Why Mars? An Astronaut’s Perspective

I have dedicated my life to answering the great scientific questions of our time, and to the incredible adventure of space exploration.

by John M. Grunsfeld, Astronaut, Scientist, Explorer

Image Credit NASA
As a young boy growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was inspired by the nascent space age. At the age of six I declared that I wanted to be an astronaut. My mother thought that was just fine, as it would encourage me to learn science, and besides, there really was no chance I would ever actually become an astronaut. While I watched the Apollo astronauts walking on the Moon, I imagined that I might some day travel to Mars, to do science, of course. Indeed, I felt compelled to study nature, science, and engineering, eventually earning a PhD in physics. As a scientist, I sent experiments to near-space on high altitude balloons as well as into space aboard the Space Shuttle. But the explorer in me still wanted to go to space in person. To the amazement of my mother, in 1992 I was selected to become a NASA astronaut. I had the privilege to fly five missions on the Space Shuttle, including three missions to the Hubble Space Telescope. I have dedicated my life to answering the great scientific questions of our time, and to the incredible adventure of space exploration.

Of all the planets in our diverse solar system, Mars is unique in that it is the only planet where we can some day live in a somewhat similar fashion to the way we live on Earth. It is large enough to have a suitable surface gravity, and has an atmosphere and resources we can use to live off the land. Scientists using the intrepid Curiosity Rover have shown us that billions of years ago Mars was very much like Earth, with fresh water lakes, rivers, and warm salty seas. At about the same time that Mars was very much a habitable planet, life started on Earth. Did life also emerge on Mars? The question of whether we are alone in the universe is for the first time a discrete scientific question we can answer. We are exploring Mars for signs of past or extant life. We are also preparing to explore Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, which might harbor a habitable ocean, and with future large telescopes we will look for signs of life on planets orbiting nearby stars. But Mars beckons us like no other world, and we will exponentially increase the pace of discovery when we have women and men explorers ― planetary scientists and astrobiologists ― on the surface of the Red Planet performing scientific research. These intrepid explorers will also be opening up a new frontier.

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The Mars Generation: Why We Must Go To Mars

The Mars Generation: Why We Must Go To Mars

India’s Mars bound rocket and Mars satellite blasted off on November 5, 2013 from India’s launch pad.

“Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at the stars because we are human?” – Neil Gaiman, Stardust

This is a quote from my favorite movie, Stardust. This quote has defined my life and, I believe, defines humanity as well. I, like every other person on this planet, was born curious. As a kid I marveled at many things on Earth (and off!): the way that the leaves of trees would change color with the seasons, the way that ants moved in cohesion, the way that my fingernails would grow or a glass would shatter when it fell off a table. The world around me was exciting and full of new things.

I, like all children, was born a scientist: curious. But something happens to many children as they grow up, something along the way subdues this natural inclination for discovery that keeps humans alive, that inspires new technology to advance our abilities and that creates new ways to do things. Keeping children curious and engaged in the quest for knowledge through their teen years and into adulthood is essential to the future of humanity.  So the question is, how can we stop kids from losing the drive to discover new things and keep them engaged and excited about the world around them? I believe that we already have an answer: human space exploration.

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Why Mars? An Introduction To A 10-Part Series On Sending Humans To Mars


Momentum is steadily and inexorably building toward sending human missions to Mars beginning in the 2030s. While this goal has been an integral part of United States space policy over the past fifty years, the reality of achieving that goal has always seemed so very far in the future. Recently, however, a critical mass of support, technical progress, and scientific momentum has coalesced that may very well finally propel humanity to the Red Planet.

Mars has been the subject of a great deal of media coverage in recent years, with frequent images and scientific updates coming from various United States and international Mars robotic missions. Hollywood has also been drumming the Mars beat, with movies such as The Martian, as well as the upcoming six part National Geographic series, Mars, and the feature film The Space Between Us (with more to come).

As for policy, Congress has included Mars in multiple authorization bills ― and the Senate is currently moving forward with a Transition Authorization bill that contains the most comprehensive language in support of Mars exploration ever to appear in a major bill.

