The Biggest Obstacle To Mars Colonization May Be Obsolete Humans

If only science could evolve us a little faster
mars colony
Illustration of a base on Mars NASA Ames Research Center

Wherever you go, there you are–even if it happens to be Mars. That’s the gist of an essay recently published in the journal Space Policy. Colonizers of Mars may very well escape the grind of terrestrial life, but they likely won’t escape the darker sides of their own natures, the authors suggest. This could lead to all sorts of interpersonal strife, legal quandaries, political chaos, and even existential crises, all of which could doom a fledgling colonial community.

The authors, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Information, Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Poland, argue that attention needs to be given to the challenges that will undoubtedly arise in the “new Martian ecological niche.”

The first astronauts on Mars will be under unique psychological stress, they write, which logically leads to the first ethical issue the authors believe astronauts might face on their voyage: what to do with the body of a crew member that dies on the trip over. Jettison the body to float eternally in space? The Weekend at Bernie’s approach? There’s no simple answer.

Over the next century, numerous nations may become interested in starting their own Martian colonies, which could lead to murky political and legal waters. Whose laws will apply where and to whom? What happens if rival colonies go to war? And what if the colonists decide to throw off the yoke of earthly oppression? How will Earth handle a Martian uprising? The authors ask these questions and more.

At the heart of the essay’s argument is the human tendency to do bad stuff to one another. In small “in-group” situations, like what you’d see in early Martian settlements, natural selection favors egoists and defectors over cooperators and altruists, the authors point out. Basically, jerks will rule on Mars. They will put the “ass” in astronaut, as it were.

Kids born on Mars may lack the sense of duty and lust for adventure of their astronaut parents. “Generations born on Mars will require specific pedagogical model,” they write. “We suppose that a good cultural tool could be a new Martian religion.”

Religion, say the authors, could help those born on Mars gain a sense of purpose and quell any existential dread they might feel due to the fact that they live on a planet that is entirely hostile to their very existence. What effect religion might have on the colonists’ aforementioned white-hot lust for conflict, the authors don’t say.

The essay ends with a rather bold proclamation: “We suggest that the best situation could be the artificial acceleration of the biological evolution of the astronauts before they start their space deep mission.” That’s the final sentence of the essay, so one can only wonder whether they are referring to a selective breeding program, gene therapy, or something else. But the suggestion is clear: human beings as we are today, with all our belligerence and egotism, just weren’t built for life on Mars.

The authors’ most lucid suggestion may have come earlier in the essay when they write that given all that could go wrong and the tremendous expense, the colonization of Mars might be too risky to justify. “Perhaps it would be better to focus on increasing the chances of survival on the Earth and for preventing the climate change.”

That said, the establishment of a Martian colony would no doubt provide the basis for some truly great reality television. And given all the problems we face here on earth, it could prove cathartic.

Things are rough here, we’d say, but hey, could be worse. Could be Mars.