Mars has been a prominent figure in the lens of human awareness, imagination, and sense of adventure for centuries. It's a fiery spark in the night, a celestial laser-pointer dot drawing our cat-like curiosity into space. But could our neighboring planet's value to us exceed our wildest imaginings?
Is it a source of rich resources that could fuel voyages to even farther-out destinations? Is it a key to answering the age old question, "Are we alone"? Could it even be our best insurance policy for the survival of our species? Food for thought.
Scarcely a century since fiction writers began imagining a trip to Mars and only 50 years after we sent the first robotic probe, we have sent dozens of spacecraft, a handful of landers and still have the wheels of two rovers turning in those rusty soils.
The rovers Opportunity and Curiosity are drilling into rocks and scooping up dirt to look for signs of past water and life-friendly environments and have found such evidence in abundance in the composition of mineral deposits and structures of rock formations. Orbital spacecraft like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter may even have detected the action of sporadic liquid outbursts in present times. That Mars once had a warmer, wetter, probably much Earthier environment in the past is a speculation supported by mounting evidence.
Sending humans to Mars has been an on-again/off-again shuffle over the years. Back in the Apollo era when our country was spending a lavish 4% of the federal budget to put humans on the moon, there was optimism that this wind in the sails of the spirit of exploration would propel us not only to the moon's surface, but carry astronauts to Mars, and ultimately beyond.