Earlier this month, a group of 60 prominent scientists and engineers met behind closed doors at the University of Boulder, Colorado. Her Agenda: Mars Colonization
Organized by Elon Musk's SpaceX and accompanied by members of the NASA Mars Exploration Program, the goal of this first "Mars Workshop" was to set concrete plans for the landing, construction and preservation of a human colony to formulate on Mars in the next 40 to 1
This workshop signals the growing dynamics and reality behind plans to actually send people to Mars. But while SpaceX and its partners are asking if we could live there, others are still asking if we should do that.
A survey by the Pew Research Center in June called for US adults to assess the relative importance of nine of NASA's current main missions. Sending people to Mars was ranked eighth (just before returning to the moon), with only 18% of respondents believing that this should be a high priority.
We have known for some time that the journey to Mars would be difficult for humans. It is expensive. It is dangerous. It is boring. Like so many supporters of Mars exploration, I have always believed that the sacrifice is worth it.
But – to test this belief – I wanted to look at the case against Mars; Three Reasons Why People Should Leave The Red Planet Alone
People Will Pollute Mars
It's hard to forget the images that floated through space six months ago by Elon Musk's midnight Cherry Tesla. Launched on the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX hoped to launch the Tesla into orbit with Mars. A feat, but also a wonderful demonstration of technical competence.
But not all were happy. Unlike any previous ship sent to Mars, this car – and the mannequin named Starman, sitting behind the wheel – had not been sterilized. Because of this, some scientists described it as the "greatest cargo of earthly bacteria ever to enter space."
The Tesla has accidentally crossed its orbit. At the time of writing, it is 88 million miles from Mars, with Bowie drifting in an endless loop through the darkness of space. But the episode illustrates the first argument against human travels to Mars: contamination.
When humans finally land on Mars, they would not arrive alone. They would carry their earthly microbes with them. Trillions of them.
There is a real risk that some of these microbes will find their way to the surface of Mars, confusing – perhaps irreversibly – the search for the life of Mars. That's because we could not distinguish the life of the natives from the microbes we brought with them. Our presence on Mars could jeopardize one of our main reasons for our presence – the search for life.
In addition, there is no way to know how our microbes could react to the vulnerable ecosystem of Mars. In Cosmos, the late Carl Sagan wrote: "If there is life on Mars, I believe we should not do anything with Mars, Mars is Martian, even if the Martians are only microbes … the preservation of this life I think that it must supplant any other possible uses of Mars. "
Robots Are Better Than Humans
Of course, a simple way to minimize the risk of contamination is to send robots to Mars instead of humans – the second argument against a manned voyage to Mars.
Robots have several inherent advantages. They are much cheaper than humans because they do not require a large infrastructure to provide things like water, food and breath. They are immune to the risks of cosmic rays and other dangers of space travel. And they will not be bored.
Over the last 40 years, the international space community has an extraordinary legacy of robotic missions to Mars.
A few weeks ago, the European Space Agency's Mars Express identified liquid water entering the southern polar region of Mars
The Curiosity Rover recently celebrated its sixth birthday with the discovery of organic molecules and methane variations in the atmosphere – both positive signals of life.
And while most of his goals are chosen by humans, Curiosity also uses artificial intelligence to autonomously analyze images and choose targets for his laser detection system.
With the rapid progress in robotics and AI, it is likely that the effectiveness of these non-human researchers will only increase. Robots on Mars will be able to conduct increasingly complex scientific research, access to craters and canyons that humans may find too difficult – and may even drill for microbes in Mars.
Let's Repair the Earth First
The Most Polarizing The problem in the Mars debate is probably the tension between those who dream of a second home and those who prefer the second home.
Prior to his death, Stephen Hawking made the bleak prediction that humanity would only live on Earth for another 100 years] With a growing list of threats – climate change, overpopulation, nuclear war – Hawking believed we were reaching "the point of return" Starting with the colonization of Mars
Elon Musk has on numerous occasions also said that we need a "backup planet" should be something apocalyptic – like an asteroid Collision – destroy the earth.
However, not all agree. In the Pew survey mentioned earlier, the majority of US adults felt that NASA's priority should address the problems on Earth. For example, the trillions, if not trillions of dollars needed to colonize Mars could be better invested in renewable energy to tackle climate change or strengthen our planetary defense against asteroid collisions.
And of course, if we did it Since we do not know how to deal with problems we are doing here on Earth, there is no guarantee that Mars colonists would not suffer the same fate.
If there was something really terrible on Earth, that would not clearly be effective redemption. For example, huge underground bunkers on Earth could protect more people more easily than a colony on Mars.
And in the case of an apocalyptic scenario, it is possible that the conditions on Earth – no matter how horrible – are still more hospitable than the Marshes. Let's not forget that Mars has almost no atmosphere, only a third of gravity and surface radiation is about 100 times more exposed than on Earth.
So, what's the verdict?
The above arguments show that we may not be ready to go to Mars – at least not today.
First, we need to update our planetary protection policy and apply it fairly to public and private organizations. We need to understand the unique role of humans in researching robots. And we can not lose sight of the challenges on Earth and use the promise of Mars as an opportunity to divert responsibility from the Earth.
But for me it depends on the timing. The technology will not be willing to send a human to Mars for at least another 10, maybe even 15 years. That is a good thing. We should use this time carefully to make sure that we should really do it if we can go to Mars.