Our Future on Mars

I have two outlandish goals in life: to live indefinitely and to live off planet. I’d be happy to leap onto any inhabitable place outside of Earth, but Mars seems to be the most likely place to settle down. Fortunately, it’s an exciting time to be a hopeful future Martian.

At this time in Utah, people are living in a simulated Mars colony and blogging about it. The Mars Desert Research Station aims to “develop key knowledge needed to prepare for human Mars exploration, and to inspire the public by making sensuous the vision of human exploration of Mars” and it is succeeding in the latter goal, at least. The accounts of the participants in the experiment make clear the emotional value in having a human presence on Mars, especially with small snapshots like “Christmas on Mars“. The project has taken on ambitious endeavours, and makes that clear in its mission statement:

A world with a surface area the size of the combined continents of the Earth, the Red Planet contains all the elements needed to support life. As such it is the Rosetta stone for revealing whether the phenomenon of life is something unique to the Earth, or prevalent in the universe. The exploration of Mars may also tell us whether life as we find it on Earth is the model for life elsewhere, or whether we are just a small part of a much vaster and more varied tapestry. Moreover, as the nearest planet with all the required resources for technological civilization, Mars will be the decisive trial that will determine whether humanity can expand from its globe of origin to enjoy the open frontiers and unlimited prospects available to multi-planet spacefaring species. Offering profound enlightenment to our science, inspiration and purpose to our youth, and a potentially unbounded future for our posterity, the challenge of Mars is one that we must embrace.

Indeed, with so much at stake, Mars is a test for us. It asks us if we intend to continue to be a society of pioneers, people who dare great things to open untrodden paths for the future. It puts us to the question of whether we will be people whose deeds are celebrated in newspapers, or in museums; whether we will continue to open new possibilities for our descendants, or whether we will become less than those who took on the unknown to give everything we have to us.

Mars is the great challenge of our time.

In order to help develop key knowledge needed to prepare for human Mars exploration, and to inspire the public by making sensuous the vision of human exploration of Mars, the Mars Society has initiated the Mars Analog Research Station (MARS) project. A global program of Mars exploration operations research, the MARS project will include four Mars base-like habitats located in deserts in the Canadian Arctic, the American southwest, the Australian outback, and Iceland. In these Mars-like environments, we will launch a program of extensive long-duration geology and biology field exploration operations conducted in the same style and under many of the same constraints as they would on the Red Planet. By doing so, we will start the process of learning how to explore on Mars.

It’s all well and good to play at being on another planet while safely on Earth and not exposed to the radiation and other dangers present on Mars. We have a lot of work ahead of us to be ready to travel away from our home, but NASA scientists are beginning to believe we can survive the radiation on Mars. With the right technology, perhaps we can minimize the long term impact of the radiation we would be exposed to enough to make long lives on Mars a possibility, but a visit seems to be viable now.

Countless people have imagined living on Mars, among them some of our greatest science fiction writers and scientists. The Mars Underground is a film that is a product of those two types of imaginings. It begins by positing ways to get to Mars and eventually to settlement. It makes some assumptions that may not pan out, but the hopeful tone and ambitious scope is contagious.

Mars seems closer than ever to me. I may not live long enough to set foot on it, but I’d love a shot at it.

The image included with this entry was created by Kevin M. Gill.

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