Chemistry and Physics

Is going to Mars actually worth it?

In recent years there has been a huge focus on space exploration and eventual habitation, but should we focus on leaving our planet, or commit ourselves to saving it?

It may sound futuristic, but colonising Mars is an idea that has been around for decades. Elon Musk isn’t the only one to believe that in order to ‘preserve our species we must leave Earth, what with the threats faced by the planet, from climate change to nuclear war. Unless there is immediate and global action, we are not going to be able to prevent what hundreds of years of pollution and overconsumption has caused. That is why jumping ship—or rather, jumping onto a ship—might be the only way to ensure our survival, and might just let some pressure off the planet at the same time.

“colonising Mars is an idea that has been around for decades”

If we focused our money and attention on institutions such as NASA and JAXA, as well as private companies like SpaceX or ARCA, we could potentially advance technologies immensely, shortening the time it would take to get to Mars and develop a viable habitat. Current ambitious predictions argue that it could take twenty years to develop a sustainable colony on Mars, so you can only imagine the speed at which we could reach Star Trek­-levels of exploration if global efforts were more focalised.

Humans have always been innovating and discovering. We have explored our own planet, from the highest mountains to the deepest depths of the oceans, and have looked to the cosmos for thousands of years, wondering who and what was out there. So why should it be any different now? Mars is just another frontier to uncover, and in the 21st century, with our new technology and better understandings of the universe, colonising Mars should just be another adventure for us all.

Mars is totally achievable, too. While not in the Goldilocks zone Earth resides in, it is the nearest habitable planet at just 55 million kilometres away. It could take as little as 150 days to reach, and living there would certainly be possible given the extensive plans that have been drawn up by pioneers in the field. Ultimately, the risks of staying solely on Earth are much higher than having a go at Mars, given the likelihood of being hit by an asteroid or massive solar flares. And besides, you know the famous phrase: don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

“…the risks of staying solely on Earth are much higher than having a go at Mars”

But wait a minute, Mars is not a walk in the park. It may be idealised as a brother to Earth, but it’s the red planet—the dead planet. It’s small, dry, and its temperatures fluctuate from a balmy daytime 70 °C to a brisk minus 73 °C  at night in an atmosphere 100 times thinner than ours. It’s bombarded by cell-mutating radiation on the reg and has dust storms which rage across the planet for months at a time. When we have literally the perfect conditions here on Earth, why would we want to live somewhere as inhospitable as Mars?

Despite what people like Elon Musk tell you, getting the Mars isn’t cheap or easy either. Recent estimates put the cost of putting humans on the red planet at $80 billion. Surely this money should be funnelled elsewhere, to help people here on Earth? It would be much easier and much more cost-effective if we fixed our own planet before trying to migrate to another one. It simply is not worth the expense. Colonising another planet is by no means the best way to address a problem on Earth, especially when we have plenty of methods to prevent global warming, deflect an asteroid, and survive even in the event of deadly solar flares. Plus, it is more than a little morally iffy to run the risk of polluting another planet after callously abandoning our own.

“why would we want to live somewhere as inhospitable as Mars?”

Finally, and this is the premise of like, all speculative fiction ever: who gets to leave for Mars? Space travel, especially space tourism, is restricted to the uber-rich, with the average person never being able to afford even a quick daytrip to the ISS. While costs would eventually come down, us normies wouldn’t be able to get up there unless there was a random lottery. People like Donald Trump would be the only ones to get to jet off and—wait, perhaps that’s not such a bad idea…

Whether we will reach the red planet by the end of the century or not is yet to be seen, but it’s certain there are great arguments both for and against the concept. Jim Greene, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science, seems to have one foot in both camps, stating that Mars “captures a lot of imagination in science, but also in science fiction, so perhaps one day we’ll see our fantasies becoming reality after all!

Esme Johnson

Articles used: [    colonise-mars-third-world-war]










Featured image courtesy of Paul Stewart via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here.

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