Mars MAG

By Zeke H., Placentia, CA

     In 1904, the boxer, cavalryman,bear-hunter, and rumored socialist Teddy Roosevelt took a break frombecoming the most bad-*** American president ever and began work on thePanama Canal. The project was as costly as it was daring and criticsbemoaned the price tag. However, despite massive setbacks and delays,the venture ultimately succeeded. Anyone who argues against the PanamaCanal’s economic importance and benefits has a lack of historicalperspective and would do well to extricate themselves from mysociety.

It’s that sort of tone the educated mind adoptswhen reading Julia Golden’s “Mars” article in the Juneissue. [In it, Julia suggests the $800 million spent on Mars explorationshould instead have been used for education, health care and helpingthose affected by natural disasters.] Now, actually attempting a bit bybit deconstruction of this opinion would presumably have the sameeffects as drinking a bucket of lead paint: despite whateversuperficial joys it might temporarily bring you, brain cells arestill killed.

I’m writing this blood-pumping rebuttal on acomputer. Now, far be it for me to say there wouldn’t be computerswithout the space program, but I’d probably be writing on a large,cumbersome, and very HAL-like device. Neil Armstrong may have been oneheck of a mathematician and a formidable pilot, but I can assure you hewasn’t guiding the shuttle through the atmosphere with just asteady hand and a joystick.

NASA was the vanguard of the computerrevolution, and certainly pushed it forward at least 20 years. Beyondthat, though, there’s the simple fact that I can afford thiscomputer, as can millions all over the country. Some estimates placehalf of our national Gross Domestic Product as directly emanating fromthe electronics revolution NASA initiated.

I can talk to mygrandfather in Tampa thanks to the same satellite technology that helpsyou watch “American Idol.” His blood pressure can be gaugedwith devices first used on Alan Shepard. Should a problem arise, he canbe driven in an ambulance with shock-absorbing polymer in the brakesdeveloped by - guess who? Once he’s at the hospital, he’llenter the emergency room, where 97 percent of the equipment is fromNASA. That is no hyperbole. EEG, biopsy, MRI, pacemakers ... the listgoes on beyond comprehension.

Meanwhile, as my fingers poundmercilessly at a plastic keyboard, if I get too caught up listingbenefits deep into the night and a runaway toaster lets loose a blazeupon my kitchen, the smoke detectors developed by the Space Stationprogram will warn me. And you know what? Let it burn, because I havefire-resistant materials everywhere in my walls, materials that camestraight from the space shuttles sitting at CapeCanaveral.

Joyously do I recount the successes of my fellowscience nerds and feel American pride at this national achievement.Enthusiastically do I celebrate the bargain bin deal all of thistechnology came with. For .8% of the national budget, I’m okaywith that. And thanks to NASA and their work on lenses for the Hubbleprogram, I have cheap, durable glasses to see just how miraculously tinythat number is.

Goddard mixed fertilizers in a tube in hisbackyard to make rockets, Galileo ground glass in his basement, andEinstein wrote down the theory of relativity on slow days at the patentoffice, but science isn’t some hobby, it’s a necessity, alitmus paper to society’s advance, and our ultimate humandestiny.

For reasons regardless of the benefits, paybacks, andinventions, man will go to the stars. We will propagate, and we willconquer. The first colony, the first extraterrestrial life form, thefirst planetary landing will all be in the textbooks, it’s only amatter of which year goes next to them.

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