Message to Anti-Science Republicans: Denialism, Willful Ignorance Are NOT What Get Us to Mars

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Whatever the outcome of the aptly named "Curiosity" mission to Mars (we should know early tomorrow morning if the $2.5 billion rover makes it safely to the surface of the red planet...or not), one thing's for sure: mankind didn't make it to the moon, and certainly won't make it to Mars and beyond, if we embrace the science denialism, anti-intellectualism, and willful ignorance of Virginia Attorney General Grand Inquisitor Ken Cuccinelli and his (mostly right-wing) ilk. Per NASA's website, here are just a few of the incredibly sophisticated instruments on board Curiosity, ones that required enormous knowledge of biology, physics, chemistry, etc. to develop, implement, and effectively employ on Mars.*"Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) is a suite of three instruments: a gas chromatograph, a quadrupole mass spectrometer, and a tunable laser spectrometer. Together they search for and measure the abundances of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen - elements that are associated with life as we know it."
*"The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) measures the abundance of elements in rocks and soils."
*"The Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) experiment looks for escaping neutrons from the Martian surface. Slower neutrons may indicate the presence of subsurface liquid water or ice."
And now, here are a few examples of the types of education backgrounds required to work on a project like "Curiosity":
*Mike Wong has "a PhD in Atmospheric and Space Science from the University of Michigan," with expertise in "how the atmosphere and climateevolved throughout the planet's history."
*Sushil Atreya has "a PhD [in] atmospheric and space science" with "undergraduate and master's physics, chemistry and math," and specialties in "understanding surface-atmosphere coupling, chemistry and climate evolution, and habitability of Mars."
*Oliver Botta has a "Ph.D. in organic chemistry," and works on "understanding...fundamental questions on the habitability of Mars, in the past or perhaps in the present."
In other words, to be qualified to work on a mission like "Curiosity," you've first off got to be extremely intelligent. Then you've got to be curious, which of course is part and parcel of being intelligent. Then, you've got to be highly educated and work your butt off at mastering your area of expertise. You need all those things, and more. What you certainly don't need - and in fact, can NOT have! - is a Dark Ages mentality like Ken Cuccinelli's climate-change witch hunt, or Rep. Morgan Griffith's disgraceful (not to mention embarrassing) "zombie climate myths", or George Allen's opposition to embryonic stem cell funding (these are several-day-old cells that would be discarded regardless, but the research is absolutely essential for finding treatments for heart disease, cancer, Alzheimers, Parkinsons, diabetes, you name it), or the anti-science horror show we're seeing in neighboring Tennessee, etc, etc.