A Multi-Planet Species Goes to Mars

While I was reading “The Martian” and writing Tuesday’s post on that book, a couple of news items about Mars surfaced.

Becoming a Multi-planet Species

Mars, The Martian, Andy Weir

The red planet Mars

One is an article by Tom McKay on PolicyMic about “NASA Chief Concludes There’s Just One Way We Can Ensure the Survival of Humanity.”

It seems that Charles Bolden, NASA Chief Administrator, believes that humanity needs to become “a multi-planet species” if we’re going to survive indefinitely.”  That means we need to go to Mars because the fourth planet from the sun is the “stepping stone to other solar systems.”

Well, I can’t disagree with him on the need to stop being an “earth-reliant species” for the simple reason that we’re living on this planet as if it’s as disposable and expendable as the trash we throw away, the fossil fuels we burn, and the animals we’re consuming.  If we keep going on like this, we’re going to end up with a planet that looks either like the world Viggo Mortenson walks through in The Road or the garbage dump that Wall-E spends his little robotic life cleaning up. Either way, it’s not a pretty picture.

Wall-E, The Road, Viggo Mortenson

Needing a Multi-Planet Species

So I have no quibble about Mr. McKay’s assertion that we should begin taking the steps we need to become a multi-planet species. After all, the human beings in Wall-E bugged out of the mess they had made to inhabit a generation ship full of cruise-line passengers.

What grabs my interest, however, is his statement that, “Only multi-planet species survive for long periods of time.”  How, exactly does Mr. McKay know this?  Do we have records of any other multi-planet species to use as a baseline?  Has he talked to representatives from another multi-planet species to validate his thesis?  Has he conducted tests using the scientific method? To the best of my knowledge, we have no such information at our disposal.

The State of Our Space Program

The folks on Ancient Aliens might make the case (OK, they do make the case) that we have been visited by other multi-planet species but we have only archaeological clues that such contact might have taken place.

I support Mr. McKay’s desire to go to Mars and then on to other solar systems. In fact, I’m gobsmacked that the United States has allowed its space program to dwindle. Things have gotten so bad that we pay the Russians to taxi our astronauts up to the space station—all while calling ourselves the greatest nation on earth.  But I do wish he’d been a little more, well, scientific in his assertion.

Elon Musk, ISS, International Space Station, trampoline, Dmitri RogozinGetting from Here to There

But how do we get to Mars, given that we as a nation have decided that cutting taxes is more important than space exploration?  Having tucked our heads safely under the national wing to stay nice and comfy, we would rather feather our own nest than pay the hefty price tag for such a mission.

The Russians, by the bye, have recently suggested that we use a trampoline to get our astronauts back and forth from the ISS. So we know how dependable they are.

Positive New Developments

There have actually been two positive and exciting developments.

First, the dynamic Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, the company that stepped into a program our government dares not fund, said that no trampoline is needed. He unveiled the @SpaceX Dragon Mk 2 capsule, which is capable of ferrying humans into space.

Way to go Elon! At least one American has the vision to find opportunity where our Congress sees only expense—and make it reality.  It’s even better to know that our astronauts won’t be held hostage to political hostilities.

On the Mars front, Franklin Chang Díaz, an MIT-trained physicist and former NASA astronaut, is developing a prototype rocket engine in a Texas warehouse. This new engine could transport astronauts to Mars in less than six weeks, instead of the six to nine months it would take with the chemical-fueled rockets we use now.  To read the full article, you’ll have to subscribe to Discover magazine, which I have not done.

Getting a Jolt of Energy

NASA, Mars mission, Mars colony

Mars Colony — NASA

But think of the possibilities. If @FranklinChangD’s company, Ad Astra (To the Stars) and @elonmusk’s company, SpaceX, pick up where @NASA has been forced to stand down, our moribund space program could get a jolt of energy like the one Dr. Frankenstein used to animate his monster. (It’s alive!)

Then we can really think about becoming a multi-planet species instead of an earth-bound species that just wants to be fat, dumb and happy.  In the meantime, we might still turn the earth into an ash heap or a garbage dump but at least we might not have to live in it.

Related Post: Have we lost what it takes to slip the surly bonds of earth?

5 thoughts on “A Multi-Planet Species Goes to Mars

  1. Just came across this, I’m the author of article one. The multi-planet species remark was actually a Bolden quote. I agree with it, but who the hell knows?

