Why on Earth would anyone go to Mars?
For an election-year president, the temptation to announce new forays into outer space is
close to irresistible. It is a chance to distract Americans from mundane earthly realities like
unemployment, rising budget deficits and the death toll in Iraq. It is a chance to lure voters
in key aerospace states like California. It is a chance to make a little history, as John F.
Kennedy did when he pledged to 5 put a man on the moon. And it is a chance to make a
ringing speech about the spirit of discovery.
When George W. Bush announced that the U.S. would send men back to the moon and
eventually to Mars, he evoked Lewis and Clark, those great explorers of the American
wilderness. Like them, “we have undertaken space travel because the desire to explore
10 and understand is part of our character,” Mr. Bush said.
But it was more than just a questing spirit that motivated Lewis and Clark and the other
greater explorers of our world. Captain Lewis set out to find a land route to the Pacific
Ocean because President Thomas Jefferson asked him to do so in hopes of opening up
North America to colonization and economic exploitation. Columbus discovered America
15 by accident as he sought a shortcut to the Indies, source of spices and other luxuries
coveted by the European elite. Magellan set out on his voyage around the globe for
essentially the same reason. Each one made the voyage because he thought he might
find something useful.
Of what possible use to humanity are the moon and Mars? Both are barren, lifeless
20 places, with conditions utterly inhospitable to human habitation. The latest pictures from
the robotic rover Spirit, spectacular as they are, show a desolate, rocky desert. Even if
science could find ways of protecting human settlements from the radiation, the extreme
cold and the lack of breathable air, it is hard to imagine why people would want to settle
there. To mine for minerals? How would they be transported back to Earth? To ease world
25 population pressures? How do we get millions of people to Mars?
Some say we should go to Mars for science. Apart from examining rocks, the main
scientific purpose of the rover missions is to determine whether the arid planet might in the
distant past have been wet enough to support some form of life – not whether it supports
life now, which is highly unlikely. Is answering that question worth the $ 400 billions that
30 the experts say it would cost to send a manned expedition (and that was NASA’s estimate
in 1989, when Bush Senior proposed it)?
If the question is really important, it can be answered far more cheaply by robots like Spirit,
a marvellous little machine that doesn’t care about the lack of air or the fierce
temperatures. Supported by an army of scientists and computer technicians back at
35 NASA, robots can do just about everything a man in a space suit can do at a fraction of the
As Mr. Bush himself put it this week, “The environment of space is hostile to human
beings.” In a manned space expedition, most of the enormous cost goes to keeping the
fragile human cargo alive. Unlike robots, the astronauts must have air, food, warmth and,
40 of course, a way to get home. The robots will just stay happily behind.
Of course, putting a robot on Mars isn’t nearly as exciting as putting a human being there.
As Mr. Bush put it, “We need to see and examine and touch for ourselves.” NASA
applauded Mr. Bush’s announcement because it knows that manned flight thrills the public
and shakes money loose from Congress.
Space enthusiasts say the ultimate value of manned exploration is to expand humanity’45 s
presence beyond the known world, “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” as they
say on Star Trek. But to justify the enormous cost and the considerable danger, there must
be some benefit beyond the delight of seeing a human footprint in the Martian dust – some
practical benefit to the well-being of humankind. So let the rovers do the rock watching,
50 and the humans stay home.
From: Globe and Mail, 2004
foray - undertaking, journey
mundane - everyday, ordinary
to covet - to want very much
rover - here: vehicle
I. Comprehension (300 – 450 words)
1. Summarize how the author interprets President Bush’s speech on the
new space exploration program.
(Minimum 100 words)
2. Outline the author’s view on expeditions to Mars.
(Minimum 120 words)
3. Comment on how the author influences the reader through his choice of
words, stylistic devices, humorous elements etc., and give examples.
(Minimum 80 words)
II. Analysis (200 – 300 words)
Bitte beachten Sie, dass entweder Teil II (Analysis) oder Teil IV (Translation) zu
Choose ONE of the following:
1. The text above deals with new advances in space travel.
You do not agree with the author’s view.
Write a formal letter to the editor of Globe and Mail defending manned space
2. Describe the cartoon about the mission to Mars in January 2004, explain the artist’s
message and relate it to the text form Globe and Mail.
III. Composition (200 – 300 words)
Choose ONE of the following:
1. “America and its European allies – a difficult relationship”.
Discuss this statement and give your own opinion.
2. Discuss the importance of money in Moon Palace.
3. John F. Kennedy “pledged to put a man on the moon”. In the following excerpt from
Paul Auster’s Moon Palace there is a description of the actual moon landing:
“… and that was how I happened to witness the event. I saw the two padded figures
take their first steps in that airless world, bouncing like toys over the landscape,
driving a golf cart through the dust, planting a flag in the eye of what had once been
the goddess of love and lunacy. Radiant Diana, I thought, image of all that is dark
within us. Then the president spoke. In a solemn, deadpan voice, he declared this to
be the greatest event since the creation of man. The old-timers at the bar laughed
when they heard this, and I believe I managed to crack a smile or two myself. But for
all the absurdity of that remark, there was one thing no one could challenge: since
the day he was expelled from Paradise, Adam had never been this far from home.”
Analyze the narrator’s attitude towards the moon landing in this excerpt (put
quotations to support your arguments in parentheses). Choose another example from
the novel that focuses on the idea of a ‘lost Paradise’ and describe it.