I don't like being the grinch in a situation where joy appears so widespread and unalloyed, but why exactly has Nasa sent the Curiosity Rover to Mars?
I don't like being the grinch in a situation where joy appears so widespread and unalloyed, but why exactly has Nasa sent the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover to the red planet?
It is not, according to Stuart Clark in the Guardian, to find current life: expensive missions failed to find the subterraneous aquifers which could have supported microbes. Signs of past life are a possibility.
Some people, such as technology entrepreneur and billionaire Elon Musk, who founded PayPal and Tesla Motors, have suggested that Mars is the place humans will have to take refuge once we've screwed up our planet sufficiently. I find it hard to believe that this will ever be a viable solution to earth's overcrowding or overheating, even if Musk's SpaceX company does manage to send people out there within twenty years.
(Can you imagine the horrendous crew of people they'd pick to represent and repopulate Earth?)
One of the first images sent back by the Mars Curiosity Rover, of its own shadow
Perhaps the most honest answer is intellectual curiosity, which is by no means an invalid one – it's why we study most things. Still, $18 billion – Nasa's budget – is a lot of intellectual curiosity, especially given that this outlay implies much greater outlay if we are ever to achieve anything meaningful in space.
And that's the problem – I don't think we can or should try to achieve anything meaningful in space. The West in the Sixties liked moon landings and space exploration for showing up the Russians, but what are the benefits of it? Is this cover so we can weaponise space? Is it so we can say we've done it? If so, I feel we'd be better concentrating boastworthy efforts back on Earth, where we have real problems which need solutions.