  2. Hi Aline:

    I like and agree with your points. My conclusions are still (And I think you basically agree.), that it’ll be difficult to get the enthusiasm back to drive the funding. Too many other issues are on people’s minds today, combined with countervailing political forces as you state.

    Being a multi-planet species would be cool and I’d love to see it happen in my lifetime, but I don’t expect it at this point. Too bad.

  3. A few points – our space program has suffered no doubt, and lower taxes is apart of this I agree, but we’re also still struggling to pay for what we’re doing including paying down enormous debt (No one wants to get less Social Security or lower Medicare/medicaid benefits which now take up close to 50% of what the Government spends today). NASA has suffered some because of this.

    Another point – Its hard to make a case to the American people for the need or benefit of going to Mars. Sure, there are technological spin-offs (remember Velcro?), but that’s not enough anymore. I was involved for almost 6 years with the Space Shuttle program which was a lot of fun, but everyone that was thinking about this stuff was also wondering “What’s next”? or “When does this party end?” because of the expense. There just isn’t as much enthusiasm for it like when we went to the moon back in the 60’s where we were driven to display our technological superiority during the Cold War. I’d love to see us go to Mars, but I’m not betting it’ll happen anytime soon. The Constellation program was doomed almost from the start due to NASA some mismanagement and huge cost overruns.

    Lastly, Elon has done one other thing – he can make and launch his stuff at about 1/3 the cost of NASA’s efforts up until now. Now that’s exciting to me! But to go to Mars is another thing, many years away.

    mb

    • Michael:
      You make several good points. I think, however, that we the people are suffering from the long-term effects of relentless negative thinking and negative propaganda about our country. These result from a political opposition that is willing to throw out the baby with the bath water (and the bathtub and the bathroom) if that suits their political ends.
      • We could fund NASA to previous levels and beyond with the money saved by cutting subsidies to the oil and gas industries. These tax breaks—which could amount to $380 billion over the next five years—are not needed by an industry that racks up record profits year after year. And subsidies to other profitable corporations could be eliminated as well. We can improve many things in this country without touching Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid. This phony trade-off comes to us courtesy of the party that wants to do away with all such programs. The United States is not broke, we just refuse to either raise taxes or cut back on benefits to the big donors, like the energy industry, who give money to Congresspeople to fund their re-election campaigns.
      • The best way to reduce our national debt is by getting our economy going again and creating jobs. The space program does exactly that. And not only does it create jobs, it creates jobs that pay good salaries to highly educated workers—who then spread that money around to the rest of the economy. We’re not talking minimum wage here. The space program is not an expense; it’s an investment that pays back every dollar and more. NASA’s budget cuts have been felt in Florida and Houston with a huge negative impact on the economy. 60 Minutes reported on this last year.
      • Yes, it’s tough to make a case for going to Mars when one party is run by Grover Norquist’s infamous mentality of shrinking the federal government until it’s “so small it can be drowned in a bathtub.” A government that small and weak can’t do a lot of things here on earth, much less go to Mars. But there was no real drive to go to the moon in the sixties either, not until John Kennedy promoted the Missile Gap and took a leadership position to make the space program happen. He wasn’t hampered by an opposition party that said “No” to everything, so Kennedy could make the space program happen by leading the way and making the case why we, as a nation, needed to do this. Without his space program, our technology industry would be nowhere near what it is today. Imagine the U.S. economy without high tech.
      • Yes, what Elon Musk is doing is exciting and I hope that he can drive private industry to take up the slack caused by NASA’s budget cuts. SpaceX can certainly support NASA’s efforts by providing more cost-effective components and boosters. But one man and one company cannot possibly raise the kind of capital that would be needed for a Mars program nor could they maintain focus and priorities for ten years while reporting quarterly earnings and weathering recessions. We need the government via NASA to drive the program. Can they improve on cost efficiency? Certainly. But privatizing the entire program is not an option.

      We need to stop thinking small, seeing budget cuts and retrenchment as our only options, and acting like the country is a pauper. What we need today is the kind of national leadership we have not seen from a U.S. president in decades. We need vision—so that we can consider reaching the stars as more important than launching another war. We need the kind of bipartisan cooperation that disappeared from Washington D.C. long ago. We need to take a stand and act like we’re the greatest country in the world instead of just saying it.

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