In a recent op-ed published in the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, titled“Why humans shouldn’t go to Mars,” University of Virginia biology professor Michael Menaker argues that human exploration of Mars doesn’t “make good sense.” We are already exploring Mars with robotic spacecraft, he states, and “there are urgent Earth-bound problems to solve.”The exhortation by Menaker to “stay home” on the Earth would, if followed, greatly impede both our ability to understand the Earth and to protect it.
However, he has not made his case, which is based on several wrong fundamental assumptions. It’s possible he may be reacting to the blatant “Mars Hype” that was recently put out by some people within NASA who support the SLS and Orion programs, since the article does mention the Orion test launch. What the article really represents, however, is the “zero sum game” attitude by a few within the science community, some of whom depend on government science programs for their employment. I must emphasize that this point is not meant to denigrate the vast majority of scientists, many of whom work on valid and important research and struggle every year to maintain their lab’s financial survival. I suspect the majority of those who work on robotic spacecraft programs do strongly support the human space program, but those who do not sometimes get more media attention when they speak out, since taking such a position is controversial. Their attitude is that funding for a human Mars mission would take money away from their science. What Menaker forgets is thatany human spaceflight program uses funding that could possibly go to the robotic or pure science programs instead, so that opposition to Mars programs is also in effect opposition to all human spaceflight. His comments later in the essay, about “urgent Earth-bound problems,” confirm that this is his position.
Via Vincent Lieser