“Getting humans on Mars is super easy… getting them here alive and not all dead and gross and squished – that’s harder.” – the Mars Sarcastic Rover
Thus, we come to the end of our delightfully entertaining and occasionally too-scatological trip through space via Ms. Roach’s Packing for Mars. Final thoughts, anyone?
Roach brings up a good point in her last chapter–is Mars worth all the resources, money, time, and effort? Her answer (and mine), is a resounding yes. Aside from our innate curiosity to find out what’s out there, to learn about the bigger world that we’re connected to, space programs and experiments contribute to the well-being and improvement of everyday life. Mrs. Roach mentions the long list of contributions that NASA has played a part in: Kevlar vests, artificial limbs, high-speed wireless data transfer, and firefighter’s masks, to mention a few. (315) Think of all the creative talent that was harvested in the vast experiments that led to these inventions. Think of the creativity that goes into attempting to design edible space food, or comping up with a way to protect space capsules from burning up as they reenter the atmosphere.
I was read a wonderful interview in the Atlantic of my favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, where he mentions how small the entire budget of NASA really is: “six-tenths of a percent of the federal budget.” He argues, there, and in this fantastic interview with Stephen Colbert (it’s long, but oh so worth it…I revisit it from time to time), that we need scientific literacy; we need the general public to embrace learning and curiosity and to hold science up as a top priority, as a profession worth entering into, because it teaches us about our world. It stimulates our economy. It engages us in something greater than ourselves.
Space is the stuff of dreams. It’s real, of course. But for centuries, humans have continued to be puzzled and awed by it. I think of reading Ray Bradbury’s short stories as a kid, and marveling, as most of us do (and it’s worth noting that this is at a young age, when we haven’t yet been told not
to explore something, or to feel embarrassed for asking questions and using our imagination), at a world that seemed so full of possibility and uncertainty. Part of why we read Bradbury’s stories, part of why we read stories at all, is that it speaks to both our hopes and fears. It lets us imagine.
My coworker, Derek, writes, “I celebrate Roach (and Lenny Bruce and…) as a logical extender of the age of reason. The rest of us should re-double our efforts to keep earth habitable.” We don’t need to choose one or the other–space or our home planet. We need to explore both, but to take care and remember that neither is an empire that exists for our conquering (or ruin).
And as I leave you, my intrepid travelers, with your dreams intact and imagination (hopefully) renewed, I’ll turn it over to the Mars Sarcastic Rover (an acerbically-witted take off on the Mars Curiosity Rover), because in the spirit of Roach’s playful book, everything’s better with some humor:
“There are only two things I love about SCIENCE: Everything. And explosions.”
“The sun is blocking communication with Earth… which is fine because Earth doesn’t listen anyway, it just waits to talk.”
“Whenever I flip a rock over on Mars I always yell “SURPRISE!” – just in case.”
Mary Roach will be speaking with Michael Krasny tonight, Thursday, April 18th, at Dominican Unviersity in San Rafael. The talk is open to the public and free! It starts at 7pm.
To keep up with the latest on the Mars Curiosity Rover, go here.