The sad end of the Race
|July 29, 2011||Posted by Fergus Doyle under international, science|
It’s sad that we, humanity (the good guys, if you will), have become disenchanted with space in the last 50 years. In the same month that the last shuttle funded by the American taxpayer was launched into space, I bought a copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. He predicted that, by 12 years ago, the first manned mission to Mars would have been launched and within 25 years the red planet would have been completely colonised. So, where did it all go wrong? Why have we only got as far as (albeit permanent) inhabited satellites floating in our cosmic back yard?
Unfortunately, it’s all a matter of politics. In the 60’s, childish competitions such as the Space Race were the only way that the Americans and the USSR could score points against each other without Khrushchev and Kennedy having a fist fight in an internationally broadcast scuffle (Yeltsin may have been up for that; Khrushchev, sadly, was not). But now, the only enemies of the American people are Persian farmers and religious fanatics living in caves in the Tora Bora mountains (the lines between the two tend to blur in the eyes of our trans-Atlantic cousins), and neither can afford or care about putting men on Mars. As a result, the American government have deemed the space programme unproductive and unprofitable, since there’s no-one left for them to show off in front of.
But why are we so myopic as to always look to the Yanks for all things space related? In 2009, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) discovered the possibility of water on the moon, and the Chinese are very much still in the race, being the 3rd nation to send a man into space in 2003. The Space Race has stopped being the ‘tortoise and hare’ affair it was presumed to be in the 60’s and 70’s, after the tortoise destroyed itself from within and the hare had to stop running due to financial difficulties. This left previously unmentioned participants in the race to make a dash for the finish line.
However, I doubt it’s as black and white as to just be a matter of politics. The first half of the 20th century was a time of speculation, where the canals of Mars had been cut by a highly intelligent race of little green men or, in the case of HG Wells, by a race of highly intelligent homicidal octopus-like creatures. The fog that encompassed Venus was supposed to hide great seas of cool, clean water and all the planets of the inner solar system, in the minds of the greatest writers of the time, harboured life equal to that found on Earth. Even the moon was supposed to have something, but alas, no. The moon was a great, sterile wasteland, making previously uninhabitable deserts look like verdant plains. Venus proved to be a more hostile environment than Glasgow on a Friday night after a nuclear apocalypse. And on Mars, in which the majority of our imagination had been invested there was… Nothing. Worthy of a few, unmanned probes maybe, to make sure there was nothing important there, but apart from that, nothing. The disappointment of this must have been crushing. After being fed these speculations by Bradbury and Heinlein that the planet would not only be inhabitable but populated by societies and civilisations, and finding that neither Mars nor Venus had anything close, the drive to get there must have just vanished. With no interest in the planet and no political reason left to go, the powers that be just gave up.
Maybe, in the goodness of time, when there’s more money to go around, the Americans might decide to shoot for the moon again, or maybe further, but until then all we can do is wait. Something may come from Mars, but the chances of that are a million to one.