A scale of our solar system runs approximately 2 miles long from the U.S. Capital Building to the Washington Monument. On this scale, all stellar bodies from the sun to Pluto (about 40 AU) stretch the entire length of the National Mall, giving us a slight appreciation of the enormous size of our solar world. It’s only when you venture beyond our solar system, a distance from the Capital Building to Hawaii, that you enter outer space.
In addition to the light-year, stellar distances are measured in AU, that’s the distance from the sun to the earth (approximately 100 million miles). To make any effective attempt at reaching outer space, you would have to capture the ‘strongest wind’ (figuratively, as portrayed in the movie Castaway) and travel about 100,000 AU. Is mankind making such an attempt right now and is it necessary?
Achievements in the space program lead us to conclude that travel to another solar system will one day become a reality but it’s still not an easy leap into outer space. To make the stellar leap for mankind requires a careful approach to our neighboring planets: a few small steps if you will.
Before the approach to Mars, the moon must serve as a suitable lab because of its similarities to Mars. For example, the gravities of the moon and Mars are similar to each other. Another fun fact is that dust on the moon is much different than dust we experience here on earth. Why does that matter?
Reconnaissance using robotic technology is another prudent way to keep walking. Already on the Martian surface are the rovers Spirit and Opportunity and now Curiosity. It’s important for rovers to collect samples of the Martian surface and send them back to earth. Otherwise we might experience the Martian version of quicksand or who knows what else. With a proposed operation of 18 months, the rovers are meeting the expectations of their designers. Soon to follow will be humans with their advanced knowledge (due to robotics) that could not otherwise be obtained.
The next small step would have to be the conquest of Mars. Such an experience would put the wind-in-our-sails; but still not an easy leap into outer space. While a planet with similar tolerances to earth is wonderful news, we must take it in stride. Meanwhile, we had better clean up the place while we’re at it.
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