Today, we live in a world where sights have been set on the next big goal: Mars. This is an effort that many may not find to be a priority in their lives. Why go to Mars? Who the heck would want to go anyway?! To quickly answer the latter question, me. I would go. But let’s look at the former inquiry more in depth. As my stories usually are, this is a roundabout way to get to the answer to that question, but bear with me.
Mr. Elon Musk is the Henry Ford of two massive industries: electric cars and space vehicles. One of these businesses alone would be a major undertaking, but Elon doesn’t do anything halfway, especially when it comes to being an entrepreneur. Before I fangirl too much on how cool Elon is, let’s focus on the space stuff he does i.e. run the world’s most successful startup space company, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation. SpaceX.
Mr. Elon “I Do Literally Whatever I Set My Mind To” Musk.
On the verge of collapse after three failed launch attempts in the mid-2000s, SpaceX seemed to be a poor investment of the self-made millionaire’s money after selling Paypal (yes, The Paypal) to eBay. Yet, their fourth launch was successful, and that was the beginning of an amazing shift in the space industry. SpaceX now has contracts with NASA and now the U.S. Air Force (after first trying to sue them) and conducts space launches at less than half(!) the cost of other launch providers, namely United Launch Alliance (ULA). To read more about how incredible this is, read this. Understatement of the century: Elon is changing the game.
So, again, why go? Mr. Musk has a comforting answer: we go to Mars to ensure the survival of the human race. And he is 100% serious. Now for some people who don’t work in the field of aerospace, this might be the first time you are hearing this. To you, this might seem laughable. But I assure you, if we do not become a multi-planetary species, humans will be just another blip on the screen of animals that once lived on Earth. Elon firmly believes that Mars is the back-up hard drive most accessible to us as a species. Should something happen to planet Earth whether it is a dinosaur-like extinction via asteroid, a nuclear holocaust, or just a slow, greenhouse-gas-driven melting of the planet, we are protecting our species by moving to Mars. Elon Musk believes not only that going to Mars is a good idea but a necessary one.
Whoa, right? Lots to think about here. For me, it is hard to argue with a man so seriously smart and with such similar aspirations to me. I have wanted to be an astronaut for 18 years, so when a guy says, “hey, I think we should go to Mars”, it is hard for me to not immediately kneel at his feet. But this is an important discussion for everyone, not just the space enthusiasts. This undertaking of ensuring the survival of the species is not for the shortsighted, and yet we live in a world where shortsightedness dominates our everyday decision-making. A president of a single country could never make this effort to back-up the human race on Mars a reality in his or her four- or even eight-year tenure. This is a global, species-wide effort. It will be a direct reflection on just how willing we are to operate on a species level rather than national level.
For fear of tiring you all out, I will cut myself off there, but I implore you to read “Wait But Why” blog author Tim Urban’s article on SpaceX, specifically How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars, Part 2: Musk’s Mission. This gives a greater outline to Elon’s objectives and the history this planet has of wiping out its own species. I promise you the Earth will be here long after any of us, but we are finally at a point in our evolution where we can use our technology to extend the species’ lifespan by a bit. So let’s do something about it.
I understand that I started this article sounding very rational and ended with an idea that someone who fears UFO abductions and wears a tin foil cap to bed every night might exclaim at a NASA conference they were not invited to. But I am a big thinker who loves glorious, crazy ideas like flying vehicles that takes passengers across the country in hours and sending men to the moon and small touchable screens that connect to a hub of information from anywhere in the world that also includes a way to talk to a person you can’t see.
I didn’t grow up in a time when airplanes, rockets, and smartphones were ludicrous ideas, but I’m growing up in one where living on Mars is a ludicrous idea. This is my generation’s power move, our sailing-to-the-New-World moment. I refuse to let the grandiose nature of living permanently on Mars intimidate me. I think it is the most amazing goal we have ever had as a species and to not be a part of that movement would be a shame. So what I beg of you is to open your eyes to the space industry. Watch more rocket launches, especially the SpaceX ones where they now have hosts talk to you about the payload mission, the launch itself, and these days, the rocket landings. Read more about the International Space Station and the research astronauts aboard do that might be affecting your everyday life. Follow NASA on Twitter, Snapchat, or Facebook. Go to a lecture involving space policy. I promise you that you won’t find the field of aerospace boring.
This is the future of international relations and policy. The time has come for more people to realize the effort that it will take for policy to keep up with the ever-rapid pace of technology, especially space-based technology. It is the responsibility of policymakers to understand how important contested space, orbital debris, and human missions to Mars are to the entire population. If anything, I hope this “short” article has given you a new perspective to these issues of which I am infinitely passionate. Let us do something amazing as a species. Let space travel bring together all people from young to the old, the artists to the engineers, business owners to policymakers. This is a goal that can only be accomplished together and one that is as worth achieving as it is exciting to achieve.
About the author: Jillian Yuricich is a recent graduate from The Ohio State University in the Class of 2016. She studied Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering with a minor in International Studies, Security and Intelligence. Jillian participated in several internships during her undergraduate career including ones at Rolls-Royce North America, NASA, and the Naval Air Systems Command. In 2014, she became Ohio State’s first Astronaut Scholar, a grant awarded for excellence in STEM research by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation originally created by the Mercury 7 astronauts. She also participated in scientist-astronaut training through a program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where she experienced high-G loads and microgravity and flew in a spacecraft simulator in an operational spacesuit. Starting in August of 2016, she will begin her PhD program at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Aerospace Engineering.