Mars is a valuable place for exploration because it can be reached in 6 ½ months, is a major opportunity for scientific exploration, and has been mapped and studied for several decades. The mission represents the first step in a long-term effort to bring Martian samples back to Earth, where they can be analyzed for residues of microbial life. Beyond the study of life itself, there are a number of different benefits of Mars exploration.
When could we expect to see humans set foot on Mars? Continued success with Mars exploratory missions demonstrates progress is being made toward putting boots on the ground. Here’s a few reasons why humans have been so obsessed with the red planet and why the future colonization of mars isn’t as science fiction as we all think.
Understand The Origins And Ubiquity Of Life
The site where Perseverance is expected to land is the place where experts believe 3.5 billion years ago held a lake filled with water and flowing rivers. It is an ideal place to search for the residues of microbial life, test new technologies, and lay the groundwork for human exploration down the road.
The mission plans to investigate whether microbial life existed on Mars billions of years ago and therefore that life is not unique to Planet Earth. As noted by Chris McKay, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Science Center, that would be an extraordinary discovery. “Right here in our solar system, if life started twice, that tells us some amazing things about our universe,” he pointed out. “It means the universe is full of life. Life becomes a natural feature of the universe, not just a quirk of this odd little planet around this star.”
The question of the origins of life and its ubiquity around the universe is central to science, religion, and philosophy. For much of our existence, humans have assumed that even primitive life was unique to Planet Earth and not present in the rest of the solar system, let alone the universe. We have constructed elaborate religious and philosophical narratives around this assumption and built our identity along the notion that life is unique to Earth.
If, as many scientists expect, future space missions cast doubt on that assumption or outright disprove it by finding remnants of microbial life on other planets, it will be both invigorating and illusion-shattering. It will force humans to confront their own myths and consider alternative narratives about the universe and the place of Earth in the overall scheme of things.
Develop New Technologies
The U.S. space program has been an extraordinary catalyst for technology innovation. Everything from Global Positioning Systems and medical diagnostic tools to wireless technology and camera phones owe at least part of their creation to the space program. Space exploration required the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to learn how to communicate across wide distances, develop precise navigational tools, store, transmit, and process large amounts of data, deal with health issues through digital imaging and telemedicine, and develop collaborative tools that link scientists around the world. The space program has pioneered the miniaturization of scientific equipment and helped engineers figure out how to land and maneuver a rover from millions of miles away.
Going to Mars requires similar inventiveness. Scientists have had to figure out how to search for life in ancient rocks, drill for rock samples, take high resolution videos, develop flying machines in a place with gravity that is 40 percent lower than on Earth, send detailed information back to Earth in a timely manner, and take off from another planet. In the future, we should expect large payoffs in commercial developments from Mars exploration and advances that bring new conveniences and inventions to people.
Getting Humans to Mars
The private aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company SpaceX was founded in 2002 with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars. SpaceX is working on a next generation of fully reusable launch vehicles that will be the most powerful ever built, capable of carrying humans to Mars and other destinations in the solar system, according to its web site. The company regularly launches cargo to the International Space Station and plans to transport humans there soon.
In addition, SpaceX is currently building an interplanetary spacecraft for Mars known as Starship, capable of bringing over 100 passengers and large amounts of cargo to and from Mars. The space exploration and astronomy news site Space.com reported in 2019 that SpaceX, “Will start off launching commercial satellites as early as 2021, followed by a crewed flight around the moon in 2023. Although SpaceX has not given a timeline for its first missions to Mars, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said that the first Mars base could be up and running in 2028.” As of this writing SpaceX has completed 112 launches and 74 landings, and has reflown 54 rockets.
Human Settlement on Mars
So what would a Mars base look like, and would this mark the beginning of permanent human settlement on Mars? (Queue the interplanetary urban planning eye candy.) The Space.com article goes on:
“While SpaceX intends to set up a transportation system for humans and cargo traveling to the Red Planet, the company won’t be building an entire Mars base on its own. Musk has laid out his vision to create a million-person colony on Mars, but to establish that colony, SpaceX will have to work together with NASA and the agency’s international partners and other commercial space companies. Several companies have already begun designing concepts for Mars habitats and have proposed orbital outposts similar to NASA’s Lunar Gateway, which could serve as a waypoint for Starship and reduce the amount of fuel needed for return trips to Earth.”
The idea of settling Mars has long received interest from public space agencies and private corporations—not to mention film, writing, and art. Musk and SpaceX are confident in spite of major technical and financial considerations involved in getting to—and staying put—on Mars. SpaceX estimates Starship will cost up to $10 Billion to develop, and a Mars base would require air-tight habitats to shield the atmosphere’s toxic air and deadly radiation.
Civilization Building, Planetary Transformation: So Many Questions
Beyond the massive logistics and risks, pioneering talk of Mars quickly leads to ethical and legal questions, and the issue of occupying a planet that cannot advocate for itself, at least in a way we understand. For example, SpaceX has suggested the possibility of terra-forming Mars, manipulating the planet’s atmosphere so that it is more suitable for human occupation, which could potentially involve the detonation of nuclear weapons.
One of the most crucial features of humanity is our curiosity about life, the universe, and how things operate. Exploring space provides a means to satisfy our thirst for knowledge and improve our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe.
Space travel already has exploded centuries-old myths and promises to continue to confront our long-held assumptions about who we are and where we come from. The next decade promises to be an exciting period as scientists mine new data from space telescopes, space travel, and robotic exploration. Ten or twenty years from now, we may have answers to basic questions that have eluded humans for centuries, such as how ubiquitous life is outside of Earth, whether it is possible for humans to survive on other planets, and how planets evolve over time.
- Mars Perseverance Rover and the Future Colonization of Mars – https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/112375-mars-perseverance-rover-and-future-colonization-mars
- Understand The Origins And Ubiquity Of Life – https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2020/08/18/five-reasons-to-explore-mars/