I’ve heard it said by several people, “Why is Elon Musk and NASA trying to go to Mars? Shouldn’t they concentrate on our country (or world) first?” This idea is popular in some learned segments of our society. In a February 26 article, Shannon Stirone in The Atlantic writes that “Mars is a Hellhole,” and that there’s no reason humanity should ever want to migrate there. It would be too difficult. It’s hard to survive there without proper air and resources. She also takes Elon Musk to task saying he is a “flag planter” out for his ego and for greed rather than to be an explorer and quotes Carl Sagan: “What shall we do with Mars? There are so many examples of human misuse of the Earth that even phrasing the question chills me. If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if [they] are only microbes.” She closes by saying, “There really is only one true home for us—and we’re already here.”
While it is true there is only one real home for humanity (and it could use a little work), Stirone misses the point of going to Mars and forgets what President John F. Kennedy said in his address to Rice University:
We went to the moon at a time when the world was also in disarray and could have used some real direction. We were at war in 1969. Society was exploding with protests and violence and our culture was tearing down what generations before had created.
Then there is the moon itself. Like Mars it is barren and uninhabitable. It would require as much work to survive there. And yet, we went there to learn and to grow in spite of where our world was. The plan is (and was even then) to return there.
So why go to the moon or Mars when Earth needs to fix itself? As Kennedy said, we do these things because they are difficult. We reach for Mars to create a means of surviving there, not because we don’t care about what happens on Earth, but because we do care. Such achievements serve as inspiration for what we can become. They are beacons in a world gone mad, pointing a way out of the insanity. Persevering despite challenges causes us to look upward rather than at our own navels, and demonstrates what we as a people achieve if we follow our aspirations and convictions with solid, positive purpose.
I don’t think NASA could have chosen a better name for their little rover: Perseverance. It gives us hope that the human spirit, wherever it goes, will persevere.