On 1 August 2014 BBC News published an article about NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover expected to land on Mars in 2021. The rover has many functions intended to continue the exploration of Mars’s surface and subsurface, search for life on the red planet, and take samples that will some day be sent back to Earth. The most interesting function of this rover is an experiment intended to create Oxygen from the Carbon Dioxide rich Martian air. The reason is to devise a potential way of creating rocket fuel on Mars or to simply make Mars more habitable for humans. The idea seems simple enough, but should we be doing that kind of experiment on a planet we know so little about?
Don’t get me wrong, I fully support exploration of Mars. I wish I could have worked on any of the recent Mars rovers myself or at least one of its instruments, but that was never my destiny. The thought of exploring outer space is exciting to me. Maybe I watched too much space opera (Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5 – just to name a few) when I was a kid, but I think we should understand the universe we live in. Was Mars ever populated by sentient beings? Could humans ever live there? Are there rich minerals on Mars? Will it ever be feasible to have transit between Earth and Mars? These are all questions that interest me still.
I’m sure that the Oxygen creation experiment will have minimal impact on the martian environment at the moment of the experiment. More than likely we just want to know whether we can actually do it. But I wonder… If this particular rover is supposed to “find life” or contain unadulterated samples for future inspection, how could it the Oxygen experiment not hinder those goals? Wouldn’t introducing a significant change in the environment cancel out anything that would be learned by what’s already there? Shouldn’t we learn more about Mars before we decide to change its environment no matter how small? Again, I’m sure that the results of the experiment are expected to be so minimal that it wouldn’t matter on a global scale, but it is still an interesting question. What kind of impact could that little rover make in Mar’s future?
Go here “Mars 2020 rover will pave the way for future manned missions” to read the full article about NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover.