Why Mars is a Good Idea: Whether We Get There or Not
Have you ever looked up at the moon at night and wondered how man was able to create the technology to make the trip? Or sat in the audience at the orchestra and felt the sound dance around you while your heart floated on the waves and asked yourself what is so magical about music? Remember the questions we used to ask ourselves as children, why is the sky blue or the grass green? The specific content of the question is not so important as is the inquisitiveness to ask it. Curiosity germinates in the soul of humanity, and wonder is the sunlight and water that make it grow.
Arianna Huffington, in her book Thrive, describes wonder as one of the four pillars that lead to a truly fulfilling life. Webster defines wonder as “rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience”. Something in the soul of humanity needs to experience something greater than ourselves that cannot be immediately comprehended. Mystery is uncomfortable, but it is the very thing that motivates action and investment. Without mystery, we would never break from the monotony of current experience. Without mystery, there is no change.
If you have ever been to the Grand Canyon, remember the feeling of when you stood on the edge and felt your eyes struggling to adjust to the immense scale of what lay before you. It takes some time for your brain to register the physical size of the canyon, and the distance from where you stand to the cliff wall on the opposite side. There is something healthy about beholding something so much bigger than ourselves. Moments like those are what spur us toward discovery. The question of what lay past the horizon beckoned men into the age of exploration, and the mystery of light motivated men like Einstein to interrogate the universe until they unearthed the quanta. Wonder is what moves us forward.
Francis Bacon, in his 1605 work The Advancement of Learning, said “Nay, the same Solomon the king, although he excelled in the glory of treasure and magnificent buildings, of shipping and navigation, of service and attendance, of fame and renown, and the like, yet he maketh no claim to any of those glories, but only to the glory of inquisition of truth; for so he saith expressly, “The glory of God is to conceal a thing, but the glory of the king is to find it out”; as if, according to the innocent play of children, the Divine Majesty took delight to hide his works, to the end to have them found out; and as if kings could not obtain a greater honour than to be God’s play-fellows in that game.”
When prodded to give a reason for his work, Elon Musk has said that his motivation is to give humanity hope for their future; something he feels has been largely lost, along with an ambition to push the boundaries of what is possible. Ashlee Vance, when talking about Elon’s passion for space, says that “The average person might see space exploration as a waste of time and effort and rib him for talking about the subject, but Musk thought about interplanetary travel in a very earnest way. He wanted to inspire the masses and reinvigorate their passion for science, conquest, and the promise of technology.” When his investigation into the work NASA was doing was less than encouraging it motivated him to get involved. “Musk believed that the very idea of America was intertwined with humanity’s desire to explore. He found it sad that the American agency tasked with doing audacious things in space and exploring new frontiers as its mission seemed to have no serious interest in investigating Mars at all. The spirit of Manifest Destiny had been deflated or maybe even come to a depressing end, and hardly anyone seemed to care.”
It is this fervor and vision that makes Elon Musk such an inspiring character. Whether or not we colonize Mars is another question, and should not be the measure to which his efforts are judged. Wonder leads to discovery, and the promise of discovery leads to hope. Wonder invites the question, and hope expects an answer. It is this sort of hope that humanity needs so badly. The day we stop believing there is more is the day we die inside, as individuals and as a society. Elon is an individual who is inspiring wonder and hope for our future, and for that he is to be admired and appreciated. That is why Mars is a good idea, whether we make it there or not.
- Ethan, A Contributor for The National Watch