The media fascination with the Mars rover, Curiosity, has dwindled since its initial landing. Curiosity has been exploring for several months now, and while the public goes on with its daily lives, there is a NASA team controlling the rover, and hopefully, we will gain vital new information about the planet.
Curiosity’s mission is involved with understanding Mars’s habitability, studying the geology and geochemistry of the planets surface, and examining the planet’s hydrological processes. And although the majority of the public’s interest has subsided, some think the exploration is crucial. Others remain apathetic. Some environmentalists are disappointed with the billions of dollars spent on space exploration. Joining the conversation are space explorers who don’t want to limit humans to the issues and challenges on Earth.
But we are limited in many ways to the problems surrounding us. And Curiosity can help us to solve some of these issues, such as climate change. “The more we know about Mars’ atmosphere, the better we can really understand our own,” Mark Lemmon, part of Curiosity’s climate team and a planetary scientist at Texas A&M University, said in a National Geographic interview.
Sustainability is the key issue, either here on Earth or on Mars. Mars is the “most ‘Earth-like’ planet we’ve yet found,” James Wray, an assistant professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, told CNN. With many similar geographic features, such as canyons, mountains, and sand, Mars is similar enough to feel reassuring about the planet’s potential to sustain human life.
Additionally, artificial intelligence may help scientists to use technologically advanced devices to address environmental crises. Advanced software can help mitigate the effects of air and water pollution while limiting the pollution caused during production. Downscaling global models to inform regional policy can plan for and help adjust the human impact on the environment, according to a Vanderbilt University study on computing and artificial intelligence for sustainability. Intelligence systems can address sustainability by, for example, reducing ecological footprints by shortening supply chains or gaining a better understanding of our energy utilization. So although Mars may not be a quick escape to overpopulation or global warming, our presence there is important to long-term solutions.
Does Curiosity affect the way humans view environmental issues? Do individuals look toward our difficult situations and hope for an easy out with a new planet? Probably not. But for some, this could be the first real step to changing our future. Not only can the intelligence that comes from our presence on Mars lead to innovation and technology, but Mars might eventually become another home. “Humans are going to live on Mars in [Obama’s] expected lifetime,” Charles Miller, former NASA executive and a commercial space consultant, informed CNN. For many, the unreasonable has become more of a reality with Curiosity’s continued mission.
The public will always be a bit swept up in the magic of space travel, but there are issues in our own surroundings that must be explored. “Studying what we have here on Earth is just as important as studying what’s beyond it,” says one online commentator. As the mission continues, the real science is taking place away from the public’s attention.