Mars is only a pitstop

Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space, says colonizing Mars ‘doesn’t push us hard enough’

Mae Jemison, the first woman of color in space, has an alternative view on the race to get humans on Mars: it isn’t enough.

In October, President Obama penned an op-ed for CNN announcing a partnership between NASA and private companies to start building habitats for colonists on Mars. And Elon Musk, CEO of Space X, has a longterm plan for helping humans become a “multi planetary species.”

But Jemison wants us to think even bigger. Her NGO, 100 Year Starship, is about “making sure that we have the capabilities for human travel beyond our solar system to another star within the next 100 years.”

“It’s vitally important that we have very big challenges,” Jemison said at The Real Future Fair Tuesday. “The question is, ‘Is Mars enough? Does Mars push us hard enough?'”

Jemison emphasized that advancements in space exploration have enormous benefits for life here on Earth, citing technologies like GPS and MRI machines—which both resulted from breakthroughs in space exploration technology.

She also spoke about diversity and emphasized that getting to Mars and beyond will have to be a collective effort. “We can’t do any of these things until we start to include the full breadth of human skills, people, experience, expertise, ambitions and dreams,” said Jemison. “Being able to take humans far away from the Earth changes your perspective.”

Aiming to get to another star within 100 years will force us to rethink how we use our resources here on Earth. “Think about what we have to know about food, what we have to understand about materials and self-correcting machines,” she said. “All of those things have to be at a very different rate and scale than we do them today.”

And crucially, that change won’t just be scientific. It will also transform how we as humans relate to one another.

“At some point in time we’re gonna have to figure out how to see ourselves as Earthling,” she said. “And I think sometimes that going away from home is sometimes the way to do it. We see ourselves as having a shared future.”