Now it’s time to return to the red planet

Mars, the red planet.

I walked on Mars for the first time in 1967 — about 20 minutes after watching an F Troop rerun on the 12-inch black & white TV in the basement rec room.

My spaceship, which bore a striking resemblance to my parents’ bed, performed flawlessly in its mission to Mars, largely due to my mastery of the complex control panel and my naturally calm and fearless demeanor. I should add that the box spring performed admirably in wormholes and definitely helped ensure a soft landing on the red planet.

Unfortunately, given smart phones and other digital wonder gadgets had yet to be invented, I could not record for posterity my remarkable Mars landing and multiple subsequent trips to the fourth planet from the sun. You’ll simply have to take my word for it.

Now, more than a half century later, Mars is much in the news again, a byproduct of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong’s landmark “giant leap” for mankind on the surface of the moon. NASA has its sights on mounting a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

This needs to happen.

While I would love to return to Mars, that option tragically vanished many decades ago when my aging brain lost its ability to generate intergalactic — or even intragalactic- flights of fancy. Yep, my spaceship, became permanently grounded, although with a comfy pillow and a soft blanket, I’m sure a comparable model would still be good for providing at least eight hours of suspended animation.

NASA, though, will have to be the go-to agent for this next astronaut-boarded trip to Mars. But this will only happen with public support, meaning we have to be willing to devote big bucks to make this a reality. And that is not likely to be an easy sell.

To begin with, it is hard to imagine having a united front on any issue these days given the extreme political polarity of American society. Essentially, we can’t seem to agree on anything. A manned mission to Mars, for many, would seem to be the height of foolishness, a waste of precious dollars, a sign of societal senility.

But they are wrong.

What we need is to stretch our financial resources and tax our intellectual abilities.

What we need is to leave the practical behind and head for the fantastic.

What we need is to let our imaginations soar and our ambitions expand.

What we need is to be a kid again.

The Apollo mission spoke to this importance. The day Neil Armstrong took his iconic first step on the moon was a moment of monumental national pride. It put a thrill into life. For years after the Apollo 11 landing, I drank Tang, the orange-flavored drink mix- Tang came in powdered form- that the astronauts drank.

The fact that Tang came loaded with sugar without a doubt made it more appealing to my elementary school palette. But the taste would not have mattered. If the astronauts drank powdered prune juice, I would have followed suit.

What mattered was the space connection. What mattered is Tang, despite being manufactured not by NASA but by General Foods, truly was an outer-space drink. Each time I gulped it down, I was a mini Buzz Aldrin. It made me imagine I could be controlling the command module or landing in the lunar module.

I don’t drink Tang anymore. I don’t have access to spaceships that resemble my parents’ bed. And I don’t expect to ever step foot on Mars again.

But I believe America can do so. I believe our country still possesses the right stuff to make science fiction a scientific fact. Most of all, I believe us must do so. We must walk on Mars.

Writing is what I do. I started as a journalist, working at a daily newspaper in Maine for 20 years, and now I’m an English teacher, specializing in writing.

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