VIII Congress of the Association of Space Explorers
Washington, D.C.
August 23-30, 1992

General Statement


For centuries, humanity has looked up at the heavens and seen a bright point of red light in the night sky. As we have more closely examined this shining body we now know as the planet Mars, we have learned that it is the closest and most similar planetary body to our Earth. Human curiosity, the urge to explore and discover, has since moved us to study the red planet both from afar as well as with robotic vehicles. And like explorers throughout the ages, we are drawn to this distant land because of what we can learn, how we might benefit, the challenges to be overcome, and because 'it is there.' Of all human endeavors, a mission to Mars promises to be the most challenging ever undertaken. These challenges will not only be scientific, technical, and economic, but inter-cultural, educational, and moral.

Humanity's thirty-five years of spaceflight experience, combined with current state-of-the-art technologies, make a program of landing humans on Mars largely achievable today. To ease the journey, however, laying a technological foundation is paramount. In addressing the reliability and safety required for a Mars mission, we will find that the transition from a maximum two week emergency return capability, typical of past space missions, to one of two years, will be a step into a new dimension. Also, we will require advanced propulsion systems and concepts such as aerobraking devices. If we are to make the mission successful, it is essential that society allocate the necessary budgetary resources to the development of these technologies.

Seen as an investment, a mission to Mars would inevitably prove to be a rewarding economic venture. Many studies have shown that the return on investment associated with space exploration is high - perhaps five to ten times the initial outlay. Much of this return can be measured directly – achievements in computers, medicine and communication, to mention a few. However, some of the greatest returns may be less measurable: the educational challenges presented to our youth, the employment of an enthusiastic and talented workforce, the thousands of lives saved by the forecasting capabilities of weather satellites. These are the outcomes which underscore the wisdom of investing time and resources into space exploration, and now, into a mission to Mars.

One benefit of a successful Mars mission will be the spin-offs in the area of safety control for technologically complex operations over long time periods at reasonable cost. However, even well-controlled risk does not mean that we can or even should try to exclude risk totally. The mission to Mars is analogous to the exploration and settlement of the New World, as expressed by the oft-used phrase, 'pioneering the space frontier.' Risk and sacrifice are inherent features of such endeavors. Today, with all our capabilities in storing and using knowledge bases and performing large computer calculations and simulations, there is a danger that we are becoming averse to risk. We may ask for perfection as a goal, but it cannot be a reality. If we accept only success, we will stop taking chances, and our accomplishments will diminish. In this imperfect world, astronauts have the responsibility of identifying and assessing the hazardous pathways, since we have shown our willingness to accept the high risk of spaceflight.

However, these risks, and the costs and benefits of taking them, are best shared internationally, and by both the private and public sectors. The Mars mission will require the skill of many institutions, in particular those industries which finally have to build the hardware and software. Industry will be a significant source of ideas, equipment and services, as has been the case in all Earth-orbital programs and in the Apollo program to the Moon. Industry works in association with academia, and designs and constructs for governments and for commercial users. The benefits of industry involvement extends to both the accomplishment of large scale international exploration of Mars, as well as to the smaller scale economic utilization of the skills and technologies developed.

Likewise, a mission of such scale will only be successful through close cooperation between and among nations. A journey to Mars is an opportunity for international cooperative programs greater than any previously undertaken. However, divisive and destructive global problems must be resolved. Governments must move towards an understanding of how we can to learn to live in harmony with each other and with our environment. As American President Gerald Ford said in 1974, "Docking in space and constructing a complex space structure in orbit is possible if it is preceded by docking thousands and thousands of specialists from many countries on Earth."

Indeed, a mission to Mars will not follow the old model of nations performing great feats to demonstrate national technological prowess. For the Mars endeavor, technology will not be the chief factor defining national relationships, nor will it even be our greatest challenge. Rather than a competition between nations to get there first, the mission to Mars will be an international endeavor, a program with a delegation of Earth's inhabitants on a journey to explore its nearest planetary neighbor.

A Mars program will create unprecedented international interdependence, stimulate the exchange of knowledge and technologies, and provide an opportunity for sharing the results of space activities by many nations, rather than restricting them to the few spacefaring nations. An international Mars mission will confront us with differences in how our partners work. We will need to respect these differences, and to use them synergistically rather than allow them to draw us apart. The leading space nations must actively involve smaller and developing countries and provide them with opportunities to participate in the work and share in the benefits. These countries in turn will serve as a bonding force in a network of interdependent relationships, helping keep all nations working together. When organized in a true international manner, a mission to Mars stands to benefit all nations and peoples.

In point of fact, however, it is the next generation who will perform this mission and serve on its crew. Our generation, and in particular the Association of Space Explorers, has the responsibility of passing on its knowledge and experience in training the next generation to use the technologies we have developed. We must also prepare young prospective crew members to speak international languages and to cope with long isolation in small groups. These crew skills will allow international cooperation to flourish in an atmosphere of trust and stability, which in turn will benefit an entire new generation on Earth.

Our species' experience on our home planet over the millennia serves as both an important lesson for and inspiring model of how we interact with our environment. A Mars mission provides humankind with the opportunity to demonstrate some of those special capabilities which have made us so successful on our home planet, i.e., working with our natural world and its resources, learning from them, and channeling them to improve the quality of life. These strengths can also be successfully applied on Mars – humanity can survive, grow and find new opportunities working with the Mars environment. At the same time, we must heed the ethical and moral principals which serve as standards by which to judge our individual and collective behavior. Today we witness the terrible environmental destruction of many parts of our Earth. We also see the great damage that our species inflicts upon itself, from personal substance abuse to the radioactive altering of our very genetic code. The great achievements of science may soon turn against us and our planet unless we redirect the trends of self-destruction. A Mars mission will be most successful when we can be sure that the technical preparation for this expedition will be of benefit to ourselves and to our environment.

The challenges posed by a human mission to Mars are numerous and great. The mission challenges us as individuals, as groups and as a species. It challenges our minds, bodies and spirit. But, if we are bold enough to draw from each other's strengths and learn from our weaknesses, we will meet the challenges. For these reasons, the Association of Space Explorers recommends a global effort to send human emissaries of Earth To Mars Together.


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