In what has certainly been an interesting week in the “history of the world” two major events (well, major from my perspective anyway) happened in close succession, in the same week in fact! A man with no legs ran in the Olympic Games (the “real” games not “just” the Paralympics) and the latest bigger, better, higher, faster “Rover” named “Curiosity” landed safely on our neighbouring planet, Mars.

To say that Social Media were abuzz with these two events is to sell the hype very short. And in the case of the former, even Oscar Pistorius’ inability to win a medal was still widely hailed as a victory. Yet the latter story, elicited a number of “bah humbug” postings, reports and stories. Headlines saying “so what?” and calling the mission a “waste of money” abounded. Indignant, irate and angry people berated the money spent on space sojourns instead of food, medicine, clean water and housing for people right here on earth.

I’ve always been a “space fan”, and vividly remember collecting Apollo mission stickers from Caltex petrol stations when landing a Man on the Moon was the big NASA mission. So yes, my leaning is clearly in favour of this mission (and similar future ones) but why? What is it that makes these missions important?

Imagine, if you will, you’re invited to join a group of friends for a picnic next weekend. Bring your own blanket and basket - see you there. Now you could rush off to the shops and buy all your goodies immediately, but there’s a very good chance some of it would be ruined by then. Especially fresh produce like bread, and short-lifespan items like ice, and even some fruit or vegetables or dairy produce like cheese may have gone stale or bad. On the other end of the scale, you could wait until an hour before the picnic and rush around shopping. Then there’s a chance that, in addition to being stressed-out, you would arrive slightly under-prepared. Perhaps some of the items you would have like to have taken along were out of stock, or you ran out of time and never got to all the stores you intended to? Or worse still, imagine if you thought “next weekend” meant Sunday afternoon and your host calls you on Saturday to see why you haven’t arrived yet?

“What has this got to do with the Mars Rover” you may ask. Well, it’s about inevitability and preparedness. There are some things in this uncertain world that are inevitable and thus predictable. Granted the longer the period of time we view, the easier this crystal-ball game becomes, but nevertheless, we can see into the future in many instances. For example, our sun is burning through a finite amount of gas and will one day run out. Our scientists and astronomers have studied similar stars in the night sky to reasonably predict (within a few million years) when earth will become too hot to survive on (apparently the sun will expand and melt everything before collapsing and sucking its orbiting planets into oblivion) Large time frames notwithstanding… it is inevitable that, if mankind is still alive, we’ll have to go live somewhere else. Yes, I know you hate packing boxes and arranging movers, but take a deep breath, we will all have to migrate to another home.

Apparently, as earth gets too hot, so Mars will become a tropical paradise for a few million years (we still have to find a way to form an atmosphere and hydrate everything) and I admit that picking up all of mankind and schlepping them off to Mars is only an interim solution (eventually it too will become uninhabitable as our sun continues its death throes, but it’s certainly a start on our species’ up-coming journey to the stars.

Now back to the picnic and the money spent on Curiosity… would you rather our scientists start exploring and understanding what’s out there so that really, really, really long-term plans can start being made for the “big move”? (things like how to get Mars ready for us, how to get everyone there with no bathrooms on the side of the road,  how maps will work when there’s no “up” or “down” in space, and who will be driving and who get’s the “shotgun” seats) or would you rather have your great, great, great, great (to the power of a lot) grandkids be saying “what!? We’re moving to Mars? Today? I haven’t packed, I thought it was next year.