This is taken directly from the premier issue of the Mars Society’s official journal, the Mars Quarterly.
The Change We Need
As the year 2008 moves toward its close, those of us concerned with the human future in space are faced with both a crisis and an opportunity. On the one hand, the situation appears to be dismal. The U.S. budget deficit is running at a record level of $500 billion this year, with all signs pointing toward an incredible trillion dollar red-ink blowout next year. Our new President, while not an outspoken opponent of the space program, has no track record of support for it either. So, if budgets need to be lashed, NASA – particularly the Bush administration’s Vision for Space Exploration – could easily end up on the block. This is all the more the case since NASA
unwisely chose to devolve the VSE from its original formulation as Moon-Mars-and beyond vision to a Moon only program, thereby depriving it of all popular support or scientific justification.
On the other hand, the displacement of the Bush crowd from policy making positions provides an opportunity to reformulate the space program into something much better than the Lunar dead-end that the VSE had become. Spending the next generation working on an “Apollo on geriatrics” return to the Moon would have been an enormous waste. Now we have a chance to escape that fate. During the election campaign, Barack Obama criticized the American space program, saying it was no longer inspiring people the way it had done in the 1960s. His point is well taken. But is the answer for an uninspiring space program cancellation, or transformation? Do we simply abandon the timid goal of a return to the Moon, or bravely embrace the challenge of humans to Mars?
Calling for the initiation of a bold space program in the face of current economic crisis may seem totally unrealistic, but the fact of the matter is that it is in the toughest of times that the greatest of deeds have been done. It was the Lincoln administration, faced with a rebellion that threatened to destroy the nation, that initiated the visionary project of building the transcontinental railroad. It was the Roosevelt administration, faced with a fascist onslaught to enslave humanity, which initiated the greatest scientific mobilization the world had ever seen. It was the Kennedy administration, faced with imminent threat of nuclear war, that launched us on our path to the Moon. With respect to the space program, the situation remains as it has for the past three decades. NASA needs a goal, and that goal should be humans to Mars. This is so, because Mars is where the science is, it is where the challenge is, and it is where the future is. But with respect to the nation, the issue has reached its critical moment.
We are faced with, as Obama has said, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “the fierce urgency of now.” Because now is the time when we decide whether we are going to rise to the occasion or not. Is the dream of an unbounded future going to live, or will it die, snuffed out by a defeatist acceptance of the age of limits?
“Do not go softly into that good night.”
It is in times of darkness that the torch needs to be lit. It is in times of fear that the flag needs to be raised. A humans to Mars program would help mobilize our economy, at a time when it needs to be mobilized, and inspire millions of youth to develop their minds. But it would do more than that. It would raise the flag, the flag of courage, and hope, and the pioneer spirit. It would say to the world, and to ourselves, that we will not accept defeat. That we remain a nation whose great deeds will continue to be celebrated in newspapers, and not just in museums. That we as a nation are not old, but young; that we are living not at the end of our history, but at its beginning. It would say, in no uncertain terms: “Yes we can.”
That’s the change we need.
Robert Zubrin is the President of the Mars Society.