Moving In On Mars
“Men went to the moon but everyone will be going to Mars,” NASA’s Colleen Hartman says.
The first foot to step onto the surface of Mars will be the greatest small-step/giant-leap event in space exploration since the 1969 Apollo 11 landing. Here’s why that first footstep could, and perhaps should, be made by a female.
The early years of space exploration had a distinct military mindset, emerging as it did from the cold war pursuit of global dominance and fueled by leftover WW2 missiles that could be repurposed for more peaceful pursuits, but make no mistake about it – the space race, the whole idea of sending the first humans into space, was to win and win big. The first space explorers had to be heroes: big, bold and brave.
A successful mission to Mars will require a different mindset. The goal is not to endure the hardships of space travel until we can get back to Earth for parades and medals, but to land on the red planet and stay there. Moving in is different than showing up to plant a flag, and creating a permanent community on a distant planet will require far more than a warrior mentality.
There’s no reason to go to Mars if we aren’t planning to stay.
“Unless we are able to commit to a permanent growing settlement, then I don’t think just going there with humans and coming back is worth doing,” says former Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
The enormity of the mission – the expense, the time it will take to travel there (and the toll this will take on human physiology), the mental challenges of extreme and prolonged isolation, and the widely spaced launch windows that must be timed when Mars and the Earth come close (about every two years), all add up to a mission that must be sure of its goals – to settle down, to set up camp and eventually to build self-sustaining communities.
The person who takes the first step onto the red surface of Mars will most certainly be noted and remembered, but this event is less likely to be preserved as an iconic moment than Buzz Aldrin’s boot on the moon – and the “selfie” he snapped:
Eventually the first native children will be born on Mars, second-generation Martians who have never known life on Earth. What their parents have built for them, and what they create for their descendants, will become the over-arching themes we will remember and value: Mars missions are for both men and women because building and sustaining communities requires the skills, knowledge and contributions of all.
More than four decades later, Aldrin’s footprint is still etched perfectly in the moon dust; with no atmosphere, there’s no wind, no rain to blur this imprint into obscurity.
On Mars the first footstep will soon be blurred by devilish winds so prevalent there, and, more importantly, permanently erased by the other footsteps that soon will follow – not just because we’re going to Mars, but because we plan to stay.