Is the red planet really worth the journey?
By Keith Kaczmarek
Getting to Mars is not going to be easy, and in the current economic climate it might not even seem like a good idea, but that’s only half the story.
Going to Mars is going to involve more than just stuffing a few patriots into a glorified tin can that costs billions. It is going to involve discovering hundreds of new technologies that will affect our lives in unexpected and wonderful ways.
The space program has already borne fruit in too many areas to count. Velcro, Teflon, and industrial-grade ceramics are just some of the more “space-age” inventions, but the technologies created by the space program have applications in areas as diverse as make-up to cancer treatments.
This means that the space program itself is one of the mythical “engines of growth” for our economy that pundits like to wax poetically about. Counter-intuitively, the very act of pushing the boundaries of human exploration has also been quite good for the pocketbooks of the American people, creating new products and industries that employ Americans.
Not only that, but the pure science needed for prolonged spaceflight seems to be the exact same science we need so desperately right now. Getting to Mars and back is going to require new ways to produce cheap and clean fuels, new ways to manufacture, new understanding of complex ecosystem and climate problems, new solutions for sustainable resource collection, and new materials that will make possible inventions that currently only exist in the imagination.
While some people like to give credit for the current wealth and prosperity of the first world to democracy or to capitalism, in truth we owe it all to science. Science has not only kept the economy humming with new products, but it has created new economies of scale that make previously expensive products cheap enough for even the poorest to afford. Investing in the project to get to Mars is going to create science faster, simply accelerating the improvement of our lives.
But the immediate concerns aside, a trip to Mars also deals with a long-time issue: we need more room. The human population has already risen to a level that could be unsustainable, and we need a new frontier to explore. We need new lands to try out new social experiments free of thousands of years of history and prejudice and new resources to exploit, and we can’t start too early considering that Mars might not be ready for large-scale human habitation for hundreds of years.
Of course, we have problems. No one is pretending that this is going to magically transform our society for the better, but given the track record science has for improving our lives and making them safer, better, and more productive, I’d prefer that my tax dollars go to a broad base of scientific research instead of being used to blow up foreigners in petty disputes over local resources and intractable politics.
We should take to the stars not just to uphold our proud tradition of finding new frontiers to conquer, but because space is full of prosperity and profit if we are just willing to make the initial investment.
By Tyler McGinty
Leave Mars alone!
Why is humanity obsessed with looking onward and upward while ignoring the problems at their own feet? There is absolutely no need to even think about colonizing Mars when Earth has so much to fix already.
Things like pollution, war, poverty and corruption. These aren’t the things I’d like to see spread to another planet. We can barely take care of one planet. To suggest we could handle two implies that we, as a species, have a monstrous ego.
The sheer amount of research and development time, and the money to fund that, that would be spent in order to make Mars livable could be spent on far better things. Renewable energy sources, for example.
Hell, I’d settle for just a clean energy source.
We really shouldn’t even think about colonies on other planets until we have these kinds of energy sources. The amount of energy needed to sustain a colony on Mars would have to be incredibly high. What would be the point of traveling to a new planet, setting up shop and then polluting it all over again?
Furthermore, who is going to pay for such an outlandish venture?
I doubt any government in the world would fund it, even if they could.
China might have enough money to do it if we paid back all of our debt. Even if they could, no one government can lay claim to any part of Mars. It would violate space law (which is a real thing) set forth by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Since all of outer space is the “common heritage of mankind,” it can’t be owned by any government.
With governments out of the picture due to legality and budget issues, that would just leave private companies to foot the bill, and space travel isn’t cheap. Just the fuel to get to Mars costs more than most people would see in their lives. It takes over $10,000 worth of fuel to get one pound of payload into a low Earth orbit.
That’s just to get off Earth. Can you imagine the cost to actually get to Mars? I don’t even want to think about it.
These exorbitant costs would leave space travel accessible only to the rich and the super-rich. I’d rather not see Mars turned into the priciest condominium complex catering to movie stars, oil tycoons and other various billionaires.
The costs already mount up to ridiculous amounts without even considering making the planet livable in anyway.
In addition to fuel, we’d have to find ways to make a renewable atmosphere, obtain a water source and create an agricultural system.
If we took the outrageous amount of (hypothetical) money spent on colonizing Mars and spent it on technological advances and social welfare programs, you might not be looking at the stars so much anymore. You might find you’re happy here.
Until we’ve got our first planet under control, we should absolutely not expand to another one. How about we leave Martian suburbia where it belongs: in cheap sci-fi books.