The U.S. needs to prioritize putting people on Mars — our economy, world position, and even existential questions may depend on it.

At least that’s what three big names in space wrote in an op-ed in Wired. Coauthored jointly by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly (whose twin brother Scott Kelly completed his Year in Space mission last spring), and former NASA Ames Research Center director Scott Hubbard, the new essay argues that Mars exploration should be a top focus for NASA. Here’s what they have to say.

We may find aliens!

Are we alone in the universe? That’s a question astronomers and many other people have pondered and investigated since the beginning of civilization. There is a chance Mars, just next door to Earth — holds the answer to that mystery.

In 2015, NASA confirmed that there was flowing water on Mars, and recently scientists found that interactions between methane and other greenhouse gasses made Mars warm enough to support water. If we do indeed find signs of life or even extinct life on Mars, it would change how we view ourselves forever. Maybe we really aren’t alone.

Focusing on a Mars mission would jumpstart our economy.

Flying to Mars requires new technology, goods, and services — which is good news for our economy and job creation. The initial economic costs are high, but the authors argue that flying to Mars will more than pay off in the long run.

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Right now, NASA doesn’t take up a huge chunk of the federal budget. NASA’s budget is only about 0.5 percent of it. If the U.S. government plans and budgets well, and potentially hands off the International Space Station to a commercial entity, the authors say that NASA’s funding can be redirected to sending people to Mars.

The United States cannot lose its dominance in space.

China plans on sending a space probe to the moon this year and landing a probe on Mars by 2020. The European Space Agency approved its ExoMars mission to search for signs of life on Mars and is now working on a powerful Ariane 6 rocket. Russia and India may work together for a manned flight to Mars. Meanwhile, it’s entirely unclear how President Donald Trump’s policies will affect NASA’s work.

“Americans must not cede the finish line,” the authors write. “Our country should not wait until we receive the news that someone else has won the race to Mars for our leaders in Washington to ask, ‘How’s our space program doing? Why didn’t we get first place?’ It will be too late.”

As the future of NASA comes into question in Trump’s presidency and Republicans are more likely to favor privatization of space travel, authors may have written this piece in reaction to fears that NASA may be gutted. Trump has embraced space exploration and discussed sending people to Mars with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, but he’s more enthusiastic about the private sector’s role in space travel. Private companies can’t completely replace NASA though — NASA is crucial when it comes to research on the climate and space.

Photos via Flickr / Moyan_Brenn