For many years people have asked the ever so important question, "Why Mars - why should we go to Mars?" For every individual who ponders this question there is a unique response. There is no correct answer to the conundrum and there is no single best answer either. Everyone must challenge their own intellect and form their own opinions on why, or why not, which brings about the focus of this rant. The driving question for those of us already dedicated to human space exploration should not be "Why Mars", but rather "What?" Mars. As in, what will you do to help set the human race on the path to Mars? It is as cliche as "everyone has to do their part" and as direct as John F. Kennedy's famous speech "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."
Mars is a goal worthy of only the greatest efforts that we as a civilization can offer. We cannot garner the social, political and economic momentum on the blind faith of assured success alone. We cannot fly to Mars "on the wings of love," or even fuel our rockets with hopes and dreams. Instead, it is by the sweat of our brow, the ache of our muscles and the drive of our will that we have always blazed the trail of exploration, and will continue to do so in the future. In our personal examples, one author's passion for advancing humans into space has led him to CU-Boulder where he is currently working on portable life support systems (spacesuits) leading into a PhD. Spacesuits will be needed in any exploration mission architecture, with the long-term vision of having a Moon and Mars capable undertaking. The other author currently works in the DC area and actively dedicates the equivalent of a second full time job into his role with The Mars Society and his pursuit of a Master's degree in aerospace engineering. The latter will lead to research in astronaut-machine interfacing, an area with clearly vital significance to the future of exploration.
It is by action that we are able to contribute to development of a sustainable future in human spaceflight. Our stories are only two of many; but it will take many more to achieve our shared vision. We challenge everyone to get involved, no matter how big or small of a project, and to educate yourselves. Build prototypes out of Legos to help teach a local class, donate your time to a space advocacy organization, or get involved in related research. Do whatever you can so that one-day when we ask you "What have you done to help get to Mars," you will have a rant of your own.
Ryan L. Kobrick is currently pursuing his PhD degree in Aerospace Engineering at University of Colorado at Boulder in portable life support systems and spacesuit design.
Kevin F. Sloan serves at the Marketing Manager for The Mars Society and is pursuing a Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland.