What will it be like to gaze into the colossal depths of Valles Marineris? How will that experience impact the mind of a human explorer, peering down from the great height of those cliffs? What masterpiece of literature or music sits in the inspiration of that moment, waiting to be discovered?
Many of history’s greatest artists were moved to create their most celebrated pieces through moments such as these.
How many modern scientists were encouraged into their field through childhood imaginings of the Apollo astronauts stepping onto the lunar surface? When the first images arrive on Earth of astronauts, researchers, and engineers establishing our first outpost on the red planet, how many young minds will be driven to reach for greatness?
It is through the consideration of questions like these that we can understand the value of Mars exploration and settlement to the growth of our species.
Not long after the establishment of a permanent human presence on Mars, some of us will decide to stay permanently. As the infrastructures of early Martian outposts mature, bringing increased safety and comfort, those who have built a life there will choose to have children. We will welcome the first humans not from Earth into our interplanetary civilization.
In the decades that follow, a Martian accent will begin to form. Martian cuisine will begin to specialize in textures and flavours that are best suited to a low gravity environment or to accommodate vegetables that grow best in reclaimed regolith. Recreational activities imported from Earth will be adapted to a new unique environment, and the first Martian sports will be conceived. The community on Mars will begin to develop its own identity and to give birth to public figures, scientists, and celebrities.
In this way, by pursuing a multi-planetary existence, we will be planting the seeds of entirely new ways of being human. Earth and Mars will engage in an exchange of systems and ideas, and that socio-cultural dynamism will drive the growth of our species for millennia.
Not only does humans-to-Mars have significant implications for the depth and diversity of future human culture, but it also carries with it profound ramifications for the breadth of human existence.
Consider the chart above, which offers a speculative extrapolation of the human population into the distant future according to two possible scenarios. In one version of our future we choose to stay on Earth, and at some point, the carrying capacity of our planet is reached (shown in blue). The human population will have essentially maxed out.
In the other version of our future, we choose to settle on Mars (shown in green). As our presence on Mars becomes self-sustaining, our carrying capacity is virtually eliminated. By learning to travel between Earth and Mars, we also become adept at traveling throughout the solar system to gather resources, and eventually to settle elsewhere.
Of critical note is the fact that the total number of future human lives is vastly greater in the second condition, shown as the relative area under the curve.
If we choose to go to Mars and mature as a spacefaring species, we will open the door to a virtually boundless future of human experience. If we choose to stay on Earth, we will prevent the vast majority of human life from ever occurring. The ethical implications of this reality cannot be overstated. The lives of billions and likely trillions of humans are at stake.
If more human consciousness and experience doesn’t sound to you like a worthy goal in and of itself, remember that we will be spreading plant and animal life with us, seeding and nurturing entirely new ecosystems.
Lastly, humans-to-Mars will inject an element of profound optimism into our shared future. It is a bold and hopeful goal, that will shape not only the way we live but also the way we think of our identity as a species.
We have a large number of challenges to manage as a global civilization, many of which are sadly the result of human failings. Though it is crucial that we prioritize these important issues, we cannot allow our humanity to become defined by resolving grievous problems only.
By investing a tiny fraction of our global resources into the project of humans-to-Mars, and without compromising on our responsibilities to the homeworld, we can choose a future of boldness and optimism.
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Written by MSC Chief Communications Officer Evan Plant-Weir, 2021