Hollywood hype for a film about NASA was upstaged by the space agency itself last week when it confirmed for the first time that there was liquid water on the surface of modern-day Mars.
Whether this means there is life on the planet remains unknown. But the finding may accelerate efforts to bring human life to Mars.
Of course, a lot needs to happen before the premise of “The Martian” moves from science fiction to science fact. But the water, however different from the earthly version, could help NASA astronauts contend with harsh conditions and ultimately could help advance the mission.
“Certainly one of the challenges of going to Mars — and particularly sending people — is [that] we need resources for astronauts to survive,” Dr. Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, said in a statement. “One of the primary needs is water. Having a water source available to us means that we don’t have to send water. While it may or may not accelerate getting humans to Mars, it certainly makes it easier.”
The timetable is the 2030s, and the plan is clear, affordable and sustainable, Lauren B. Worley, NASA press secretary, told an editorial writer.
Given the cascading fiscal challenges at home and abroad, it may seem unwise to undertake such an endeavor. After all, earthly concerns, including costs, have kept the United States from fixing its own infrastructure, let alone sending astronauts beyond the moon. But our national paralysis may be precisely why it actually may be the best time to unify around a grand ambition that brings both direct and indirect benefits.
“The exploration of space, whether out of robots or telescopes or humans, is the sort of endeavor a great country aspires to,” Charles E. Woodward, a professor at the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics at the University of Minnesota, told an editorial writer. And other nations, noted Woodward, are investing in space exploration, in part because it helps their high-tech industries achieve.
But beyond industry, the American people could benefit most from a mission to Mars. “To really lead and explore the unknown has a lot of derivative impact on society in stimulating people’s interest in science and technical fields and aeronautics, and providing that manifest destiny fervor in the populous,” Woodward said.