Last Wednesday, my question was aired on the CNN/YouTube debates for the GOP candidates, which discussed the issue of space exploration, specifically if a candidate was prepared to change the Vision of Space Exploration set forth by President Bush and declare that they will be sending a human to Mars. Since that question, I have been fielding e-mails and phone calls from family, friends, blog-mates, YouTubers, the Mars Society, Technical Newspapers, etc... and it has seriously been a re-ignition of my drive for space exploration interests. This is why I would like to take a moment to discuss the Mars Society, and Space Exploration in general.
To find out more about the Mars Society, their homepage is full of content sure to keep you busy reading for hours! But in short, their goal is to bring the discussion of Human to Mars exploration into the public arena. They want to broaden the discussion by providing an alternative outlook on Mars Exploration to the general public, who may not know much about exploration otherwise. As well, they are petitioning world governments to collaborate in sending humans to Mars, as well as focusing on private companies willing to unite and take on the task. They were founded by Robert Zubrin, who also founded Pioneer Astronautics, and are working on a series of technological advancements which will change the way that we can explore Mars... for example, in-suto technologies which make it possible to use Mars' Carbon Dioxide atmosphere to create Methane for Rocket Fuel, and thus not needing to bring the fuel with you, just fill up while you are on Mars. The most important aspect is that they are thinking outside the box. Science today is cluttered with the "no-can-do-ers", who say that going to Mars requires trillions of dollars, decades, and giant battle-star type ships... But a little forward thinking goes a long way!
As far as space exploration in general... well, I am torn between my more Libertarian tendencies of saying that all endeavors should be free from government intervention, and thus the only way that we should be exploring space is via the private sector... and my out-of-the-box thinking that NASA and other space agencies can be a great tool for collective science. NASA, who has had a 50 year budget of around $612 Billion, has provided a means to farm out the collective money for advancements in space science across the board, from life support systems, propulsion systems, to robots and nano-technologies. Of course the NASA Juggernaut should not be our only means of research and exploration, but they are vital to the cause of space exploration, as a beacon of hope, innovation, and inspiration... which is essential for popular support.
Imagine for a moment, if tomorrow NASA ceased to exist. The message being sent would be that the US, as a whole, no longer supports human space exploration... this would be a blow to the entire world... Of course, the private sector would surely step up to fill the gap, thus declaring that we are still engaged.. but with the apparent lack of total US support for space, getting investors and funds would be instantly more difficult.
Now imagine for a moment that NASA announced a change in their vision for space exploration, and suggested that the private sector should focus on Human to Mars technology, backed by an X-Prize style of competition... It would show that NASA is using the free market system to encourage growth in the private sector for space exploration, and ensuring that there is a perfect balance between the government and private industry, as well as ensuring that the private sector gets the public support necessary for independent financial support from the free market.
The long and the short of it is that we need, in my humblest of opinions, to continue space exploration. We learn so much from necessity... If we NEED a new technology due to exploration, then one is surely created. Without pushing the boundaries, we lose the need for innovation. So be it by the government, free market, or a mix of the two, the continuation of Human Space Exploration is a must.