A common argument against Mars exploration and settlement is that this project might divert resources away from caring for Earth. We call this argument the “fix our planet first fallacy“. It is often used to define Mars settlement as “an escape hatch“, suggesting that we need to honor our obligations to our homeworld, before adopting a new planet.
This assumption is built on a significant misunderstanding of how Mars settlement would realistically progress.
It is difficult to predict how quickly a human settlement on Mars could become self-sustaining, but 100 years is a safe estimate. That first settlement will depend profoundly on Earth. Even when that century comes to a close and this settlement achieves self-sufficiency, the health of planet Earth will be just as important to those Early Martians as it is to us today.
Mars and Earth will share critical economic, technological, and social ties for millennia. Humans will move between the planets for travel, for work and to visit family. Earth will still house the vast majority of human industrial, commercial, scientific, and cultural foundations.
Mars simply cannot function as an “escape hatch” from our problems here on Earth. One of the primary values of a multi-planetary future is that it will provide redundancy for life, but this will not negate the importance of taking care of Earth. The two planets will function in many ways as a single solar civilization, and though settlement on Mars will provide us security against total extinction, the demise of Earth would still constitute a devastating catastrophe.
The “fix our planet first” fallacy is also structured on the assumption that a net increase in efforts towards Mars equals a net decrease in efforts towards protecting Earth. This is categorically false. Space exploration is a unique and significant driver of technologies and processes that will be essential to our ability to take care of planet Earth.
Going to Mars is a substantial investment in the development of new solutions for sustainable agriculture and energy production, efficient water use, advanced material construction, low-waste manufacturing processes, and much more.
Still, shouldn’t we focus our efforts here first?
There are three primary reasons why we should establish a permanent human presence on Mars as soon as we are able.
First, and most importantly, we may not always have the ability to populate other worlds
We live in a moment of human history where our species has the ability to travel between planets. Our global community is sufficiently stable to allow the design and construction of spacecraft. This has not always been the case, and it may not be the case forever. History is volatile and unpredictable, but for now, the window to Mars is open. It is important that we seize the opportunity while it exists.
Secondly, we do not need to choose between Earth and Mars
The exploration and settlement of Mars and the protection of Earth can happen simultaneously. There is no reason why we cannot both tend to our planet, and adopt a new one at the same time. In fact, as has elsewhere been demonstrated, going to Mars will help us a great deal in taking care of Earth. Only a tiny fraction of our global annual resource and financial expenditure will be required to establish a permanent settlement on the red planet.
Lastly, taking care of Earth and going to Mars concurrently will accelerate both objectives
As a result of the fact that humans-to-Mars and caring for Earth are complementary projects (meaning, they optimize each other by running at the same time), and since we have far more than enough resources to do both, we will very likely achieve the two objectives faster by pursuing them in parallel. The better we get at spacefaring, the better we will be at caring for Earth, and vice versa. This positive feedback loop will accelerate both goals.
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Written by MSC Chief Communications Officer Evan Plant-Weir, 2021