Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Water, water everywhere! Why can't we find it, though?
Another bit of extraordinary news was belched forth at NASA this week, claiming that one of them fancy little golf carts they shot up to Mars has found "the best evidence yet for a wet Mars" or words to that effect. Of course, no actual WATER was found, but more evidence that there used to be some was.

In the last three weeks, all I've been hearing about in regards to the little golf carts is that they keep finding evidence of water activity. Considering that the water activity is (possibly) several billion years old, and not one drop of actual aqua has been found, I wonder why this is important. What is the obsession with water on another planet?

I asked around. Apparently, water is important for three reasons --- you need it to produce fuel which any future manned mission might need. Anything we shot up there cannot carry enough fuel for both legs of the trip, and so fuel will have to be produced on Mars. Secondly, if you send people there, they will need water to drink, naturally. Tang tastes terrible without water. Finally, if there is water, there might be life. Whether it would be life as we understand it is another matter altogether. We may be looking at Martian life every day and not realizing it, because we're looking through the lenses of what we know and understand.

However, all this mention of water leads me to a cynical conclusion: we're being led down a primrose path. It stands to follow that if NASA can prove there is water, anywhere, that makes future missions all the more viable, and when it comes to scientists, all you need to do is show something is viable and suddenly, the sky (litterally) becomes the limit. NASA will continue to suck up taxpayer money, and a lot of geeks that haven't kissed a woman, ever, will be gainfully employed. All that's needed, atthis moment, is continued evidence, apparently, and not the real thing.

Naturally, NASA is not looking at the places where they believe there is ice, like say the polar ice caps, which would indicate the actual presance of said water, but of course, if we did that it would defeat the purpose of the entire project, i.e. employ geeks. Of course, man could probably not survive on the Martian ice caps, and so I can also see the argument for looking someplace else, but this is getting ridiculous.

While space exploration has been a boon to mankind, what with new materials being developed, new engineering methods and techniques, faster, better communications and computers (and did I mention Tang?), given the limits of technology at the present, why are we making the leap from theory to actual practice so quickly? Isn't this sort of putting the (golf)cart before the horse?

By all means, continue to fund the exploration of Mars, but do not use the "there is evidence" argument to start planning future missions that will immediately be over budget and balloon way past their original intent in the here and now. We're a long way from sending people anywhere near Mars and let's not get too excited until we're somewhat more capable.

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