Mars, not exciting as original space race

Published 4:35 pm Monday, March 8, 2004

By Staff
Arthur McLean Editor
By now a lot of people know that NASA is, technically speaking, pretty sure there was once water on Mars.
Thanks to the work of robotic rovers Spirit and Opportunity, our American rocket scientists have, again, technically speaking, found stuff, or evidence if you will. They haven't actually found any water, but by looking at rocks, minerals and other things, they see the telltale signs that water left its mark on the red planet.
But the vexing question of whether life on Mars ever existed, even as some low-level microbe or something is one NASA intends to answer with future missions.
Needless to say, our good ole American rocket scientists are proud of their acheivements to date. And there's still more exploring the rovers can do.
I also have to think that there's at least an undercurrent of national pride running through these teams.
After all, we failed several spectacular times to get robotic explorers on Mars after the little rover Sojourner traveled on the red planet's surface.
One mission crashed so hard into the planet they'll probably never find it, and we sent one mission bouncing off Mars atmosphere and hurtling into the depths of space because of a little math problem here at home.
I'm reminded of the original space race. We blew up plenty of rockets back then.
I suppose these embarrassing moments made other technologically advance nations think they could show us up and pull off their own Mars missions.
So, next thing you know, Great Britain and Japan, the Johnny-come-lately's of deep space exploration, launched their own missions to mars. A new space race? Say it ain't so.
So why aren't they announcing amazing discoveries on Mars? Well, Japan's mission turned into a basket case about halfway to the planet. It got so bad, the Japanese scientists determined it was a lost cause before the probe even reached Mars.
Great Britain put a nice satellite in orbit, but when it came to the hard work of getting instruments on the ground, well, no tea and crumpets for the old chaps across the pond.
Heck, things weren't looking that good for the USA to start there. The first rover, technically speaking, freaked out and refused to do much of anything after about a day on the planet.
Then, as we Americans usually seem to do, NASA comes roaring back, by fixing the first one, and successfully landing a second rover mission clear on the other side of Mars, giving us two rolling robots on the surface at the same time.
I can't help but believe our boys at NASA were saying, "It was a nice try fellas, but just leave the deep space exploration to the experts."
Okay, so it's not as exciting as the original space race and the "Red Menace," but hey, times change.
Arthur McLean is the editor of the Atmore Advance. He can be reached by calling 368-2123, or by email:

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