Let’s pretend that Martians do exist. Aside from laughing it up about our whimsically inaccurate drawings of them that we’ve unquestionably adopted (green, big heads, twig-like bodies), Martians probably think we have loneliness problems. Assuming they’ve had a bird’s-eye view onto the interworking of our current political and economic atmospheres, they’d be bewildered as to why we’re trying to seek them out. Do we think that finding these braniac-beings could potentially help us solve our world’s problems? That’s just silly. They absolutely will help us solve our world’s problems.
Too many people assume NASA is a contemporary relative of the conquistadors, merely seeking to sail rover from planet to planet in hopes of plunder and conquest. But such a bleak portrait does not include the numerous contributions the organization makes for the US.
With every exploratory mission that NASA embarks upon, technology necessary for the endeavors must be developed and can later be translated to American industries and passed down to the common man. Similarly, when NASA satellites and rovers do reach other planets, they also provide us with fundamental clues toward understanding the geography and climate of our planet. This understanding is pivotal in defending against global warming and pollution trends that characterize our contemporary era.
So the next time you hear someone ranting on how we need to focus on fixing our domestic issues before becoming an interstellar species, you can tell them that they’ll never be dealt with unless someone dangles the luscious temptations of unlocking the secrets of space in front of our mouths.
I’ll give you an example to drive this point home. And I don’t mean to offend any runners out there, but I hate running. That is, unless I run with a purpose, like trying to make it on time for my exam (which has become an unfortunate routine in light of me graduating this spring) or if it’s part of a sport. Otherwise, simply put, I just get bored.
The same concept applies to technology and research. Unless we’re being nudged along by some kind of motivation, like the excitement we feel about the possibility of finding life outside of our world, we’re probably not going to work as hard as we could to innovate solutions to our world’s issues.
But let’s get down to the good stuff. The stuff all you boys and girls have been patiently waiting for: will we find life on Mars, and what does it mean if we do?
First of all, I don’t think it’s likely that we’ll find life. And that belief is rooted not so much in pessimism as it is in our strict definition of life. When pondering the word “life” on the most microscopic level, we envision a membrane-encased set of micro-machines accompanied by strands of tightly coiled genetic material. Also, the most crucial criteria for an entity to be deemed a life form is a capacity to self-replicate. But I think that those qualifications are specific to life on Earth.
What makes us think that out of the seemingly infinite ways organic material can be manifested, only the way observed on Earth can be deemed “life”? Maybe life on other planets exists in a form similar to components we normally associate with life, namely cellular machinery and a self-replicating mechanism. Yet, judging by how they’re still able to best the world’s most renowned scientists, I’d say that they’re decently complicated and they, along with similar permutations as them, are more than worthy targets of our extraterrestrial explorations.
It also amuses me why there’s a dogma that the presence of water is a prerequisite for life to exist. Have we such limited imaginations that we can’t conceive of an outlandish life form that transcends this restriction and uses another one of the seemingly infinite compounds known in our universe as a solvent?
Nonetheless, it’s still important that we search out the universe (Mars included) for worlds capable of sustaining “our” particular kind of life. Aside from fulfilling feelings from knowing that life could have hypothetically existed in these places, we may need to rely upon these life-friendly hotspots to evade facing the same fate that erased the dinosaurs’ existence to all but a few dusty bones. The day may come when we’ll pull an international fire alarm, and we’ll have no choice but to form two single-file lines and evacuate our beloved planet. I guess all those elementary school drills and biblical parables would finally pay off.
Faisal Chaabani is a fifth-year neurobiology major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.