Friday 26 February 2021

After the hugely exciting landing of Perseverance on Mars I had some Twitter exchanges which questioned why we would spend ‘huge resources’ landing a rover on Mars. My response to this is that humans are explorers, exploration is baked into our DNA. If it wasn’t we would still be living in the trees. When standing on the moon in 1971, Dave Scott, the Commander of Apollo 15, the first of the science focused Apollo missions, said “man must explore and this is exploration at its greatest” and Perseverance is the latest in the journey.  As to the huge resources spent, the cost to develop the rover and get to Mars was about $2.4 billion over nine years, about $300 million a year and it will cost the same to keep it operational on Mars. Compared to many other things that is tiny and well worth it.  In 2019 Americans spent $96 billion on their pets. The entire 2021 NASA budget is $23.2 billion, and that covers everything, robotic exploration and human spaceflight. The entire world’s governmental space budget is c.$75 billion. For comparison, the Tokyo Olympics are set to cost $15 billion, Hinkley Point C is expected to cost more than £20 billion, and the UK’s ‘test and trace’ system appears to have cost a staggering, and really hard to justify, £22 billion in a year.

 

I know some people say we should not be spending money on space while we are combatting climate change and other environmental problems but I don’t see it that way. Exploring is a basic human need, it is in our spirit as well as our DNA. Space gives us new perspectives, the Apollo 8 photo of earth rising over the moon, and the Apollo 17 ‘blue marble’ photo have been highly influential in raising environmental consciousness. Although not as important as the positive effect it can have on our spirits, space also brings new science and technology – although ‘spin off’ alone is not a necessary reason to justify the expense. We just can’t stop exploring while we solve the big problems, just like we can’t stop making music or art, or having competitive sports – it is part of what makes us human.  Of course we need to spend more on solving the problems and moving towards net zero and a regenerative economy. We can and must do that, but we also need to keep doing the other things that make us human.

 

Perseverance was named in a school student competition that attracted more than 28,000 proposals. A seventh-grade student, Alexander Mather, from Virginia submitted the winning entry. In his winning essay he wrote:

 

Curiosity. InSight. Spirit. Opportunity. If you think about it, all of these names of past Mars rovers are qualities we possess as humans. We are always curious, and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the Moon, Mars, and beyond. But, if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing. Perseverance. We as humans evolved as creatures who could learn to adapt to any situation, no matter how harsh. We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere. We, not as a nation but as humans, will not give up. The human race will always persevere into the future.

 

Wise words indeed.

 

Perseverance’s first full-colour view of Mars



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Dr Steven Fawkes

Welcome to my blog on energy efficiency and energy efficiency financing. The first question people ask is why my blog is called 'only eleven percent' - the answer is here. I look forward to engaging with you!

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