With the announcement that Mars One, the completely private Dutch company committed to establishing the first human presence on Mars by the early 2020s, has acquired a number of private sponsors, the push to put human boots on the Red Planet is officially underway. This, after decades of expectation that it would be NASA or some other government agency that would achieve on Mars what was accomplished on lunar soil in 1969.
Those of us whose memories extend back to the 1970s or earlier can well recall the almost universal expectation that, by the year 2000, mankind would certainly have colonized Mars, the Moon, and possibly other locales in the Solar System. Everyone believed that the 21st century would be heralded by space stations, commercial activity on the moon and the asteroids, and a fully space-faring civilization.
Needless to say, it hasn’t turned out that way.
While innovations like the Internet have certainly helped fulfill the sci-fi-envisioned potential of computers, and while cellphones and Skype have taken global communication into the realm of science fiction, mankind remains largely earthbound, relying for her knowledge of the cosmos on sophisticated unmanned probes like NASA’s newly landed Curiosity rover on Mars and the Dawn spacecraft exploring the asteroid belt. Enormously intricate technological triumphs like the Hubble Space Telescope (which, be it remembered, was launched with a flawed lens that took years to correct) probe the reaches of deep space — realms that mankind shows little prospect of ever being able to visit in person, at least at the current rate of development.
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Computer generated image provided by SpaceX showing their Dragon spacecraft: AP Images