This video looks and sounds as the setting of a fantasy movie, but it’s in reality of video by NASA how Mars would have looked liked four billion years ago. Though this quite amazing from a scientific point of view, I am afraid that it will trigger Mars fanatics to pursue their dream of terraforming Mars. Though terraforming is a common trope in science fiction, it’s little more than that. Scientists know roughly what should be done to terraform a planet like Mars, but we do not know yet any feasible technology to accomplish this.
Mars One is organization based in the Netherlands aimed at sending four people to Mars in 10 years from now. In previous posts we have discussed the feasibility of their mission plan, and we are a little bit sceptical about it. Perhaps it’s good to discuss their progress.
Curious as we are, we check from time to time their website. The first thing we have to notice is the surprisingly small amount of information it provides. In regard to general information about the colonization of Mars, Wikipedia provides more or less the same amount. But more importantly is the lack of any details about Mars One’s own program.
Nevertheless, the information the site does provide, is of no less importance. Mars One has a road map lined out on their site. According to this, Mars One intends to build “a replica of the Mars settlement on Earth” by… 2013. Though I always thought that in order to build a replica, you have to build the original first, this piece of information is quite interesting. MO claims that this “replica” settlement is meant as both the training facility for their astronauts and as testing ground for the equipment. Because reliability, this “replica” has to be built in an environment similar to Mars (there are enough of such sites on our planet).
Of course, this is actually a good plan: test your stuff here before you send it on the long way to the Red planet. However since it’s already August 2013, we have to ask one simple question: how far is Mars One with building this “replica”? The news section on their site does not refer to any progress in regard of this. Actually MO gives news only quite irregularly. But one would suppose that the start of construction of the testing-and-training facility would be important enough to make an official press release. Hence we might conclude that MO hasn’t been able to establish the replica yet.
It’s unclear whether MO intends to start construction of the “replica” settlement or they want to have it operational by the end of this year. Since Mars One has been subject to severe critique from around the world, it is essential that they will build this facility as soon as possible. If MO can have it operational before 2015, they have something to show their criticisers. But if they fail, then it’s game over. But having an operational Mars base on Earth, is just only the easy part (it will also be a TV studio). The difficult part is actually sending the supplies to Mars, before the intended arrival of first settlers.
So Mars One should provide the world answers to the following questions: Has MO selected any particular site or sites for the prototype settlement already? If so, has MO commenced the procedures to purchase or to lease this site? Or has MO already completed these procedures? When does MO expect to start with the construction and when will it be finished?
Evading these questions is no option, at some point Mars One has to show world something. Otherwise their credibility, already not quite high, will collapse.
Another point of interest, is the following: their most recent update in regard with the progress of their program is dated May, 7th 2013. It states that by then 78,000 people have applied for the mission already. As far as we know, people can give themselves up until August, 31st, and their target is 500,000 applications. Why haven’t been there any further updates? Wouldn’t it be great to know that by now already more than 100,000 or 250,000 people have applied for a one-way trip to Mars? Note they have issued an official press release to let everyone know that 78,000 people had applied.
Honestly, we suspect that the number of additional applications is quite low. The most enthusiast supporters of Mars One have submitted their applications during the first month of the application period. Thereafter only a few people would have submitted an application. Those who didn’t apply, will not do it in the future, because either they are not interested or they are sceptical about Mars One’s credentials.
It would be a huge setback for Bas Lansdorp, if he has to announce that only less than 100,000 people has applied for a one-way journey to the Red planet. Of course, this wouldn’t jeopardize his ambitions to put a man on Mars by 2023, but it would demonstrate his lack of realism.
Both the colonization of Mars and Space colonization has ethical concerns. In this post we will discuss some of the more important issues.
Possible Life on Mars
Similarly, nobody really mourns for those who do not exist on Mars, feeling sorry for potential such beings that they cannot enjoy life.
David Benatar, Better Never to Have Been. The Harm of Coming into Existence. 2006.
One of the arguments against colonizing Mars is concern for possible Martian lifeforms. Some people argue that introducing terrestrial life to the Red planet, would be bad for native Martian life. Most scientists believe that, if Martian life (still) exists, it will most likely consist of bacteria or similar organisms.
The question we should ask ourselves is whether such Martian bacteria has any moral standing. According to English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, beings have moral standing if they can suffer. Bentham’s student John Stuart Mill, has introduced another important principle in moral philosophy, the harm principle. According to this principle our liberty is limited by the liberty of others; we may do what we wish as long as we do not harm other beings.
If we combine Bentham’s axiom of suffering with Mill’s harm principle, we can conclude the following: we may not beings who have the ability to suffer. As far as we know, bacteria cannot suffer, therefore they have, according to Bentham, no moral standing. For this reason we cannot conclude that bringing terrestrial lifeforms to Mars is immoral, because native Martian life might became extinct.
