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John M. Crisp, an opinion columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas.

Humankind shares with all animals our innate impulse to survive and procreate. But few characteristics distinguish us more from the rest of creation than our powerful desire to explore, to discover, to understand and to explain. Rene Descartes could have as easily said, “I explore, therefore I am.”

The mundane version of humankind’s history involves the development of agriculture, religion, legal systems and the capacity to live in communities. The romantic version reflects our inherent drive to explore, usually in search of new resources but often in service of our need to understand. It’s what led us out of Africa and into every cranny of our globe from the peak of Everest to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Where to next? The moon, obviously, where we deposited our first tentative footsteps more than 50 years ago, and then to Mars and beyond.

America’s current ambitions for human space exploration reside in the Artemis program, a $93 billion effort to revisit the moon by 2025. Artemis derives its mission from Space Policy Directive-1, a presidential memorandum issued by Donald Trump in December 2017: “ … the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”

But while the drive to explore may be innate, whether we explore and where and how are philosophical and political issues. And in an era of very well-developed capacities to explore distant areas of the solar system robotically, I’m not sure that we have examined rigorously enough the assumption that exploration means a human presence, with its additional costs, technical difficulties and risks.

The Artemis project is forward-looking, but it doesn’t make much effort to conceal a backward-looking rationale. In language reminiscent of the “age of exploration,” when the European powers were struggling to establish themselves in the so-called “new world,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson says, “We are going to be as aggressive as we can be in a safe and technically feasible way to beat out competitors with boots on the moon.”

And “the sooner we get to the moon, the sooner we get American astronauts to Mars.”

In short, this is a race. And whom are we trying to beat? Nelson continues: “We have every reason to believe we have a competitor, a very aggressive competitor, in the Chinese. … We want to be there first.”

But this way of thinking is not very … thoughtful. We are never going to beat the Chinese by merely beating them to the moon. And the casual assumption that we should expend an immense amount of money, energy, time and human capital in an unexamined effort to get there first — before we’re actually certain there’s anything worth going for — seems ill-advised.

Things have changed since the 15th century. At one time the next valley was a new frontier, and, from Western Europe, the “new world” must have seemed as distant as Mars is to us.

But it’s entirely possible that voyages to the moon or to Mars are not merely the next logical step in the history of our campaign to conquer new worlds. Mars is an inhospitable globe 140 million miles away, and beyond Mars, the scale of distance expands in ways that are almost beyond imagining.

Some people fancy Mars as a safety valve, a lifeboat to rescue humankind when we’ve outgrown the Earth’s resources and rendered it uninhabitable. But this is a dubious proposition. We’ve evolved to live in a very narrow ecological niche, one that’s probably close to unique in the universe. If we can’t figure out how to survive here, there’s not much hope for our survival in the inhospitable reaches of space.

A remotely controlled rover is already roaming the surface of Mars. It would be interesting if humans were along for the ride. But I suspect that our desire to put Americans on Mars before anyone else does reflects pride and arrogance, and maybe a dash of hubris, more than it does scientific necessity.

Many Americans have already learned the value of working from home. Why not astronauts, as well?