Should we colonize Mars?

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U+269B.svg Subject classification: this is a science resource.
Mars in outer space
The red planet.

Mars is our nearest neighbor and the planet most similar to Earth in the Solar System. For millennia, we have known of its existence and only in recent times has the prospect of colonization gone from myth to science fiction to plausible plan. Should humanity push this path?

We're talking about colonization in the 21st century, not in the remote future.

We should colonize Mars[edit | edit source]

Arguments for[edit | edit source]

  • Argument for — We should colonize Mars to mitigate existential threats to humanity as a species.
    • Objection — Why should we value, in and of itself, the continued existence of the human species, if neither those of us who stay on Earth nor our descendants will survive such an event?
  • Argument for — Colonizing Mars could bring Earth many, many resources.
    • Objection — We have plenty of resources here. We don't need more resources, only more wisdom in using them.
      • Objection — Even if we don't need more resources, having more resources is always better.
    • Objection — Even more greenhouse gases to pump to our atmosphere. No thanks.
      • Objection — Not all resources on Mars produce greenhouse gases. We could control imports like we do here on Earth.
    • Objection — Transporting bulk cargo from Mars to Earth would be tremendously expensive, so resource extraction on Mars for markets on Earth would be economically infeasible.
      • Objection — Transporting cargo with current technology would be tremendously expensive. If cost does not hinder colonization, why would transporting materials?
  • Argument for — Colonizing Mars would give humans a mission so high that no nation can accomplish on its own, and that all countries would benefit from. This has the potential of uniting nations, which is something we should strive for.
    • Objection — If Mars is colonized, it will be done by the few superpowers that have the capability of sending people to Mars.
    • Objection — Groups of organizations can achieve great things by competing against each other in a positive-sum way (e.g. successful free-market economies), rather than by uniting together into a single organization, so an effort to colonize Mars wouldn't necessarily unite the world's nations even if all the world's nations did participate in the effort.
  • Argument for — We should colonize Mars to fulfill our destiny.
    • Objection — What destiny is that? The same manifest destiny that led American settlers in the 19th century to get stranded in the mountains and resort to cannibalism? It's a cold, lonely red rock in the middle of space. It would cost billions of dollars and our perceived "destiny" is not worth that.
    • Objection — We're destined to do something, there's no need to argue as to why we should do that thing, because it's destined to happen.
    • Objection — There's no such thing as our destiny.
    • Objection — Even if there is such thing as our destiny, we don't know which of the many possible destinies we can come up with is the real one.
      • Objection — Experts can decide.
        • Objection — Experts on what? There's no such thing as "experts on humanity's destiny".
    • Objection — Even if there is such thing as our destiny, and some of us knew which of the many possible destinies we can come up with is the real one, others wouldn't have much reason to believe it.
      • Objection — People are gullible.
        • Objection — The public may be, but if a space program costing billions of dollars are allowed to be gullible, then that is a significant problem.
      • Objection — If some people know the real destiny of humanity, then unless it was revealed to them, they'll have arguments or even evidence that led to the conclusion. Such arguments and evidence can be shared to others.

Arguments against[edit | edit source]

  • Argument against — We have big problems here on Earth. Colonizing Mars would be a huge waste of resources.
    • Objection — Colonizing Mars could solve many of the problems here on Earth, through the unlimited influx of resources.
      • Objection — What resources? The soil on Mars is unfarmable. The air is unbreathable. The only thing mildly reasonable is mining but that would not be a colony. A colony requires food, water, and air, and to provide that would cost more than we could export.
        • Objection — One doesn't need soil to raise crops and it can be de-toxified—farming in Antartica and the Sahara is also quite limited. O2 can be made from CO2.
    • Objection — By that same argument, nobody should be doing anything that isn't helping sick, hungry or thirsty people.
      • ObjectionStraw man fallacy.
      • Objection — Indeed, nobody should be doing anything but solving the world's problems, or supporting the people that do so.
    • Objection — This should imply a reduction in the budget for war, weapons, etc., not for space.
  • Argument against — We should aim to colonize the Moon first. It's much closer and just as airless, waterless and exposed to solar winds.
  • Argument against — There is no economically viable reason justifying an effort to colonize Mars, and without one, any colonization effort will run on a finite supply of political will and will fail once that is exhausted.
  • Argument against — Although some of the aspects of the Martian environment that make it hostile to human life can be terraformed away with present day technology or plausible developments this century, the low gravity and lack of a magnetosphere are intractable problems given the same constraints, and whether a healthy human population can live with such problems is unknown. Establishing a permanent colony despite this would be unethical.
    • Objection — Colonists can volunteer.
      • Objection — Yes, but their children will not have consented to being born on Mars and made part of a dangerous experiment. We're not sure what low gravity will do in prenatal development. People born on Mars may be much thinner, taller, and unable to live on Earth.[1]
        • Objection — No child has ever consented to being born anywhere. We don't bar people from having their children wherever they want.
  • Argument against — If we go to Mars too quickly —perhaps at all— any claim of discovered indigenous martian life might be challenged as life introduced from Earth.
  • Argument against — A fifth of the 21st Century has already passed and humanity hasn't gone 1000 km from Earth since the 1970s. There are no rotating wheel space stations with artificial gravity. After 60 years of space travel, you still can't have a decent shower in space. There are no permanent Lunar bases. There are no spacecraft that landed on Venus with instruments that lasted an Earth-day. Humanity has yet to go 0.1% the speed of light (over 299 km/s or 1.08 million kph).
    • Objection — This argument seems to imply that we will not colonize Mars, but the debate is about whether we should colonize Mars.
      • Objection — The difficulty or feasibility of the proposition is directly relevant to the question. It would be unethical to propose a course of action that cannot be followed.

Notes and references[edit | edit source]

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