Dreaming of Mars

In 1948, Wernher von Braun, the german engineer that had been involved in the development of the world’s first missile, the V2, published a book detailing his proposal for a human mission to Mars. Das Marsprojekt was translated to English and published in the USA in 1953. Seventy years later, we are still in the planning stages for that great adventure. We’ve been to the Moon, sure (with a little help from von Braun and his team).

And then we forgot all about it, choosing instead to focus on orbiting the Earth, unwilling or unable to step out into the Solar System.Now, there is a new wave of enthusiasm for Mars. Some space agencies hope to continue the automated exploration of the planet, collecting more data, trying to unravel its geological history. But others have burst on the scene, and a new space race can be in the making. Other than NASA and ESA (with Roscosmos), the Indian, Chinese and Emirati agencies have plans for their own missions to Mars. Almost all of them proclaim that they will put humans on Mars within two decades. And if such statements should always be taken with a pinch of salt, some of the actors have given the impression that they mean business, even if they take slow (but ponderous) steps.And then there’s the private companies… or rather, the private company that has assumed the will to create a true human colony on the red planet: Space X.There have been other groups that have announced their desire to take Humankind to Mars – Robert Zubrin’s Mars Society comes to mind. But Space X has done more than talk, developing the hardware needed to lower the cost of launches, and taking the first steps to create a real spaceship, capable of taking dozens of people to another world. Furthermore, the company (or its founder, Elon Musk) has a sort of blueprint to achieve the goal of putting one million of people on Mars. Living, not just surviving.So far, Space X has taken the first steps with some certainty, even if there have been some delays. The company has built a huge following, and many believe that it will indeed open Mars to human colonization. Of course, there are huge hurdles along the way. Official plans call for a return to the Moon in preparation for the leap to Mars, and the growing links between NASA and private companies mean that Space X will be involved in that too.

The future is unwritten, of course. Hopefully all technological obstacles will be overcome, and Space X’s plans can become true. Except… What about the socio-economic context? Who will pay for all that? Elon Musk claims that people will be able to purchase their tickets to Mars by selling their houses, for instance. Sure, but how will they make a living on Mars? A large human colony on Mars means of course the creation of a self-sustaining market. But what sort of trade can there be between Earth and the martian colonies (that will surely need many resources that, at the beginning at least, will not be easy to create on Mars)? Can Mars furnish any type of goods that are valuable on the Earth?There will need to be some sort of government system – and the colonists, in a sort of déjà vu, will very likely end up resenting rules and orders emanating from a distant Earth. And what kind of legal conflicts will take place between entities that want to grab their piece of Mars? Who will settle them?However, other concerns spring to mind. There is one question that still has no clear answer, and that can raise a huge ethical and philosophical conundrum. What if there is life on Mars? Do humans have the right to move to Mars and forever change the environment there (as we have done on the Earth)? For some, it’s a minor question that does not deserve wasting much time thinking about, since martians, if they are indeed around, are only microbes. But for many others it is surely a key issue. And this invasion can only remind us of The War of the Worlds, in which martians invade the Earth only to be killed by terrestrial microbes…Finally, one psychological question mark. Humans have a profound link with the Earth, the planet where the species came into being, the only planet where they have lived so far. From orbit and from the Moon, our blue marble stands clearly visible in all its glory. On Mars, Earth will be nothing but a dim point of light in the sky.

Far, impossible to reach in a couple of days. How will humans react to this new reality? Can they someday establish a similarly profound relationship with Mars, with its different colours, with a longer year, with no big moon in the sky… with no seas, no blue skies, no wildlife?Maybe someday we will find out the answer. Maybe someday we will discover if our dreams of Mars and the reality of living on the red planet can indeed converge.

Author Name: José Saraiva

Author Name: José Saraiva

José Saraiva is a geologist that spent several years studying Mars as a researcher at the (then) Technical University of Lisbon. Nowadays he works as a Project Coordinator for NUCLIO, trying to help young students to dream about space and Mars.



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