As of yesterday, 5 May 2018, we have taken yet another step toward colonizing Mars. According to NASA records, we have been to Mars on exploratory unmanned missions about 21 times, all successful, all generating highly useful data about the surface and atmosphere of Mars. Yesterday’s launch of the Mars “Insight” lander from Vandenberg Air Force base in California, I hope, will lead to another successful data-rich mission.
“Insight” will travel about 300 million miles on its six-month journey and land on Mars with the specific task of looking under the surface of Mars by drilling down into the underlying strata to a depth of about 16 feet, recording temperature and sending back geological data which will give us additional insight into how Mars may have been formed more than four billion years ago.
I have great interest in Mars. It is the closest planet in our solar system with an ambient temperature range not too extreme for robotic exploration and eventual human adaptive strategies to create life-sustaining artificial environments, a first step to colonization. This excites me, but it also makes me a bit sad. Why? It excites me because I sincerely believe that humans are destined to be planetary travelers if we don’t first kill ourselves here on earth. It saddens me because I won’t live long enough to even witness the first colonizing ventures.
I’m a futurist. I believe that humans are genetically disposed to exploration. We are knowledge gatherers, and we share and build on our knowledge, often for both good and bad ends because we are also conquerors. It is the conquering part that we must learn to control and the knowledge gathering part that needs to flourish. Conquering ignorance is good and leads to growth. Conquering each other, however, is bad and leads to death and, eventually, extinction.
Humans have many other behavior characteristics that lead to both good and bad consequences, too many for this brief essay, but knowledge gathering, coupled with exploration I find most appealing.
Earlier, I said that I believe humans are destined to be planetary travelers. I also said I’m a futurist which actually means I’m an optimist. We won’t be stupid and kill ourselves. We will proceed to move into our “neighborhood,” our solar system, and, perhaps a billion years from now, we will dwell within the universe or “multi-verses” that we can now only dream about!
I need only to go to our past to predict the future I see ahead of us. Our knowledge has evolved exponentially over the past several thousand years since the beginning of ancient civilizations. Though we may not know everything about the planet we inhabit, we have become its dominant dwellers. We exploit its physical properties at will and all sub-human life. We can even regulate its climate. We are, therefore, successful earth dwellers, though still subjected to so called natural disasters which we probably also influence. Thus we have created the foundation, which is step one on a multi-step process into our universal future.
We began step two in 1969 when we leaped from earth to the moon, and we have not left space since then. In fact, we now have semi-permanent status in the International Space Station, constantly orbiting the earth, crewed by multi-national men and women. We have sent spacecraft throughout our solar system and even beyond. Many of those probes are still transmitting signals back to us, and we have discovered thousands of planets similar to our own that we knew nothing about even ten years ago. So we are on the move! Step two, meaning the colonization of another planet (probably Mars) will be accomplished during my young grandson’s lifetime. I won’t be there to see it, but he may one day read this and know that I knew.