- - Monday, January 13, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Polls from the 1960s and ‘70s regarding popular opinion about the Apollo missions show relatively low levels of support for the undertakings. Today, we are seeing many of the arguments used then in protest of the lunar program coming from the mouths of naysayers of a human mission to Mars: It’s too expensive; we have problems here on Earth that require money; and going to another planet is tantamount to running from our own messes.

Yet in the decades since Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, much of the Apollo generation reported being supportive of the missions while they were taking place. Perhaps this revised history has something to do with the numerous, now-ubiquitous gadgets we have, thanks to the lunar program (satellite dishes, medical imaging devices, and weather forecasting are a mere few), not to mention the national morale boost and stimulus to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education the Apollo missions provided us. If time softens the lens of history, it is no wonder those dismal approval ratings have so faded from the national view.

The Apollo program and its crown jewel, the moon landings, are today viewed as unequivocal successes, but one wonders what else we might have accomplished at the time had those at the helm of the program had the full force of the nation behind them. It is too late now to know, of course, but it is not too late to take measures where Mars is concerned.

With billions of unexplored, likely habitable planets in our galaxy alone, it is imperative that we not allow the “Earth myopia” of some to overwhelm popular opinion and keep us confined to Earth. What if Christopher Columbus or Vasco da Gama had bowed to the pressures they undoubtedly faced from detractors in their own times and stayed home because there were social or political issues in their native countries?

Mars may well hold the keys to numerous mysteries back here on Earth. There are potential breakthroughs to be made in human physiology — for example, can humans live on another planet? — that only a human mission to Mars will allow us to make. On the scientific front, going to Mars will be a major step in helping us learn whether life exists on other planets. In the final analysis, a human mission to the red planet by the 2030s is a goal we all can and should stand behind.

CHRIS CARBERRY
Executive director
Explore Mars Inc.
Beverly, Mass.

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