Science fiction has long been a favorite genre of mine, and I especially love those books and movies prominently featuring Mars. In fact two of my favorite books were Mars, and Return to Mars by Ben Bova, and movies such as Total Recall (1990) and Mission to Mars (2000) have gripped my imagination enough to watch them repeatedly. These stories depicted exploration, adventure, and settlement on Mars, all of which I’d love to see come to fruition in my lifetime.
So it’s with great interest that I follow NASA’s most recent unmanned mission to Mars, the spacecraft Mars Science Laboratory, and its land rover, Curiosity. The rover landed on the Red Planet the evening of August 5 and has been sending outstanding images back our way ever since, and it’s exciting to see all that’s happening. From the shouts of jubilation at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (a division of the California Institute of Technology) upon touchdown, to the images sent back to earth over 55 million KM away (or over 36 million miles), Curiosity offers us a closer look at the Red Planet, but this time with a “mobile laboratory.”
This, however, wasn’t the first mission to Mars. The Viking program, consisting of a pair of space probes, Viking 1 and Viking 2, launched separately in 1975 and landed in 1976. Their mission was to:
- Obtain high-resolution images of the Martian surface
- Characterize the structure and composition of the atmosphere and surface
- Search for evidence of life on Mars
Pathfinder was another mission to Mars, and it consisted of its lander, the Carl Sagan Memorial Station, and the rover Sojourner, launched December 4, 1996. Its stated mission was:
- To prove that the development of “faster, better and cheaper” spacecraft was possible (with three years for development and a cost under $150 million).
- To show that it was possible to send a load of scientific instruments to another planet with a simple system and at one fifteenth the cost of a Viking mission. (For comparison, the Viking missions cost $935 million in 1974 or $3.5 billion in 1997 dollars)
- To demonstrate NASA’s commitment to low-cost planetary exploration by finishing the mission with a total expenditure of $280 million, including the launch vehicle and mission operations.
Okay, now as much as I love all the hoopla and science fiction, it’s time to put aside the emotions and examine the facts. What is the purpose of this mission, what is it hoping to accomplish, and how does that help us as a nation? Well, among the objectives of the Curiosity mission, scientists hope to find life beyond earth- more specifically its assignment is to: “Investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and for preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life.” And the overarching science goal of the mission is to “assess whether the landing area has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life, both its habitability and its preservation.” Really? Searching for E.T’s? Is this what our money is going towards? Despite the fact that there’s no evidence life exists beyond our planet, this mission, funded by tax-payers (around 2.5 billion dollars), continues as scientists search non-stop for life that they know must exist. So is this search for extraterrestrial life a dead end, or is there something else we can hope for?
I personally don’t believe in aliens, or any type of alien life beyond what originated on Earth. I don’t see any Biblical basis for believing in alien life, and if I’m correct, then this mission is, in fact, practically pointless. If NASA’s goal was to advance our technology, find ways to cure disease, or to establish human colonies, then I could see some long term benefits. But none of that is important to this mission’s success; instead scientists are trying to advance their belief in evolution. In other words they think that if life originated on Earth by chance, then surely life had to have arisen somewhere else in the universe, so why not start with Mars and capitalize on that?
Again we have no evidence that extraterrestrial life exists; in fact we have many images from the moon, Mars, and other planets, but all the evidence points to nothing outside of a lush planet called Earth that God created for man to live. Scientists have studied many comets, meteorites, asteroids, rocks and soil from beyond earth, but nothing certain has turned up, not even a protein. But what if scientists were to find a simple protein? I would expect loud shouts of triumph and much evolution trumpeting. But why? A simple protein isn’t the same thing as life. I think what’s important to them is that there’s something to build on, and if they can find the building blocks of life, then that will given them inspiration for future missions, and will give the evolutionary establishment a stronger grip.
As for now I’ll enjoy the beautiful images from the lifeless planet we call Mars. I don’t expect any earth-shattering discoveries, but I’ll continue to watch with interest, and will wonder how they will describe this mission’s success once completed. And finally, I’d like to see our tax-payer dollars spent more wisely.