You can't get your ass to Mars
May 28, 2015 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Every sensate being we’ve encountered in the universe so far—from dogs and humans and mice to turtles and spiders and seahorses—has evolved to suit the cosmic accident that is Earth. The notion that we could take these forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, and hurl them into space, and that this would, to use Petranek’s formulation, constitute “our best hope,” is either fantastically far-fetched or deeply depressing.
As Impey points out, for six decades we’ve had the capacity to blow ourselves to smithereens. One of these days, we may well do ourselves in; certainly we’re already killing off a whole lot of other species. But the problem with thinking of Mars as a fallback planet (besides the lack of oxygen and air pressure and food and liquid water) is that it overlooks the obvious. Wherever we go, we’ll take ourselves with us.
Project Exodus: Elizabeth Kolbert on Mars, Earth, exploration versus science and astronautical reach exceeding grasp. [previouslyish]
posted by byanyothername (107 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
While humans will always invent reasons to blow each other up, it would be nice if it were impossible to blow up all humans everywhere simultaneously.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:41 PM on May 28, 2015 [21 favorites]


The Earth is an unexceptional planet revolving around an unexceptional star. Given the age of the universe and the speed of our own technological advancement, you’d expect that some intelligent life-form from another part of the galaxy would already have shown up on Earth. But no such being has been spotted, nor have any signs of one. So where are they?... Perhaps the reason we haven’t met any alien beings is that those which survive aren’t the type to go zipping around the galaxy.

Or maybe it's the fact that: "Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space." Douglas Adams
posted by dukes909 at 12:44 PM on May 28, 2015 [15 favorites]


This is one of the (many) reasons why Interstellar is merely a good movie, versus a truly great movie (like 2001).
posted by Nevin at 12:48 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


dukes, the problem is, that spreading at relatively slow speeds (ok, fast to us, but .1c, which to a civilization colonizing the galaxy is probably a decent speed), it only takes a couple of million years to colonize the galaxy.
posted by Hactar at 12:49 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Someday the people living beyond Earth will look back on these seemingly-endless expressions of blind cowardice and laugh. The stars are our destiny, and Mars is the tiny first step.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:53 PM on May 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


Hactar, you're forgetting we live far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy.
posted by dukes909 at 12:56 PM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Nope. This is the only planet we have. We need to take care of it.
posted by Nevin at 12:56 PM on May 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


Nope. This is the only planet we have. We need to take care of it.

That's not mutually exclusive with colonizing other worlds. The efforts actually complement each other.

This is the only planet we have for now. We need to care for it, but no reason to put all our eggs in one basket.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:02 PM on May 28, 2015 [18 favorites]


so let's change humans to live in space. change how our guts work, how we build space stations..

we don't get on an airplane to france and stand around moping because we can't charge our ipad using the power plugs we encounter. we make adapters, we change, we move onward. yeah, we'll fuck up mars, but *we'll* fuck up mars. awesome. let's do it. "earth is all we've got" is the "this is a local shop for local people" of space.
posted by gorestainedrunes at 1:05 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


it's good we haven't met aliens as of yet. we're sort of a garbage species at this point.
posted by angrycat at 1:06 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Six centuries ago it was considered nigh-impossible to cross the Atlantic ocean. It was a suicide bid.

Yes, even getting to Mars is a bigger feat of engineering than we've yet accomplished. Achieving any sort of stable biome even more so. But I support it. Why?

Because the sooner we become a pantropic species, the better chance we have of alleviating the incredible pressures we place on Earth's ecosystem. If we can settle the asteroid belt, it's not just increasing man's margins of survival- it allows us to balance a metal using civilization with a relatively intact set of terrestrial biomes.

