For as long as humankind has existed, it has struggled to survive. Many of those same threats to existence remain today: drought, famine, wars and disease.
Given our inability to solve problems on Earth, does it make sense to spend $2.5 billion exploring the surface of Mars? Are we doing nothing more than satisfying the esoteric curiosity of NASA scientists?
The United States has been launching missions to Mars for 48 years, costing billions of dollars, without great success. Various international space agencies, including NASA, have sent a total of 41 missions to Mars, and 26 of them have failed.
How do we justify this use of money and intellectual resources when people are dying from starvation in some countries and dying from over-eating in others. Meanwhile, accelerating climate change threatens to make matters worse.
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The answer, perhaps, comes from William E. Burrows, who wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2003, “The question to ask is whether the risk of traveling to space is worth the benefit. The answer is an unequivocal yes, but not only for the reasons that are usually touted by the space community: the need to explore, the scientific return, and the possibility of commercial profit.
“The most compelling reason, a very long-term one, is the necessity of using space to protect Earth and guarantee the survival of humanity.”
The landing of the rover named Curiosity enables scientists to determine if conditions for life exist, or ever existed, on the Red Planet. The answer to that question gives us a clearer perspective of where Earth fits into the universe.
We do not know if humans can depend on Earth’s fragile ecosystem forever, because we do not fully comprehend what challenges lie ahead.