Bob Zubrin at the Ames Research Center Director’s Colloquium

Factual Fiction transcript (starting ~50:00 min):

Mars is where the science is, it’s where the challenge is, and it’s where the future is. It’s where the science is because, okay, Mars was once a warm planet, it had liquid water on its surface for more than a billion years – which is about five times as long as it took for life to appear on Earth after there was liquid water here. So if the theory is correct that life is a natural development from chemistry, or if we have liquid water of various elements and sufficient time – life should have appeared on Mars even if it subsequently went extinct. And if we can go to Mars and find evidence of past life, we will have proven that life is a general phenomena of the universe.

Okay, or, alternatively, if we go to Mars and find plenty of evidence of past bodies of water but no evidence of fossils or life we could say that the development of life from chemistry is not sort of a natural process of high-probibility but includes elements of free chance and we could be alone in the universe. Furthermore if we can go to Mars and drill? Because there’s liquid water underground on Mars – reach the ground water, there could be life there now. And if we could get hold of that, look at it and examine its biological structure, bio-chemistry, we could find out if life as it exists on Mars is the same as Earth life.

All Earth-life at the biochemical level is the same. We all use the same amino acids, the same methods of replicating information – RNA and DNA and all that. Is that what life has to be?? Or could life be very different from that. Are we what life is or are we just one example drawn from a much vaster tapestry of possibilities. This is real science. This is fundamental questions that thinking men and women have wondered about for thousands of years. The role of life in the universe. This is very different from going to the moon and dating craters in order to produce enough data in order to produce a paper to publish in the Journal of Geophysical Research and get tenure, okay. The, the – um…okay, um – this is, this is, okay, hypothesis driven critical science. This is the real thing.

Second, the Challenge. Okay, you know, I think societies are like individuals. We grow when we challenge ourselves, we stagnate when we do not. Humans to Mars would be a tremendously bracing challenge for our society, it would be tremendously productive – particularly among youth. Okay, Humans-to-Mars program would say to every kid in school today, “Learn your science and you could be an explorer of new worlds.” We’d get millions of scientists, engineers, inventors, technological entrepreneurs, doctors, medical researchers out of that. And the intellectual from that would enormously benefit us. It would dwarf the cost of the program.

And then finally it’s the future. Mars is the closest planet that has on it all the resources needed to support life and therefore civilization. If we do what we can do in our time to establish that little Plymouth Rock settlement on Mars, then, five hundred years from now there’ll be new branches of human civilization on Mars and I believe throughout nearby interstellar space. But – wha – you know look: I ask any American what happened in 1492 they’ll tell me, “Well Columbus sailed in 1492” and that is correct, he did. But that’s not the only thing that happened in 1492. In 1492 England and France signed a peace treaty. In 1492 the Borgias took over the Papacy. In 1492 Lorenzo de’ Medici the richest man in the world died. Okay, a lot of things happened. If there had been newspapers back in 1492 – which there weren’t, I wish there had been – then those would have been the headlines – not this Italian weaver’s son taking a bunch of ships and sailing off to nowhere. Okay, but, but Columbus is what we remember – not the Borgias taking over the Papcy. Okay.

Well 500 years from now people are not going to remember which faction came out on top in Iraq! Or Syria, or, whatever. And the, the, the – who was in and who was out. And, and you know, but, they will remember what we do to make their civilization possible. Okay. So, this is the most important thing we can do. The most important thing we can do in this time. And if you have it in your power to do something great and important and wonderful in your time then you should.