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Life on Mars
February 15, 2004
by Jeffrey Fishman

I don’t get it. I’ve tried for weeks now to understand it, but to no avail. Seriously, I’ve done research, watched news programs, read many an article, and no matter what I do I just cannot comprehend. I feel like I’m in a crowd of people staring at one of those 3-D posters and I’m the only one who can’t see it. I mean, I’m an intelligent guy, I swear, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what all this hype is surrounding a remote controlled golf cart on Mars.

For the past month now, we’ve seen all the talking heads just beaming, by rote, about how great this is. How cool the photos are. How the next set of pictures is going to be even better. And, of course, there’s the up to the minute news that the rover has left the platform and rolled three more feet to encounter another rock. (By the way, have you noticed that NASA insists on giving the information in metric terms just so we won’t realize how short a distance the thing has traveled?) And not one newscaster, commentator, or pundit has asked, or better yet, explained, WHY? What Earth shattering, or even universe shattering, piece of information is this mission going to yield. I mean sure, I’ve heard all of the standard, company line, explanations. We’re looking for signs of ancient water. If we find that the planet used to have water we can conclude that it was once capable of sustaining life. We may even find some sort of fossilized creature in the multitude of rocks on the red planet. AND? SO?

Now look. I’ve always supported the space program. I remember being upset when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, not only for the lives that were lost, but more because it threatened the future of space exploration. I don’t even object to the President’s desires to continue exploration of this galaxy and others. As long as someone can tell me what we are going to do with the information we retrieve. When we were talking about using satellites to defend the United States from attacks by Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (a la star wars) this all made a lot more sense. If we find evidence of ancient water on Mars, what are we going to do with this information? Will it lead us to a cure for Cancer or AIDS? Reveal the answers to the unsolved mysteries of the universe: Stonehenge, crop circles, David Gest.

Now we’re talking about establishing a permanent presence on Mars and the Moon. Let me guess, so we can colonize, rather democratize, whatever life forms we may encounter? So we can establish military bases to defend our territories against any future visitors to these far away lands? Soon, the rovers are to begin drilling into the crusty surface of the 4th stone from the sun. Which leads me to inquire: Is this some secret mission to increase our dependence on foreign oil? Are there plans for an interplanetary pipeline? This I guarantee, if we should discover both oil and life on Mars, give the animal rights activists a field day. And you thought drilling in ANWR was controversial. Can you imagine the objections to destroying this pristine wilderness that no one will ever go to?

I’ve never been one to buy in to the multitude of conspiracy theories out there. The question of whether Neil Armstrong ever actually walked on the moon or if that event was staged in some Hollywood studio always seemed preposterous. But the surface of Mars really does look suspiciously like the Nevada and New Mexico deserts, which are home to the military testing bases, viewed through rose-colored glasses. Since the U.S. Government has reportedly gone to great lengths to debunk all sorts of possible UFO sightings and alien encounters, why should the public have any faith that the findings from the red planet will be truthfully disseminated?

One of the more interesting articles on the topic comes from the Alternet. A writer from India penned it. He claims that the general feeling from his native land is that the U.K. is superior to the U.S. and that his decision to attend college in The States is generally frowned upon back home. He uses the “Mars rover competition” between the U.S. and Europe to thumb his nose at those who still cling to the memories of the great British Empire. I don’t really think this is the point of space exploration. Nor do I believe that we should be landing mini science labs on Mars to stroke the egos of some NASA eggheads, who just wanted to see if they could actually do it.

Look, I’m a card carrying Republican, a supporter of this administration, and willing to do what I can in the interest of science and technology. But someone will have to explain to me why I should get excited about this latest Mars mission, which has just entered round two of media domination, when the second of the twin rovers landed on the other side of the red planet. And not a minute too soon, as the prime-time anchors continue their unconscious excitement despite the fact that the first rover has crashed after rolling about 3 meters (a little more than 10 feet).

Maybe we should get the NRA involved to pontificate about the need for satellite-guided automatic laser weapons to assist inept hunters. The wheels are already in motion. I believe Martians are already protected by the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Have you ever seen Marvin Martian’s famous space modulator? Believe me, I want to be excited about this mission, everyone tells me I should be, I’m just waiting for someone to tell me WHY!

(Jeffrey Fishman is a guest writer for 2 Walls Webzine)

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