A guest post by Megan Whewell
I don’t remember the Apollo missions. I was born 16 years after the final astronauts, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt left the last human footprints on the Moon. I don’t know what it feels like to look into space and be inspired by the knowledge that humans are heading further away from the Earth than ever before, just because we can.
On Wednesday 27 Feb 2013 I thought I might have a chance of experiencing that in my lifetime. Not only by knowing that humans are going to the Moon, but all the way to Mars!
By the evening of that very same day I lost that belief.
Yes, there has been a manned mission to Mars proposed by multi-millionaire Dennis Tito. A crew of two Americans, one man and one woman, being sent on a 501-day trip to fly around Mars. For more information on the actual announcement, see this National Space Centre blog post. This trip would stretch our understanding of human psychological and medical limits, while also serving as inspiration to the next generation of Americans.
Yes, Americans and only Americans. This is very definitely an ‘American dream’ and that disappoints me more than anything. Even though the money hasn’t all been found, even though the total cost of the mission hasn’t been announced, even though the whole world was watching, Dennis Tito sat in the press conference and squirmed when asked if he would welcome international collaboration, before saying “We have specified this mission as an American mission”.
In my opinion, this type of mission is exactly the kind of inspirational dream that could bring the world together. Projects like the International Space Station (ISS), with 16 countries contributing, have shown that we can collaborate, so why not take advantage of that spirit to truly inspire the next generation around the whole world instead of just in America?
Perhaps I’m simply naïve. Perhaps the spirit of competition is the only way to push human space exploration forward. Perhaps we have to pit countries against each other to push them to ever more daring achievements.
But perhaps that’s an old fashioned view. Perhaps that idea of the world belongs to an age when space exploration was only ever done by government agencies. If we need that competitive edge as a push, with the emergence of private companies in space exploration, could that competition come from a race between companies? Companies that could each represent a wide range of nations; even representing the same nations as each other. Why can’t we learn that where you happen to be born doesn’t define who you can and can’t work with?
For this reason above all others, I am disappointed in Dennis Tito and his Inspiration Mars Foundation.
Note: I know the Apollo missions were very much American and a point of national pride. I know I feel inspired by their achievements the same way I know a manned mission to Mars would inspire people around the world, but that doesn’t mean any level of inspiration is good enough. Not when it would be incredible to be able to point at numerous places on a world map and say they all worked together to do something extraordinary. Surely we should want to show children that sharing knowledge and collaborating is the way to push forward into the future.