I had a discussion earlier on a thread on Facebook concerning the future of humanity. Some people asserted that we will eventually understand every mystery of the universe – but will we truly?
Right now the human race is growing rapidly, both in population and in technology; both are equally scary. Will we grow to the point where sustainability is not feasible? Will we not be able to feed ourselves? The opposite end holds technology; will we be able to combat the rising problems of population growth with science? Will science, in it’s steady progression, become a danger to us itself? Will we become too dependent on it? Or will we, in our fight against ourselves, use it to unleash untold destruction on a corner of the world who happens to disagree with us? These thoughts trouble me to no end.
If I had to have a direct answer to the question posed above, I would have to say that we are on course to wiping ourselves out. Unless we can overcome our petty differences of nationality, religion, ethnic group, etc., we will not make it to the planets and beyond. But I still have hope; hope that we will come to see the importance of joining together as one, making a collective effort to establish a better future for our civilization. With this comes new frontiers – new places to explore and understand.
To answer the question of “will we understand every mystery of the universe?”, I would have to say no. Because, if that day ever comes, we humans will stop being curious, and we would no longer hold the crux of what makes us who we are: Travelers on a becalmed sea, sensing a stirring of a breeze.
At 10:32 p.m. PDT on August 6th, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft successfully placed a mini car-sized rover named Curiosity on the surface of Mars. It’s location is Gale Crater, a 154 kilometer (96 miles) wide, 3.5 billion year old hole in the ground, whose origin is not yet fully understood. In the center of the crater stands the five-and-a-half kilometer (18,000 feet) high mountain, Aeolis Mons (commonly referred to as “Mount Sharp”).
The trip to Mars spanned over 350 million miles, requiring an 8-month lonely voyage. Getting Curiosity to Mars was the easy part; landing the nearly one-ton rover was another game all together. Unlike its predecessors, Opportunity and Spirit, Curiosity could not use the ‘air-bag’ approach to landing because of its immense size. Instead, Curiosity employed a retro-rocket to slow its decent after entry and was lowered onto the ground via a “Sky-Crane” (See video below).
Over the next Martian year (686 Earth days), Curiosity – which is powered by the nuclear decay of plutonium – will do a multitude of experiments with various scientific tools, cameras, a weather station, a robotic arm with a power drill, a laser that can zap distant rocks, a chemistry lab to search for the chemical building blocks of life and a detector to measure dangerous radiation on the surface – just to name a few.
I can’t wait to see what new discoveries are around the corner. Something incredible is waiting to be known.
Finally, I leave you with a quote from the late Carl Sagan, recorded only months before his untimely death.
Maybe we’re on Mars because of the magnificent science that can be done there — the gates of the wonder world are opening in our time. Maybe we’re on Mars because we have to be, because there’s a deep nomadic impulse built into us by the evolutionary process — we come, after all, from hunter-gatherers, and for 99.9% of our tenure on Earth we’ve been wanderers. And the next place to wander to is Mars. But whatever the reason you’re on Mars is, I’m glad you’re there. And I wish I was with you.