Our survival depends on us finding somewhere else to live. Nearly all species that have gone extinct on Earth in the last 4 billion years or so have probably looked quite secure in their survival at various times. We seem to be rather secure at the moment, there’s in excess of 7 billion of us, we’re on every continent and we survive quite happily in some very extreme places. We’re very good at modifying our environment to suit ourselves and at adapting to changing circumstances.

But we live in a very dangerous universe, there’s only a very small space on only one planet (that we’re completely sure of so far) that we can live on. Our existence here is very precarious it only takes a few small changes to upset the balance that allows our little rock to be habitable. A descent burp from the sun can really mess up our existence by damaging our atmosphere, stuffing our infrastructure and generally making life unpleasant. We also have a history of being particularly good at slaughtering each other when we get a bit stressed. Social upheavals in the past have some linkages to climatic fluctuations that displaced populations and sent them looking for better places to live, only to find other people already there. So if the environment doesn’t get us then we will probably make a good go at it ourselves.

Enough negative talk – we’re a smart bunch, we’ve changed the world and nearly every living thing on the planet is affected in some way by the things we do. Where we are not so smart is that, as a species, we are only in one place in the universe. And while we adapt well to slower changes we’re not good at surviving one off catastrophic events. If we want to remain on the non-extinct list then we’d better find a few more locations in the universe to put people.

The good news is that lots of people are thinking this way and the general consensus seems to be landing on Mars. Mars is not a easy place to live and, in fact, it is rather hostile. It’s more hostile to life than the most hostile places to life on Earth. But just like with the hostile places on Earth, we can make it work. We can take our environment with us – we can build things and as we’ve found out in the last couple of decades we can actually change an entire planet. As long as we can find enough water we should be ok to make a go of surviving there, on Mars; if we can get a self sustaining growing population established there, then we’ve made our survival chances as a species twice as good as it currently is.

Getting there is just a physics problem, staying and thriving is a social problem that would require the right mindsets, the right conditions and the right support structures. There’s lots of work going on around the world to understand how people can live in close proximity to each other for long periods of time without going crazy. Milk-Way.kiwi’s own Haritina has played an important role in this with three trips to “Mars” in the Utah desert at MDRS to understand how people can work together and live in a closed environment.

The basics of survival are shelter, water, food and then security. Once that is sorted then all of the social problems pop up, like boredom, social cohesion, discipline and behaviour. These are the things that have the most potential to undo a new settlement on Mars, we can solve all of the equipment and process problems but we will struggle with the social aspects if we don’t get it right from the start. So hats off to the people contributing to our understanding of how we would actually getting along with each other in the remotest human settlement in the history of our species.

  1. Erik Vermaat says:

    I really enjoy this website with very interesting content. My hat off to the contributors.
    Sadly this article is an exception, and is in my view very naive at several levels. It is impossible to respond fully in this limited space, so let me be brief.

    “Survival depends on somewhere else to live”: NO. It depends on how we behave here on Earth and that doesn’t look good. Many scientists predict that this planet will become uninhabitable for humans within a century or possible even decades. We live totally unsustainable and as a species are not able to live in harmony with life as it evolved on this planet. There is no time for changing our ways, even in the most optimistic scenario.

    Secondly, “living somewhere else” is totally different than surviving in a habitat somewhere, with support from Earth. Migration means that we will have to take a large part of our biosphere with us in order to become self-sustainable. Here on Earth as homo sapiens we are totally dependent on a whole life system with single-cell organisms at the basis. It is a very common but naive mistake to suggest that we can just export ourselves and live somewhere else. The “social problems” the author refers to are nothing in comparison. Extremely naive indeed.

    Maybe in a distant future humans could develop the technology to really make a jump to another celestial body as migrants who are born, live and die in that new destination, but we won’t survive here on Earth into that distant future to develop that technology.

    “We can actually change an entire planet” the author suggests. That is incorrect. If ongoing research suggests anything it is how complex such a process would be, how much energy it requires, and how long it would take, if at all possible. If technological achievements would be at the basis of our survival as a species, it would have to be here on Earth. Even that (geo-engineering) is likely too little too late as well.

    Humans have many positive traits, especially at individual and small community level. But globally we do not have the ethical capability of living in harmony with our environment and neither in harmony with each other. Even if we could, do we really want to export that to another planet?
    As many scientists warn, we are already in the 6th extinction event which is on par only with the worst of the previous events (Permian). The only big difference is that this event unravels several orders of magnitude faster than any previous one.

    We are running out of space on this planet, indeed, but we are running out of time most of all. Not only time to develop technologies, but most of all time to develop ourselves into a species that deserve to be called “home sapiens”, “Wise man”.

    1. Canopus says:

      Hi Erik, thank you for your reply. I think describing the article as naive is a little harsh but that’s ok we are entitled to our opinions. The aim of the post was to spark discussion on the merits of colonising Mars, giving the understanding that our current home has its days numbered. I think your views are on the pessimistic side but I understand the general tenant of what you are suggesting – which is kind of what I thought the article was suggesting. You pick on a comment that I made that “we can actually change an entire planet” seemingly inferring that this was meaning some kind of terraforming of Mars. This interpretation is incorrect as the comment was referring to what we have done to the Earth. Again, thanks for your comments. A healthy debate is really useful to get this things discussed.