I’ve always been interested in space exploration — astronomy has been my best subject — but I was a poli-science major; my background was in policy and politics. I never saw a connection. Then it clicked: One of the key things that prevents us from having A ROBUST SPACE PROGRAM isn’t technology — it’s politics.
I started to get active with space advocacy; a group of us decided there was a need for a new organization: Explore Mars. Our mission is to advance THE GOAL OF GETTING HUMANS TO MARS in a couple of decades. We offer prizes to stimulate people to develop technologies; we’re holding a summit in Washington, D.C., in May.
Mars is the most logical destination. It’s the closest destination that COULD HAVE HARBORED LIFE, currently or in the past. But in a couple of weeks, maybe sooner, one human crew could achieve all they’ve done [in months with the Curiosity rover]. There’s no reason technically why we can’t do it. We have the science. It probably won’t happen the same way we went to the moon. I think NASA will lead it, but A PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP will probably be used. I think it will be international.
Money is an issue; far more of AN ISSUE IS OUR WILLPOWER. People ask, “How can we support this when there are all these [economic] problems?” It’s a valid question. People assume NASA accounts for a larger percentage of the federal budget than it actually does. The average [response to our survey] was 2.5 percent; it actually is less than 0.5 percent. This is cynical, but WE’RE GOING TO SPEND THE MONEY ANYWAY, whether we go or not. Wouldn’t you rather go somewhere? — As told to Melissa Schorr
Interview has been edited and condensed.