Our survival

We have to leave our secure little rock and spread our species around the universe if we want to survive.

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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.