In 2009, NASA released a series of Mars recruitment posters for an exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center. Now, as part of an effort to recruit explorers and to cultivate a national interest in space exploration (specifically a mission to Mars), the posters are available to the public electronically. Of course, the relationship between technology and human ingenuity primarily will determine whether humans successfully make the journey to Mars but, assuming success there, reaching Mars will be dictated by political will. To develop enthusiasm, you have to sell the dream. And NASA appears to be attempting to rally the troops with its colorful poster series, which targets farmers, teachers, and adventurers of all kinds. The point is clear: Mars is about all of us. It’s not fantasy. It’s conquerable and glamorous, even. It’s also competitive. As a national contest, the United States is also not alone in its ambition to reach Mars. China’s path to the Red Planet is clearly laid out, envisioning firing off a probe to Mars in 2020 and a manned Moon mission some time around 2036.
The NASA collection features faceless individuals in full spacesuits confidently scaling Mars’ mountains, surveying vast terrain, assembling homes, and tending to vegetable gardens. The simplest poster might be the most powerful—an individual in a NASA-embroidered spacesuit points directly at the viewer with Mars hovering in the background. “WE NEED YOU” appears below the image. It’s a clear and obvious “Uncle Sam Wants You” for the Mars-age. Indeed, you half expect the individual in the poster to remove the space-helmet and reveal good ol’ Uncle Sam—top hat and all—staring back at you. (Who would’ve thought that the meat-packer from Troy would make it all the way to Mars?) Of all of the materials, this may be the most powerful because it communicates the objective clearly. The US is not recruiting for war, but there is a national mission that can only be achieved with the citizenry’s support. The nation must dream big if it is going to make it to Mars, and that requires tapping into the optimistic American spirit. Maybe the poster series won’t be sufficient to get the entire population to buy into the idea of a Mars gambit, but it’s enough to get at least some people dreaming about it.