A related argument is that if terrestrial lifeforms are introduced to Mars, the original lifeforms cannot be distinguished from the introduced ones. This would interfere with scientific research to life on Mars. Although this might be regrettable, we might ask ourselves whether this would outweigh the benefits which colonizing Mars would offer to humanity.
A third concerned with the possibility of Martian bacteria is the health risk for colonists. This fear is understandable, however it is quite unlikely. Infectious diseases are generally limited to certain organisms. So is HIV dangerous for cats, apes and humans, whilst crocodiles are immune for it. Because parasites are adapted to a certain host organism, they cannot infect other organisms. (This also implies that all stories about fighting alien invaders with biological warfare are implausible.)
Of course, there is one caveat to this reasoning. Martian microbes might be poisonous to us.
Environmental impact on Earth
Another concern regarding space colonization, is the environmental impact of rockets. This is a serious problem, the pollution due to launching rockets into space do damage to our atmosphere. This pollution has all kinds of harmful effects to people, not the least to public health. The harm principle dictates that we should reduce the impact of rockets.
The precise environmental impact of a rocket depends on its type, especially on the kind of fuel used. Many rockets use poisonous fuels such as hydrazine, a hydrogen-nitrogen compound. By burning hydrazine both water (H2O) and nitrogen n-oxides are produced, especially the latter is problematic since they are one of the causes of acid rain.
Hydrogen rockets, which produce water vapour as exhaust, are the most environment-friendly type of chemical rocket. Although there some technical difficulties with managing hydrogen rockets, the space shuttle program has shown that these can be overcome. Water vapour is a greenhouse gas, in fact one of the strongest, however this gas also stays in the atmosphere for a short time.
On the other hand, space colonization will also solve some environmental problems. For instance, asteroid mining would eliminate the need for mining on Earth. And mining is one of the leading causes of environmental degradation.
The costs of space colonization
Space-flight is expensive and so is space colonization. Therefore some people argue that given the large amount of poverty in the world, it is wrong to spend billions of dollars to a space colonization programs. However, these people are unaware that space colonization might be a solution for the problem of poverty.
The Solar System contains a lot of resources, so much that John Lewis has calculated that an equal distribution of these resources, would give every human on Earth a 100 billion dollars, which is much more than Bill Gates’ net wealth. Of course, this is somewhat extreme and this calculation is based on current prices of resources. When asteroid mining will increase the supply of this resources, their prices will fall. However, this price fall is not bad, since materials will become cheaper and so will the general price level. In this manner poor people can do more with their money.
Further, space colonization might increase employment, both in Space and on Earth, by creating all kinds of jobs. Even if the direct employment as result of space colonization will be limited, there is also the possible increase of indirect employment. Employees in the space industry will demand all kind of goods and services, which will create many more jobs etcetera.
Space colonization faces several difficult ethical question, however, it is also a potential solution for some ethical problems such as environmental damage and poverty.
It seems that some 78,000 people have submitted an application for an one-way ticket to Mars by Dutch organisation Mars One. It’s no secret were highly sceptical of these organisation and the colonization of Mars in general.
One of the reasons why projects aimed at the colonisation of Mars get more attention than the deserve is the gross lack of knowledge among journalists. Too many journalists are unfamiliar with the subject of space colonisation and only a very few of them are aware of Gerard O’Neill, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky or John S. Lewis. Because they lack the knowledge to critically analyse Mars colonisation plans, they are easy prey for ruthless people as Bas Lansdorp.
One of the more peculiar aspects of the Mars One program is their reality TV show. We have to recall that Mr. Lansdorp is a Dutchman and that the Netherlands is the birthplace of reality TV (Big Brother). So we have to ask whether the whole talk about colonising Mars is in fact nothing more than a pretext for the reality show. The applicants will be televised while they are thinking they will go to the Red Planet.
Of course, no reality TV show will ever raise enough money to fund the whole project (6 billion dollar according to Mars One, our own calculation estimate the project on 7 to 10 billion dollar). So do they have additional funding? Their site does not mention it. Therefore we suspect that it is all about the TV show.
It would not surprise us if Bas Lansdorp will tell at the end of the series, that the whole thing is nothing more than a hoax. So wannabe Mars colonists be aware!
Again someone has announced a flawed plan to send people to Mars, this time the person is Denis Tito (who is famous for being the first space tourist). It appears normal these days for people to have their very own Mars programs, and unfortunately the mass media gives them more coverage than those fanatics deserve. Because it is important that people learn about the arguments against Mars, I will give a view links to articles and youtube videos, in which is explained in plain language why colonizing Mars is a bad idea.
