By Nate Odenkirk | Staff Writer
NASA today announced the most ambitious timeline for space exploration in a half century, pledging to begin industrial dumping on Mars by 2030. “It’s a tough goal to meet,” said Dr. Frank Whetts, Director of Interspace Sanitation at NASA. “But in America, we dream to dump where no trash has been dumped before.”
Mars has long been considered the planet most likely to sustain trash heaps in our solar system, outside of our own Earth. In fact, the fascination long predates any modern attempt. “For eons, ancient cultures looked up at Mars and thought: ‘man, I wonder what is up there, and if I could throw garbage on it,’” noted Jan Skittle, a science historian. “Now, that future is within our grasp.” In 2011, NASA launched a Mars rover, Dump Rocket IV, to gauge the efficacy of dumping industrial and residential waste. The unmanned spacecraft, essentially “a trash can with a missile on it,” as Dr. Whetts proudly described it, contained a few banana peels, a broken bottle opener, chemical runoff, and some corn cobs to litter about the barren planet. Initial results suggest that the surface of Mars is indeed able to sustain large amounts of trash, potentially even a pile or hill of it.
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Space has always been at the frontier of human littering. In 1969, when astronauts first landed on the moon, an old American flag was symbolically chosen as the first piece of man-made trash to end up in space. However, after a bag of Buzz Aldrin’s yard waste was thrown out, Neil Armstrong spotted something that would change the course of American space exploration. Left inside a crater were stacks and stacks of old magazines written in Mandarin. “The Chinese got here first, damnit!” said Armstrong. The nation would have to find their own planet to ruin.
In America, we dream to dump where no trash has been dumped before.
Mars has since emerged as a far more promising candidate for a dumping colony. Firstly, unlike the moon, Mars is hard to see from Earth, making any trash piles less of an eyesore. But what really excites space and garbage enthusiasts alike is the distinct possibility of discovering extraterrestrial trash on the red planet. “If in the course of our own dumping we find evidence of alien waste management, that would upend our society,” said Marvin Speen, a NASA janitor. “We could learn from our alien friends, and perhaps usher in a whole new era of dumping trash all across the galaxy.”
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At the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a group of a dozen NASA technicians gathered around a plethora of screens showing a desolate landscape. It was 2012, and the space center had just made contact with Dump Rocket IV. On the monitors was a live feed of the rover that will itself soon become a piece of trash on Mars, in a poetic fate. As it rumbled along the pristine surface, a small hatch opened at its aft compartment. With bated breath, the NASA scientists were waiting for it to drop a half empty can of Pepsi, something that team had worked on for three years. Up until this moment, everything had gone according to plan. There were so many moral and practical considerations that have threatened to upend the mission, however: it might decide to not litter, and wait until it saw a trash can. It could have finished the soda before it left Earth and thrown it out then. Or, it could just recycle. All of these options would be more mindful, thus dooming the entire operation. And yet, after three minutes of intense calculations, the “trash can with a missile on it” checked to see if anyone was looking, quickly dropped the soda on the surface of Mars, and sped away. The room erupted in a fit of excitement, with some of the operators tearing up. They knew they had just made history.
It is our destiny to litter amongst the stars. ♦
Images deftly edited by @Famousronsoriginal