Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Mars as the Everest of Space

Ralph Buttigieg
Sydney, NSW

One of my daily reads is They track mountaineers, polar adventurers, long distance solo sailors etc. If you want to know what explorers are getting up to its a good place to start. Their reporter attended this years Mars conference and has been posting articles with the unique view of a true explorer. Below is a large extract from the final post. Its very much my view on exploration. You can read the rest here.

...There are many to please and tough questions to answer. Isn't humanity's greatest mission to reproduce? What good will space travels do us? Shouldn't we solve our own problems first? The Universe seem to favor usefulness and being great in bed might not be valid enough (just ask the Dinosaurs). Zubrin pointed out that as for solving earth problems; Spain had lots of problems in the 1500s - and still do. According to this engineer, the biggest spin-off of the space program is educated minds. The biggest risk of the space program lies in not doing it.

Death by exploration

As explorers, we know that there is a positive side to "death-by-exploration." Just as there is a positive twist to terrible events such as firefighters dying in 9/11. Heroic deaths display the amazing courage and spirituality hidden deep within our souls.

To explorers, risk assessment made out as a percentage is of little value when it comes to uncharted territory such as a Mars mission. To us, as once to Columbus, the correct approach is to work out a set of "worst-case-scenarios." Each scenario is then solved, avoided or covered with a back-up until the threat feels manageable.

The Mars Society conference showed that this is very much doable in a Mars mission - we have the tools. So why are we not going?

"We must do it not because it's easy - but because it's difficult" Kennedy said. This resolve put us on the moon. Today - rather than choosing the road less traveled - survival, comfort and reproduction are on top of our list. Dads or (worse) mothers who die on exploration are considered reckless and selfish. We want a safe summit so we choose to be guided in commercial outfits, rather than risk failure (or heaven forbid - death!) in independent expeditions.

The spirit of Mount Everest

"We must do it not because it's easy - but because it's difficult" Kennedy said and we nod our heads in approval, while we grab another donut and hope our kids will become smart and good looking rather than courageous and visionary. Cleverness and sharp looks won't be enough to go to Mars though. Stats show that in spite of our best intentions, we are turning into real pussies:

18 different routes have been climbed on Mount Everest. While the North Col and South Col routes are similar in technical difficulty, the other 16 routes are more difficult and dangerous. In spite of the considerable evolution that has taken place in terms of gear, weather forecasting and infrastructure knowledge - the technically more challenging climbs have almost vanished - from 26% 1953-1980, down to 5% in the 90s and 1% during the millennium.

When it comes to space - the biggest buzz is putting wealthy people in low orbit and returning to the moon in 2020. The reason we don't go to Mars is much more sobering than any technological challenge. As Griffin put it, "we have confined ourselves to the lower altitude."

Although we can reach the stars, we don't try. What's the point?, we ask. The point is that in its desperate quest to survive, the human spirit is dying. Mars needs not the wealthy magnates, the smart engineers, the famous actors, or even the good Christians. Mars needs men and women to match its mountains.