Let’s Go to Mars!

MarsDreams of colonizing Mars (and beyond) came into the spotlight this week when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced their 100-year Starship Study.  The study, a joint effort between DARPA and NASA Ames Research Center, will evaluate the feasibility of colonizing Mars and possibly (eventually) even other solar systems.  This announcement has come with concrete proposals including plans to introduce synthetic life for terraforming, build robots that can be launched from Mars’s moons, develop one-way missions to send a few humans to settle permanently on Mars, and of course, find the funding to do all this (which will have to come, at least partially, from private donors).

There are interesting philosophical implications for such a program.  Who should be chosen to settle Mars?  Are there any ethical or aesthetic constraints on terraforming an entire planet or moon (or even part of one)?  What should we do if we find microbial life already on Mars?  Is there good reason to expand humanity beyond the earth?

One argument in favor of colonizing Mars, given by Dirk Schulze-Makuch and Paul Davies in the Journal of Cosmology, is that such expansion improves our chances for surviving as a species and a culture.  “We are a vulnerable species living in a part of the galaxy where cosmic events such as major asteroid and comet impacts and supernova explosions pose a significant threat to life on Earth, especially to human life. There are also more immediate threats to our culture, if not our survival as a species. These include global pandemics, nuclear or biological warfare, runaway global warming, sudden ecological collapse and supervolcanoes Thus, the colonization of other worlds is a must if the human species is to survive for the long term.”

Another interesting philosophical question raised by Ray Kurzweil’s blog on Accelerating Intelligence, is whether or not such an expansion will fundamentally change us as human beings.  “I think rather than make an environment on Mars like Earth, why don’t we modify life … including the human genome … so it’s better suited to [Mars]?”

If DARPA and NASA succeed in putting humans permanently on Mars, it will begin a new and exciting chapter in the story of humanity.  I, for one, am for it!

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