The year 2004 has kicked off with a bang in the science world. The United States has successfully landed a robotic rover on the nearby neighbor Mars for only the third time in history, defying the odds. This landing was completed after two failed attempts to visit Mars in the last 6 years and, within a year of the disastrous space shuttle Columbia accident in February of 2003. Later this month, NASA plans to land another rover on the opposite side of the planet. This success story should be the hottest topic on the news wire, trumping the national championship game and controversy, and certainly topping Brittany Spear’s wedding debacle. It should be the most talked about event, because it’s things like these that define an era. If the now Martian rover, Spirit fulfills its mission, there is a good chance that we will know that there has been life on another planet besides ours. In fact, in a couple of sols (the Martian equivilant to a day), the rover may already have located H2O on the vast landscape.

What this could do to humanity is immeasurable. It would most certainly unite the world, give us as a civilization a goal loftier than defeating terrorists, and it would provide every soul searcher and everyone in general perspective on their own life. For us to be not alone in the Universe would shrink the infinite universe and it would open it up for those who have never thought about it before. We are on the verge of one of the most dramatic discoveries ever.

In the movie Independence Day, the aliens came down and start tearing the world apart. This forces everyone in humanity to band together and fight as one. Instead of Blacks versus Whites, it’s humans versus aliens. Our planet is being invaded, and we as Earthlings, to use a geek cliché, are forced to reconcile our differences and fight off this alien force together. Similarly, yet, not as dramatic, if we did find some sort of Martian life, humanity would certainly band together and unite. Of course, the aliens would not still be alive and definitely not be invading Earth, but the unity will still be felt. Everyone human will be classified as one, instead of by nation or race. We, as the human race, might for once set aside our differences and see ourselves as all just humans.

And after humanity is singing and hugging and all that fun stuff, we can awake from this rut of meaningless, counterproductive fighting and terrorism and focus on bigger and better things. When people look back on this time, they will remember a period of brutality and crushed human spirit. The discovery of alien life would change all of that. This time would be the beginning of a new enlightenment, one where goals much loftier than safety (which is animalistic, if vital to survival) are envisioned and met. The most extreme of those goals would be the terraforming of the red planet. If there was ever life on Mars, it is likely that there is water there (most probably under a layer of rock), which could be used to fuel new life on that planet. Terraforming the planet would be the largest project by man and would make a lot of nerds happy.

With all these little piddly differences we have amongst ourselves out of the way, we can reassess our lives. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there is a pyramid of needs, the lower of which must be met to achieve higher needs. At the bottom of the pyramid is physiological needs, and safety. One must achieve those in order to pursue the goals above them on the pyramid. Love, esteem, and self-actualization are on the top of the pyramid with self-actualization reigning in as the all-time most important and, thus, the most difficult need to achieve. With the bottom rungs of the pyramid taken care of, people can finally start to concentrate on those things that make us, as humans, great. A chance to understand the universe more and to witness the existence of an alien life form would transfer everyone’s idea of who they are and what they’re doing. It would undoubtedly be the greatest life-affirming discovery of all time, not just for the world, but for everyone individually.

The only catch is that to benefit from this discovery, if and when it happens, people have to notice it. If it passes over everyone’s radar screens that are filled with junk about Bin Laden and Brittany Spears, then it may have a very small impact. Let’s hope the people of the world are paying attention. It just may save their existence.