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Inspiration Mars mission illustration
Space exploration, including government and private proposals for human Mars missions, can serve inspirational and humanitarian missions back on Earth. (credit: Inspiration Mars Foundation)

Consider Mars

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Humanitarian causes are those efforts designed to lift people out of the chains of poverty, injustice, disease, and exploitation. Over the centuries, men and women from many walks of life have valiantly engaged in these areas to improve our standard of living. Sadly, we are aware that even in the early 21st century much work remains to be done here. Billions of people live below the poverty line, diseases from the 19th century still run rampant in third world nations, and problems like war, corruption, and starvation abound. Lack of education also keeps billions imprisoned in a life of poverty and oppression, where many people never have the opportunity to achieve their true potential.

One of the main approaches to dealing with such issues is to create local “projects” that can serve to advance or improve certain areas directly, but often these projects are more experimental in nature and only affect a small teardrop of humanity while an ocean still suffers. Global initiatives are rare and costly. Governments sometimes participate in funding, but many times these efforts rely upon donations from other sectors.

Space exploration by humans and robots continues to advance our world. Surely this ranks as one of the most important humanitarian causes of our age?

What few people may not have realized, though, is that through our drive into space and exploration of that dark and boundless frontier, we have improved our way of life on Earth in many ways, from improvements in communications to weather observations that have saved millions of lives to resource management, climate monitoring, and more. By understanding our solar system we have learned about our Earth and the forces that shaped us. This knowledge has helped free us from centuries of ignorance, a fact which many people may overlook. Our Earth is now understood as a fragile blue dot in the vast cosmos of space, a place rare and beautiful that we have been entrusted to look after.

Space science, exploration, and industry have always pushed the frontiers of our knowledge forward, and as a humanitarian cause, have continued to enlighten a humanity that is often bound in ignorant darkness. From computer chips to medical technologies, improved materials and machines, space exploration by humans and robots continues to advance our world.

Surely this ranks as one of the most important humanitarian causes of our age? When hundreds of millions watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon in 1969, it gave us pause, inspired millions of people to better educations, gave us hope for a better future, and made us look up. No single event or project in humanitarian history has had this kind of impact. It gave birth to the modern era where improved technologies have literally saved millions of lives and improved millions more.

On every front—improving our knowledge, inspiring our children to pursue science and engineering education, pushing the boundaries of medical science, and developing new “green” forms of energy production—space exploration offers opportunities like nothing else can. Yes, we can and will continue to directly fund many important humanitarian causes to improve our lives on Earth, but what we must not ignore is the incredible popularity and inspirational power of space exploration, along with the advances in technology it gives us as a cause we need most desperately in the world of 2013.

Enter the case for Mars. A human expedition to explore or settle this planet beckons. It is a true megaproject with vast implications for humanitarian causes we have yet to experience. While I have heard some say that if we go to Mars, such-and-such benefits will come, there is often the counterargument where people ask, “Why do we need a Mars mission to benefit people on Earth? Can’t we just spend the money here directly and solve it here?”

What many of these people don’t understand, of course, is that all money spent on sending humans to Mars is spent on Earth. All technologies developed, all the knowledge we gain, all of it will benefit us on Earth directly. I am not arguing for wasteful government spending here either. Rather, I am appealing to the wealthy of this world to “Consider Mars.” Consider Mars as one of the greatest history-making megaprojects that will inspire the world’s children to better their live. Such a project could advance so many areas of technology, including medical treatments, food production, water management, transportation, and communications. These are all areas that can improve the lives of people across the world like no smaller localized projects ever could.

By ignoring megaprojects like humans to Mars, we must recognize that we are robbing ourselves, and our children, of a powerful accelerator for solving our problems on Earth.

With a multinational private-public partnership, we could easily afford to send humans to Mars and back or to settle Mars, while involving millions of people around the world. We would go for the knowledge to gain that will enlighten a world in desperate need of light. We would go to push the frontiers of our technology for a world that needs smarter solutions. We would go so that children everywhere will be inspired to push themselves to a higher level of education and for our society to try new ways to sustain ourselves with clear applications for Earth.

Sending humans to Mars is one of the most humanitarian projects we can imagine. It is global in its sweep, it will be watched by billions, and will make us smarter and better able to meet many technological challenges here on Earth. Landing humans on Mars will make history, but more important it could mark a new age of enlightenment, and for humans everywhere this is why we need Mars. Yes, we can keep pushing to cure cancer and AIDS and educating those in poverty to better their lives, but going to Mars can only improve those efforts. Maybe, out there, are answers to some of these medical, social, and technological challenges that blight our age?

It comes down to this. If you are a humanitarian, you should have the attitude of doing whatever it takes to better our cause. Yet by ignoring megaprojects like humans to Mars, we must recognize that indeed we are robbing ourselves, and our children, of a powerful accelerator for solving our problems on Earth. We are ignoring the potential of Mars by limiting ourselves to Earth. Sure, in time, I have no doubt many areas that a Mars project covers may be solved by local projects on Earth, slowly plodding along. But in those many decades of lost time and lost lives waiting for things to “slowly” catch up, we will have sacrificed not the lives of a few crew to Mars, but millions of lives on Earth that could have benefitted from this project.

So if you are wealthy, or even if you are not, consider Mars as a humanitarian cause of the highest order. Consider donating to such causes and taking them seriously. Right now, on the vanguard of such causes are groups like MarsDrive, The Mars Society, Explore Mars, The Mars Initiative, Mars One, and The Mars Foundation, all pushing towards that great goal.

While we may be all about Mars, the reality is that all of us Mars advocates are in fact all about Earth. We have a vision for a better world, and we see humans to Mars as a project that can greatly advance humanitarian causes like few others could. Of course, it’s not the only project to consider, but don’t for a second think that this project is irrelevant to humanitarian ideals. So, as a humanitarian Mars advocate, I challenge you today to “Consider Mars.”