The following YouTube videos are from Hank of Scishow
The following article is from Eric Drexler:
The following articles are our own posts on the subject:
South African entrepreneur Elon Musk announced his plan to colonize Mars some time ago. In this post I will critically review his plan and I will compare with that other plan to colonize our Red neighbour by 2023. Of course, we of Republic of Lagrangia are quite sceptical about any plan of colonizing Mars, however for a discussion of our position we will refer to this post.
The Huffington post devoted an article to Elon Musk’s plans. According to this article Musk wants that prospective colonists should pay half a million dollars for their ticket to Mars. This amount is both too low and too high. First I will explain why it is too low. We all know that (manned) spaceflight is a very expensive enterprise, for comparison: it takes 7.5 million USD a day to keep one man on the International Space Station. Actually Dennis Tito got a huge discount for his trip to the ISS, he paid 20 million USD for something less than 8 days on the ISS.
We might assume that the costs of a manned trip to Mars will be at least of the same order, perhaps a little bit more. An educated guess for the costs of a Mars mission might be 15 million USD per crew member a day. Further Musk wants to start with 10 people, most Mars missions assume a minimal mission duration of 501 days. Total costs will be 7.515 billion USD. If Musk is seeking to fund his colonization plans with the sale of tickets only, he has to raise the price enormously or he has to find additional funding.
On the other hand the ticket price is much to high. Only multimillionaires can afford to pay this without being declared bankrupt. Unfortunately the number of multimillionaires willing to pay such amount of money in order to emigrate to an extra-terrestrial desert, will be probably very low. It would surprise me, if it would be more than a few hundred (on the whole planet).
And why should the very wealthy want to emigrate to another planet anyway? History learns us that it are the poor and disadvantaged who are most likely to emigrate, looking somewhere else for better chances in life. Yes, rich people emigrate also, but mostly to places with high and expensive services, which Mars totally lacks.
The people who are most willing to emigrate to Mars are educated young people who have not much money, and therefore almost nothing to lose. How would these people be able to pay their ticket? Not at all. Of course someone else might pay for their ticket, but why? Well it might happen that the multimillionaires who are willing to emigrate to Mars, are looking for personal on their Martian estates.
In the early days of the colonization of the America’s there was an institute called indentured servitude. Under this system young people were transported from Europe to America, while their journey was paid by someone else, mostly by a ship captain. However this was not a gift but a loan, which had to be paid off. So in return for the trip, the so-called indentured was obliged to work for several years, usually seven, in order to repay the debt. When an indentured servant arrived in America, the ship captain usually sold the indenture to people who were looking for cheap labour.
In fact indentured servitude is a kind of (voluntary) temporary slavery. It’s not hard to imagine how a spacecraft is launched from Earth with a crew of ten, of which nine are the servants of the tenth person. Since 500,000 USD for each immigrant is a lot of money, even for the very rich, those who are paying someone’s else ticket will see this as an investment. And investments are motivated by return on investment, so it’s more than likely that wealthy Martians will make their indentured servants work hard.
Maybe this is what Musk really wants: a Mars covered by large domed estates, owned by wealthy terrestrial tax-refugees, on which (nearly) all work is done by contract slaves. Sounds to me as a quite feudalist society.
Of course there are other ways to fund Musk’s dreams of establishing a colony on the Red planet with 80,000 residents. Since we can safely assume that no one will pay 500,000 USD for an one-way ticket to Mars, he should think of lowering the ticket price. However this means even less money to fund his expensive ambitions.
One solution is to use a lottery system. Suppose that there on this planet some several hundred thousand to a few million people who might be willing to emigrate to Mars, but we know there is only place for ten on the first manned spaceflight to the Red planet. Now it is possible to sell lottery tickets to everyone interested, instead of winning a large sum of money you will win a trip to Mars. What would be the price of such lottery ticket? Selling one million tickets for 10,000 USD would raise 10 billion USD, which would be enough for a manned mission to Mars (this amount is higher than 7.5 billion I mentioned above, however that was a minimal estimate).
If Musk managed to collect enough funding for his Mars program, he has only enough for sending people to Mars and setting up a colony. However he lacks any idea how such Mars colony would survive economically, the colonists should still need to import stuff from Earth. This is especially true if the colony only has a few dozen members, but also in case of just 80,000 colonists. This means that the Martians should have to export stuff to Earth in exchange for the necessary imports. The only suitable economic activity we can think of on Mars, at least in first decades after the first landing, is mining. (Transit time between Mars and Earth make space tourism very unlikely.) However mining on Mars would never be able to compete with Asteroid mining.
Our conclusion is that Elon Musk’s plan for the colonization of Mars is just another heavily flawed proposal for a manned mission to Mars by private “space” groups. Musk shows no sense of realism, either in regard of the total mission costs or what people are reasonably willing to pay for a ticket. Actually we believe that Musk suffers from what is known as planetary chauvinism, a very dangerous condition.