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Tom Toles
Posted at 07:15 AM ET, 05/08/2013

Somewhere fast

Just when I thought the unproductive fantasy of human space travel had died a slow but natural death, now comes renewed talk of flying people to Mars. I get the sense that this talk is not entirely serious, but I’d rather not hear it at all. The Frontier Spirit Argument and Escape From Planet Earth Argument are as dead as Martian bacteria.

The new wrinkle of a Mars mission is the difficulty of landing people there. A lot of you saw the impressive video simulation of landing the rover Curiosity, with the hardest part being slowing down. A little like trying to soft-land a bullet on an apple. With all the extra weight needed for life support with humans aboard, it becomes a problem of superhuman size.

But that doesn’t matter. Enough willpower and enough money, and yes we could do it. And that sentence tells you why we shouldn’t. The only reason to do it is to see if we could, and we already know the answer. Yes. So relax and proceed to a more interesting problem. Mars in itself is uninteresting because there is nothing there for people to do. Curiousity is wandering, probing, looking, and analyzing this faraway wasteland just fine without having to breathe and fog up its visor.

No, it would just be a big, expensive travel investment. And I’ve got a better one. You are not allowed to say what better things you could spend space money on, just like you’re not allowed to do that for money spent on wars. Why? I don’t know, something about oranges and apples. But I’m going to break that rule and say it anyway. A human ride to Mars would cost high mulyiples of BILLIONS of dollars, give or take. Nobody will say the exact number, because nobody knows, and nobody wants to kill off the project with a scary number. But I do. I want to kill it off. If we have extra billions of dollars to invest on a transportation initiative, I’d rather build a lot of fast trains right here on the ground where I could get on them and use them. And don’t tell me fast trains are impractical in the same breath that you’re talking about six days (and seven nights!) on Mars. You could get a lot of very fast trains for these same billions of dollars, and I want them. Trains are great, and we’d get to keep them.You can prefer watching a pointless Mars trip if you want, it’s a free ($1,000,000,000’s) country. I want fast trains. Let’s put it to a vote.

By  |  07:15 AM ET, 05/08/2013

 
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