CCHS Student Petitions for Mission to Mars


Photo by: Kate Perry

Ethan Courey, whose petition advocated sending a manned mission to Mars by 2031

Kate Perry

Ethan Courey has a unique senior AP Government civics project: he started a petition to send a manned mission to orbit Mars by the year 2031.  The petition appeared on the White House’s website “We the People,” which provides any American citizen with the opportunity to start a petition that will be responded to by the Obama administration if it reaches 100,000 signatures.
Courey’s petition went live on Dec. 6, after which he had 30 days to collect signatures before it expired.  The petition ultimately gathered 167 signatures, including those of many CCHS students who received flyers and Mars-shaped stickers from Courey over the course of the month.
One of those students, junior Avishai Melamed, was impressed with Courey’s dedication to his cause.  “I respect his decision to go forward with this,” he said.  “I’d like to see it happen.”
Courey, whose favorite subjects are science and history, described the importance of continued space exploration with fervent earnestness.  “We have to keep going and going,” he said.  “No other life form has been able to say ‘I don’t want to live here’ and just go somewhere else.”  He expresses particular interest in learning about how spacecraft are made.  When asked whether he himself would consider going to space, he answered in the affirmative- “especially in a spaceship that I built myself.”
Since missions to Mars are currently the most popular possibility for future space travel, Courey chose to focus on the Red Planet in his petition.  Exploration and even settlement of Mars have been on the public mind for decades, both in science fiction and government policy.  Numerous plans have been formulated since the 1950s for manned missions to Mars, but none have ever been pursued.  Current plans include Mars One, a nonprofit Dutch association that plans to establish a Mars base by 2023, NASA’s Orion mission, which is designed to carry four astronauts to Mars in the 2030s, and proposed missions by Russia and China.  With so many countries and private corporations seeking to explore Mars, Courey believes that it is “more important now than ever for the U.S. to take a leading role,” though he would be happy to see any country succeed in sending a manned mission.
It is quite likely that one of these plans will result in a launch within the next 15 years.  “There is nothing that is required for a Mars mission that is beyond our current technology.  The question is one of money and will,” said astronomy teacher Dan Carter.  Some believe that the money to finance a space voyage would be better spent in other ways, but Courey disagrees.  “Those views are limited and inaccurate,” Courey said.  “Resources aren’t so limited that we can’t spend money on space travel.”  NASA’s 2011 budget ($18.4 billion) made up 0.5% of the total U.S. federal budget in that year.  In contrast, the U.S. military budget for 2011 was $664.84 billion dollars.  “Is it better to spend money on invading countries or going to Mars?” Carter said.
Another objection some have to manned missions is that they are less efficient and more expensive than sending probes.  Carter acknowledges this, but he still supports the idea of manned missions.  “It’s not really about science, it’s about doing great things, but you will get science out of it,” he said.
While Courey’s petition failed to reach the 100,000 signatures needed for a personal response from the Obama administration, Courey is pleased to have raised awareness of the possibility of renewed space exploration.  He is still considering writing a letter to Washington to urge funding for new NASA missions.
In the meantime, Courey continues to learn about spacecraft design and hope for new missions that will push the limits of human endeavor.  “I want us to go as far as we possibly can and then go even farther- it’s the never ending struggle of space travel.”