Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who rumor has it is advising Donald Trump on #Space policy, addressed the 2016 CPAC in Washington DC on his favorite subject, which is sending humans to Mars. CPAC is an unusual venue to talk about space missions. One usually hears speeches about burning issues such as immigration and health care at CPAC meetings. 2016 is an election year, so a lot of political posturing from speakers, many of them candidates for public office, can be expected.
Space is not currently an issue in Election 2016, but by all considerations, it should be. NASA takes up a tiny fraction of the federal budget, but a much larger percentage of public attention as compared to other federal agencies. The space agency is also popular with the voting public, mainly because it does a lot of cool, interesting things.
Aldrin should be commended for being able to manage a chance to offer his Mars message to an audience that does not generally get to hear such advocacy. A lot of the people who attend CPAC are movers, shakers, and decision makers and, therefore, might benefit from hearing that space exploration and settling other worlds are good things, worthy of investment.
If Aldrin’s speech can be faulted, it was long on inspiration and technical detail and short on argument. That is why we should go to Mars. That is a common failing for space advocates, relying on the “cool factor” to sell the idea of going to the high frontier.
A great many arguments exist for having a space program, scientific, commercial, and even political. The central argument for going to Mars and founding a settlement on the Red Planet is that by so doing, human beings will ensure the continuance of the species. The number of ways that the human race could be wiped out is mind numbing, from an asteroid strike to a nuclear war to environmental catastrophe. Having human civilization on more than one world ensures that it can survive even a planetary catastrophe.
Aldrin’s campaign of Mars advocacy has not always borne fruit. In 2010, President Barack Obama used him as a photo-op prop when he formally canceled the Constellation space exploration program. NASA is currently embarked on the Journey to Mars, but that program is woefully underfunded and directionless.
But of course, Aldrin has one quality that few people have to make people listen. He is one of the a little more than a handful of men alive who have walked on the moon. Anything that comes out of the mouth of such a man needs a respectful hearing.