There aren’t any human footprints on Mars yet, but there likely will be someday.
They probably won’t belong to Tesla head honcho and Mars colonization enthusiast Elon Musk, although there’s a decent chance his SpaceX rockets will carry the first expedition.
Then again, SpaceX could falter, and the first humans on Mars could come from NASA, or maybe some future European, Chinese, or Indian space program.
But what gets me is that right now, we literally get photos from Mars every single day. The Perseverance and Curiosity rovers send back multiple pictures every day – each picture coming from so far away it takes minutes just to transmit the data, at lightspeed – giving us shot after shot of another planet.
What’s more amazing is that the photos are easily accessible. They’re online for anyone to see!
Heck, both rovers have Twitter accounts!
Other Twitter accounts relentlessly spit out picture after picture, showing us the rusty red and tan rocks and sand of another planet.
In my lifetime, we’ve gone from a few relatively grainy black and white images of Mars, to colour photos from orbit, to a series of increasingly sophisticated landers that now bombard us with image after image.
It’s still amazing to consider that all this comes from another planet, millions of miles away, on which no human being has yet set foot.
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I was born after the last human being had set foot on the moon, but it’s likely that within my lifetime, humans will return to manned space exploration, visit the moon again, and then Mars.
And then what?
We may or may not stay.
If you think we need to have permanent Mars colonies, then the logical question is why we aren’t colonizing Antarctica, or the floor of the ocean, or building floating cities that hover in our atmosphere (which has been seriously suggested as a method for colonizing the acidic and searingly hot cloudscape of Venus).
At least if you step outside on Antarctica, you can breathe! We’ve got a lot of space left right here where there’s air and water and a lot less of that pesky cosmic radiation and you don’t have to use multiple safety protocols to go for a short walk.
In the short term (by which I mean the next 500 to 1,000 years) colonizing Mars may be too difficult to be worthwhile. Moving vast numbers of humans there as a kind of lifeboat if the Earth gets snuffed out is a Plan B, I guess, but I’d rather we focused first on making sure that Earth survives.
But that said, I hope we send some humans for a visit.
You can’t extinguish the wonder of the fact that there are other planets. A few hundred years ago, they were blurry lights in the sky, and with telescopes and probes and rovers, we’ve filled in the details.
Someday, probably soon, someone will hear the crunch of Martian sand under their feet.
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