“Mars tugs at the human imagination like no other planet. With a force mightier than gravity, it attracts the eye to the shimmering red presence in the night sky.”- John Noble Wilford.

Wilford’s quote exemplifies our obsession with the objects in the night sky. From pxop culture to video games, TV shows to science fiction novels, mankind’s ultimate destiny has always been advertised as the exploration of the final frontier. We’ve always wanted to explore new things and go to places that have captured our imagination. Mars is just one example — but let’s not jump the gun. Although we’re in an era where we have the technological capability, now is not the time for humanity to be exploring the heavens.

Many individuals, organizations and businesses have catered to this ideology. Buzz Aldrin has told NASA multiple times to get their act together and set up a mission to Mars. Mars One, although thought to be a hoax, has been choosing candidates for a one-way mission to Mars for the past year.

The budget for NASA is over $18 billion in 2015. The money goes toward projects on the International Space Station (ISS) as well as planned missions to Mars, Europa and other celestial bodies in the solar system. In their budget proposal, NASA specifically asks for money for “a crewed mission… [that] will allow NASA to expand crewed operations beyond low earth orbit as a proving ground for Mars class missions.” It’s obvious that NASA and humanity as a whole have plans to explore beyond our terrestrial home..

NASA has an enormous amount of wealth — its budget is larger than the gross domestic product of most nations.  Meanwhile, over 1 billion people across the globe live in poverty, 46.2 million of which reside in the United States. The United States also has the largest defense budget, far outclassing that of any other nation. So why is it that a nation which spends billions of dollars on bullets and tanks ignores many of the problems in its backyard? The reasons could range from profit to nationalism, but the point is this: we simply cannot afford, as a species or a society, to venture into the great unknown without getting our act together on the planet we currently inhabit.

As a species, we need to look to the problems we’ve created here before we raise the possibility of creating them somewhere else. Poverty, war and famine, although they have been decreasing in recent decades, still pose a major threat to the development of human society. It’s as if we’re trying to hold two contradicting goals in our plans: one, to find new resources and explore things we don’t know; and two, to compete or go to war with ourselves. In order us to fully realize our first goal, there’s no way we can carry on with the second.

Opening up cooperation with other nations, promoting education over war, the removal of information and communication barriers and a greater sense of unity are all necessary to fully realize our mission. Everyone is brilliant in their own way, and unfortunately a lot of that talent is untapped simply because those individuals don’t have access to education, end up as a casualty of war or are subjected to many of the man-made institutions currently holding us back.

When we venture out into the great unknown, we can’t expect to do better than we have here on Earth if we haven’t done our best to make sure everyone has the chance to succeed and prosper. Only then will we realize our full potential and make way for progress.