Which calendar is valid in space

The mars exploration rover’s early anniversary points to continuing colonialist tendencies in spaceflight

The media celebrated the service anniversary of the us mars rovers spirit and opportunity with gross self-indulgence at the beginning of the year. Five years ago the robots landed on the red planet and are still active, a nasa press release said. The original estimated duration of three months had been exceeded by a factor of twenty. This was then also reflected in all articles in such a way. No one seemed to wonder why the earth calendar was used for an anniversary celebration on mars.

Rover spirit shows itself in its shadow. Image: nasa

In fact, the mission scenario for the mars exploration rover did not foresee a mission duration of three months, but of 90 martian days (sol). One sol is about 40 minutes longer than one day on earth. After five earth years, this small difference accumulates to several weeks. According to this, the rovers have not even reached the magic limit of twenty times the duration of the mission. Spirit will celebrate its 1800. Sol only on 21. February 2009, and opportunity three earth weeks later on february 14, 2009. Marz.

This is no problem for the scientists who steer the robots through the red martian sand. When asked if the rover team tends to follow the martian or earth calendar when planning anniversary celebrations, rover driver leader scott maxwell says, "on either! Celebrating earth anniversaries and mars anniversaries proverbially gives us the best of both worlds." in the early days of the mission, maxwell said, scientists had based their work shifts exclusively on mars time. This has prompted the feeling of working on mars itself. In the meantime, however, they again more strongly followed the earthly clocks.

With today’s still poorly developed state of exploration and colonization of the solar system, such calendar questions may seem an entertaining curiosity. But there is more behind it. With a growing permanent presence of humans on other celestial bodies, a dangerous conflict potential could develop in the future.

The self-obliviousness with which the press reports aligned the mars anniversary with the earth calendar is in any case an indication that the colonialist approach, the thinking from the center of power, is still effective also in space. Aubenposten and settlements in the universe are understood without further ado as appendages of the earth. The bloody experiences of the past centuries should be an urgent reminder to follow other ways in the future.

Europe has named its space laboratory on the international space station (iss) columbus, making it an orbiting memorial to the voyages of discovery by european seafarers — and the modern colonialism that followed. European expansion has brought much suffering to the earth. Whoever places himself in the tradition of the european explorers also takes on this bloody legacy and must name ways in which such developments can be avoided in the future.

In the german space scene, however, such concerns met with little enthusiasm. Anyone who refers to the history of the european slave trade or brings up wernher von braun’s involvement with the nazi regime is quickly seen as a killjoy who fundamentally wants to cut off spaceflight, especially manned spaceflight. But there is no way around dealing with our inglorious past, even in space. On the contrary, only clear, unambiguous positions on these ies will be able to secure the necessary social support for space travel in the long term.

Thus, when setting up space settlements, their complete independence from earth must be the primary objective. For economic reasons alone, they must not be dependent on supplies in the long run. This must be accompanied by full political sovereignty. Of course, it will take a while before such self-sufficiency is technically feasible. But if the inhabitants of a settlement in space come to the conclusion that they can now stand on their own feet, they should be able to establish their independence with a simple, formal declaration. The kind of troublesome, possibly warlike detachments from the "protecting power" that have characterized earthly colonial history must not be allowed to happen again in space.

Even more important is the treatment of natives. It must take place in space considerably more respectfully than it was in the past on earth. Therefore, wherever we discover life on other planets, we must regard it as the owner of the planet. This applies in principle, even if the living beings are only tiny microbes. After all, the crimes against the native peoples in america and other continents were justified, among other things, by the fact that they were not classified as full-fledged human beings. Extraterrestrial life must therefore, as demanded by the british microbiologist charles cockell, be regarded as fundamentally intelligent and capable of suffering until proven otherwise. Unless we are clearly and unambiguously invited to do so, we are not allowed to enter a planet inhabited by living beings of any kind.

Image of the west valley taken by the mars exploration rover spirit. Image: nasa

Mars, which has been propagated for a long time by the planetary society as a priority target for manned missions, could therefore prove to be unsuitable for human settlement. If the robotic probes, which are to fly to our neighboring planet in the coming years, should actually prove life, a landing of humans would not be morally justifiable for the time being, and the landing of further robots would be questionable. We had to limit ourselves initially to observations from mars orbit.

It would certainly not be easy to abandon mars as a target for manned missions, since it offers the best conditions for a permanent human presence in our cosmic neighborhood due to the resources available there. The settlement on the moons of mars, on the other hand, was allowed to become technologically much more difficult. But the easiest way is not always the best one. Already the us president john f. Kennedy welcomed the apollo program in 1962 with the words: "we decided to go to the moon (…) not because it is easy, but because it is difficult; because this goal will serve us to get the best out of our energies and abilities and to use them sensibly."

This is also a good guideline for the now upcoming renewed departure into space. Whereby we should not only make things difficult for ourselves in technological terms, but above all in spiritual and moral terms. In space, we have the chance to leave well-trodden paths and break new ground. This will require more effort than maintaining the status quo, but it will be worth every effort. ()