Manned Voyage to Mars – No

Although the concept is now a foreign one; anyone who grew up reading Robert Heinlein wonders why we have not already colonized Mars, and why we are not bickering with these colonies over independence on their 30th anniversary. The truth is that the cold war diverted funds that might have financed our booster rockets and deep space vehicles, and innumerable ill advised social programs have stolen away billions that could have gone into research and development. And let us not forget, the recent collective shaving off of our national chest hairs has made almost any risk unacceptable.

The manned Apollo missions, six in number began in 1969 and ended in 1972. This is in fact the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11. These missions are frequently referred to as the greatest technological achievements of all time but they ended a long time ago. It was reasonable to assume that mankind would continue to expand and explore but sadly, this has not been the case. And I believe we are poorer for the omission.

Is a manned flight to Mars a day at the beach? Certainly it is not. The distances are daunting. The travel time is worrisome on many, many levels. The technology required is stunning although no less stunning than that which we are already utilizing in many other fields of human endeavor.

But is it worth the danger? Is it worth an enormous expenditure of the gross national product we no longer have to visit what is quite probably a cold, bleak and lifeless world? Should even one man or woman risk his or her life chasing a dream that could quite possibly be fulfilled by unmanned drones? Many would say no, and say it emphatically.

But I say life is inherently dangerous. The moment the doctor slaps us on the butt we are already dying. We will never have more life ahead of us than we do at the very moment we draw our first breath. It is all downhill from there.

Our lives are fraught with hazards that should cause us to blanch, and yet we do not do so. I am not speaking of the police officer or fireman or United States marine, airman, soldier, sailor or coast guardsman; the risks these heroes face are enormous and self evident.

Do you drive? Then you trust your life to the automobile assembly line. You, for example, trust a brake hose that you have in all likelihood never seen not to burst when you really, really need to stop your vehicle before that tanker truck of unleaded regular toasts your buns into eternity. You believe that stop lights are going to function properly, that tires will maintain their integrity; most inexplicable of all you trust that the fifty thousand wild eyed maniacs sharing the highway with you will behave like rational beings.

Why do you ever get behind the wheel? People die there, by the thousands, every year.

But that’s not all.

Did you make it to work? Are you really certain that a chanting fanatic is not going to fly a 747 into your building? That legionnaire’s disease doesn’t lurk in the ventilating ducts? That the seemingly friendly cafeteria worker isn’t concealing a deadly grudge and an Uzi as well? That the hottie in accounting that you are about to hook up with isn’t sporting a new and interesting STD that makes aids and necrotizing faciitis combined look like sniffles?

No, you are not sure about any of this. Life is inherently dangerous. Consuming cheeseburgers, bobsledding, horseback riding, skydiving, snow shoveling, sex, drugs, rock and roll, running with scissors; all are potentially lethal activities. And they go on every single day and nobody bats an eye.

How much more so a trip to Mars?

But there are differences. Only the very best, bravest and most highly trained volunteers are in the running to make the trip. Let us emphasize the word, volunteers. These people know what they are getting into, and are on board with the program. They will be supported by some of the finest minds, the best research, the most impressive equipment that mankind can provide. There will be hundreds of thousands of man hours devoted to thinking of every possible life or mission threatening scenario, and then developing programs, procedures and equipment to nullify those threats. Unlike you and I on our daily voyage through life, the crew of the hypothetical Mars vehicle will be safeguarded by the full scientific and intellectual resources of our country.

And how do you feel about good old national pride in achievement? Is that too hokey a concept for this day and age? What about extending the frontiers, scaling new heights, pushing the envelope? Are these concepts no longer rooted in human DNA? I say they are; they are merely lying dormant.

Who can deny the technological advances that accompanied the manned voyages to the moon and so enriched our everyday lives? Would not history repeat itself as we breach the vast barriers of time and distance that ultimately lead to the Martian surface? And would not these new technologies be of enormous benefit to all mankind? What would the future be like as a result?

In my opinion, we should make every effort to place a manned expedition on Mars.

It will not be easy. It will not even be completely safe. But nothing that is worth doing ever is.