Mars vs Doonesbury

Mars vs Doonesbury

Surprisingly thought-provoking Sunday comic from Gary Trudeau, the beloved author of the 40+ year strip, who, along with Charles Shultz, ranks as the only artist to be regularly published with vintage re-runs while being listed as “On vacation” during most weekdays. He’s that good and that entertaining and an American treasure.

This Sunday’s comic features the now mature and wizened Uncle Zonk, sharing a doob with his young college-age nephew, who asks if he thinks humans will ever make it to Mars. And his surprisingly pragmatic answer: “I hope not.” Zonker goes on to explain that the tech required to sustain humans on the round-trip flight and keep them from harm’s way will cost billions and would be a catastrophic disaster if something went wrong. Interesting response, especially in light of the catastrophes dotting the US in this most volatile September ever.

Robots, he explains, could do the job, likely better than humans, and at a far cheaper cost. Interesting debate. Trudeau nails the premise masterfully, ending, as he always does on a side joke, this time about fixing any in-space problem with duct tape. But leaves the discussion to us.

So let’s do a quick review. We’re on the precipice of a spectacular technological future (just wait ’til Apple unveils its new iphone this week) that may well be dominated by AI. Along with mechanical technology that changes our whole notion so revolutionary, it changes our very sense of purpose over the next hundred years. And it well may make sense to send sentient beings to Mars and beyond to explore and gather data, just as we’ve been doing with satellite launches for the past 57 years.

But nothing is going to stop the progression of events that lead to human space exploration because it’s simply what we as a species are programmed to do: To inquire, examine, risk and reach out. The economics of human missions to Mars are something to be reckoned with. But every president has been and continues to be on board with making it happen. The logistics will require years more of development, study, testing and preparation and will undoubtedly include the use of robotics and robots to smooth the way (at least until they wake up enough to demand their OWN set of rights).

But we’re goin’, folks.

Money, time, fires, quakes and hurricanes be damned. We are so goin’. Can’t hardly wait.

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