But our descendants will likely never see that day. Instead, the pessimism expressed by Kolbert and Nevin will prevail, and the last days of man shall be spent foraging for cockroaches on a venus like earth.
In the grander view, pessimism towards space exploration only serves the agendas and interests of those that would like to perpetuate and maintain the existing structures of our society. If you want to fight capitalism, you should make movements towards a post-scarcity society. And we get the post-scarcity society through two things: fusion/space solar and asteroid mining. We have all the iron, water, and energy we could ever need, if we can just bother with overcoming this threshold.
posted by LeRoienJaune at 1:06 PM on May 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


Worrying about what we'll do if an asteroid hits us in the next ten thousand years is like worrying about whether your 401 K investments are distributed correctly while your house is on fire with you in it. We might have a few decades of cheap oil and low sea levels left and if we don't make some profound, radical changes to the way we distribute food, water, and wealth, more or less immediately, we're going to have a bad time. People be like, "But the sun is going to enter its red dwarf stage in 4 billion years... WHAT'LL WE DO????" Lol, I say, lol.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 1:09 PM on May 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


But our descendants will likely never see that day. Instead, the pessimism expressed by Kolbert and Nevin will prevail, and the last days of man shall be spent foraging for cockroaches on a venus like earth.

I doubt that. Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer for the New Yorker. Elon Musk is a billionaire who has already made significant changes to the fields of banking and transportation before funding the first private enterprise to re-supply the ISS. That's not even talking about his new home battery or the high speed 'train' he's prototyping.

Who would you bet on?
posted by leotrotsky at 1:13 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


That's not mutually exclusive with colonizing other worlds. The efforts actually complement each other.

Yes. The tech that would allow us to, say, grow all our food in greenhouses or other structures in a colony could be used here on earth too, to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture and grow food closer to population centers. Both of which would help our planet quite a bit (and by making healthy food cheaper and more available to all, help the people on it too). And also prevent starvation due to climate issues.

And while I'm afraid of moving too fast and screwing us all with terraforming stuff, anything we do discover in that field could help us mitigate climate change/carbon load problems here.

It may be that Mars colonists will have to have radically engineered bodies, and that the first few waves will be sick a lot and possibly die a lot. Which raises lots of ethical issues (for me, mostly around letting them have/raise kids at that stage and subjecting them to those risks).

I'm less worried about a planet without much or any life, like Mars, than if we did actually find one that had life, because life means alien bacteria against which we have no defenses at all.
posted by emjaybee at 1:14 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wherever we go, we’ll take ourselves with us.

"Wherever you go, there you are." --Buckaroo Banzai
posted by chavenet at 1:17 PM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


I have very little hope for humans, generally-speaking, and almost none for the future of humans on earth, but I don't think that colonizing Mars is a particularly useful way to extend the species' longevity (unless you think feudal earth 2.0 is an improvement over extinction; I don't). I want very much to believe in a Star Trek future, but it just doesn't seem very likely, even applying the tech we'd need to colonize Mars here on Earth.

However, traveling to other planets is awesome, and that's why we should do it. I don't care a whit about survival; everybody can go suck space eggs. But we ought to go to Mars because why the fuck not.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:19 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


"A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth's atmosphere."
--The New York Times, January 13, 1920

"To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth—all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances."
--Lee De Forest, American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube

"There is no hope for the fanciful idea of reaching the Moon because of insurmountable barriers to escaping the earth's gravity."
--Dr. F. R. Moulton, University of Chicago astronomer, 1932.

"This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd
length to which vicious specialization will carry scientists."
-- A. W. Bickerton, 1926
posted by mmoncur at 1:22 PM on May 28, 2015 [22 favorites]


This is one of the (many) reasons why Interstellar is merely a good movie, versus a truly great movie (like 2001).

Oh, whatever. HAL is as much BS as any of the science in Interstellar; it's all an excuse to tell a story about humans interacting. Even if we don't want to call them humans, oh hell they talk and think and make programmable amounts of jokes and there's some legs and I'm sorry Dave.
posted by effugas at 1:22 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Unless something radical changes, we're not going to colonize Mars. There is absolute zero reason to do so and that includes "because it would be awesome" (even if it would be). There is no economic model or incentive to do so at all. There is nothing on Mars that we can haul back to allow the trip to pay for itself, even eventually.

Mind you, we'll probably go visit, to say that we did it and by we I mean humanity, not necessarily the United States. We'll plant a flag, gather some rocks and cross that off our bucket list.

Now, if we find something really valuable on Mars, all bets are off. But colonizing? Not gonna happen.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:23 PM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Unless something radical changes, we're not going to colonize Mars. There is absolute zero reason to do so and that includes "because it would be awesome" (even if it would be). There is no economic model or incentive to do so at all. There is nothing on Mars that we can haul back to allow the trip to pay for itself, even eventually.


