20120405

(Old) new horizons

If you looked up tonight, there's a great chance you've seen both the Moon and the Mars. Seriously, they are quite shiny and close to each other so I doubt you could've missed them. But in case you somehow did, here's a picture.
Click to embiggen
Now, if you look at the Moon a bit closer, you might notice one great fact (it also requires some knowledge, though). You can currently see all the landing sites of the only three successful Soviet lunar sample return missions - Luna 16, 20 and 24. All of these were robotic mission, without the crew to witness the eerie beauty of the Moon. But more importantly, you can also see all the landing sites of the six manned missions of the Apollo space program that managed to safely land humans on the Moon, and return them home - Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17. Think about this for a second. Although the chance is great that you (and me) will never be able to set foot on the Moon, right from your window you can see with your own eyes the places where, about 30 years ago, another human beings walked, talked and laughed. For me, this is one of the most beautiful facts in the story of humans.
The picture is upside down, though. Blame my telescope.
And where do we go from here? Many people believe it should be Mars, and I completely agree. "It has water, it has carbon; it has a 24 hour day; it has geothermal energy; Mars is a place we can settle." Sending people to Mars would, of course, be a hard, expensive and dangerous venture. But it would be worth it. All the scientific discoveries aside (and these would be numerous!), landing humans on Mars would mean conquering another obstacle that lays in our way towards moving to the outer space. And it's only a matter of time when this new horizon will be reached. I just hope I'll be able to witness it. :)

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