On Sept. 27, Elon Musk tantalized the world with his vision of placing a human being on the surface of Mars. His company SpaceX had previously made headlines not even a month before, after its Falcon 9 rocket exploded during preparation on the launch pad. In light of both these events and the media maelstrom that engulfed it, the great debate about humanity’s future continued into its latest chapter: Why bother going to Mars?
As always, answering the preponderant question of our future necessitates taking a look into our past.
On one sunny September day, in front of a vast global audience, another great American innovator made a bold proclamation. It was Sept. 12, 1964, when President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans to shoot for the stars, famously proclaiming that “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
In this sentiment rests the greatest argument in favor of the human endeavor of space travel. Since the discovery of rocketry, Americans have taken on the gamble of space not because of its alluring rewards nor due to fear of being outperformed by competitors, but because exploring the final frontier embodies that essential American value of daring to aspire.
Time and time again throughout our history, American men and women have led the vanguard of boundary breakers who routinely awe our species with their accomplishments. Pioneers by the nature of their birth, early Americans of all ilk traversed their continent with one purpose – to discover. Challenged by the doubts of others and the wrath of nature, countless would-be-greats from other nations had given up in their quest for achievement, only to have Americans show that triumph is truly possible.
I recite these things in patriotic zeal not to brag but to inspire. Every penny that goes into funding space exploration goes to use in our economy, hiring our brightest engineers and most daring pilots. Countless inventions that simplify or revolutionize our lives have been birthed in the movement toward space. And yet, at the end of the day, the most compelling reason to spread our wings and soar remains to be so that we may experience the marvel of flight in the first place.
The United States is the greatest melting pot in history, comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds that span the globe and course of history. It is not a common ancestral bloodline nor geographic location that defines our people, but our spirit of innovation, our desire to do what no one else has done and our dream of conquering the unconquerable.
We as a people have never before backed down when faced with a challenge. To give up our dreams of achieving the unachievable at this point would be a betrayal of our national heritage and a waste of a marvelous opportunity. It is true that having a million people living on Mars is a bold, perhaps even insane, wish — but to take one step on the red planet? To one day let your children feel its soil under their feet?
When Kennedy dared a generation of Americans to aspire to the stars, he began a journey to new and ever greater heights, the likes of which he himself would never know. Today, it’s our job to ensure that such a dream lives on.