Who Wants to Live on Mars?

There is an abundance of mysteries here on planet Earth. For example, what ever happened to the $2 bill, who comes up with all those funny bumper stickers, and how did the millions of pussy hats get made so fast?

Then there is this question: Why would anyone want to live on Mars?

Some of the most intelligent people alive - among them,, billionaire Elon Musk, fellow billionaire Sir Richard Branson and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking - want us to colonize Mars. Hawking predicts unless we prepare another celestial body to be our lifeboat, humanity is destined to suffer mass extinction due in part to our unsustainable squandering of Earth's resources.

"Although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time, and becomes a near certainty in the next thousand or ten thousand years," Hawking says. "By that time we should have spread out into space, and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race."

Musk has less patience. He's working with NASA on an interplanetary transport that will take take the first astronauts to Mars in the 2030s. Later, regular people could make the trip for $200,000 per ticket (checked baggage fees not included) in one of Musk's interplanetary space buses. "I really think there are two fundamental paths," Musk says. "One path is we stay on Earth forever, and some eventual extinction event wipes us out." The other path: Traveling 19,000 miles over three months to get to a barren planet of rocks, dust and deadly radiation. "It will be like, really fun to go, you'll have a great time," Musk says.

Others looking for that great time include 200,000 people who reportedly have signed up with a private organization to live permanently on Mars. And this was before last fall's election. The organization, MARS One, plans to make a reality show out of their adventures.

As I muddle along in my own intellectually inferior universe, I keep wondering why our first priority shouldn't be learning to live on Earth without ruining it. We have yet to find any celestial home more beautiful and bountiful than the one we have.

Mars travelers want to learn more about the evolution of the solar system. I get that. They want to find out whether some form of life ever lived elsewhere. I get that, too. I understand the spirit of adventure and the adrenalin rush of our amazing exploits in space.

But there's a difference between wanting to visit a place and wanting to live there. And if we manage to establish some hospitable bubbles in which to exist on Mars, some of us might get the idea that having a Plan B makes it okay to keep messing up the Earth.

My logic is simple. First, if we insist on ruining our planet, we would have to stop calling ourselves Earth's most intelligent species. Second, our stupidity would not stay behind as we left Earth's orbit. We would carry it with us to Mars, where if it's possible to make a barren planet even more ugly, we would set out to do so. Third, we can and should get the same adventure and adrenalin rush while exploring all the things we obviously do not understand about Planet Earth.

Instead, rumors have circulated since the election that President Trump plans to eliminate all of NASA's research on the Earth's climate and focus instead on exploring the rest of the solar system. Quoting one of Trump's advisors, the Guardian reports "Donald Trump is poised to eliminate all climate change research conducted by NASA as part of a crackdown on 'politicized science'."

The result, of course, would be politicized ignorance about how to live successfully within a biosphere. President Trump's "America First" theme is far too narrow. It should be "Earth First", including a lot of support for scientists to study another perplexing mystery:

What is it about human nature that compels us to exploit and destroy this extraordinary home of ours?


Photo credits: Yosemite Falls - National Park Service and Damon Joyce. Surface of Mars - NASA