If we can do this, it seems, we can do just about anything.
People like to debate the value of the space program, and I’d be a lot more sympathetic to the arguments against it if wasn’t for one thing. Our record of Earthly innovation over the past few thousand years is nothing to sneeze at, but as often as not the advances down here have morphed into tools of destruction, or more commonly, into paths to further pollution and depletion of dwindling resources. The gadgetization of the human condition continues, and it sometimes feels like only a fraction of today’s R&D is devoted to changing the world for the better, as opposed to merely for the cooler. (Exceptions abound, of course.)
The space program has always seemed different to me. With the unlikely combination of sharp ambitious minds, small budgets, and lofty goals, this push outward into near-space has been an almost-pure testament to the value of science for its own sake. It’s the unrelenting search, beyond our daily boundaries, begun before it’s even knowable what might be found, that could yield the most amazing things.
To the layman, though, it’s a much simpler appeal. In some strange and basic way, when we look up and imagine these machines we’ve made touching down on other worlds, they send back a promise, or at least a pathway, along with their pictures. The future could be a wonderful place, if only we can make it there.
Click on that picture above, and you’ll see a photo of the Phoenix Lander on its parachute descent to the Martian surface. The photo was taken from another spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, that happened to be in the neighborhood at the time. Absolutely outstanding, IMHO.