The 21st century will forever be remembered as the one during which humanity became multiplanetary.
We stand at the brink of a new era in human evolution. Some would say we’re standing at a precipice. We face unprecedented global challenges while simultaneously merging into a true global culture and commencing expansion into space. Perhaps that’s the way the universe works; maybe huge challenges often or always coincide with huge opportunities. Maybe that’s the nature of planetary transformation; maybe it’s the way it has to happen. Regardless, space settlement will assuredly have overwhelmingly positive effects for our species, and will provide us with all the necessary resources to overcome any of our current global challenges, whether environmental, economic or social.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, said that human expansion into space and becoming a multiplanetary species is an evolutionary leap so great and significant that it can be compared with life crawling out of the oceans. The stated purpose of SpaceX is to be a key player in that event, and put thousands, if not millions, of humans on Mars.
But it’s not just SpaceX taking steps towards Mars. We’re seeing a general surge of interest in Mars at this time, spurred on by the recent announcements of two serious human missions. The first, Mars One, proposes to send as many as 40 astronauts on a one-way mission to the surface of Mars, where they’ll spend the rest of their lives as the subjects of a reality TV show. The second mission, Inspiration Mars, is a Mars flyby that will carry two people, most likely a married couple, to within just 100 kilometres of Mars. After more than 60 years of space agencies planning to send humans to Mars but not actually doing it, for the first time in history, entrepreneurs are taking matters into their own hands and making things happen.
But why Mars? Why not the Moon, or Venus, or Mercury? Why not just build cities in Earth orbit? Why all this hoop-la about Mars?
Mars has a feature set that makes it a stand-out champion in terms of potential settlement targets. It has an abundance of all the resources necessary to support life and technological civilisation. There’s plenty of water, carbon and metals, and energy is available from solar, wind, areothermal and nuclear sources. The length of the solar day on Mars is just 40 minutes longer than Earth’s, suggesting that humans and other Earthian species could adapt to the Martian environment with comparative ease. Mars’ axial tilt is also very nearly the same as Earth’s, giving it a familiar seasonal cycle. Another advantage, often overlooked, is that Mars is the only planet in the Solar System other than Earth with a transparent atmosphere. This gives you the advantages of an atmosphere – an easily accessible resource, effective heat distribution, aerobreaking/aerocapture – plus you can see the surface of the planet from space, and vice versa. Mars is colder than Earth, but not excessively so (it’s comparable with Antarctica), and it’s right next door. Almost everyone in the space community agrees: Mars is the target. It is the new “New World”. Even most “loonies” (lunaphiles, or Moon-lovers) agree that Mars is the next logical step beyond the Moon.
Mars will be the first planet that humans live on other than their home world, Earth.
Ideas and plans for sending humans to Mars have been proposed for many years now; at least since Das Marsprojekt was published by the great rocket engineer Wernher von Braun in 1948. As our knowledge of Mars has grown, so has our ability to believe in a future where humans live there. The more we learn about Mars and the better our technology becomes, the closer Mars becomes. And we are getting close. Those entrepreneurs who openly state their intentions to put humans on Mars are being taken seriously because most people can now see that the necessary technology, people and other resources are all available to make this dream true. It’s possible, and is happening now.