People have been on the move, migrating, for time out of mind. Whether one thinks in terms of the colonization of islands in the Pacific Ocean (the crew had to bring their own water and food with them, you can’t drink salt water) or of the Bering Strait, or of any other exploration you care to mention, humans have been at it for a long time. The last time folk committed themselves to such a project was in the early 1960, when President Kennedy dared us to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. We did it. And what is more, we kept on sending men to the moon. But the last crew to go to the moon left over forty years ago (1972). Since then we have sent robotic missions to Mars. There is only so much a robotic mission can do. These missions are quite good at doing what they are told to do and they don’t cost anywhere near as much as sending Homo sapiens to Mars. They don’t need water, or breathable air. Geez, robotic missions (rovers) don’t even need a specific atmosphere. About all they seem to need is enough sunlight to generate power and enough gravity so they can actually stay on the planet’s surface.
There is a downside to sending rovers and any other type of robotic mission to Mars. People simply are not as inspired. Certainly, landing a rover on Mars is a great challenge, to date only one nation has succeeded in landing anything on Mars. Landing people on Mars will prove even more of a challenge.
Here’s the deal. When people travel through space those humans back on Earth actually pay attention. It’s a big deal! And we start to become more aware of the fragile balancing act required to survive on Earth. Pictures taken from the moon of this fragile island we call Earth woke up countless folk to the reality that if we continually mistreated Earth, if we constantly took Earth for granted, if we went on polluting the atmosphere, and all the bodies of water, along with the land, we would find ourselves in a very difficult place. That realization is proving out. There is no debate any longer, not among the people who study Earth sciences the most, and who are the most knowledgeable about how Earth works–climate change is a reality.
It has occurred in the past. This time there is a difference. Climate change is now being caused not by recurring predictable environmental phenomenon, instead it is driven by our activities. Industrial activity is the current day number one cause of climate change. What does climate change have to do with colonizing Mars?
Crewed missions to Mars matter because once more we Earthlings will be exposed in a very dramatic and up close way to the reality that without a great deal of work right now we risk poisoning our only home. A spaceship travelling to Mars will be a very strong reminder that until we find a way to crate a safe environment on Mars we have but one planet upon which to live. Colonizing Mars will make it crystal clear that there is nothing about Earth’s ecosystem that is guaranteed to last until the Sun devours the four inner planets. After all, Mars once supported life, we cannot be the reason why others say the same of Earth. Finally, it goes without saying that Homo sapiens will either evolve into a different species or we will become extinct. As to evolving into a different species, that may not be the most desirable path. As folk have the capacity to realize the inevitable changes nature forces upon all species, ours included, it makes sense to do all that we kind to delay such an occurrence. Colonizing other planets is the most obvious means of perpetuating Homo sapiens. Staying on Earth is the surest way for the species to vanish. I’d just as soon we do what we can to remain alive.
A further argument for colonizing Mars has to do with my title: We are explorers. I don’t know if it is a genetic thing or if it has to do with major environmental changes (major draughts, perhaps?); maybe it has to do with something else, that persistent question concerning what lies over the next hill, or around the next bend in the road. Not everyone avoids the less trodden path. At all events, our kind has ventured forth. Mostly, it seems to me, these undaunted folk probably left their homes because they believed there was something better. Abram heard the call to leave family, friends, and home–all he knew, so did Gilgamesh. I know that I am most content when I hike or when I am on a sailboat. I am free. Unfettered from the obligations and the expectations of others. I know the promise of unlimited possibilities.