Life on Mars? We need to af­firm

The Korea Times - - OPINION - This ed­i­to­rial ap­peared at the Bal­ti­more Sun and was dis­trib­uted by Tri­bune Con­tent Agency.

From writer H.G. Wells to film­maker Ridley Scott, the pos­si­bil­ity of life on Mars has long sparked the pub­lic’s imag­i­na­tion for gen­er­a­tions. And if there ever was a time when a world could use a demon­stra­tion of the power of sci­ence, or at least a hope­ful dis­trac­tion, it is in the Year of Oh-My-Lord 2020.

Earth is caught not only in a rag­ing COVID-19 pan­demic but in an ex­tra­or­di­nary re­jec­tion of the sys­temic study of the nat­u­ral world. When a sit­ting mem­ber of Congress who openly de­fies so­cial dis­tanc­ing norms con­tracts the virus and then blames mask-wear­ing for his fate, as Texas Repub­li­can Rep. Louie Gohmert did, while a sit­ting pres­i­dent pro­motes videos of a woman who be­lieves the coro­n­avirus has al­ready been cured (and warns about hav­ing sex with de­mons), as Don­ald Trump did, then maybe it’s time ev­ery­one got back in the class­room for some re­me­dial in­struc­tion. Per­haps a NASA mis­sion is just what the doc­tor or­dered.

Cer­tainly, Thurs­day’s launch was not as dra­matic as aliens land­ing in New Jersey bent on de­stroy­ing mankind or as­tro­naut Mark Wat­ney get­ting stuck on the red planet in the movie “The Mar­tian” and forced to MacGyver his sur­vival, or even the an­ten­nae ris­ing from the back of Un­cle Martin’s head in “My Fa­vorite

Mar­tian.” But at least the Per­se­ver­ance rover now headed to Mars is real and not fic­tional. Its mis­sion is to closely ex­am­ine the rocks and soil be­gin­ning with the Jezero Crater while the com­pan­ion drone he­li­copter In­ge­nu­ity hov­ers 15 feet above the sur­face to check out the chal­lenges of the Mar­tian flight.

It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble Per­se­ver­ance will un­cover signs of an­cient mi­cro­bial life on Mars as it roams the planet. It’s not the first such U.S.-led ef­fort (four oth­ers, Cu­rios­ity, Op­por­tu­nity, Spirit, and the orig­i­nal Mars rover, So­journer, came be­fore it) but it’s the most ca­pa­ble with the abil­ity to drill and store core sam­ples and ram­ble across the land­scape for the equiv­a­lent of two earth years.

It’s a shame that now comes the bor­ing part. Per­se­ver­ance won’t land un­til Fe­bru­ary. In movies, this is usu­ally the mo­ment where there’s a mon­tage of rocket hurtling clips in­ter­spersed with scenes of NASA per­son­nel hunched over com­put­ers be­fore a land­ing takes place about 30 sec­onds later. Still, this gives ev­ery­one time to marvel at how hu­man in­ge­nu­ity and knowl­edge has reached the point where a re­motely con­trolled ro­bot stuffed with all kinds of tech­nol­ogy.

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