As I watched the successful landing of Phoenix on Mars tonight on NASA TV, as the scientists spontaneously broke out in applause and cheers of joy after each successful stage of the insertion, I shared in their joy. But I also couldn’t help but feel sorrow that I missed a much more momentous space exploration moment decades earlier: the original Moon landing. Of course, there’s not much I could’ve done about that, having not been born yet at the time and all, but I still envy my parents’ generation immensely just because they were there to experience it. We haven’t had any similar kind of joyous humanity-unifying event since.
That’s why I’m so eagerly awaiting the first manned mission to Mars (and yes, I even fantasize about it). Forget all of the arguments about the amount of science that can be accomplished for a given cost by a manned mission versus robotic missions; a robotic mission can’t possibly have the same emotional oomph, and that feeling it inspires in humans across the globe is incredibly important. The Moon shots did more for NASA than a hundred robotic missions ever could have. There’s just no replacement for sending people. So I can’t wait for the day when humankind goes to Mars, and when that day finally arrives, you will know it, because I will be making a hell of a lot of noise.