Sunday, May 26, 2002

Shopping is life, life is shopping : Due to having too much fun - yes, kiddies, there is life beyond the glow of a computer screen, if only barely - there was no posting yesterday and there will probably be little posting today. But I am working on another long SWVCTM and the doctors rant and will return to respond to comments, mail, and post more tommorow.
This changes everything : We've long suspected that there was once lots of water on Mars. We've long known that there is currently water on Mars, just not all that much of it compared to Earth. At least as I understand things, the theory has long been that most of the Martian water boiled off with its atmosphere.

Then again, maybe not. Data from Mars Odyssey is indicating that there's not just a little water on Mars, there's oceans of it in vast frozen reservoirs just beneath the surface.

This isn't just a minor bit of interesting curiosity solved, if further data backs it up it's a Major Big Deal™. Leaving aside the Martian life question, for us water is a big deal. It's a lot easier to go somewhere if there's water there. It's not only important for our lives, but from it you have a relatively easy source of oxygen and hydrogen. We need oxygen to breath, of course, but oxygen and hydrogen are also the two main components in liquid fueled rocket engines. Having lots of water already there vastly simplifies a lot of things.

While I don't know a whole lot about the subject, it also seems to me that having that much water "locked up" also simplifies the terraforming question - bigtime. As "sci-fi" as such matters seem, they're of more than a little importance. Having all of our eggs in one planetary basket - one major asteroid hit on earth and it could be hasta la bye-bye, humans - is not an overly comfortable position to be in. We don't have the ability to send people to other stars, even if we did know for sure that there were habitable planets out there, but we do, if we've the will, have the ability to send people to Mars. With or without terraforming, having water available locally would be a critical component in any self-sustaining Martian colony. If such a colony spent the next few hundred years terraforming the planet, we might just end up with another relatively nice basket. Not to mention that Mars is a whole lot closer to the bulk of the asteroid belt and all those nice metal-rich rocks.

Just to go outside the realm of the speculative and into the ludicrous, what if we were to find life on Mars, though? Some bacteria that can survive the harsh environment and live off of the ice, minerals, solar radiation, each other, and what have you. It's not completely beyond the realm of possibility, there are some terrestrial bacteria that survive nicely in some incredibly harsh conditions. So what if we found something like that?

I'm not really talking here about the inevitable ravings from idiots who think that sending anything to Luna is "defacing a pristine environment". I mean what if we found an active, if primitive, biosphere? Would we have the right to wipe it out in order to try and terraform Mars to be more Earthlike so humans could be halfway comfortable there?

Personally, unless such a biosphere turned out to be a whole lot more than anything we can imagine with our knowledge of Mars now, I say yes, hell yes, absolutely yes. But I think it'd be foolish to ignore the question completely or not to recognize that a serious ethical debate would be called for.

My speculative babbles aside, if this discovery pans out it's more important than ever that humans go to Mars. One human being with a lab could do more and better research in a few hours than every probe we've ever sent has managed to date.