They say that that necessity is the mother of invention, but we cannot ignore the role of the father: circumstance. We have always needed a lot of things, but invention only really began to get going since the Industrial Revolution. We have to understand that invention is not always a good thing on the whole. It disturbs the status quo, and in a society where the status quo is sacrosanct, there would be a lot of pressure from those in places of authority to ignore or belittle invention. In the Middle Ages trade was formed as guilds, and knowledge of craft was passed on from master to apprentice in utter secrecy. A new invention is open shop, something with which anyone could set up business and rival the guilds. Medieval society described a situation in which necessity is certainly not the mother of invention, but rather that invention ends up being a bastard child that needs to be stigmatized and swept outside of society's confines. There is a close affinity between knowledge and invention, and in the case of knowledge the suppression is even more severe. In mediaeval Europe, knowledge was the monopoly of the clergy, and there was vested interest to keep the masses ignorant, in order to evade blasphemy, insubordination, rebellion and anarchy. This is a society in which stagnant and pious orderliness comes before innovation.
But circumstances began to change. Corruption grew to such an extent among the clergy that it became incumbent on the people to learn from the real world (the Renaissance), and to affect a direct communion with God (the Protestant Reformation). It's a long story from there to the present explosion of invention and technology, but the overriding gist of this history is, not that necessity is the mother of invention, but instead that knowledge and technology are mere means in aid of the individual in his struggle against corrupt institutions. It is very difficult to ascertain whether the cotton gin gave rise to the Industrial Revolution, or the Industrial Revolution necessitated invention of the cotton gin. We can only be sure that the vast majority of inventions were forged in the flames of history, in its conflicts and calamities, and that this history has a thrust of its own. War and exploitation were the principal patrons of invention. Never was it so dramatic as in the final desperate years of the Second World War. Modern high state invention is the byproduct of the Manhattan project, which brought the nuclear bomb into the world, something that can easily wipe out humanity from the face of the earth. The threat of the nuclear holocaust set the requisite tone for the Cold War, which also pitched humanity’s two remaining ideologies against each other. Man’s walking on the Moon is simply a result of a civilizational clash, a race, as well as result of the tension lent by impending doom.
The people who say that men will soon go to Mars are being simplistically optimistic while ignoring history and circumstance. What ideological battle is going to take them there? The fight against the Nazis and Communists took us to the moon. Is the struggle against cocktail popping terrorists going to take us to Mars? Is capitalism on its own inspiring? One time it was freedom, now it is naked greed. NASA’s demise, long before the final collapse of communism, is instructive. One time the country was pouring its hopes and resources into it. Then they were begging funds to take billionaire tourists into space on passenger plane-like rockets, making showcase experiments for the TV cameras. Finally they were just making oversized telescopes to wow the public with pretty pictures of stars. Mars is a long way out, and a round-trip could take quite a few years. And so far all the evidence that is coming demonstrates that space is endless desolation. Not even that, because you are baked in ultraviolet and every kind of cosmic ray as soon as you leave earth’s atmosphere. This is not like Columbus setting out on an endless Ocean. Columbus knew that undreamt of riches were on the other side. There is nothing on the other side of space. It is only endless and infinite desolation. The only thing is the pride in having climbed an impossible summit. But who is going to appreciate it? Who is going to build a capsuled biosphere for a couple of astronauts that must sustain them for years and years. And arrive at the end to the Gobi desert, minus the atmosphere, plus the unrelenting bombardment of cosmic rays? Who in their right mind would want to travel to Mars?