Let’s give credit where it’s due, said planetary scientist Colin Pillinger in Britain’s Guardian. Last week’s soft, successful landing of NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft near the north pole of Mars was a triumphant testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of the American space program. But “I can’t help feeling frustrated.” For one thing, the instruments on board Phoenix can attest only to the presence of water and compounds conducive to microscopic life; they aren’t sophisticated enough to scan for the “biological” carbon that would prove “whether life exists, or has ever existed,” on Mars. For another—and more painful—thing, it should have been us. As head of the European Mars Express mission, which has been stifled by political and budgetary restraints, I have to say that the Americans’ accomplishment represents a “huge missed opportunity” for Europe, and for humankind.
Think how we Russians feel, said Andrei Kislyakov in Russia’s Novosti. Dating from the old Soviet days, our space program has tried to land on the Red Planet 11 times, and in every case “the probes either failed to reach Mars or stopped working immediately after landing.” It’s all rather
depressing—or it would be if the big prize weren’t still waiting to be claimed: namely landing a man on Mars. To some proud Russians, including many inside our space program, this is an obvious opportunity. But let’s not run before we can walk. Rather than gambling everything on some glorious, likely impossible manned mission, we should swallow our pride and get something, anything, on the surface of Mars as soon as possible.
That’s such a 20th-century attitude, said Pierre-Yves Frei in Switzerland’s Tribune de Genève. The days of nations conquering space purely for the sake of pride may be nearing their end—if they haven’t ended already. Even NASA, facing ever-tighter budgetary constraints, has started appealing to the corporate and private sectors for help with funding these relatively cheap unmanned missions. Come the moment an actual human being sets foot on Mars, rather than asking what nation he or she represents, “perhaps the question will be, what brand?”
The more interesting question, said Spain’s El Pa