24 March 2004

Mars had salt water

Recent discoveries on Mars, including today's revelation that Mars almost certainly once had salt-water oceans (and therefore potentially it had life as well) is one of the many reasons that funding to NASA should be increased. If you click at right on the Astronomy Picture of the Day link, you can see a picture and an analysis of salt water on Mars.

The US needs to follow up on these two Mars rovers by mounting a manned expedition to Mars. Yes, it's great that Bush has supposedly made this a priority, but Congress needs to put our tax dollars where Bush's mouth is. An paltry $218 million more per year will not maintain NASA's current programs and solve the many problems involved in a Mars mission (including the certainty of radiation poisoning).

This reminds me: saving the Hubble is a GOOD idea. All of the most important telescope-based discoveries of the past five years have been made by the Hubble. We know far more about the composition and age of the universe because of this billion-dollar investment. Is it really scientifically and financially effective to let it burn up over the Pacific?

Of course, fixing/updating the Hubble will require at least one shuttle mission. I know we're all queasy about shuttle missions after what happened to the Columbia (and the Challenger, for that matter) but NASA should be given the funding to revamp the shuttle program and get us a shuttle that can do what it was originally hoped do to: provide cheap, safe access to space. (The original goal of the shuttle program was to be able to make frequent launches at about $10 million a pop. Shuttle launches prior to Columbia were all but frequent and cost about $500 million apiece.)

Wow. This was a lot of grandstanding for one arm-chair astronomer. But the US should take its leadership role in space exploration more seriously.


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