're also still waiting on a definitive answer as to whether Mars ever harbored life.

The pace of progress in human space exploration has been slower than anyone in the 1960's could have imagined.  Our robotic probes have fared better, but even they haven't been able to answer the fundamental question of life on Mars.  So, do we sit back and lament the situation or do something about it?  I much prefer the latter.  And so should anyone who cares about the long term future of humanity.

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