Why in the world are we on Mars? Surely, we’re not bored with life on Earth, are we? We’ve got plenty to keep us occupied with a coronavirus pandemic, injured economy, crazy weather and mobs of people at each other’s throats. Forget all of that, our smartest scientists say. First, they want to know if there might have ever been any life on Mars.

We just spent $3 billion to launch the rover Perseverance on a seven-month, 293-milion mile trip to Mars. Jet propulsion engineers were able to land the 10-foot long craft safely between two Mars rocks. If we can navigate so flawlessly, why can’t we load trucks with millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine and drop them at thousands of hospital loading docks?

Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

Two minutes after landing on Mars, Perseverance’s cameras beamed “ooh and ahh” photos back to Earth. If we can perform such astronomical feats of communication, why can’t we install WiFi or internet access in the homes of our rural and west county school children so they can do their remote schooling?

NASA’s Mars Exploration Program’s safety record is impeccable. We’ve landed nine crafts on Mars since 1976. Some of the rovers have remained in operation for a decade or longer. If we can construct such durable machines to operate in our solar system’s most hostile environment why can’t we harden California’s electricity grid against wildfires or upgrade a Texas utility system that will stay on even if the temperature drops to 32 degrees?

The United States has spent at least $16.1 billion on landing probes, rovers, a mini-helicopter and robots on our nearest co-orbiting planet. Once upon a time, popular speculation was that Mars was home to little ant-like Martians, walking on two stick-like legs with eyeballs on the end of wispy antennae. That’s probably not what Perseverance will find. But wouldn’t that whopper be worth $3.9 billion?

We get it. Space exploration has brought us many valuable scientific inventions and advances. Without the Apollo program that took us to the moon, we would not have Tang or Teflon. (Also, GPS, memory foam, digital cameras, smoke detectors and dust buster mini-vacuums.)

Earthbound humans have been scientifically curious about outer space and our neighboring planets since at least Copernicus’ time in the 15th century and certainly by Galileo’s discoveries a century later. Albert Einstein is considered by most to be our greatest astrophysicist. He introduced us to infinity, the maximum speed of light and his overlapping definitions of time and space. He discovered that gravity has waves and he predicted the existence of black holes in space.

No doubt, Einstein would be thrilled with our exploration of Mars. But we think he would be more focused on the manmade plight of our planet. As he did at the dawning of the Atomic Age, he would be warning us that nature and our planet are beyond being able to heal themselves. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” he said. If space exploration feeds our curiosity to want to cure diseases, save our planet and build better societies then we say, “let’s all go to Mars.”

  Einstein also said we can live one of two ways: one, where we do not believe in miracles, and, one where we believe everything is a miracle. Our favorite Einstein quote is: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”  Maybe that’s why we’re shooting rockets at Mars in the middle of a pandemic.

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