Column: Vital To Continue Exploring Mars

This story was written by Quinn Moticka, Oregon Daily Emerald
On Nov. 10, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration declared the conclusion of its most recent mission to Mars. Houston, we have ice!

The Mars Phoenix Lander, sent to excavate the planet's northern pole, ended its more than five-month-long mission when NASA received what it believed to be its last signal on Nov. 2. The exploration of Mars will ideally expand our outlook on the climate and composition of the Red Planet. Samples collected of the planet's ground have led to discoveries such as the existence of ice, and where there's ice, one can only hope there is water.

Think for a moment what it would mean if life had once existed on Mars. The impact of such a discovery would be phenomenal. Perhaps as incredible, even, as when we discovered the moon was not, in fact, made of green cheese.

NASA is at the forefront of Mars exploration and the termination of the Phoenix lander mission signals the need for human exploration of Mars. Human space travel is essential to the future of mankind. While I acknowledge space travel and research are far from inexpensive, the cost of not doing so could prove to be far greater. Our resources are limited and it may not be possible to live here forever. Global warming and pollution, for example, are real issues that call into question the viability of future life on Earth. No one can see the future, but space should, at the very least, be a grand backup plan, acting as the levees in case of a hurricane. If we were able to live on Mars, global flooding or other disasters wouldn't have to mean an end to human life. Humans must do two things: search for the possibility of life on other planets and determine whether we can inhabit those explored territories.

I'm sure many people have forgotten about NASA's many active exploration programs. It's OK - I did, too, for a while. The truth is, its efforts have been overshadowed by other significant current events. But we shouldn't be ignoring space travel because of natural disasters and wars.

Instead, space travel should be seen as a solution to these problems. Come on, we've already been to the moon. And sure, there's that International Space Station in progress, but where are the flying cars the future promised us? Wasn't I supposed to be able to travel at the speed of light? While I'm sure it is committed to achieving its goals, NASA is limited because the only spacecrafts deployed in the name of galactic exploration have been satellites, rovers and landers. Taking pictures and excavating only scratch the surface of our abilities. Unfortunately, if humans were to explore Mars, I can't help but imagine a multitude of worst-case scenarios. The exploration ends up as a mix between the films "Mission to Mars" and "Red Planet" - astronauts discover current life on the planet, only to be individually killed off.

Still, it's vital that we continue sending robots and satellites to Mars. By doing so, we can determine if it's feasible for humans to inhabit the planet for an extended amount of time. The discovery of water on Mars is one of NASA's most important breakthroughs yet. I realize sending humans to Mars is a goal that will take many years to achieve, but we should be taking every possible measure to advance our technology to the point where we can perform round trips. If a mission were attempted now, the astronauts wouldn't be able to make it back to Earth, nor turn back if problems occurred. Perhaps we should focus on equipping more than just cars with better fuel efficiency.

We can do it. Maybe not in the next year. Maybe not even in the next five years. But society needs to be intent on backing this idea. In an infinite universe there are infinite possibilities, so who's to say life cannot be sustained on other planets? Remember the third rade, when half the class wanted to be astronauts? I think those 8-year-olds might be onto something.
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