The View From Here

The View From Here

Written by: developer

The View From Here If you obtain news like most Americans, then last week you probably missed one of the most important discoveries in history. A discovery that answered a question humans have been asking since we got up off our knuckles, stood upright, and looked at the stars.

The typical American learned last week that Venus Williams recorded the women’s new fastest tennis serve at 127 mph, the opposition party leader of Malaysia is suspected of sodomy, there is a ownership battle for Budweiser®, Paris Hilton is recording a new theme song, child prostitutes are selling themselves on Craig´s List, and Angelina Jolie´s newest “B” movie, “Wanted,” opened to huge crowds and “B” reviews.

What most Americans missed, reliant as we are upon the current cabal of media and politics that comprise the American Idiocracy, was the discovery on Mars of direct, measured evidence that the conditions for life as we know it exists on other planets.

Last week, the Mars lander/robotic laboratory Phoenix scooped up and studied soil samples and found them to be rich in the minerals and nutrients necessary to the emergence of life as we humans define it.  Just two days later, Phoenix dug a little deeper and literally struck the Holy Grail of space exploration – water ice.  While geographic features seen from Mars orbit and geologic features explored by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers have provided powerful indirect evidence to strongly suggest that water probably existed in abundance on Mars at one time, Phoenix dropped the existential hammer.  In a tiny, square-meter patch of Martian soil, freeze-dried at the frigid planetary pole, we have discovered the essential ingredients for primordial soup.

“At this point, we can say that the soil has clearly interacted with water in the past,” said Phoenix co-investigator William Boynton of the University of Arizona. One of the core questions of our existence is, “Could there be life somewhere other than Earth?” The answer, long suspected but only now proven, is a resounding “YES!”

In another era, this little tidbit of information would likely have caused a global sensation akin to the launch of Sputnik, or the lunar landing of Armstrong and Aldrin. Consider for a moment that the surface area of Mars is almost exactly the same as the surface of all Earth´s land masses combined.  What are the odds that, in a single square meter of soil, we would find the necessary ingredients for life? What might we find if we could actually send an expedition to really explore this planet? Running water? Sub-surface plant life? Evolved life forms?

We think we know much about Mars. However, we also know that our observations so far have been mere pinpricks in the fabric of the Red Planet. Because of its distance and difficulty to reach, nearly half the robotic missions sent have failed. In truth we know tantalizingly little.  But now, against literally astronomical odds, we know the most important thing of all.

I suspect that if this had happened during the presidency of John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson, there would be teams of science advisors scurrying up and down the halls of the White House, the old Executive Office Building, NASA HQ, and even the Pentagon. We would be gathering the best scientific and engineering minds in the world and devising an emergency plan to send human expeditions to the Red Planet immediately. The news media would be awash in coverage of Phoenix’s historic detection. Instead, the White House and Congress have been silent on the Mars discoveries.

The idiocracy treats us like we are stupid. Frankly, as a society we increasingly are. There are shocking statistics on the number of Americans who reject the science of evolution and science in general. U.S. student test scores have continuously slipped over the decades since Apollo and are now ranked lower than the majority of the developed world. You can´t blame politicians and news people for pandering to the lowest common denominator. We, as a society, have demonstrated our acceptance of the practice.

The freeze-dried primordial soup on Mars can and should change all that.  It should propel us toward an unprecedented era of exploration that will require a new national commitment to education, research, development, innovation, and invention. These are all the things that Project Apollo gave us, which, in turn, kept us ahead of the rest of the world for four decades. Such a national commitment will take vision, leadership, and change of a magnitude not seen in generations. But it can be done.

The odds that we are the only intelligent life in the universe are swiftly dwindling to zero. The question is, “What are we going to do about it?”  Be content to learn that Venus Williams can serve up a 127 mph tennis ball? Or rally the nation and the world to seek a true understanding of our place in the universe?

The view from here is that Phoenix tells us what we have waited millennia to learn. How we act upon that information will determine whether history remembers us as the worst generation of couch potatoes or the greatest generation of explorers.

This article is part of Space Watch: July 2008 (Volume: 7, Issue: 7).