Mars. The Red Planet has inspired dreams of exploration for a hundred years, from the warrior kings of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter books, to Kim Stanley Robinson’s sprawling tales of colonization. The late Carl Sagan, aside from being a passionate proponent of space exploration in general, was one of those dreamers enamored with our crimson-hued neighbor. A few months before his death in 1996, Sagan recorded a message addressed to whichever humans finally crossed the void and left their footprints in Martian soil. As with all of Sagan’s writings, it is moving, it is passionate, it is inspiring, and it is grounded in a deep belief that we, as a species, have the capacity for greatness within us, if only we work to embrace it.
With Mars back in the news, the folks over at io9 have transcribed Sagan’s message. You can read the entire text below. Mr. Sagan…you are missed. I hope that one day we will become the people you dreamed we could.
Hi, I’m Carl Sagan. This is a place where I often work in Ithaca, New York near Cornell University. Maybe you can hear, in the background, a 200-foot waterfall right nearby, which is probably — I would guess — a rarity on Mars, even in times of high technology.
Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century, particularly with respect to Mars. The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists to find out more about Mars, which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science; and that sequence has played major role in our present ability to get to Mars. It certainly was an important factor in the life of Robert Goddard, the American rocketry pioneer who, I think more than anyone else, paved the way for our actual ability to go to Mars. And it certainly played a role in my scientific development.
I don’t know why you’re on Mars. Maybe you’re there because we’ve recognized we have to carefully move small asteroids around to avert the possibility of one impacting the Earth with catastrophic consequences, and, while we’re up in near-Earth space, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to Mars. Or, maybe we’re on Mars because we recognize that if there are human communities on many worlds, the chances of us being rendered extinct by some catastrophe on one world is much less. Or maybe we’re on Mars because of the magnificent science that can be done there — the gates of the wonder world are opening in our time. Maybe we’re on Mars because we have to be, because there’s a deep nomadic impulse built into us by the evolutionary process, we come after all, from hunter gatherers, and for 99.9% of our tenure on Earth we’ve been wanderers. And, the next place to wander to, is Mars. But whatever the reason you’re on Mars is, I’m glad you’re there. And I wish I was with you.