Obama Wrecks the Mars Program
The president’s plans for NASA are completely flawed.

Artist concept of the Mars Science Lab Curiosity (NASA/JPL-Caltech)


Robert Zubrin

There has long been a school of thought among liberals that argued that space dollars “were better spent on Earth” (even though all space dollars are spent on Earth) to meet the expenses of various social programs. This is an arguable proposition, but as the budget’s plan for flat levels of NASA funding shows, it is not the motive behind the administration’s move against planetary exploration. So the question must arise: Why are they doing this?

Perhaps the answer is provided by an examination of the core beliefs of the president’s science adviser, John P. Holdren. In his 1971 book, Global Ecology, coauthored with anti-human ideologue Paul Ehrlich (of Population Bomb fame), Holdren wrote:

When a population of organisms grows in a finite environment, sooner or later it will encounter a resource limit. This phenomenon, described by ecologists as reaching the “carrying capacity” of the environment, applies to bacteria on a culture dish, to fruit flies in a jar of agar, and to buffalo on a prairie. It must also apply to man on this finite planet.

Thus, in order to accept the constraints on human aspirations demanded by Holdren, Ehrlich, and like-minded thinkers (whether rationalized by alleged limits to available resources in the 1970s, or by the putative threat of global warming due to excessive use of natural resources today), people must be convinced that the future is closed. The issue is not that resources from space might disrupt the would-be regulator’s rationing schemes. Rather it is that the idea of an open future with unlimited resources and possibilities undermines the walls of the mental prison that the would-be wardens of mankind seek to construct.

Ideas have consequences. If the idea is accepted that resources are limited, then human activities must be severely constrained, and someone must be empowered to enforce the constraining. But if it is understood that the possibilities for human existence are as open as unfettered human creativity can make them, then the protection of liberty, rather than its restriction, becomes the first responsibility of government.

The stakes are thus very high. And that is part of the reason, consistent with his beliefs, Holdren has overseen the reduction of NASA’s Mars-exploration budget from $620 million in 2008 to $360 million next year (nearly all of which will go to running Bush-administration legacy missions), while boosting earth-science funding from $1.27 billion to $1.8 billion over the same period — a form of research that is massively redundant given the scores of satellites and thousands of aircraft, balloons, and sea and ground stations taking millions of daily measurements on or above the globe already.

Mars is key to humanity’s future in space. It is the closest planet that has all the resources needed to support life and technological civilization. Its complexity uniquely demands the skills of human explorers, who will pave the way for human settlers. It is, therefore, the proper goal for NASA’s human-spaceflight program, and the proper priority for its robotic scouts. But instead of exploring new worlds, NASA’s science budget will now go to providing slush funds for climate-change would-be Jeremiahs.

America’s planetary-exploration program is one of the great chapters in the history of our country, science, and civilization. Its abandonment represents nothing less than an open embrace of American decline, for the purpose of advancing a perverse ideology inimical to American liberty, prosperity, and fundamental values. This is unacceptable.

If the administration is allowed to shut down the Mars-exploration effort, NASA will lose its most effective endeavor — one of the few that justifies the entire space program as a national enterprise; the nation will lose one its crown jewels; the scientists will lose their chance to find life beyond Earth; and humanity will lose the one significant effort that is making real and visible progress toward opening the frontier on another world.

Congress should not allow that to happen.

— Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics, and author of the book Energy Victory. His new book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudoscientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, will be published by Encounter Books in February 2012.