Going to Mars for a fee

Then and now for the exploration of Mars

By: Marc Posth, Staff Writer


With the recent coming home of Canadian hero and astronaut Chris Hadfield on May 13th, the subject of space and our possible future with it has once again crept back into the attention of the media – this is a good thing.

Back in 1961, President Kennedy decided that it was the prerogative of the United States to place a man on the moon. A measly eight years later, Apollo 11 touched down on our familiar satellite and the famous words “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” were spoken which still resonates today. So why aren’t we on Mars four decades later?

If you were to ask people in the 1960s sitting in front of their little televisions watching astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step onto the Moon where we would be in the year 2000, you would probably hear fantasies resembling the lifestyle of the Jetsons with flying cars, real-estate on the Moon, and a possible manned mission to Mars. Unfortunately for the science-fiction fans and enthusiastic visionaries within all of us, this isn’t the case. Why not?

Before we get into heated discussions and hit each other with our opinions on what could have been done better throughout the space programs of the world, we must focus on what actually did happen in the past four decades. Thanks to NASA, the United States was the first to fly to the Moon and back, and because of such an accomplishment, they have been at the forefront of the public’s attention since then.

Once the Russians were defeated in the amazing space race, a unified feeling that everything belonged to the Americans was felt throughout the world. They were the superpower, controlling land, air, sea, and space.  Thus, the competition for further exploration into the Space became limited.  What NASA did see from the Moon was Earth. This gleaming blue jewel captured our attention and gave us a greater perspective on our place within the universe, and so NASA turned its head around, away from interplanetary exploration, and began to focus its attention on just that – our planet.

To this point, our endeavours in space were funded by taxpayers and all great minds were hired by governments. Having just emerged from a very heated Cold War, going into space was a very closed-door subject with technologies and advances in the industry kept on very low profiles.  After all, we do not want cutting edge scientific knowledge to fall into the wrong hands (see: 1979’s Moonraker).  So what did happen between 1969 to now?  Well, quite a bit.

Two major projects really took focus: the International Space Station and its accompanying Space Shuttle Program.    As they continued to send out satellites into orbit and launched missions to build up the I.S.S, funds began to run tight and so the multi-national program in 1993 was initiated allowing nations such as Russia, Japan, and parts of the Europe to contribute.  Space now began to shift towards being a common problem as opposed to a focused American issue.  Let’s face it, breaking through the Earth’s atmosphere with payloads weighing up to 24,000 kilograms and a professionally manned crew is expensive, and as we are well aware, economics play a major role in the decision making of, well, anyone.  So why go after projects that are quite close to home?  Scientific research.  Research leads to innovation which leads to new technologies.  New tech becomes commercialized, and voila, a profit is found – whether we care to admit it or not, it is all about profits.

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