The Last Great Challenge

James - Houston, Texas
Entered on January 16, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: science

The pace of change on Earth is increasing as never before. Automation and computers produce whatever we want, and in copious quantities. Our eternal struggle to accumulate material goods will fade away as things made by automatic machines become more plentiful, cheap and disposable. Meanwhile, personal human labor has come to mean activity that is inconvenient or distracts from our self centered, hedonistic pursuits. Machines are getting smarter and smarter. 20 to 30 years from now they’ll be smarter than us. Then society will breath a collective sigh, turn inward and focus nostalgically on the past, a time when humans were self reliant, brave and adventurous creatures. Perhaps there will be renewed interest in religion as we begin to seek meaning in a new paradigm of existence where we differ to impassive machines to make decisions for us.

There are very few things remaining today that humans might do to demonstrate the nobility of our kind; very few. In fact, perhaps there is only one great and appropriate adventure left should we choose to make a final demonstration of the capability of our species. Something worthy that is just barely possible; a unique endeavor truly in a class by itself: To send a human to Mars.

After a million years of evolution punctuated by such technological leaps as the use of fire, stone tools, writing, mathematics, etc. our society is finally, just barely capable of interplanetary travel. But, this can only be accomplished in the near future by a one-person, one-way mission. We can send a man to Mars, but we can’t bring him back. He would have to stay there alone, periodically resupplied, but never to return to Earth.

We would all watch the explorer on TV, admire and love him for what he represents, the most noble species to evolve on Earth, a sentient organism in the twilight of its evolution, an ignorant organism with the audacity to sometimes aspire to be like God.