[extropy-chat] MARS: Because it is hard

Kevin Freels kevinfreels at hotmail.com
Tue Apr 13 16:37:12 UTC 2004

Spike said "We already know what is out there.  No need to send humans
to look at what our robots can already see better than
we can.  Humans are needed only to help the machines
build stuff. "

I disagree. Every day we are still discovering new and amazing things about
our own planet, despite roughly 10,000 years of civilization. There are now
more people studying the natural sciences than there have been in the entire
history of civilization combined. Rather than running out of things to
learn, it seems that we are simply increasing the number of things we need
to know! I think that the only reason we don;t think there is much to learn
on Mars is simply because we haven;t been there to study it.

This reminds me of when the head of the US Patent Office stated to President
McKinley, "Discoveries which seem to be approaching their ultimate
conditions are telephony; photography; illumination and apparently
labour-saving machinery in some fields, since the performance of machines
has practically reached perfection. We cannot, indeed, well conceive of a
greater activity of invention and a more rapid enfoldment of new processes
than we have had before us in the 19th century".

As for the robots, they are entirely incapable of doing the job. Taking a
week or so to drive a couple hundred feet and drill a 2 cm hole in a rock is
not adequate. For all we know, Mars could have cooled before the Earth
bringing with it a plethora of life. We would have no idea without digging
because all of the evidence would have been covered up while the Earth was
just starting to organize it's first single-celled organisms.

There is much we can learn there. Even the knowledge that no significant
life ever took off on the planet is knowledge that we don;t have.

Although we agree that some time in the future, MNT will exist in such a way
that disassembling Mars and recording all of the information will be
possible, no one can say exactly when that will occur. Many discoveries need
to be made. One important step discussed here was the use of existing
structures in nature as parts in the fabrication of the early assemblers and
other MNT tools.

What if we need just one little part to complete the first assembler design,
but we find it to be near impossible to build. What if this particular
sturcture just so happened to exist in nature, but not on Earth, instead it
was inside a mineral located inside a volcanic vent on Olympus Mons. This
knowledge would get MNT going much faster than it would have otherwise.

I admit that the above scenario is implausible, but my point is that humans
are the best explorers we have come up with so far and we should not stop
exploring to wait for improved technology. If we were going to do that, why
not stop all research until MNT comes around? Surely we can learn more about
the ocean's depths, the Earth's fiery interior, and the upper atmosphere
once we can map it with little nano probes.

Ultimately we need to ask ourselves two questions: Is the knowledge on Mars
worth pursuing, and if so, should we seek it now or wait until MNT comes
about? If it is not worth it, then we should let it rest. If learning about
Mars is important, then we need to go. For the time being, the robots are
simply not up to the task.

Kevin Freels

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