Op/Ed: Why do Earthlings care so much about Mars?

Why does anyone care about what’s happening on Mars when there’s so much to worry about here on Earth? Why do we continue to spend a lot of time and a lot of money finding out more about that distant red planet? What’s the big deal?

A fair question – and one that I hear a lot, as a planetary geologist. The fascination is apparent, everywhere you look: The media is ablaze with the “breaking news” headlines of Monday’s announcement of flowing water on Mars’s surface. The movie The Martian has been receiving accolades left and right. And let’s not forget, tens of thousands of people signed up without hesitation for the chance at a one-way trip to Mars.

So – the big deal. For most, it’s the search for an answer to this persistent, currently unanswerable question: Are we alone in the universe?