Should Humans Colonise Mars?

by frankbeswick

Recent talk of humankind establishing a permanent colony on Mars raises many questions about the ethics and feasibility, scientific and economic, of the project.

Dan Dare, pilot of the future, whose adventures in space were recounted in the incomparable comic, Eagle, would occasionally visit Earth's colony on Mars. To a space mad boy it was a dream, jaunting around the universe, fighting aliens, then getting back successfully to good old Earth. I grew out of that kind of stuff, though I still have Eagle annuals for nostalgia. But is the modern dream of a Martian colony a toxic dream that could turn into a nightmare for colonists.

Photo courtesy of DawnyDawny, of Pixabay

The Purpose of Space Travel

Anyone is free to travel anywhere, as long as they don't trespass on another's property rights, but this principle does not mean that the undertaking the journey is wise and worth the resources used in it, or indeed, whether the undertaking is a good use of time.  These considerations are especially significant if the journey is very expensive and/or if it is dangerous to life. If the latter consideration is the case, we must ask whether the risk is worthwhile.

Now, space travel inherently dangerous because it involves humans operating in the most hostile of environments, using technology sometimes, nay oft-times, at its limit and working in an  environment for which humans have not evolved to cope, for we evolved to dwell in the protective ambience of a wonderful planet, Earth.

So is leaving Earth wise? Well, we send sophisticated robots to the planets, and there is no harm in this, and we have visited the moon, though, let's consider this cautionary, no one seems urgent to return, there being no pressing economic and/or political or social need to send a manned crew there. But is there need to send crewed ships deep into space? It seems ironic that while  society is busy replacing workers with robots we are considering sending a human-crewed craft into an area where robots have already done a good job.

So what is the purpose of space travel? Science for science's sake?  A good idea, but does it justify massive resources that could be used more beneficially elsewhere, and how much risk to human life can be justified in the cause of science? Science should benefit all humans, and so the gains from scientific progress must be weighed against losses to humans. The advance of science should not unnecessarily risk human life.  Undertaking space flight is a great adventure, but humankind's great adventures of exploration always had a serious purpose. The adventure was a side effect of  a journey of scientific discovery or economic enterprise. 

There must therefore be an economic and/or social purpose for space travel commensurate with the risks and sacrifices that it involves. Finding a new home for humankind is not such a purpose, as only a tiny minority of humans could inhabit Mars, which is the only vaguely inhabitable planet other than Earth. Earth is our home and  it is up to us to make the most of it, not ruin it then find somewhere else to ruin. 

Dreaming of a Colony

It has been said that throughout history humans have foregone home and loved ones to seek a new life elsewhere. They were driven by problems  at home which they hoped to escape and by a hope or dream of  a richer, more prosperous, safer life in the New World, so why cannot modern humans be thus driven to seek a new life on a new planet? Surely the progress of science is leading us in the direction of becoming a multi-planet species. However, readers, when your ancestors left for America and mine gave up on life in the West of Ireland to come to work in Britain they knew that they were going somewhere with a breathable atmosphere. Mars colonists will be going to a place with a thin atmosphere that is mainly carbon dioxide that, unless the process of terraforming Mars is achieved rather quicker than humans can reasonably expect it to, will see them confined in plastic bubbles for the rest of their lives. Hardly attractive is it?

And that's without other environmental difficulties. There is the radiation reaching  the surface of a planet whose atmosphere is too thin to provide protection. Can we guarantee protection against it will always work perfectly?  Can colonists ensure that terraforming the planet to make it another Earth is feasible or whether it is an idle dream? Can colonists ensure that they can get enough water to drink, let alone for washing and food production? Industry too requires water.

Moreover can we ensure that medical facilities in a city of up to a million will match what is available on Earth? What method of financing medicine will operate? Which insurer  will look at it? Now, here is a vital issue. A colony needs to be self-sufficient in children. Is a set of insulated dwellings in a desert with almost no atmosphere a good place to bring up a child? I would not want my children growing up there. The discussion of the proposed colony seems to lack the input of women, but this input is badly needed. 

Much of what makes life pleasant relies on the benisons of Earth: walking in the outdoors, swimming in the sea, enjoying flowers and wildlife. Adults can freely choose to forgo these joys for what would be a semi-ascetic existence, but could we inflict such deprivation on children? Would the children of the colonists thank them for doing so. I seriously doubt it.

True, supplies might be sent from Earth, but supply rockets might explode on take off, destroying their cargo with them, and the political system on Earth might prevent re-supplying flights. Earth cannot guarantee the colony's survival.

Colonising Mars looks as if it is a project fraught with difficulties that make a possible colony of dubious sustainability.


