Friday, June 13, 2008

Is Mars Getting Closer?

Ok, I have to admit, the headline is a bit misleading. But it is more of a question of are we getting any closer to going to Mars? We have robots and rovers there but so far, not a single man has gone to any other planetary body since 1974 when Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt left Mare Serenitatis.

But this week, nasa at least got the ball rolling with the awarding of the design of the next generations spacesuits to a Houston based company, Oceaneering International, Inc. ( Of course, this is only half the battle but at least if the guys go anywhere they will have new spacesuits. It almost reminds me of the old Jose Jimenez jokes that Bill Dana did on the Steve Allen Show back in the 1960's. "Why, I even got a helmet and gloves!"

All joking aside, this is serious business. And with a $180 million contract, this type of business will provide a ton of good high paying engineering jobs. If the whole Mars trip costs $200 billion by the time man lands on Mars, this will be an adventure well worth it in economic growth and hopefully a bit of restored pride in both NASA and the US.

While politicians like to complain about the costs, they all know that these are the types of jobs that cant be shipped over seas or farmed out to third world countries. These types of jobs also allow for economic prosperity. It was the whole space program in the 1960's that caused the economy of the US to boom, even in a time of war. In spite of our fighting in Vietnam, we were still able to cause the average American consumer to actually have a high level of confidence in the basic economy, all the way until the oil shock hit.

Unfortunately, we are in the middle of another oil shock that is shaking the foundations of almost every country in the world, but this is primarily due to the fact that while the oil companies are making record profits, the workers have not benefited int he same way. If the US doesn't find a way to distract the American consumer at this point, all may be lost. Especially the space program which is the first to be cut any time that there are funding issues elsewhere.

In my book, if we make it to mars on the schedule that President Bush laid out, then it will be an absolute miracle worthy of the stories that are still told about the men who went to the moon. Will this be Bush's legacy? The man who brought Mars closer to us? Dont bet on it but hopefully as more contracts are awarded to US companies, we will find that the date of the trip and man setting foot on Mars will get closer with or without all of the external circumstances.