Opinion

Please take us to Mars, President Trump

Want to make Earth great again? Go to Mars.

The most important thing Donald Trump can do for the United States is bigger than making America great again. It's something far more ambitious and historic, something that benefits not just Americans, but the entire human race.

Donald Trump can make Earth great again. And he can do it by taking us to Mars.

Yes, we have many pressing problems at home and around the world. But the most sweeping way to solve them is for Trump to lead us to Mars. In fact, it is because of those pressing needs that humanity must begin to colonize the red planet.

NASA scientists had been planning for a different kind of pivot under another Clinton administration. Despite big talk about Mars, the agency was prepared to drift away from Martian dreams, and instead toward a middle-of-the-road manned Moon mission capable of drawing support from Clinton's team and the longtime crew of established Republicans and friendly lobbyists working the space policy angle. But with Trump's victory, his team (as is their wont) either dismissed or scared away all the usual suspects in a Republican administration. U.S. space policy is as close to starting from scratch as it has been in ages. And one of Trump's first decisions is whether and how to move ahead with the rocket technology needed to reach Mars.

Elon Musk, the SpaceX entrepreneur who's now advising Trump, might be right that we foolish mortals are running too high a risk of destroying life on Earth sooner rather than later. When he and other prognosticators warn that technology could outpace our human wishes unless we aim it — and us — toward the cosmos, they could be on to something. Then again… they could be getting ahead of themselves, not to mention the rest of us.

So why go to Mars if not to literally save the human race?

Well, you don't have to think in such apocalyptic and abstract terms to see that going to Mars will transform our priorities in a way that makes life on Earth better too. Working on colonizing Mars will encourage and deliver better, stronger, faster, and cleaner transportation technologies here on Earth, too. Scandalously, it still takes about as long to fly from New York to Los Angeles as it did when the hydrogen bomb was invented. I guarantee this will no longer be true once humans are cruising to Mars.

Doing the work of readying for Mars will organize the best of scientific thought and action around perfecting alternative energy, shifting from a subsidy model to one where fossil fuels are a bad or unnecessary option for millions of people.

And perhaps most significant of all, putting in the time and effort to prepare for a future with Mars will organize large-scale transportation and energy innovation in accordance with a new approach to climate technology. Climate control science should be a natural next step in our human stewardship of this and other planets — ensuring stable futures for the flourishing of life.

Not enough people in Washington understand that the mission to Mars must be pursued as a mission to make Earth great again. "Astronauts want to go to Mars or the Moon or wherever," former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver recently sighed. "But why do they want to go there? We went to the Moon in the 1960s to beat the Russians and advance technology in the Cold War and be world leaders. But what's our reason now?" Instead, Garver wants NASA to focus on "technologies that are a real benefit to society."

But that's the thing. Mars tech and Earth tech are one and the same — part of the same essential goal of creating a future many more billions of humans can love.

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