Image by robert murray, courtesy of pioneer astronautics

Dr. Zubrin: To Mars!

There are three reasons to go to Mars. One is for the science. The second is for the challenge. The third is for the future.

As far as the science is concerned, Mars is the Rosetta Stone for letting us know the truth about the potential prevalence and diversity of life in the Universe. Mars is a planet whose early history mirrors that of Earth. It was warm and wet. If the theory is correct that life originates wherever you have appropriate physical and chemical conditions, life should have appeared on Mars. We now know that most stars have planets and every star has a habitable zone depending upon the brightness of the star and where you have the right temperatures for liquid water. If life can originate wherever it has a decent planet, man’s life is everywhere.

Since the entire history of life on Earth is one of development from simpler forms to more complex forms manifesting greater capacities or activity and intelligence and evermore rapid evolution, we can guess that if life is everywhere it means intelligence is almost everywhere. This is worth finding out. We can find this out by going to Mars and looking for life, either fossil life on the surface or extant life underground. The scientific motive for going to Mars is tremendous. We will be able to resolve the question of whether or not we are alone in the Universe. This is something that thinking men and women have wondered for thousands of years.

The second reason is the challenge. This is the challenge that has been staring our space program in the face ever since the end of Apollo. It is the challenge of society if we continue to be a nation of pioneers. Are we capable of leading humanity to become a space-faring species, a multi-planet species with a wide-open frontier and a wide-open future? By embracing this challenge we won’t just benefit the future, though I will get to that, we benefit the present. Society grows when we are challenged. We stagnate when we are not challenged. The “Humans to Mars” program would send out an invigorating challenge, particularly to the youth of every country that participates. “Learn your science and you could be an explorer of new worlds.” Out of that challenge we would get millions of young scientists, engineers, inventors, doctors, medical researchers, and technological entrepreneurs.

These are the kinds of people that advance society. They advance technology, health, defense, and the economy. These are the people we need. This is the basis of our prosperity and our strength. A “Humans to Mars” program would bring them into being by the millions.

Finally, there is the future. Ask any American, “What happened in 1492?” They will say, “Well, Columbus sailed in 1492.” That is true, of course, but a lot of other things happened in 1492: England and France signed a peace treaty in 1492, the Borgias took over the Papacy, Lorenzo de’ Medici died in 1492. No one today cares about any of that stuff. Very few people even know about it. What matters is Columbus. He made our world possible. Five hundred years from now, nobody is going to care who came out on top in Iraq or Afghanistan. No one will care who won the election or whether there was a 4 percent tax cut or increase. What we did to make their life possible, those billions of people living on thousands of planets in this region of the galaxy, will matter. This is what matters for the future. If you can do something that matters, you should.

Dr. Zubrin is an aerospace engineer and advocate for Mars exploration. He founded Mars Society in 1998 and has since been leading simulations on Earth. Dr. Zubrin is the author of many books including, How to Live on Mars. marssociety.org

This excerpt is from American Dreamers, available now from Sharp Stuff.