It is fitting that Mission to Mars was a ride at both Disneyland and Disney World that replaced Flight to the Moon. Both travel ideas are government boondoggles that belong in science fiction books, comics, and movies.
Support for a mission to Mars seems to be growing.
In 1989, President George H. W. Bush proposed establishing a base on the Moon, sending an expedition to Mars, and beginning “the permanent settlement of space.”
In 2004, President George Bush announced “a new plan to explore space and extend a human presence across our solar system.” After gaining “experience and knowledge” from returning to the moon, “we will then be ready to take the next steps of space exploration: human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond.”
But look at what has been said in the past year.
Just before he left office, President Barack Obama mentioned the “clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time.”
Bill Nye, “the Science Guy” and CEO of The Planetary Society, recently offered President Trump five recommendations for the U.S. space program. Number one was “Keep the planet Mars as the goal for human space exploration.” He wants the United States to get humans to Mars in our lifetime.
Former astronaut and moon walker Buzz Aldrin recently mentioned his blueprint for the Red Planet that “projects we’ll have people on Mars by 2039.” His plan is “to create a sustainable path to permanent inhabitation of Mars.” He wants to unite “the great nations in the world in a cooperative way” by “setting sail to Mars, putting in place a thriving civilization on that far-off world, is a peaceful pursuit that’s unparalleled in history.”
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars with 1 million people. He wants to establish a permanent, self-sustaining colony on the Red Planet within the next 50 to 100 years. He envisions 1,000 or more spaceships zooming off to Mars every 26 months with “100 and perhaps as many as 200 people” onboard. The spaceships will “likely feature movie theaters, lecture halls and a restaurant.” “It’ll be, like, really fun to go,” Musk said. “You’ll have a great time.”
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, when asked if he would ever consider joining a one-way trip to Mars, replied: “I really like Earth. So any space trip I take, I’m double checking that there’s sufficient funds for me to return. Also, I’m not taking that trip until Elon Musk sends his Mother and brings her back alive. Then I’m good for it.”
Many Americans, especially those in my state of Florida who have visited NASA at Cape Canaveral and watched a rocket launch, no doubt think it is a good idea that American astronauts be the first to go to Mars like they were the first to go to the Moon.
And although NASA’s budget has gone up and down over the years, space exploration generally enjoys wide bipartisan support in Congress. It would certainly be anathema for any member of Congress—Democrat or Republican—from Florida, Alabama, or Texas, all of which are home to major NASA facilities, to call for cuts to NASA’s budget.
So, what’s wrong with a mission to Mars? Nothing, as long as you go on your own dime.
Note the reply of Neil deGrasse Tyson when he was asked the question: “Do you think advancements like those being made at SpaceX will have meaningful impacts on our goals to go to Mars within the next decade or two?”:
I’m simultaneously one of SpaceX’s biggest critics and supporters. I’ve said many times and many places, that projects that are hugely expensive and dangerous, with uncertain returns on investments make poor activities of profit-driven companies. Governments do these things first, allowing private enterprise to learn what to do and what not to do, then come next with a plan that involves us all. So my read of history is that private companies will not be the first to send humans to Mars unless government actually pays for it.
But what about all the inventions that have resulted from the government’s space program? What about the benefits to science, medicine, and engineering that have resulted from the government’s space program? What about all the jobs that have been created by the government’s space program? Won’t a mission to Mars result in more inventions, more benefits, and more jobs?
Perhaps, but it should be pointed out that NASA has been incorrectly credited with inventing a host of things that it didn’t, there is no real way to measure or quantify what the space program has done for society, and there is a big difference between government jobs and private-sector jobs. Not to mention that a mission to Mars would be extremely difficult, government funding of space exploration crowds out private efforts, space exploration is not authorized by the Constitution, space exploration is not a proper function of government, and no one knows how many tens or hundreds of billions of dollars a mission to Mars would ultimately cost.
Conservatives who say that the federal government has no business providing health care and welfare are woefully inconsistent when they support a government-run and government-financed space program. But wait a minute. I guess they are perfectly consistent since even though they say those things they vote for them anyway.
If an exception can be made for government funding of a space program, then an exception can be made for anything.
If someday the free market ends up providing trips to Mars for exploration or recreation, then so be it. But NASA’s mission to Mars should be shut down like the Disney ride was. The only mission to Mars worthy of taxpayer support is one that sends government bureaucrats and members of Congress on a one-way trip.