(French version here)
This is it, the space race is on. Elon Musk, Jef and all the billionaires have decided that Mars is of paramount importance; more so than global warming and more so than social inequality (otherwise they wouldn’t be so rich).
Among others, we also find the Chinese, the Russians and probably one day the Europeans. But beyond the utility, is it really a technological feat to go on Mars? Some merchants sell this as if it were a Holy Grail, as difficult as the conquest of the moon, but on closer inspection, many clues leave me skeptical.
Comparing this with the race to the moon in the 60’s and the one of today (for Mars), there is no photo, the one of the 60’s was so much more difficult, not by the mission itself, but by the delta between the success (to send a man on the moon) and what existed (almost nothing). Let’s start again!
In the 60’s, everything had to be invented: from rockets to helmets, from freeze-dried food to fuel. But today, to send a man to Mars, what do we really have to invent? Yes, some concepts need to be improved and yes the Starship has progressed, but what is really new in this carcass compared to the Saturn V ? OK, it’s reusable, but it’s first an economic advance before being a technological advance. We would still be able to send a man to the Moon or Mars with or without the recovery of empty boosters. And it’s the same for all the other technologies that will be used to land humans on Mars.
If in the 1960s, many of the research and inventions developed had an impact on our daily lives, what will be the impact of sending a human to Mars? Globally, not much. Because going to Mars today is not complicated. It’s harder, longer, but not enough to light up the neurons of great scientists. Going to Mars is above all a marketing whim rather than a technological feat.
Anyway. Mars sucks.
But if sending a man to Mars is nothing spectacular, what is the next step in human emancipation? What is the space project that deserves to write a line in the great book of History? It would have to be a project where the technological gap between today and the achievement of the latter is immense, even untouchable. A project that only fictionalists have described in literature, in short a project that will upset human society for a long time. In a word, as in 100: find extraterrestrial life.
In the solar system there are many places, not where to put your feet would be cool, but where there would be potentially life: Ganimede, Europa, Anceladus, etc. …. And why one of these projects shouldn’t be the discovery of extra-terrestrial life? Sending a probe (or someone) to Europa (Jupiter), drill 5 kilometers of ice and swim in an ocean that we don’t know much about today in order to search for life, and all this before the next decade. This would not only be a modern space race, but would also have so much more impact than a silly hello from the red planet.
A small step by man is not always a big step for humanity.
(Translated with help of deepL).