And yet, you're already wrong. There are already people like Musk who have made colonizing Mars their explicit goal and have begun work towards that end. It may not be Musk who does it, but there is demonstrably some value some people see in doing it, whether you feel it worth it or not.

I guess check back on this thread in a few decades and we'll see.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:26 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Meat humans will almost assuredly never get beyond earth's immediate environs (maybe to the moon, probably not even to mars). Our robotic, silicon surrogates, however, may have a chance.
posted by Chrischris at 1:27 PM on May 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


If it really did look like Earth was going to die in a single generation, I think there would indeed be something of a movement to load up as much weird and interesting bacteria as possible and fire it at various planets. *WE* couldn't adapt but *THEY* certainly could. And would humanity be so arrogant as to think our guaranteed to exist life was better than other planet's possible native species?

Of course. Panspermanifest destiny.

Hell of a lot more likely than AI, really.
posted by effugas at 1:28 PM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. Let's skip the sex-robot analogy.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 1:29 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]



You keep making comments as if the idea of traveling off planet is diametrically opposed to bettering this one...


Sangermaine : Here's one answer to your question.....
posted by lalochezia at 1:30 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


You can't get your ass to Mars

You will not go to the red space ball today.
posted by Foosnark at 1:31 PM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


It may not be Musk who does it, but there is demonstrably some value some people see in doing it, whether you feel it worth it or not.


That's great, but they haven't launched a single human yet, so lets not get too excited about it just yet.

Sure, I think it would be neat to send people to Mars, but it's going to cost a lost of money, with almost no direct return on that money and without that, there isn't going to be a lot of reason to repeatedly go.

That'll change if someone develops a better, quicker means of propulsion or sorts out the problems of human health in space/on Mars.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:32 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


it's good we haven't met aliens as of yet. we're sort of a garbage species at this point.

Notably, we're responsible for the third-worst poetry in galactic history.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:32 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


Pfft. Going to Mars just means you have to deal with two gravity wells instead of one. I'd rather concentrate on building out asteroids. Capture one and move it into Earth orbit for easy access. Hollow it out, fill it with gas, and start it spinning. Repeat as desired.
posted by Eddie Mars at 1:33 PM on May 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


Right, but my point was you're already wrong about there being no motivation to go. Clearly there's something because there are people motivated to go, and not just some guy in his basement. People seem willing to put up real money for this project, so maybe there are motivations they have that you just don't share.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:34 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hurray, there's starry-eyed dreams of living on Mars, that's some motivation.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:38 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I guess maybe that's why I was frustrated with Interstellar and really excited by Mad Max: Fury Road. In the former, humanity survives because the dude sends messages to his daughter in the magical bookshelf; in the latter, there's hope for society in the ruins because of superior courage, ethics, and bad-assery.
posted by angrycat at 1:40 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


WHAT IF WE COULD COMBINE THEM THOUGH

IMPERATOR FURIOSA OF MARS
posted by emjaybee at 1:42 PM on May 28, 2015 [18 favorites]


There is nothing on Mars that we can haul back to allow the trip to pay for itself

That is almost certainly false, but not in any way the point.

Why?

Diversification.
Stepping stone.
Research.
Fun.
Because it's there ↑
Practice to get further.
Base for asteroid mining.
Site to manufacture stuff we shouldn't make here.
New Sports.
Rigorous test bed for hydroponics.
posted by sammyo at 1:43 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hurray, there's starry-eyed dreams of living on Mars, that's some motivation.

"People will never live on Mars, there is zero reason."

"What about these people who are already trying, and actually putting their money where their mouth is? They seem to have a reason."

"Never mind them! No reason!"

A starry-eyed dream is a pretty good reason that's worked wonders before.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:44 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


>Who would you bet on?

Smart money's always going to be on the destructive force of humanity against one idealistic rich man.
posted by edeezy at 1:46 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


That'll change if someone develops a better, quicker means of propulsion

Here's where I agree with the eponistarical Eddie Mars, start catching asteroids. Then you have reaction mass right there in orbit. Even a small constant acceleration can reduce the transit time to weeks instead of months.

We need machine shops in orbit.
posted by sammyo at 1:48 PM on May 28, 2015


For all his training and his courage, Kelly is basically just another test mammal. Like the dogs, he’s been sealed in an airtight chamber to see how much his body can take.

