Humanity's interest in the heavens has been universal and enduring. Humans are driven to explore the unknown, discover new worlds, push the boundaries of our scientific and technical limits, and then push further. The intangible desire to explore and challenge the boundaries of what we know and where we have been has provided benefits to our society for centuries.
Mars has always been a source of inspiration for explorers and scientists. Robotic missions have found evidence of water, but if life exists beyond Earth still remains a mystery. Robotic and scientific robotic missions have shown that Mars has characteristics and a history similar to Earth's, but we know that there are striking differences that we have yet to begin to understand. Humans can build upon this knowledge and look for signs of life and investigate Mars' geological evolution, resulting in research and methods that could be applied here on Earth.
A mission to our nearest planetary neighbor provides the best opportunity to demonstrate that humans can live for extended, even permanent, stays beyond low Earth orbit. The technology and space systems required to transport and sustain explorers will drive innovation and encourage creative ways to address challenges. As previous space endeavors have demonstrated, the resulting ingenuity and technologies will have long lasting benefits and applications.
The challenge of traveling to Mars and learning how to live there will encourage nations around the world to work together to achieve such an ambitious undertaking. The International Space station has shown that opportunities for collaboration will highlight our common interests and provide a global sense of community.