So NASA successfully deposited another lander on Mars today. Although in the process, they managed also to leave a bunch more debris on the surface of the planet, that will never be used again, certainly not for its intended purpose. Basically, it’s just tossed aside because it has served its need in getting the lander to the planet. By my count, we have put seven landers on the planet, along with assorted heat shields, balloons, parachutes, and (so far) two sky cranes which don’t have anything to do with the machines themselves, except for they were absolutely necessary to get the equipment to the planet in one piece.
It’s quite ironic to me that both JPL and NASA are very circumspect about not wanting to introduce Earth microbes onto other planets in our solar system, but they don’t seem to care too much about littering them. Certainly, the Moon has been turned into a junkyard of sorts over the last 54 years, and near-Earth orbit is practically a shooting gallery of defunct satellites, space junk and it’s a miracle no one’s been killed in a space station from flying debris. Space Command is currently keeping track of more than 4,000 objects in orbit around the planet, and that’s just the tip of the problem.
I’m all for exploring the solar system, and finding out about ancient life on the other planets that we have here, but do we have to make each one as cluttered as the one we’re currently living on? Honestly, it doesn’t say much about us as a species if the only thing another space-faring civilization that comes across us discovers is we can’t pick up after ourselves. I can actually see aliens arriving, dropping a pile of our space junk on the red carpet, and leaving, without so much as a word in their first contact, just a look of disgust.
Update: Upon reading this again this morning, I feel it’s worth it to say that the United States space agencies aren’t the only ones to blame in this. Certainly, the now-defunct Soviet Union, its successor Russia; India, China, Japan, the UK and I think South Africa, as well as South Korea, have all managed to put rockets into both low-Earth orbits as well as put landers and rovers on different planetary bodies in the interest of exploration. In the coming years, I expect it’s only going to get worse, as the exploration of the cosmos steps up, in the expectation that we’re going to be putting people on the Moon as well as Mars.
In any plans though going forward, I would think there should be a serious discussion about what to do with the stewardship of these planetary bodies. After all, they don’t really belong to us. Or they will when we’ve treated them like the fictional planet of Sakaar from the MCU Universe, or Arcadia 234 from the movie Soldier.