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What Mars Offers Us

There are those who will argue that we should not make the Great Push into space until we have somehow “fixed things down here on Earth.” This is absurd for a number of reasons. The first of which is that our problems will never be “solved.” The Universe is a dynamic system, which is always changing, and whatever our problems might be today, we can rest assured that tomorrow many of them will be different. Secondly, it assumes that our problems can be “solved” by remaining here on Earth, which is not the case. From an environmental standpoint, it would be much better for the Earth and everyone on it if we stopped ripping up large sections of the planet to extract minerals and instead began mining the Moon and the various asteroids for those materials instead. Third, no matter what, we cannot help but change our environment, and not always for the better. If we want a “pristine” Earth, then our population needs to be reduced to more manageable levels. Fourth, we can learn a great deal about how to better manage our environment here on the Earth, if we go “mucking about” some place else.

Mars offers us something far better than a lunar colony could: A giant laboratory in which to experiment. Since humans will have to live in shelters until the planet can be terraformed, it doesn't matter if we make a mistake in altering the atmosphere of Mars, since no one will be breathing it. We will also be able to better assess the impact our changes to the planet have on the climate there, as there will be fewer additional inputs other than those we do. The data gained from “playing” around with Mars will help us better manage the Earth.

Some people will fret that by tampering around with Mars, we will be harming any life that might already be there. This is highly unlikely. It is doubtful that there is any life on Mars at all. Both the Earth and Mars had similar environments at one time, neither of them were conducive to the vast majorities of species on the Earth today. It was life which transformed the Earth into a place in which (until humans began mucking about with things, at least) tens of thousands of different species could all exist at once. That this planet is alive, can be readily seen from space. The Martian landscape, however, shows no signs of having been altered by anything other than simple geological forces.

Still, it cannot be ruled out that in some small pockets on Mars there exists microbial life. In his book The Left Hand of the Electron noted science fiction author and biologist Isaac Asimov lays out a strong case that for life to thrive, it needs an environment with oxygen and liquid water. By altering Mars to make things comfortable for ourselves, we will most likely be making the planet more hospitable for any life that currently exists on Mars.

Furthermore, by living in such a radically different environment than we presently have on Earth, our species will, at the very least, gain a unique perspective on many matters, if not begin to make evolutionary changes. Mars offers us a blank slate in which we can shift humanity in ways not possible here on Earth. There are no stretches of Martian soil which one group can claim was stolen from them by someone else. It is also difficult for one to be concerned with squabbles taking place millions of miles away, so those disputes are unlikely to be carried to Mars.

 

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