Why We Need a Human Mission to Mars

Dario Colajanni 22 December 2018
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Recently, thinking about major events which will take place in 2019, I couldn’t help taking into account the 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon. I tried to focus on the meaning which this event still carries half a century later – a more interesting exercise than struggling against the harsh reality of the other major event in 2019: Brexit. 1969-2019: fifty years ago, on July 20th, humankind achieved the greatest goal in its history. We had climbed the highest mountains, reached the deepest abysses and flown up to space. However, none of these deeds – at least in my mind – could ever surpass the immense beauty of reaching a new world. Our horizons expanded: humans had met and extended the boundaries of their dimension and perhaps of their imagination.

The Sixties were the years of Star Trek: in 1966 the spaceship Enterprise took off to boldly go where no man had gone before. And exploring new worlds and new civilizations wasn’t even the greatest deed humans were imagined achieving on that space vessel! Humans – at least on TV – had finally left behind problems which still affect our present. People from the US, Russia, Japan, and Europe were shown working together and a black woman among the senior officers showed that girls could aspire to any position and become whatever they wanted to be: that was the true revolution. It is no wonder to me that in literature as well as in politics and society, people were eager to explore and confident that humankind could reach any star: it was in the spirit of those times.

Far be it for me to identify those years as a bygone Golden Age – the space race was indeed one of the arenas in which the two Superpowers battled during the Cold War, when the risk of a nuclear war seemed to be always behind the corner. Despite this, the Moon landing was perceived as a moment of union: millions of people stood in front of their televisions and radios, waiting for the announcement that Neil Armstrong had first touched the Lunar soil. Despite the flag, Armstrong wasn’t just American. After fifty long years – the world is very much changed and the Cold War is over – the images of the Moon landing don’t cease to raise strong feelings, including a sense of pride for what human intellect is able to achieve. But they communicate something more: the powerful memory of that incredible deed, I believe, urges us to seek new adventures and new challenges. That’s why a human mission to Mars is necessary now, more than ever.

A serious mission plan to bring a human crew to the Red Planet wouldn’t be a waste of money at all, whatever the price. Such a mission would benefit us from all perspectives: there are scientific and technological challenges which nowadays cannot be considered a waste of time and resources. The difficulties of the space trip and the harsh climatic conditions on Mars could help us develop solutions to big issues such as global warming and starvation. We could find a way to survive lethal radiations or to generate large quantities of power from renewable sources. Once on Mars, the astronauts would need to produce breathable air and implement cultivation on the Martian soil – if we do that, then we might be able to reduce air pollution on Earth or to increase our agricultural production to satisfy food requests. A human trip to Mars would present countless challenges, the solutions to which could contribute to the advancement of scientific and technological knowledge.

Yet, what fascinates me about a mission to Mars the most is the great contribution I believe it would bring to our humane progress. The time we live in does not seem much safer than the Sixties; politics seems to be more engaged in meaningless battles than against major issues such as climate change and terrorism. I can’t tell whether because of incompetence or due to evil feelings and thirst for power. We thus have to reconsider all aspects of our current system, from the capitalistic economy to the crisis of liberal democracy. A mission to Mars could unite everyone under a common goal (yes, no American flag this time) and bring people closer to one another: the idea of something much bigger than ourselves should narrow distances and overcome those negative and damaging feelings which some politicians keep raising against minorities, such as immigrants, under the name of ‘taking back control’, ‘*demonym* first’, and the like.

Furthermore, a mission to Mars could open new potentials for the Arts and Literature: extend our imagery, raise new interrogatives, and give answers to others. My greatest hope is that the adventure of a human mission to Mars would result in the discovery of a positive, unified spirit, and a renewed attitude towards ourselves. Perhaps the first woman (sorry boys, but we already got the Moon) on Mars would become the image of a new confidence, that after all, we are still capable to face big challenges. And, most importantly, the 4k images on our screens of that woman walking on the red arid soil of a planet 55 million kilometres away would remind us of how precious the fragile beauty of our own planet is.