Sunday, January 04, 2004

Hmm... A bittersweet day.

On the bitter side, the Cowboys are out of the playoffs. Now, to be honest, I didn't think they would even get close to being in the playoffs this year. Bill Parcells did an amazing job turning that team around - I expected it to take longer. But after finding a reason to cheer on the 'boys for the first time since the Jimmy Johnson era, it was almost painful to say goodbye in the first round. But I have hopes for next year, and faith that things are just going to get better from here on. I just hope Jerry Jones continues to stay out of the spotlight. It's hard to describe just how much I hate that man.

On the sweet side, NASA finally got a Mars mission right. No mistaken English to Metric conversions, no wrong trajectories. Just a flawless landing, and photos on the way.

But I can't help but wonder; when are we going to start truly exploring space? I'm not talking about sending a robot off here and there to find out the age and make-up of comet tail-dust, or the chemicals in Mars dirt. I'm talking about sending men (and women) to the moon. I'm talking about a Space Station with a real purpose. I'm talking about a manned mission to Mars. You can find out a lot about a place by sending robots; you find a lot more by sending humans.

Most people don't seem to realize that we haven't even been to the moon in over 30 years. As soon as we were through competing with the Soviets, we lost interest. Perhaps with the Chinese space program building up steam, the US may once again have reason to compete. Also, with the "X" prizes, maybe individual competitors and private industry may move to the forefront of space exploration.

If you read the Sci-Fi literature of 50, 75, or even 100 years ago, you realize that in most things, we've far surpassed the most optimistic predictions. We've kept the world population from expanding as much as we thought, we've faced a lot less starvation, we've got better medicine, more technology to the masses, less pollution, more freedoms, more tolerance, more educational opportunities, and we've as yet to launch a full-scale nuclear war. Not that our world is ideal, but we've done better than many thought we could. With one glaring exception, though; we're still planet-bound.

No moon base. No real spacecraft (sorry, but the Shuttles don't really count). No manned missions to Mars, or the moons of Jupiter, or even our own moon. The International Space Station is not used as a platform to send spacecraft farther, or a stepping stone to anywhere. In fact, most of the crew-time is spent merely keeping the place going. Maybe I expect too much, but I'm still a little disappointed.

But that's not to say that nothing is going on. We're able to detect planets in other solar systems. We're getting amazing photographs and data almost daily. We've discovered more about the nature and origin of the Universe in the last 15 years than had been discovered since the dawn of humanity. And Star Trek has had some really good episodes, too (I won't bring up Joss Whedon's "Firefly" - its cancellation was a travesty beyond measure). So I'll try to look on the bright side - we finally got another lander to Mars. Maybe we can use the information we'll be gathering to prepare for a manned mission.

I nominate Jerry Jones to be the first man on Mars. That way, we don't have to worry about a return vehicle.

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