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We are already on Mars. Slip into put on a pair of red/green stereo specs, and see the wonderful views from the Mars Rovers, from breath taking sunsets and double moonsets (a JQ weakness) down to those beautiful blueberries that spill out of the sedimentary rocks, and movies of dust devils swirling across the Martian plain. Not forgetting glorious orbital pictures from Mars Explorer and Express, etc.
Hundreds of thousands of people have followed, via the Net, the exploits of the 2 Rovers over the past 3 years, and have experienced as much enjoyment and excitement as they would have if a few living humans had actually been there. Robots are extensions of our senses and faculties and their investigatory and scientific capabilities are expanding all the time. Moreover, there is a major scientific objection to a Manned Mars Mission (MMM): Contamination. It would be virtually impossible to prevent some of the biological waste products produced by the crew from escaping into the Martian atmosphere, and this would probably mask any faint signature that might be present from actual Martian life forms. And determining whether there is or ever was life on Mars is THE major scientific, cultural and cosmological reason for studying Mars in the first place. An example of this concern is the fact that tiny levels of methane have been detected in the Martian atmosphere. Is the methane produced biologically or volcanically? If astronauts go there and let off a few farts, we may never know the answer.
A recent NASA study actually concluded that any future MMM would involve a mixed team of humans and robots. In other words, humans would be there for obscure political reasons, while robots would do the serious scientific work.
Even the political/publicity benefits of MMM (the ‘Gee Whiz factor’) are highly dubious. I was 12 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and I remember how quickly the mass public excitement subsided afterwards, in less then a week. Enthusiasts like me continued to follow the exploits of Apollo 12-17, but mass public interest disappeared, except for the rescue of Apollo 13.
Which brings us to the issue of risk. The great length of a and the very serious radiation hazards would make such involve an irreducible high risk. Losing the crew of an MMM would not be like having a few sailors from the Marie Celeste drown, it would be a huge political and cultural trauma, because of the vast effort and huge sums of money involved. As an Israeli, I can never forget how awful and dispiriting it was to watch Ilan Ramon disappear with Colombia.
The cost of an MMM has been tentatively estimated at $ 200 billion. Compare this with $ 800 million for both Rover missions. Even if this is spread amongst several countries, this is a vast amount of money that would inevitably draw funds away from other space and scientific research. And all this at a time of Global Warming, when there are much more urgent scientific and industrial projects that could improve energy use. The public backlash against a full-blown MMM project and against science as a whole would far outweigh any short term mass ‘Gee Whiz’ effect.
The issue of indirect technological benefits from space research (spin off) is not a good argument for MMM either. Firstly, no one suggesting scrapping sophisticated robot missions and earth satellites, which have helped to develop important technologies ( e g image enhancement software ) Secondly, whereas during the 1940’s 50’s and 60’s most technological advances were made in the military, missile and space fields and then transferred to civilian uses, today’s technology flow is often in the reverse direction, with military and space products using technologies and components developed by the huge civilian IT industry that has grown up. As I indicated earlier, one of the most sophisticated devices that any MMM would require would be a leak-proof, closed cycle Martian toilet. There must be cheaper ways of improving sewage treatment technology!

Heinlein rocks. Going to Mars rocks.

Oh how I long to long
For the green hills of earth.

I just got to your blog via a link from PZ, and I have to say I like it here.

I'm a huge Heinlein fan and have started reading him again with my 13 year old daughter.

Would I go to Mars? Hell yeah! Sign me up!

Heinlein's various stories on Mars are what spring to mind for me as well. It's Double Star that jumps to my mind first, though.

But sending people is a waste. I definitely want humans to have a presence on Mars, but we can either send a couple people to plant a flag like they did on the moon, or we can send a bunch more robots, really find out what's going on, and discover the origin of the universe at the same time (remember, it's things like the Planck satellite that get slashed by manned missions).

One thing to keep in mind during the perennial debate over manned programs vs. space science within the NASA budget: the latter's share is roughly the same size as the entire NSF budget.

It's not at all clear that space science would do that well if it were hived off and competing on an equal footing with all earth sciences, biology, terrestrial astronomy, etc. In fact, over the years three proposals to do that have died, in part because many space scientists expressed just that doubt.

So keep a doubled perspective: it's quite true that space science is the abused Cinderella of NASA -- and, simultaneously, quite true that it's highly privileged w/r/t other natural sciences.

My main misgiving about going to the Moon or Mars is the ISS. The International Space station has cost about $100,000,000,000. And what did we get for it? If it was about going to Mars, then where is the research into artificial gravity? Where is the cosmic ray shielding? Where is the coronal mass ejection shielding? Where are the self contained recycled food/water systems? Where are the light weight structures (such as inflatables)? Where are the methods to fight the buildup of fungus, etc.?

Exploration or science - i still want to get my money's worth.

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    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.