Humanity will leave the Earth to learn to live in other places. The history of human progress leaves no doubt. Besides, courageous pioneers already live in low Earth orbit 250 miles above Earth’s surface. The Moon can support larger outposts of humanity with gravity and shielding from galactic cosmic radiation. Mars is within reach.
We will leave Earth for several ancient, fundamental reasons: for survival, for treasure, for fame, for adventure, and for all the practical and noble reasons that humans have spread around the globe throughout history. We value life, we want to improve our condition, we want opportunities for our children, we seek excitement, and we are curious about the unknown.
Yet, a citizen of Earth two centuries from now will have to wonder what happened. Why, after Gene Cernan took the last step on the Moon, did we pause for decades after?
We are not a people who pull back after a discovery. Forty years after 1493, when Columbus returned to Europe from his first western voyage, there were explorers and settlers throughout the Americas and the Pacific. Now, in 2013, when technology advances much more quickly, why this hiatus in? Now, when we have the tools to measure the positive effects of exploration and expansion, why do we fail to claim the certain value of discovery and innovation in space?
A new future clearly lies within our reach, when people and machines will live and work in space, creating an extraterrestrial economy, producing goods, exploring, and benefiting from a new perspective on our place in the universe.
Overcoming the obstacles to achieving these significant benefits requires a commitment by citizens and leaders toward sustained investments in space. Only with such a long-term commitment will our best thinkers, managers, engineers, scientists, and technicians devote their lives to space and its vast, calculable returns.