Opinions expressed are personal and my own and in no way are representative of any organization I work with or support.
For more than two decades, I have worked closely with NASA and the space community on human space exploration, helping to craft strategic messaging and communicate the value of exploring other worlds beyond the Moon. In 2013, I partnered with Explore Mars, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the goal of sending humans to Mars, on a national benchmark study on the pulse of the American people as related to human space exploration and our national goal of landing humans on Mars by the 2030s.
The Mars Generation Poll was ripe with interesting data on citizen attitudes about space, but one of the more curious and interesting was the difference in how age impacted the answer to the question: “Why?” If you support human exploration of Mars and our solar system, why do you support it?
If you were over 40 years of age, the primary reasons cited were to strengthen the U.S. leadership position in the world, to create jobs, and to beat China. If you were under 30 years of age, the primary reasons cited were to bring the world together for a common cause, to learn about our environment, and how to manage scarce resources.
It’s clear that the Mars Generation will play a critical role in influencing our space program and helping us achieve our goals in space both through NASA and the private sector. This group, made up of individuals between the ages of 18 and 40, is poised to witness some of the most exciting and important moments in human history - including our first human landing on Mars.
Explore Mars. Save Earth.
Human space exploration is not only about pushing the boundaries of what's possible in space - it's also about protecting our own planet Earth. And that is NASA’s best talking point. One that is frequently misunderstood and poorly executed in communication campaigns from Artemis to the Journey to Mars.
The benefits of human space exploration are numerous, and they extend far beyond the realm of space itself. For one, space exploration has spurred technological advancements that have transformed our lives here on Earth. Moreover, exploring space has allowed us to better understand our own planet and the challenges we face as a species. As NASA astronaut Ron Garan has said, “Seeing the Earth from space changed my perspective on the world. It gave me a sense of the interconnectedness of everything and the fragility of our planet.”
But the problem we face is that Hollywood and many in the space community continue to advance space exploration as a means to “escape our planet” should there be an apocalyptic event. From Wall-E to Elysium, from Interstellar to Oblivion, Hollywood has taught us to believe that the purpose of human space exploration is to survive the destruction of our own planet.
But the Mars Generation will have none of that. They love our planet, and rightly so. Our big blue marble is our home and when faced with a choice between protecting our planet and abandoning her, the majority of Americans will choose Mother Earth.
So how can NASA inspire the Mars Generation to support Mars exploration and the settlement of other planets?
By making the clear and simple connection: Explore Mars. Save Earth.
Human Space Exploration: Benefits to Earth
As NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green has noted, “There is no Planet B. We have to take care of Earth.” By emphasizing the role that space exploration can play in protecting our planet - from studying climate change to developing sustainable technologies - we can inspire a new generation of space enthusiasts who are committed to making a difference here on Earth by supporting our goals to settle other worlds.
Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, gets it. Musk has spoken about the importance of space exploration in terms of its potential to address issues facing Earth. In a 2015 interview with the BBC, he stated that “one of the reasons for going to space is to better understand our own planet.” Furthermore, Musk has highlighted the need for humanity to become more sustainable and reduce its negative impact on the environment.
Astronaut Abby, whose real name is Abigail Harrison, is a young American space enthusiast and STEM advocate. She became interested in space exploration at a young age and has since worked to promote science education and space exploration among young people.
In 2013, at the age of 15, Abby founded The Mars Generation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting STEM education and space exploration. The organization aims to inspire and educate young people about the benefits of space exploration and the importance of STEM education in achieving that goal.
But Abby’s generation does not want to abandon Earth.
If NASA and the private space economy are going to continue to make the case for human exploration of Mars and other planets, they must make the case that exploring Mars is saving Earth. Espouse the benefits of resource management, horticulture, understanding how the human body reacts in extreme environments, and technological advancements in medicine, transportation, communication, and energy production.
The exploration and settlement of space may provide access to valuable resources that are scarce or non-existent on Earth including valuable metals and minerals that can be used for manufacturing and products that improve our life right here – without employing destructive mining practices to our own environment.
Satellites and other spacecraft can be used to monitor and study Earth's environment, including our climate, deforestation, and natural disasters. This information can help scientists and policymakers make more informed decisions about how to protect and manage Earth's resources. Satellites can also be used to teach us about the Martian atmosphere. This knowledge will help us better understand how planets evolve, helping us to better prepare and adapt to the potential for extreme changes in our atmosphere on Earth.
Human exploration is NOT just a backup plan for humanity. The Mars Generation loves the oceans, the beaches, the mountains, and the forests. Most do not want to live in a Martian habitat. NASA must make the connection that the survival of the species includes protecting our home planet and that space exploration is part of the solution to do just that.
Humans to Mars Summit: May 16-18, 2023 – Washington, D.C.
Explore Mars, Inc. was founded in 2010 with the goal of advancing the human exploration of Mars. The organization brings together scientists, engineers, and policymakers to develop strategies and promote public support for human missions to Mars.
I met Chris Carberry in the early days of Explore Mars and now sit on the Board. Under Carberry's leadership, Explore Mars has become a leading voice in the space industry, with a focus on promoting collaboration and innovation among all stakeholders in the space community. The organization's work has helped to build public support for human exploration of Mars and has contributed to the development of NASA's Mars exploration program and private-sector efforts to send humans to Mars.
In just two weeks, Explore Mars will host The Humans to Mars Summit in Washington D.C. (May 16-18), an annual conference that brings together leaders in the space industry, policymakers, and other stakeholders to discuss the latest developments and strategies for sending humans to Mars.
The first Humans to Mars Summit was held in 2013, and since then, it has become one of the leading events in the space industry, attracting participants from around the world. One of the key goals of the Humans to Mars Summit is to promote collaboration and innovation among all stakeholders in the space industry. The conference provides a forum for scientists, engineers, policymakers, and industry leaders to share ideas, discuss challenges, and develop strategies for advancing the goal of human exploration of Mars.
I encourage anyone who is interested in furthering our goals for human space exploration, that you register and attend this year’s Summit. As their tagline reads… Explore Mars: For the Benefit of Humans on Earth. REGISTER or LEARN MORE at www.exploremars.org.
Overall, the benefits of human space exploration and settlement extend far beyond the realm of space itself and have the potential to contribute to a more sustainable and prosperous future for Earth.
As we look towards the future, let's remember the words of Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell: “Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit, and to pause, to falter, to turn our back on the quest for knowledge, is to perish.”
Let's inspire the Mars Generation to join us in this quest, and to work towards a future that is both exciting and sustainable for all.