No, he's not like the dogs, because NASA's not fucking murdering him via vacuum chamber with 125 other dudes of his species.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:50 PM on May 28, 2015


We need machine shops in orbit.

We also need bodegas and pubs!
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:51 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


The stars are our destiny, and Mars is the tiny first step.

See, if there's any reason we won't colonize space, it's unrealistic pseudoreligious attitudes like that. Space is the most hostile, unforgiving, expensive to live in environment there is, so colonizing it will take no-nonsense practical attitudes, not sloganeering and pablum.

Take Mars- nobody can actually give a valid reason to colonize that rock first. Water? The moon has water, and it's days, not years travel away. Ceres has water, and it's not at the bottom of a gravity well. The only reason to colonize Mars is because it's MAAAAARS.

Mist importantly, people won't colonize space until it's cheaper than the alternative. That's been the case for modern colonization, the Polynesians, and so on. Given the huge expense to moving things into space, I don't see that happening in any of our lifetimes, and there's no guarantee it will ever be practical at all.
posted by happyroach at 1:54 PM on May 28, 2015 [21 favorites]


I will be surprised if nobody goes to Mars in my lifetime (I've got 60-odd years left if I manage to match my grandparents' generation) but I wouldn't count on any significant number finding it worthwhile to live there.
posted by atoxyl at 2:02 PM on May 28, 2015


Why?

Diversification.


We literally can not live anywhere else but Earth, so we can't diversify.

Stepping stone.

To what?

Research.
It won't help us fix Earth's problems

Fun.
9 months in a tin can while dealing with a space toilet to spent three months in a tin can on Mars isn't fun. But it would be interesting to see.

Because it's there ↑

That is not real reason to spend billions to launch people into a hostile environment.

Practice to get further.
Why would most of humanity want to go further in such a hostile environment? It's just radiation, harsh temperatures and no air, with a few rocky planets here and there.

Base for asteroid mining.
Makes more sense to have the base on the asteroid.

Site to manufacture stuff we shouldn't make here.
Maybe we just shouldn't make that stuff, rather than dirtying up another planet.

New Sports.
This is not a reason to visit Mars, let along settle it.

Rigorous test bed for hydroponics.

Can do that here.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:07 PM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Take Mars- nobody can actually give a valid reason to colonize that rock first. Water? The moon has water, and it's days, not years travel away. Ceres has water, and it's not at the bottom of a gravity well. The only reason to colonize Mars is because it's MAAAAARS.

And yet, again, people are literally already working towards colonization for exactly that reason.

What's weirdly religious is this absolute insistence is that THERE'S NO REASON TO GO NO WAY NO ONE WILL when there apparently is already enough of a reason to do so.

If there is no reason why are people trying to go? Could it be that there is some reason that motivates people that you just don't accept?

This absolute insistence in the face of reality is bizarre. You've already lost. You're already wrong. People want to go, and are trying, apparently for no reason.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:08 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


The only reason to colonize Mars is because it's MAAAAARS.

That seems to be a perfectly satisfactory reason for a great many people, some of whom are even in a position to do something about it. What's the problem with doing something just because it would be awesome?
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:09 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


nobody can actually give a valid reason to colonize that rock first. Water?
Nitrogen? Carbon?
posted by roystgnr at 2:09 PM on May 28, 2015


What's weirdly religious is this absolute insistence is that THERE'S NO REASON TO GO NO WAY NO ONE WILL when there apparently is already enough of a reason to do so.

Fine, some people think its worthwhile, but the chances of convincing others to pony up the money and technology to make it even slightly possible are incredibly slim. Musk's rational for this is weak and romantic, as the linked article points out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:10 PM on May 28, 2015


There's a human instinct to colonize new lands. But there aren't new lands, not like there were for most of human history.

Instincts don't know that.
posted by effugas at 2:16 PM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


There's no reason to wear earrings yet we do. Some people are even really into earrings. Mars is like that.
posted by Wood at 2:16 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Maybe a more balanced critique is to say, yes there are very good incentives for interplanetary and interstellar travel, but humans have a responsibility not to go there and ineptly make a mess of things. I.e., repeating history versus learning from it. But the way the article is written does not make these distinctions apparent.
posted by polymodus at 2:21 PM on May 28, 2015


it's good we haven't met aliens as of yet. we're sort of a garbage species at this point.

