We always seem to be about 20 years from going to Mars.

While President Obama recently set our sights on the red planet by the 2030s, an actual program and the money for it still aren’t there.

One of the definitive memories from my early childhood is of laying on the living room floor in front of the TV, watching Neil and Buzz set foot on the Moon. Even then, I worshiped astronauts and the space program.

As I watched successive moon landings and space missions, there was talk of what was next: space stations, moon bases, and sending people to Mars. Optimistically, we dreamed that the arc of our reach into space was going to continue on an unbroken line upward. But politics and money soon got in the way. Our national will to conquer the solar system abated once we beat the Russians to the lunar surface. Our political ego turned out to be more important than exploration.

I had always assumed I would see an astronaut walking on Mars in my lifetime. Now, I’m not so sure.

I’m not the only one who feels a little discouraged. Leroy Chiao, an astronaut, writes in an op-ed on Space.com that “an actual Mars program is missing; while it is true that NASA has received small increases in its budget and technological progress is being made, the funding and political resource commitments do not match the goal of landing humans on Mars in the 2030s.”

I want to see people walking on the next planet out. What’s more, I would like the first ones to be Americans. Our nation has proven it has the drive, the ambition, and the know-how. All we need is the will.

That will must come from the next presidential administration and Congress if it’s going to happen in my lifetime.


NASA’s “Mars Explorers Wanted” poster series celebrates the agency’s latest effort to prepare for a journey to Mars. Credit: NASA