What Ray Bradbury calls "homestead Mars" is still the right long-term goal for humanity, according to a new NASA report. (This is not to be confused with the Augustine Commission report on human spaceflight programs, which is leaking out all over the place but not yet final.) The report's conclusion is that, even though we will not go to Mars (or anywhere else) on the optimistic schedule proposed a few years back in the Vision for Space Exploration, it should remain our eventual goal to set human footprints on the Red Planet.
"NASA must remain the world leader in human spaceflight and lead humankind to prepare for missions to Mars. We are going to Mars because it is civilization's next major challenge."
COMMENT: There is something, even if romantic, which calls us to the only other world in the solar system that might host and sustain a human population. We should not overlook other goals and other needs, and we should continue the wildly successful robotic exploration of Mars and other worlds. Still, there is something that standing on another planet will teach us about the universe and ourselves. Getting there has to be a gradual process, constrained by the real world of technology development and budgets, but the report is right: we need a goal for the long term, and Mars will wait for us.
Someone once proposed this:
"Would you sign up for a mission to explore Mars if you knew it would take two years and you'd have a twenty percent chance of not returning?"
"Where do I sign up?"
"I had the ambition to not only go farther than man had gone before, but to go as far as it was possible to go." - Captain James Cook