The Final Frontier
On 22 February, NASA scientists unveiled a breathtaking video of its new rover, dubbed the “Perseverance”, descending to Mars. Although there have been previous similar space missions, the clip was a first of its kind and showed the supersonic parachute inflation over the red planet and a rocket-powered hovercraft lowering the science lab on wheels to the surface.
The footage was recorded on 18 February by a series of cameras mounted at different angles of the multi-stage spacecraft as it carried the rover, named Perseverance, through the thin Martian atmosphere to a gentle touchdown inside a vast basin called Jezero Crater.
A microphone attached to the Perseverance did not collect usable data during the descent, but the commercial off-the-shelf device survived the highly dynamic descent to the surface and obtained sounds from Jezero Crater on 20 February. About 10 seconds into the 60-second recording, a Martian breeze is audible for a few seconds, as are mechanical sounds of the rover operating on the surface. The sound is first sound ever recorded on the red planet.
The world has always been fascinated by Mars since Galileo Galilei first observed the planet on his telescope in 1610. Astronomers in the following centuries showed a keen interest after discovering distinctive dark patches and ice caps; leading many to speculate that the alien planet has water on its surface. The speculations led to another and some even concluded that the distinctive “canals” on mars were constructed by intelligent life forms.
These findings fuelled the realm of science fiction and by the turn of the 20th century, the red planet had captured public imagination by work such as “war of the worlds”. However, following the inception of space travel in the mid 20th century and unmanned space missions to Mars, the fantasy was shattered. NASA probes did not send back pictures of canals and civilisations or “little green men” on the surface of the planet; but instead it showed a hostile desert unsuitable for human life.
But the thirst for knowledge did not end. More probes were sent to Mars and their instruments showed remarkable findings. The data collected led to scientific speculations that life could have been present in the planet’s past and that it didn’t reach its earth-like potential due to certain conditions. The most ambitious among the scientific community even argued that in the future humanity might develop sophisticated technology to enable it to set up permanent bases on Mars and terra form its surface, so, it may one day support life and that the planet had all the base elements to support such endeavour.
However, mankind’s dream of colonising the cosmos seems like a far-fetched dream looking at its political and socio-economic circumstances. We can achieve great things but instead focus more on red-herring issues than actually improve ourselves.
Although the capitalistic system fosters innovation through competition, it is more often preoccupied by making mountains of profits. Driven by greed, our economies have guaranteed the earth’s destruction by greenhouse gasses and plastic pollution. So, giving our industrialists and technocrats free rein on space travel will just result in expanding that level of ugly exploitation to infinity and beyond!
Our Nation States are not so reliable in handling the mammoth task of transporting humanity to the stars too. The last thing we want is to have space armies demarcating territories in space and killing each other in inter-planetary conflicts.
Therefore, conquering the final frontier of space is not a question of how advanced we are technologically but how progressive we are as a species. If we don’t improve ourselves to go beyond petty rivalries and gain, we stand a chance to unite and boldly venture forth into the unknown and propagate our civilization in far off vistas.