POLITICS
06/26/2014 03:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2014

Congressman: We Need Neil DeGrasse Tyson To Get People Excited About Going To Mars

WASHINGTON -- House lawmakers met Wednesday to tackle a daunting task: how to keep Congress committed to investing hundreds of billions of dollars into a decades-long plan to send humans to Mars.

A manned mission to Mars has long been the stuff of science fiction, but it's one of NASA's biggest projects as part of its larger goal of laying the groundwork for permanent human settlements in the solar system. William Gerstenmaier, an associate administrator at NASA, told a Senate committee in April that the agency is currently focused on intermediate space missions but hopes to build up to long-duration space travel.

But if humans are ever going to reach Mars, a panel told the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, it's going to require steadfast public enthusiasm, the support of multiple presidential administrations, international cooperation, private sector involvement and, perhaps most challenging, a bipartisan agreement in Congress to keep funding the venture for at least another 30 years.

"We're going to have to hold hands. Not just the first Congress that agrees to [the plan], but that's got to be transmitted somehow to those who follow," said former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), who co-chairs the National Research Council's Committee on Human Spaceflight. Daniels presented the House committee with a new report that calls on lawmakers to settle on a long-term strategy for a Mars mission and commit to seeing it through.

So how to keep the momentum going? One congressman had a solution: Neil deGrasse Tyson.

"Anything short of getting America out of the mall for 15 minutes and away from 'Dancing With The Stars' for 15 minutes, and letting Neil deGrasse Tyson talk to each one of them for 15 minutes, you know, we could probably pass a constitutional amendment to fund that," said Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.).

Posey may have been half-joking, but it's not a terrible idea to bring Tyson into the fold. The wildly popular astrophysicist and author has rejuvenated national interest in space with his show, "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey." He even has his own groupies, who ply him with questions and requests for autographs at speeches he gives around the country.

The Huffington Post reached out to Tyson to see if he would be wiling to come to Capitol Hill and talk to lawmakers about the importance of a manned Mars mission. His spokeswoman said he's on vacation and away through most of July.

Daniels, who is also currently the president of Purdue University, told House lawmakers he knows it's "not the natural state of affairs" to expect a constantly changing Congress to sustain support for a long-term, costly and experimental project. But this case is different, he said.

"I just start with a very simple question: Do you want to go to Mars or don't you?" he asked. "I think we have to start with a Congress that perhaps requested, demanded, a set of choices from NASA [and] embraced one, hopefully on the broadest possible basis ... that people could look back on and say, 'We'd be violating faith with this great adventure if we took a sudden detour.'"

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:

  • Sunset On Another World
    NASA/JPL-Caltech
    I never get tired of seeing the Sun set through Mars' dusty atmosphere. It's easy to imagine I am standing alongside the Pathfinder rover and gazing at the dusty skies above the horizon as the Sun's tiny disk sinks below the distant mountains. This picture was one of the first ones I saw back in 1997 that really got me thinking about humans exploring space far from Earth's familiar perspectives.
  • Earthrise From Mars' Orbit
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
    It only looks like a dot of light in images captured by the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, but how about this one taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter?! The disks of Earth and our Moon are clearly seen, and you can even make out the outline of the west coast of South America, although the life-giving clouds of water vapor are the dominant features.
  • Dust Storms On Mars
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
    Finally, after decades of looking at planets, we see something actually move on the human timescale! In 2005, while visiting Mars' Gusev Crater, the Spirit rover captured a sequence of images of a dust devil spinning by and kicking up dust. This sequence of images shows that dust devil traveling at a sedate speed of about 11 miles per hour, which would require most people to run a 5-minute mile to outrace it. The image above shows another view of a dust devil, this time taken from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter looking down from space. Unbelievable!
  • Solar Eclipses... Almost
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M
    For the first time in human history, we get to see a solar eclipse from the surface of another planet! Not even the Apollo astronauts could be at the right place at the right time to see such an event from the lunar surface. What is even more amazing is that this Martian eclipse would not have been seen if the Curiosity rover had been 10 kilometers away from its observing spot. Talk about good luck! Technically, because the disk of the Martian moon Phobos does not completely cover the solar disk, it is better to call this a transit than an eclipse. This movie shows the Phobos transit viewed by the Curiosity rover in August 2013. At this distance the Sun's disk is almost half the size we see from Earth. Phobos orbits only 3,700 miles above the Martian surface and zips across the sky in four hours.
  • Asteroid Sightings
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Texas A&M
    Mars orbits very close to the Solar System's asteroid belts, so -- duh! -- it was just a matter of time before the cameras of the Curiosity rover happened to glimpse several of these interplanetary rocks in the Martian nighttime sky. This image from April 2014 shows the asteroids Ceres and Vesta millions of miles from Mars, but recognizable as slow-moving spots of light sailing across the sky. Curiosity also saw Jupiter, a tad brighter here than Earthlings would see from Earth on the same night.
  • Meteorite
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
    In 2005 the Mars rover Opportunity just happened to pass by a curious-looking rock sitting alone on the barren Martian ground. A closer study revealed that this is in fact an iron-nickel meteorite about the size of a basketball. What are the odds? If you were to plop the same rover on Earth's surface, it would take decades of wandering before it found such an object -- if ever! This image shows the intriguing, pitted surface of this remarkably rare find.
  • Meteor
    NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Texas A&M/SSI
    We all enjoy a good meteor shower, and Martian colonists will no doubt get to share this thrill from Mars when they get there! On March 7, 2005, the Spirit rover was our first pair of eyes to actually see the familiar, fleeting streaks of light in Mars' night sky. Upon closer study, astronomers figured out that this was probably a meteor whose parent body is comet 114P/Wiseman-Skiff. Another possibility originally considered was that this could have been the Viking 2 orbiter rather than a meteor. This image is still kind of exciting to me, because it further cements the kinship between our two worlds and makes the otherwise harsh Martian landscape seem not quite so alien after all.

CONVERSATIONS