This month’s issue of National Geographic magazine features an article about human efforts to get to Mars. It has a gee-whiz tone about the technology involved, describes participants’ devotion to the quest and quotes justifications offered.
Its focus is limited to one question, put in big, bold type. “Everyone seems to agree: If humanity has a next great destination in space, Mars is it. But how attainable is it?”
No question is raised about whether we have the right to colonize and plunder another planet.
“…the spreading of life to what is now barren territory, is a morally desirable endeavor for reasons beyond how it benefits humanity,” according to the National Space Society (NSS), whose corporate members include aerospace contractors and an adventure travel company.
Lucky Mars, to be the beneficiary of these generous imperialists (ed: strike that) forward-thinkers! Though survivors among colonized peoples may question whether it was life that was being spread or that their territory was barren, typically it became so after natural resources were extracted and much of the native population unfortunately perished upon contact with more civilized cultures.
Nobody knows whether there are living, sentient beings on Mars, or whether they’d want to share their planet, but let’s assume there are not. Why should we go?
Elon Musk, whose SpaceX company aims to land people on the Red Planet in 2025, believes a colony on Mars would be mighty handy in case some possibly self-inflicted catastrophe makes life on Earth less feasible for many. It’s not just for the bragging rights.
“There’ll be fame and that kind of thing for them,” he says. “But in the grander historical context, what really matters is being able to send a large number of people, like tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people, and ultimately millions of tons of cargo.”
But what would people do up there? Not to worry – there’ll be jobs on Mars!
“We can reduce the human population of Earth not by reducing the total human population,” (thank goodness!) “but by moving people to space settlements,” say the visionaries at NSS. “Much of our mining, agriculture, and industry can also be moved to space settlements.
“The Earth can largely become a very environmentally friendly wilderness area with some parks and places of historical interest.”
No doubt that adventure travel company with the NSS will be happy to arrange vacation transport back to Earth for anyone who can get several years off from the farm, factory or mine and scrape together the $500,000 fare.
Maybe the fare will include a souvenir “Occupy Mars” T-shirt, worn by SpaceX employees, which they probably think are tongue-in-cheek. Unless, as Musk suggests, they put it in a grander historical context.