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Teen Columnist: Rovers land on Mars, have major impact here

When Spirit landed on Mars last month, bouncing into a perfect landing to the cheers of NASA scientists, the world did something surprising: it noticed.

And I decided to take senior year calculus.

It wasn't the most thrilling decision of my life. But I'll need a calculus course on my college applications if I want to study astrobiology after high school. Despite my reluctance to take on senioritis and math simultaneously, you could say I was inspired.

I'm not the only one. Recently, I overheard someone saying how the Martian missions are maybe not the best use of our country's money, but at least they're something "hopeful." It reminded me of one of the many clichés that adults like to impose upon teenagers: "Where there's life, there's hope."

In this case, perhaps the wording should be changed: In places where there's almost certainly no life at all, there's hope anyway.

In the time between that first landing and Opportunity's recent touchdown, Spirit has lived up to its name. In the past few weeks, I've heard Mars mentioned in everything from political speeches to satirical cartoons to Sunday morning sermons. Even non-Trekkies are interested.

Perhaps we're all just desperate for some good news in a world where "weapons of mass destruction" has its own abbreviation. Perhaps we're reminded of the American ingenuity of the Apollo program and don't want to let go of its legacy. Or perhaps at heart we just haven't let go of the idea of little green men.

Whatever the reason, I suspect NASA scientists are a little perplexed by the sudden interest - and the sudden controversy. People who rarely look at the stars are finding themselves captivated by those alien landscapes. Others are wondering exactly how their tax dollars are being spent.

There are plenty of arguments for supporting missions to Mars: new technology, political profit, the chance of a world-changing discovery. But NASA has already given us something beyond price: inspiration.

Even people who think that space exploration is a waste of money find the possibility of life on other planets exciting, whether they believe in it or not. In contrast, many of my peers consider science their most boring subject. We might have to go all the way to Mars to find life in our classrooms.

That's not a reflection on teachers or students, but on curriculum - and perhaps a little on attitude, too. The science taught in high school seems irrelevant; kind of like the problems in our math books about a record's revolutions per minute. Don't they know we listen to CDs now?

Apply those problems to something that belongs to our generation, and we might learn something close enough to science fiction to be interesting. How else are we going to believe that this stuff is actually used in the real world - or worlds?

Mars has much to offer us in the way of discovery, exploration, and international cooperation - enough to justify 1 percent of the federal budget. This is much more difficult to believe when considering the president's political motives for supporting missions to Mars, but it's still true.

Space has more to offer us than just a photograph of an astronaut staking out the moon with an American flag - even if that's the kind of mission our president intends for Mars. Whatever the purpose behind the White House's endorsement of the missions, at least they've chosen to place the money in something less destructive to the world than missiles.

In other words, a rover trundling around 100 million miles away has more of a positive impact on my life than anything else in the year's budget. There still may be good reasons to question the money being spent on space travel, but I find it a relief to turn on the news and see a Martian rover instead of an Army tank.

While scientists and politicians argue over where to draw the fine line between discovery and conquest, exploration and exploitation, Mars is flooding the media channels and dominating the Internet, inspiring us with the wonder of the universe, with the knowledge that there is always something new to learn.

Spirit and Opportunity have drawn our attention - whether it be to next year's calculus class or to the next century's spaceships.

Some people, like me, watched Spirit land and thought about the existence of intelligent life on other worlds.

Others seriously questioned the existence of intelligent life in the Oval Office.

Either way, the search for life is not the only thing to consider. There are other things we might find on Mars, like hope.

Melissa Lamberton is a junior at Pueblo Magnet High School. Teen columns appear on this page on Tuesdays.



How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?

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