As humans, we have always been explorers. From Mesopotamia, we have spread to every corner of our planet as we have sought new experiences. Over the last 10,000 years, the history of humanity has been driven by a desire to see what is beyond the horizon. In that same time, we have looked to the heavens and wondered what lies beyond our protective atmosphere. The original "Space Race" between the United States and the Soviet Union demonstrated just how far humans were able to go when backed by political power. While the scientific and engineering outcomes of the period from the mid-1950s to 1970 revolutionized humanity and our ability to explore, it was the political goals that drove that exploration in space.
When Apollo 17 left the Moon in December 1972, the world the astronauts returned to was very different than the world of 1957 when Sputnik was launched. The joint Apollo-Soyuz missions paved the way for cooperation between governments in space, which ultimately culminated in the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS continues to demonstrate what international cooperation in space is capable of delivering, and the Artemis Program, led by NASA but involving a myriad of international partners, is the next step.
While NASA has long expressed a desire to send astronauts to Mars, that desire has never moved beyond discussions. Following the Columbia disaster in February 2003, NASA began to seriously look beyond the success of the Space Shuttle Program and make plans for the future of manned space exploration. Over the last 20 years, these plans have been in a near-constant state of flux, and have included returning to the Moon and using those missions as a stepping stone to get to Mars. Yet, no definitive Mars Program has been developed.
Meanwhile, other governments, namely China, have also expressed their desire to send people to Mars. At the same time, private companies have made statements about missions to Mars. However, none of these statements, whether from governments or companies, have laid definitive plans or a roadmap to achieve the goal of "boots on Mars".
NASA continues to work with other space agencies to move the Artemis Program forward, and talk continues about using the Moon as a starting point for getting to Mars. But things remain different than they did in the middle of the 20th century. At this time, there is no "national pride" driving manned space programs. There is no "public awe" associated with riding rockets beyond Earth's atmosphere. Space Shuttle launches stopped being broadcast on public television in the 1990s, and most people are unaware of what people are doing in Earth orbit.
Despite the allure to private companies associated with sending tourists into space, there remains little public backing for such missions. It is billionaires who buy tickets to the ISS, while average people the world over have little desire, much less the finances, to go to space. Yes, the cost of getting "stuff" into orbit continues to decrease, thanks to capitalism at work. But the cost for a private company to send people to Mars remains prohibitively high.
What will be needed to send humans to Mars? Will international cooperation among governments be enough to formalize a plan to go to Mars? What will be the benefit of people walking on Mars (what can people do that advanced robots cannot)? These, and other questions need to be addressed before serious consideration can be given to landing humans on another planet.
The cost to send people to Mars is not just financial. Years of planning are required, which means the desire to carry out a mission must not wane over decades. Yes, a large-scale program like that seen during the Space Race would mobilize the resources necessary to accomplish the goal on a much shorter timescale, but government support for such a goal is nonexistent. NASA's budget peaked around 4% of the U.S. government budget in the 1960s and has decreased to less than 1% in the 21st century. As has been shown by the U.S. shouldering the vast majority of the financial cost of the ISS, international partner governments are unable to make up the shortfall.
The global political climate has shifted dramatically in the last several years. But the fact remains that, while space is considered a new frontier for proving a nation's capabilities in engineering and military power, sending people to Mars is still not seen as something that will benefit a country. The cost continues to far outweigh any perceived benefit.
Will people ever walk on Mars? Most definitely. Will it happen in the 2030s? Probably not. Yes, a private company could send a couple of billionaires to Mars as a public relations stunt, but that is unlikely. The fact remains that unless there is a drive, led by governments, to set aside the cost factors and focus on the pure achievement of landing humans on Mars, it is unlikely that there will be a global effort to send people to another planet.
However, as humans, we are destined to one day leave our planet behind. Some may argue that our future as a species depends on colonizing another planet. We are explorers, and the future of exploration lies beyond Earth's atmosphere. We will one day leave Earth and spread throughout the Solar System, and beyond. But in terms of any current talk about humans on Mars, it is likely to remain just that - talk.
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The response to the question of the status of the space race and the possibility of humans walking on the moon provides a comprehensive overview of the history and current state of space exploration. It highlights the political and financial factors that have influenced space exploration over the years, as well as the challenges faced by governments and private companies in sending humans to Mars. The writer also provides a personal perspective on the future of space exploration and the likelihood of humans walking on Mars in the near future.
One area that could be improved upon is the discussion on the benefits of sending humans to Mars. While the writer raises questions about the benefits of such a mission, they don't provide any answers. It would be interesting to hear the writer's thoughts on the potential scientific, technological, and even philosophical benefits of human exploration of Mars.
Overall, the response provides a well-informed and thoughtful critique of the current state of space exploration and the challenges faced by governments and private companies in sending humans to Mars.