I don’t have a lot of patience, frankly, with the “Why Mars” question. If someone doesn’t get it when you say, “because it’s cool”, then there’s little hope for a deeper conversation.
“Because it’s cool” isn’t really the complete answer, of course, just a shorthand for the richness of of the human experience of gathering new knowledge, but if people don’t get the “cool” part, they’re probably not going to get the deeper issue of the centrality of acquisition of knowledge to the human experience.
I’m reminded of this by friend Jim, who passed along a link to Oliver Morton’s crack at this. I didn’t know Morton’s work before, but now I’m a fan. It’s a long version of something Morton did for Newsweek on the question, and it nicely encapsulates the curiosity that drives the Mars people:
This piece doesn’t talk about life: it just talks about some of the reasons why Mars fascinated people more than most other things in the sky. So it’s an indirect answer to so-whatters: it explains why others find the subject interesting, but doesn’t try to justify that interest.
The piece is great, and Morton gets huge bonus points for a wonderfully turned Garbo/Lucille Ball metaphor. Go read it.