I’ve been asked to comment on the Mars Society convention three weekends ago. That was the weekend of the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity), and the convention took place in Pasadena, home of J.P.L., the lead developer of the mission. I attended the conference and gave a talk.
Although the landing of the curiosity clearly impacted the meeting a great deal, the main focus was on terraforming Mars, the Mars Society’s primary goal.
The success of the Curiosity landing dramatically demonstrated our technical know-how–and this was without humans onboard. In fact, humans actually had no contact with the rover after its touching the atmosphere until it came out of the successful landing sequence. All was orchestrated via program.
Curiosity is currently testing systems so that we know everything went okay. Until those tests are finished, and they will take some time on account of the number of capabilities this S.U.V.- sized vehicle has, no one will be entirely comfortable.
Of course, from my perspective, there still remains a problem.
So long as we have not sent humans to Mars, we’re making no progress toward terraforming the planet.
Until we do that, we’re not confronting the fact that if we don’t make it here (on Earth), we’ve got to get off. Such a thing as “getting off” demands advance planning and training hundreds of years ahead of time before it can be accomplished.
This is the real, legitimate, reason for a space program, for we may not have hundreds of years left unless the environmental movement suddenly gets much more effective than it has been thus far.