Carl Sagan's Message to Future Humans on Mars
Whatever the reason you’re on Mars is, I’m glad you’re there, and I wish I was with you.
During the Viking robotic missions, beginning in July 1976, in a certain sense I spent a year on Mars. I examined the boulders and sand dunes, the sky red even at high noon, the ancient river valleys, the soaring volcanic mountains, the fierce wind erosion, the laminated polar terrain, the two dark potato-shaped moons. But there was no life—not a cricket or a blade of grass, or even, so far as we can tell for sure, a microbe. Life is a comparative rarity. You can survey dozens of worlds, and find that on only one of them does life arise, evolve and persist.
The surface area of Mars is exactly as large as the land area of the Earth. A thorough reconnaissance will clearly occupy us for centuries. But there will be a time when Mars is all explored; a time after robot aircraft have mapped it from aloft, a time after rovers have combed the surface, a time after samples have been returned safely to Earth, a time after human beings have walked the sands of Mars. What then? What shall we do with Mars?
There are so many examples of human misuse of the Earth that even phrasing this question chills me. If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if the Martians are only microbes. The existence of an independent biology on a nearby planet is a treasure beyond assessing, and the preservation of that life must, I think, supersede any other possible use of Mars.