Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Race for Mars

Actual image from Endeavor.
Warning: this post is not about labs! From time to time I will stray into a content or current event topic. Space exploration has been a passion of mine since I was a child. I am old enough to have seen Neil and Buzz on the Moon, and the age of US dominance the ensued. I often wonder why we did not return, but that is a topic for another day.

Mars is now the next great target in space, and rightfully so. Curiosity, an American Mars exploration vehicle, will be landing on Mars within two weeks. One of the finest places I have found to explore Mars online is (ironically) "Explore Mars" ( You can find features and content that are breathtaking and captivating. Today's "Picture of the Day" is a female Chinese space explorer. This begs the question: "What will the 'SpaceRace' to Mars" look like as it takes shape?

For many years it seemed that only a group of countries could pull off sending humans to Mars successfully. The risks, including cost and political risk, seemed most logically spread over several countries. More recently that landscape has changed.

The United States is in the midst of a major retooling of its program in an effort to make long space voyages. India and Russia have space programs that are in motion. Europe has seen space faring efforts slow as a result of conituning, pervasive, economic troubles there. One of the most credible players in this field are the Chinese. Slowly and steadily they have built a credible space program with a clear, focused intent - to launch the first human to walk on Mars. It is no mistake the countries who have resources turned toward Mars are those who are healthy and aspire to guide humanity in the next 100 years, much as the US has in the past 50.

Good STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education will contribute to the efforts of the country that makes it to Mars first. In  addition, the educational and technological benefits of a country adopting and championing a challenge like this are enormous. Think back on the 1960s (or research it!) and you wil lfind true educational reform coupled with a plethora of "spin-offs" from NASA.

How do you feel about the coming race to get to Mars? Is it a race at all? How is this like past exploration of areas of Earth, and how is it different? If you need a bit of inspiration to discuss, take a look at "sunset on Mars" from NASA's JPL website. There's nothing like sipping a good cup of coffee and watching a sunset is there?


  1. That picture is amazing, as is the link. I will say (and I feel quite small minded for doing so) that it's disappointing that America isn't likely the first country to get there. At the very least (keep in mind, I've done NO homework, just going on surface skimming here) it seems like some countries have been working together (ISS) to advance space exploration, but China appears to be wanting to do it alone (and has the coin to do so.) I'd love to see an international "first manned mission" to the moon. Whoever would put up the most $$ could be the first foot on the moon, but wouldn't it be great if our first visit to another planet would be as a world, and not as competing fragments?

  2. True that! I have always felt it's a matter of national pride, and even more, global leadership. I used to toss this out as a "hand granade" in class for students to become appalled that I might suggest we would not be first to Mars and the apathy surprises me. However, I was 7 when we landed on the Moon. There are people who would view these worries that we won't be first as unwarranted. Also, our partnerships with the European Space Agencies have made us vulnerable from a fiscal standpoint. Not good partners at the moment.

    I still hold out hope, but there will have to be strong will and visionary leadership if we are going to be first, and even then, it isn't a done deal.