Oh, the Places We Could Go

From The New York Times:

EarthThe high point was when I got to bomb Mars. In science fiction, wars between the Earth and her interplanetary colonies are a staple of the far future, but this was not that. Before we go to war with Mars, there has to be somebody living there to fight. Toward the end of the exhibition “Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration,” which opens at the American Museum of Natural History on Saturday, a visitor is confronted with a chance to help make the red planet, currently a frozen desert, livable.

Using an interactive screen the size and shape of a Ping-Pong table, you can play God and direct the future evolution of Mars. The first task is to thicken its atmosphere and warm it up by liberating carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from its frozen soil and ice caps. You can bomb the planet — although, to my disappointment, you can’t aim the bombs — or you can spray black dust on the ice caps to make them absorb sunlight and melt faster. Both of these made me feel like a delightfully naughty 6-year-old boy. You can even build factories with tall smokestacks billowing exhaust. “I’m polluting Mars,” I exclaimed, eliciting sage chuckles from the museum staff members nearby. After all, we’ve been practicing that for 500 years on Earth. The idea of the space program as a museum show seemed wildly and gloomily appropriate when I first heard about it. We think of museums as being for old dead things, and the space program, at least the American space program, seems ready for its own diorama as the space shuttle shuts down, the Moon landings recede into ancient history, and space science is slowly dismantled by a prairie fire of budget cutting and wild cost overruns in the few programs that are left.

More here.