Humans are born to dream; and in our dreams we look upward. Note that in our religious imagery heaven is up above; hell is down below. Thus religions use  our dreams to illustrate their promises. But the term the heavens is used to denote the starry sky. When thinking of a Martian colony are people subconsciously projecting an idea of  heaven "up there?" But the plan to terraform Mars to make it habitable for humans risks making it uninhabitable for any Martian life, microbial or whatever, that still survives what seems to have been a great extinction. Ironic indeed that our search for alien life destroys it. We dream of heaven, but create hell.

There is a Jewish proverb, " Be careful what you wish for, you might get it," A dream of a great adventure living in the Mars colony could turn into a long durance, trapped on a distant world out of close contact with family and friends, maybe with inadequate resources. There is the possibility that the colonists might not be on good terms with each other. A new life in the heavens may not be  a happy one.

I  cannot be certain  of any of my reservations about  the Mars colony proposed by Elon Musk, but I do  think that  we should view the project skeptically and be aware of the possibilities that it will go wrong. My personal view is that resources would be better spent putting Earth right. If we cannot solve our problems on Earth, we will merely export them elsewhere. 


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Updated: 05/02/2021, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 01/13/2024

Veronica has on occasion bought me some, Dan Dare..are materials as a a present

DerdriuMarriner on 01/13/2024

Your introduction acquaints us with Dan Dare of the Eagle comics.

English Wikipedia enumerates published sequels and film, game, radio and television adaptations.

Amazon includes a 5-book Kindle edition and, from 2019, a graphic novel.

Might you be acquainted with these spinoffs and their competitive success -- such as apparently the radio version -- or non-competitive failures?

frankbeswick on 04/01/2022

Your research is of commendable quality.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/01/2022

Yesterday my searches brought up a comparison of Matthew 28:20 in Eurasian and European languages.

The Vulgate describes ad consummationem saeculi, but the other languages offer at least two versions each, one translatable as until the end of days or until the end of time and one translatable as until the end of the world.

My searches today did not draw up that page. They drew up what is Pope Francis' rendering, I am with you always, to the end of the age, in the article I Am with You Always on Catholic Culture, from Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2017 and itemized as number 11552 through Catholic Culture.

frankbeswick on 03/31/2022

True. The gospels are written in koine Greek, which was a colloquial Greek with several dialects. I have some facility with Greek, but by no means am I expert at it. But Jesus originally spoke in Aramaic, which I do not know. Not all theologians know Aramaic, so the job of identifying the precise original meaning of the word would be performed by an expert Bible scholar.

blackspanielgallery on 03/30/2022

Always, we must remember Jesus did not speak in English. Translations are difficult, and connotations of the original words were important. So, what is meant by world first must address the word as used in the language of the day, and how it might be translated retaining the entire meaning. I am not familiar with the original words, nor what they might translate to in English, that would require a theologian skilled to read the original texts. Metaphors and idioms are especially problematic when translated, and Jesus used metaphors freely, so we need a skilled theologian to answer here.

frankbeswick on 03/30/2022

What did Jesus mean when he used the term world? We don't know, but did he feel the need to speak in a scientifically precise way? I doubt it. Wittgenstein, writing in the Tractatus, says that the world is everything that there is. Did Jesus mean it in this sense?

Heaven can mean "up in the sky" but it can also mean the abode of the blessed, and we must not mix the two meanings.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/30/2022

You all's comments are much appreciated and so helpful. They made me ponder -- and I don't mean this facetiously -- whether Christ Jesus ever spoke of space or of the universe.

Perhaps two comments -- both of which are among my favoritest -- relate. He said what one binds on Earth one binds in Heaven (space- and universe-related if outer space has room enough for Heaven and hell, the latter more or less in Stephen Hawking's words).

Jesus Christ also said, I will be with you all always even until the end of the world.

Why would Jesus not have said even until after the end of the world?

frankbeswick on 03/30/2022

Quite true. We don't know the religious status of beings on other planets, should there be any. In the past we talked about God's bringing the world to its conclusion, but our theological imaginations were limited by the small size of the universe known then. But theology has to broaden its imagination to encompass a whole universe. So maybe the end is far further away than we have thought.

blackspanielgallery on 03/30/2022

The reason for studying exoplanets is to seek the answer to are we alone, or is there a place with other beings. This is not contradictory to theology, although some would say it is. That issue depends on the beliefs of one's religion. My understanding is if we accept creation we are not confined to Earth as the only place God placed life, but others would disagree. The problem is we can find thousands of lifeless planets and prove nothing, but finding just one with life would prove life exists elsewhere.

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