Momentum is steadily and inexorably building toward sending human missions to Mars beginning in the 2030s. While this goal has been an integral part of United States space policy over the past fifty years, the reality of achieving that goal has always seemed so very far in the future. Recently, however, a critical mass of support, technical progress, and scientific momentum has coalesced that may very well finally propel humanity to the Red Planet.
Mars has been the subject of a great deal of media coverage in recent years, with frequent images and scientific updates coming from various United States and international Mars robotic missions. Hollywood has also been drumming the Mars beat, with movies such as The Martian, as well as the upcoming six part National Geographic series, Mars, and the feature film The Space Between Us (with more to come).
As for policy, Congress has included Mars in multiple authorization bills ― and the Senate is currently moving forward with a Transition Authorization bill that contains the most comprehensive language in support of Mars exploration ever to appear in a major bill.
NASA has also embraced this goal, with its Journey to Mars program, and last October it also held its first workshop to investigate potential landing sites for the first human explorers. Industry has also jumped on the bandwagon, with companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Aerojet Rocketdyne having released their own proposals as to how to send humans to Mars – and in late September SpaceX joined the chorus when it announced its own ambitious plans.
Recent polls have also shown overwhelming public support for this goal. Yet, some people still ask Why? Why should we take the time and spend taxpayer dollars? Some even ask why should we take the risks inherent in any space mission ― let alone missions to a planet millions of miles away?
“History teaches us that ambitious exploration and innovation projects of this kind have always tended to benefit humanity.”
Unfortunately, much misinformation has been disseminated claiming that such missions would cost upwards of $1 trillion. In reality, none of the current credible plans would require anywhere close to that amount, and in fact they would require far less. (To put this in perspective, all NASA budgets combined since 1958 don’t come close to totaling $1 trillion – even with adjusted dollars).
Others ask why we should send humans to Mars when there are problems here on Earth that need to be addressed; but history teaches us that ambitious exploration and innovation projects of this kind have always tended to benefit humanity. Our home world will undoubtedly end up far worse off if we don’t engage in such ambitious missions that will improve life on Earth.
To better answer the question why (and how) we should send humans to Mars, we are launching a series of op-eds for the next 10-12 weeks from prominent individuals from a variety disciplines to answer the question “Why Mars?’ from the perspective of (in no particular order) –
3) Policy Expert
5) International Representative
6) Mission Architect
7) STEM professional
9) Medical/Psychological professional
10) Science Fiction author
The United States – including government, industry, academia, and the general public ― and our international partners are on the verge of moving forward with one of the most significant and awe-inspiring endeavors in human history. There are many compelling reasons why we should undertake this great journey. Over the next several weeks, you will read perspectives from prominent people in the United States and in Europe, each explaining their own visions of why we should explore Mars.
This piece is part of a special op-ed series, curated in partnership with Explore Mars, in which contributors from diverse fields such as science, education, policy, business and culture answer a simple question: “Why Mars?” For more, follow the links below or visit exploremars.org.