Looks like we we'll have Peter Smith live at spaceurope on the 14th...prepare your questions and stay alert!
65 days to Mars
Phoenix: Ashes and Futures
Again, we approach Mars with some trepidation, but so much anticipation. The "Death Planet" has claimed so many of our robotic emissaries before their times during these first decades of exploration, so there is no such thing as a 'routine' landing on this world, not yet. All we know for certain is that the potential
rewards are well worth the risks.
The former Soviet Union broke its heart on Mars, with all earnestness on its part. Although the political element was there, surely those who laboured to authorize, build and fly these missions at every level of involvement were far more interested in the outcome rather than the symbolism, and the only pain that could have been greater than failure would have been to never have tried at all. They desired, as do we all, to see the reality that would supersede all the myths, folklore, and outright superstitions, to DISCOVER, and to satisfy the eternal itch of curiosity that has propelled us from caves to interplanetary exploration.
Scientific truth is universal, transcendent; our only real illumination. Transforming a ruddy, enigmatic light in the sky into a real place that can be comprehended is a gift to all mankind for eternity. Who ever said that accomplishing such a lofty goal would be easy? Evolution requires both persistence and sacrifice.
The fossil record by its very nature is fragmentary, subject to an almost unlimited spectrum of random events, difficult to interpret in detail. We will probably never know of even a tenth of all the species that ever existed on this planet. They lived, they struggled to survive, and, ultimately, they all died. The most fortunate ones left descendants quite unlike themselves as the millennia and aeons passed.
We all think of the brave lungfish that claimed dry land for vertebrates on some forgotten shore of a supercontinent long since fragmented. This happened, undoubtedly; we are living proof. What we seem to forget is that there also must have been a great number of unknown corpses of other fish on these and many other ancient beaches that didn't make it for one reason or another due to circumstances or insufficient adaptation...we'll never know why, we'll never even know of them at all...but the lesson remains. They had no direct descendants that could decipher the story, but others of their kind do, and therefore they succeeded.
Phoenix is well named. Life rises from its own ashes, always. We humans have the exceptional gift--sometimes, the painful curse--of being able to remember and learn from past events. We can mitigate the effects of random factors and ex post facto erroneous assumptions to a far greater degree than any other form of life that has preceded us as we try and try again...account for those uncertainties that we know about...and the wisest among us know that we never know enough of these without even more intensive exploration efforts.The absolutely fundamental need for us to expand and to be something at least persistent, if not eternal, in a Universe of rapid change dictates that we explore and learn.
Phoenix will succeed, and return a bounty of information about a place we have never been to before. We will learn; we learn inevitably, sometimes painfully, always productively. The amazing thing is that humans can do so in relative picoseconds of geological time; evolution's new tool is the Scientific Method, the great step beyond trial and error, possibly our most fundamental contribution to the long-term survival of terrestrial life.
We will know yet another 'new Mars', which is slowly revealing itself as a world of tremendous diversity. We will see the North Polar plains of Mars from a familiar, human perspective at last, and then examine them microscopically, chemically, exhaustively. Perhaps they were once a primordial seabed, perhaps once another cradle of life, perhaps a haven for water still, and who knows what else? There will be surprises; there always are. Likewise, there will be the potential for setbacks and disappointments at every turn, but this is the nature of exploration, of existence itself.
Our extremely distant ancestors persevered and ultimately overcame their challenges, which is the only reason that we are here today. Tragedies and triumphs alike are mere twists in the road to a distant future that is guaranteed to be as unimaginable and as wonderful to us now living as the 21st Century would have been to a Neolithic...to say nothing of a lungfish. The road must be travelled in its entirety to reach our destination.
Godspeed and good luck, Phoenix.
You bear our dreams, and not only the best within us, but our very essence.