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The Webfooted Astronomer - April 2001

 

From the President's Pen . . . Marvin's Martian Maggot

By Mary Ingersoll

I drive a black Astro van and on the end of the radio antenna is perched the head of Marvin the Martian. Marvin was the arch nemesis of Duck Dodgers of the 24th ľand-a-half Century. He traveled in his rocket ship (the Martian Maggot) with his loyal dog, K-9, and explored new worlds and new civilizations. He later got into a lot of trouble with Bugs Bunny when he attempted to blow up Earth because it was interfering with his view of the planet Venus.

Science fiction isn't quite like it used to be. Those sleek bullet shaped rockets (with chrome fins) captained by Leslie Neilson (Forbidden Planet), aided by killer robots, and armed with laser guns (and the best American technology money could buy). We'd just come out of a world war as heroes, and we aimed to maintain that status, at least on film. When President John F. Kennedy promoted the idea of sending men to the Moon, some people were laughing it off as a foolish venture that would cost too much. They said that it was time for the government to put money into practical uses, such as building new schools, hospitals, and helping the poor. But then we had to go.

Times haven't changed, but the movies sure have. Today's sci-fi hits usually see technology not as a useful tool but a dangerous weapon. The heroes, looking more like wandering Samurai, rely not on helper robots ("I don't recall ever owning a 'droid." Obi-wan Kenobi, Star Wars) but on their own metaphysical powers to triumph against evil.

Technology seems to have lost its post-war savior status: "You could say I've lost my faith in science and progress," Sting, If I Ever Lose My Faith. Thankfully, not everyone thinks that way. The newest technology that looks to radically alter our lives is the Fuel Cell (powered by hydrogen), and it has been displayed in newscasts on TV over the last few weeks. We are presently enduring an electrical power shortage here on the West Coast and the Fuel Cell could not only reduce our dependency on electrical power but also on fossil fuels.

When we finally got to the Moon, it wasn't on a huge bullet-shaped rocket ship but on a spidery contraption called the Lunar Module. It cost a lot of money but the benefits from the new technologies that came from the Apollo Program are taken for granted today. If we want to land on Mars, it's not going to be on a LM or a Martian Maggot, but on something new and beyond the small frames.

Will we ever make it to Mars? It's possible. Once we didn't think we could go to the Moon, some thought that we shouldn't. Once the Moon was seen to be too far away, but now it's an old story (been there, done that). Before we went to the Moon, there were many clubs and organizations that spent time and money on trying to figure out how to get there. It wasn't until we had to go that the technology and equipment were finally built and utilized. We are now in that "dream" phase of travel to Mars. Someday we will have to go. Let's be ready.

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