Will Humanity One Day Live on Mars?

Image Attribution: By NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image Attribution: By NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

The next milestone in space exploration seems to be putting people on Mars.

NASA has mentioned plans to place human beings on Mars sometime in the 2030s. Non-profits like the Netherlands-based Mars One Project and private businesses like Elon Musk’s SpaceX intend to do it sooner than that.

While there are many scientific reasons for wanting to explore Mars, the reason for Mars exploration that earns the most press seems to be colonization. Many people see Mars as a backup planet to our own.

I’m a science fiction and fantasy girl. In theory, I love the idea of venturing out into the universe.

But I also have some questions about the feasibility and practicality of something like colonizing Mars.

Our planet is more hospitable than Mars, and yet look at the large portions of it that aren’t lived in because they’re not friendly to human life. Our vast stretches of desert. Mountain peaks. The depths of the ocean. Antarctica.

In an interview with The Telegraph, award-winning science writer Stephen Petranek responded to similar objections with this: “I suspect Antarctica’s a pretty good analogy of how we can build habitats in a hostile environment. The food’s pretty good, there’s a lot of entertainment, people have a lot of camaraderie. There are now several year-long stations at the South Pole. The French have one and they have fabulous food.”

While that sounds fantastic, I do think he’s overlooked a few key points.

No one lives permanently in Antarctica. The stations are there year-round; the people cycle in and out. There is no indigenous population.

It doesn’t have an infrastructure. While the science stations there do have hydroponics bays to grow some fruits and vegetables, most of the food still needs to be shipped in frozen, including all meat products. Clothing, medical supplies, and all the other non-edible necessities of life are brought in. They’re not produced there.

To put it another way, life in Antarctica is possible because it takes place on a planet that already provides for people’s needs. Life there isn’t sustainable in and of itself, cut off from the outside world.

It’s also on a planet with oxygen. In a region with plenty of available water (albeit frozen water). And where temperatures are concerned, Antarctica is actually a little bit warmer.

I’m by no means an expert on space travel. I’m not a scientist. I’m not an astronomer. I’m not a biologist. And I’m not saying it will never happen. Technology has changed so much in the past 150 years that only a fool would say that technology won’t continue to advance further in the next 150.

But I wonder. I wonder if we’re searching for answers off-planet when maybe we should be searching for more ways to save this one. Because the more we look at the universe, the clearer it becomes how unique and special Earth really is.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Will future generations colonize Mars? Would the time and resources being spent on reaching Mars be better spent on finding solutions here on Earth?

(I welcome disagreement and discussion on this blog as long as it is polite and well-reasoned. Open discussions help us all grow. Name calling and assertions without logical arguments to back them up serve no one. If you want to engage in those, you’ll need to find another place to do it 🙂 )

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