NASA has also embraced this goal, with its Journey to Mars program, and last October it also held its first workshop to investigate potential landing sites for the first human explorers. Industry has also jumped on the bandwagon, with companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Aerojet Rocketdyne having released their own proposals as to how to send humans to Mars – and in late September SpaceX joined the chorus when it announced its own ambitious plans.

Recent polls have also shown overwhelming public support for this goal.  Yet, some people still ask Why? Why should we take the time and spend taxpayer dollars? Some even ask why should we take the risks inherent in any space mission ― let alone missions to a planet millions of miles away?

History teaches us that ambitious exploration and innovation projects of this kind have always tended to benefit humanity.

Unfortunately, much misinformation has been disseminated claiming that such missions would cost upwards of $1 trillion.  In reality, none of the current credible plans would require anywhere close to that amount, and in fact they would require far less. (To put this in perspective, all NASA budgets combined since 1958 don’t come close to totaling $1 trillion – even with adjusted dollars).

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We Should Explore Mars So That Our Students Will Keep Dreaming Big

We Should Explore Mars So That Our Students Will Keep Dreaming Big

by Janet Ivey CEO, Janet’s Planet


Why send humans to Mars? Because as Gene Roddenberry said, “We are on a journey to keep an appointment with whatever we are.” As a space science educator, a lover of Star Trek, and someone who played “astronaut” on the playground, sending humans to Mars is more than just a good sci-fi fantasy, it is an imperative for humanity.  Mars is the first outpost in the colonization of other worlds. And thanks to countless orbiters, landers, and rovers… the more we learn about it, the more Mars beckons.

For the past 16 years, I have endeavored to find ways to connect students’ natural curiosity with the wonders of our solar system and the universe, and always with an eye looking back at Earth. As a STEM/STEAM educator, I believe that we must teach science as the greatest adventure story of all time; and allow and inspirestudents to dream beyond their house, their town, and their own Earth-bound experience.

Listen to any scientist, engineer or entrepreneurial visionary who is passionate and committed about going to Mars and you will see that the parallels between a human endeavor to Mars and an education that elevates STEM/STEAM skills are remarkably similar. Getting to Mars and creating a skilled labor force for our nation is all about building with the same organic material. And I am not talking about aluminum, steel or titanium. I am talking about the robust material of minds… young, brilliant, future scientific and engineering minds. Howard Bloom, founder, and chair of the Space Development Steering Committee says it this way: “Rockets roar into space using two forms of fuel.  One is the liquid in the rocket’s tanks.  The other is the fuel in the human heart.  Yes, big dreams are fueled by the raw stuff of the human spirit:  excitement, awe, and desire.  Those emotions power us to do the impossible.  So when you’re looking for a goal, find the one that excites you and your fellow humans the most.”

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Explore Mars Proud Sponsor of the 2016 RAW Science Film Festival

Explore Mars Proud Sponsor of the
2016 RAW Science Film Festival


Get Tickets Here
Explore Mars is pleased to be a sponsor of the Raw Science Film Festival that will take place at Fox Studios inside the historic Zanuck Theater on Saturday, December 10, 2016. There will be a reception prior to the Awards Ceremony, which is a black-tie-optional hosted “awards show” that will be live-streamed with magic, brain games, and immersive experiences. The theme of the event is “Space 3.0,” the development of private space in addition to augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality experiences. The best in science media from around the world will be celebrated in grand fashion!

Zanuck Theater @ Fox Studios 10201 W Pico Blvd, LA 90035
Saturday December 10, 2016

The festival is eligible to be a qualifier for the Academy Awards in 2018. Out of 7,000 film festivals worldwide, only 63 have Oscar qualifying accreditation and 26 in the US. RSFF is poised to elevate science media to the highest stages.

Naveen Jain | Founder, Moon Express, BlueDot, Intelius, Talent Wise and InfoSpace
Brent Bushnell | CEO, Two Bit Circus, Los Angeles CA
Hanson Robotics | Featuring Sophia
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