So… what’s the deal with Mars?
[Image Source: The Martian Wiki]
Lately, it seems as if this red fiery planet is now becoming a household topic. With more media attention through entertainment outlets like the movie Martian, and prominent figures like Elon Musk engaging in the issue, it is clear that the discourse on space has sparked greater public interest. Over the past few decades, the dialogue on space has shifted from simply an awe towards the vastness of the universe, to space landing, to rover exploration, to seeking other life forms, and now, to the habitation potential of other planets… and Mars currently reigns as our top choice.
Now, the question is no longer whether we will make it to Mars, but when. I was initially quite skeptical of those ambitiously pursuing these innovations for a number of reasons, including the most obvious: the safety of the mission, and the humanitarian risks involved. I feared how many unforeseen casualties could result from the necessary processes of trial and error, and furthermore, could not begin to fathom why individuals would willingly become “sacrifices”, so to speak, for this cause. In addition, I wondered whether an individual’s voluntary submission—given that they are familiar with the risks entailed—could be seen as a suicidal act or another form of euthanasia. And if so, how would we evaluate this in terms of ethics?
I was interested in what the general public thought about this, and whether my skepticism was shared. Alternatively, if I was part of the minority in this debate, then what I could learn from the other side?
Therefore, I decided to do some more research on the topic to better understand why research is turning toward space to plot the future of mankind, and what experts have to say about the topic. I was expecting to delve into a heated, two-sided debate with both sides equally well-represented, but surprisingly enough, it was actually harder to find arguments that opposed the idea of a Mars migration.
[Image Source: PeopleGreece.com]
Nevertheless, this optimism has not been continuous throughout the years of discourse on the Mars migration. Mars One was met with massive controversy when it first emerged five years ago, with many calling out the organization (a more recent example here) as a scam. The reasons for this included inaccurate media coverage, the coercion of candidates to donate money to the organization through a point-system that would increase their chances of success, and the lengthy selection process for which even successful candidates did not end up having much interaction with any Mars One staff at any given point in their application. Finally, most people criticised the impossibility of the ambitious timeline, set initially at 2022, and were unsurprised at the repeated delays. No one seemed to believe that this plan would ever succeed—at least, not in the near future.
As it stands today, the script has flipped drastically. If Mars One was the exemplary case of empty promises, inaction, and profit-focused goals, then SpaceX embodies renewed hope and visionary thinking that may actually see its mission of planetary habitation to fruition. Perhaps the organization’s credibility is partly due to CEO Elon Musk’s reputation, but it is undeniable that SpaceX has achievements to back it up. In fact, they have successfully launched spacecrafts to deliver cargo to space stations and are working toward faster, reusable rockets. Gaining recognition from NASA also enhances its legitimacy, and other experts are joining the dialogue.
Yet, I could not wrap my head around how this sudden popularity and positivity had so readily dismissed the fact that Mars today would kill a human due to its unbreathable air and lack of water as water supplies are contained in subsurface ice deposits. I am not denying how advancements such as the aforementioned ones made by SpaceX are not evidence of progress, but we must admit that a full colonization of Mars is still far out of reach, and our beliefs in it are based on assumptions of continued success. We may be forgetting to account for the unpredictable, largely unexplored nature of space and focusing too much on the great excitement of what would be an amazing feat.
[Image Source: CNBC.com]
I have compiled a list of the arguments supporting the belief in the Mars migration below, many of which have also been cited by volunteers who would willingly participate in the program.
There are scientifically sound solutions to the problems with sustaining life on Mars that should theoretically work. I won’t go into full detail due to their complexities, but the areas that have been addressed are: transport, food, water, shelter, and clothing.
We could be wiped off of the Earth at any moment by a single giant asteroid, so it’s about time we have a Plan B. After all, it would be a tragedy if, along with mankind itself, our accomplishments were thrown into oblivion.
The nature of exploration and adventure has always been in our blood, and this is how we created civilization. Space exploration should be no exception to this.
Just like when man first stepped foot onto the moon in 1969, we have proven time and time again that anything is possible, and man’s innovations are limitless. Mars colonization would be an even bigger step forward—imagine all of the excitement that would surround it!
[Image Source: More Than Green]
Even considering the massive funds required, it seems that few to none remain resistant to funding a Mars migration project. I am beginning to understand why this is the case, given the number of humanitarian causes which form the basis for some arguments in favor of Mars habitation. There is simply too much potential—it’s hard to resist believing in something so much greater than us. Nevertheless, I believe we must at least consider the following point: shouldn’t we just learn to take better care of our own planet instead of simply abandoning ship (no pun intended) and leaving the Earth in ruins? If we never learned our lesson in environmental conservation, wouldn’t we just exploit Mars the same way to repeat history? Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer from NASA offers some insight into this notion. Walkowicz is not entirely in opposition of the mission — after all, she herself is an astronomer. Instead, she urges that we frame the Mars migration properly and ensure we do not sensationalize or romanticize it. Instead of creating a narrative where mankind can simply abort when we have made enough of a mess, it is more important that “the more [we] look for planets like Earth, the more [we] appreciate our own planet”. In truth, “planetary exploration and preservation of the Earth are two sides of the same goal”.
While the journey I made when writing this article, from research to self-reflection, is nothing to the scale of exploring alternative planetary life, I am beginning to make sense of where I stand on the matter. More importantly, as one of my generation who will witness the Mars migration firsthand, I am both excited and aware of great responsibility. My generation cannot lose sight of what truly matters—that is, caring for our environment, be it Earth, Mars, or even another planet, and valuing its resources before it is too late.