Having travelled 352 million miles and for eight and a half months, the robot could be forgiven for a brief rest before starting work. However, apparently science waits for no one and within minutes, Curiosity was sending photos of the dusty, mountainous landscape back to NASA’s control room.
The joy and excitement of the NASA crew was palpable, which considering the price this mission has cost: $2.5 billion, is no surprise. Perhaps the excitement was more pure relief than unadulterated joy. But this is not the first mission to Mars; in fact it’s the fourth – so why are we feeling the need to return?
Life as We Know it
Curiosity Rover is not searching for life but, as NASA has called it: the “ingredients” of existence. In other words, the huge robot will be roaming the planet looking for sources of energy, water and carbon: the three key signs that the planet was once capable of retaining life.
This means that anyone hoping to relocate to the “exotic, balmy and peaceful planet of Mars” (as estate agents would surely put it) should perhaps put their plans on the back burner. The exploration is not expecting to discover the possibility of future life, but is focusing its concentration on past life. NASA isn’t helping you in your quest to find friendly Martian neighbours –they’re not expecting to find anything quite so... lively. With all intents and purposes, the science team would be ecstatic if they find a tiny weed or even mould. If they discovered a typical student house behind a Martian rock, complete with piles of washing-up they would surely have an aneurysm from the excitement.
Mars: Is it Worth it?
But is now the time for America to spend $2.5 billion on what is essentially pre-historic damp, when the USA and the rest of our very own planet is suffering from the worst recession ever seen?
That may be a very close-minded question, but it is one which NASA is faced with every day. There is the pressure to succeed: they have to prove that the money was well spent, that they had good reason to rocket a robot into outer space and that the scientists who have made this mission their sole career haven’t wasted their time.
And that is why $2.5 billion could be seen, in the big scheme of things, a bargain. To put the money into context, Bill Gates is worth approximately $59 billion. For him, a Mars robot mission is mere pocket money.
We are, as far as we know, the only evolved life in the universe; we are educated, wealthy and curious. If $2.5 billion is what it takes to travel our Curiosity to another planet then I only question one thing: why stop at Mars?