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 climate evolved throughout the planet’s history.”
*Sushil Atreya has “a PhD [in] atmospheric and space science” with “undergraduate and master’s degrees…in 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.
By the way, notice a pattern in all the science-denying, willfully ignorant, know-nothing names I’ve just listed? That’s right, they’re all Republicans. And yes, I’m pretty sure there are a few Democrats out there who are ignorant buffoons as well, but can you think of any in Congress or governors’ mansions around the country? Hmmmm. But Republicans? There are boatloads. Or maybe we should say “arks” instead of “boatloads,” since a lot of these people are Biblical literalists who reject evolution and the entire scientific mindset – rationalism, empiricism, rejection of superstition, the enlightenment concept that we have the ability to investigate phenomena and figure them out – while of course benefiting from the untold advances science has brought, from vaccines to electricity to automobiles to advanced oil and gas recovery (ironic, eh?), to…basically, all of modern civilization).
But guess what: denying science, failing to support it, or even persecuting brilliant scientists like Michael Mann (as Ken Cuccinelli has done) are not the types of attitudes that will get us to Mars and beyond. Heck, this Republican lack of respect for science, for intellectual pursuit, for curiosity (or for “Curiosity,” for that matter), is not even conducive to allowing mankind to live particularly well here on Earth. Yet this is the mindset the back-to-the-Dark-Ages Teapublican Party has largely embraced, or at least not firmly rejected. And for that reason alone, as if we need any others, we should all firmly reject Republicans at the polls, at least until they completely change their ignorance-is-bliss attitude.