The other day I found a movie on the web called ‘The Day the Sky Exploded,’ a French film made in 1958; one of many that shows a fear of man exploring space. This is not the fear of space that some people have like the fear of the ocean, which is a form of agoraphobia. No, I am speaking of the fear of the consequences of man exploring space.
Their have been many stories of this type. the most famous being the book and original film ‘The Andromeda Strain’. In all of these a doom is brought on mankind because we are exploring space, be it a disease like in “The Andromeda Strain’ or an accident causing an asteroid striking the earth like in ‘The Day the Sky Exploded’ or bring unwanted attention to the earth from aliens like the movie ‘The Earth vs. The Flying Saucers’. This fear has been with us since the very beginnings of the space age and I believe that in part it explains the half-hearted way we have explored space and even why this administration is trying to kill the space program. It might even explain why some scientific discoveries have been - if not suppressed - glossed over since the early years of space exploration.
There have been a few weird things that NASA has done over the years that seem to be caused by the fear of space exploration. Most of you can not remember Apollo like I do. I watched the moon landings live on TV when I was a kid. One of the things that always struck me as strange was the way the astronauts were treated when they returned to earth. The crews of the landing missions were placed in quarantine when they came back because of a fear they may have brought back a disease from the moon. Now even to a nine year old this seemed silly. I can understand why the rock and soil samples were placed in isolation: if they became contaminated with Earth dust the chemical testing would produce a false finding on the composition of the Moon.
But believing that the crews could bring a disease back seemed just weird to me. The moon has no atmosphere or magnetic field so the surface is blasted with the full effects of the solar wind and cosmic rays. The odds that anything could live under those conditions were a billion to one. Being that space is an unknown, I can see doing it for Apollo 11 but for all the missions? It just seemed to be overkill to me.
However, most of the weirdness of NASA has been with the planet Mars. Since the first Mariner flyby they have been less than forthcoming about Mars. Now, I am not claiming that there is some conspiracy like the ‘Face on Mars’ people do, but for some reason NASA has been funny about the planet.
The first Mariner returned low res pictures of Mars, and they bummed people out. They showed a dead world that look more like the moon than the earth. But some of the pictures did show dry river beds and valleys that showed that water did flow once there. NASA spent the next twenty years saying that there was not, nor hat there ever had been flowing water on Mars. Then, in the late 80’s, NASA changed their tune to say that, yes, there once was water on Mars, but not any more. In the early 90’s they changed again and started to talk about possible water ice under ground. Now changing a theory because of new information is all to the good - it’s the way science works. But there is one problem: the evidence for water and ice on Mars dates to the early 70’s but NASA didn’t change their story until the late 80’s.
The next funny thing that NASA did was with the Viking Landers. Viking was sent to Mars to look for life and had three experiments onboard to do that. Before the missions were even launched, NASA decided that if any two of the experiments had a positive result than they would say that there was life on the planet. Well, two chemical tests for the waste gases of life showed positive. The third was a spectrograph that was testing for hydrocarbons and it gave a negative result.
The mission plan said that if any two detected life they would announce life had been found. NASA didn’t do this, and to this day the agency says Viking found no life. There are two problems with this: one - this goes against the mission plan, and two - the Viking spectrograph has been tested here on earth and it found that there is no life here either! NASA had known that the spectrograph did not work even before the Vikings were launched. So why did they say that there is no life on Mars when under there own rules Viking found some?
I believe it was partly because of the fear of space exploration that the false findings were announced. There are people in NASA that have the same fear of endangering earth that some in the public have. The ‘no life’ ruling killed any support in congress for a manned Mars mission. It guaranteed that we would be trapped in low earth orbit for over a generation. ‘No life on Mars’ also had the added benefit of furthering the idea that the ‘earth is special’ theory that the greens like to spout.
Now we come to the present: the obscuration about Mars is over. Water has been found. Many scientists believe that the discovery of methane gas on Mars ends the debate about life there. Even though NASA still says it’s too early to tell, they pretty much have admitted that there is a high probability of life. So why has the Obama administration - against political and scientific sense - killed the hope of a manned Mars mission?
It comes back to the fear of space exploration. They are so afraid of it they risk losing extra seats in congress in November to kill the program. They’ve even killed a sample return robotic mission (the Russians and the ESA are going to do it). They fear the political and economic changes that would come if the US had a robust space program.
It is important to them that they convince the American people that the party is over; That we are no longer a great nation; that people will have to do without because we have raped the earth for too long. A Mars program would accelerate technological change like Apollo did. An asteroid mission would prove we could mine resources from them.
They know if they privatize space that we will be trapped in low earth orbit for at lest ten more years. The private space companies would go to the moon first, putting an asteroid or Mars mission off for 15 or 20 years. The technology that the private companies produce will be proprietary and not spread to the general public for years. They want to slow the changes that would come from space because they know it would put a lie to what they are trying to sell the American people.