That's pretty optimistic. What if we're really good by universal standards? Wouldn't that be fucked up?
posted by brundlefly at 2:22 PM on May 28, 2015 [15 favorites]


I'd be happy to colonize the Earth first. Why not build cities at the polar regions, on seabeds, or deep in the crust? They can be live tests for eventual extraterrestrial endeavors. Plus, you can't get nuked as easily if you're living in the Mariana trench.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:30 PM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


I hate to do this but, to clarify, the article is not about space (which is cool, and worth exploring and learning about! but also super hostile and weird in ways that are hard to even comprehend with a standard-issue Earth brain), as it is the attitudes people have about humans colonizing space. It falls toward the side of thinking that the desire to colonize space (and Mars, specifically) far outweighs our knowledge of space, so the belief that it's years or decades away from reality--instead of centuries or millennia or, possibly, never--is more of a faith-based position not supported by current data.

The other thing that caught my interest was bringing up the split between exploring space and studying space. I have to kind of agree with the scientist who wants to study Mars before human biomes kick off some weird and fascinating chain reactions--even though it's the latter that would really interest me. It's interesting to think about why we want to go to Mars, or if we do--it's not necessarily bad if the religious mania to explore Just Because is greater than any practical reason, but it's something that takes enormous practical resources that are extremely easy to catastrophically screw up.

Anyway, I like articles that touch on the realities of actually colonizing space, and if redirected just a bit closer to home, this kind of thinking might be useful for learning about our own planet, which is still very mysterious to us as a total system. Though putting dogs in vacuum rooms and locking guys in low orbit is still very much in the "cruelly, blindly flailing around in the dark" phase of things, and we should be open to admitting that there can be dead ends. The idea of Mars as our "backup planet" is probably one of them.
posted by byanyothername at 2:30 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


and

That seems to be a perfectly satisfactory reason for a great many people...
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:09 PM on May 28 [+] [!]


Oh, you would take their side!
posted by byanyothername at 2:32 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


While I don't think it's impossible that there may eventually be technology that makes substantial human presence off-earth possible, all the it is our dessssssstiny stuff just makes me roll my eyes. As many a person has pointed out, Mars is considerably more hostile than the continental shelf or Antarctica, and the only substantial human presence in those places is scientific, extractive, or political boondoggle for 'sovereignty'. So even if lift capacity gets cheap, and I mean *quite* cheap, down to the total food and supplies being transported in the range of the half-million or so dollars it takes to support a person year round in the Antarctic, I would expect substantial scientific bases on the moon and Mars and probably some commercial extraction going on in the asteroid belt, and a few temporary missions to some of the outer planet moons (in the same way we have deepsea missions but no permanent presence).

But actual permanent colonies? Well, it turns out we don't function well without gravity for long periods, so orbit or asteroids would be very hard indeed. You'd have to have a huge amount of structure to get any kind of centrifugal gravity, even if that works long term for humans (which we don't know.) Mars might have enough gravity to allow longer term function, but the only way to live there would underground to protect from the radiation. So you'd be living in a hole in another planet, dependent on a supply line from earth, and at best producing children who will have difficulty living elsewhere. Which they might not thank you for if they say, need medical care only available on Earth. Or just the freedom to *leave*. So I'd expect maybe a few very unpleasant colonies of fanatics, the sort of people who think it is a bonus that their children will not be able to escape them.

And, of course, if energy gets so cheap that it becomes that inexpensive to lift mass out of the Earth's gravity well... well, that would likely mean that Earth would have an explosion of progress itself. It is likely to become an even more attractive place to live, in comparison to the cold, radioactive vacuum all around.

Sure, maybe there's some singularity future where we can zoom around the solar system for the equivalent of a plane ride's cost, and where making huge and pleasant habitats is easy, but the changes that future would bring on earth... well, as I said, a singularity indeed. Hard to say what would happen.
posted by tavella at 3:01 PM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


What's weirdly religious is this absolute insistence is that THERE'S NO REASON TO GO NO WAY NO ONE WILL when there apparently is already enough of a reason to do so.

I've found the notion that humanity's destiny being beyond the stars, or that we're putting all our eggs in one basket by staying on Earth, to be far a more religious outlook than declaring the folly of human space travel.

Seriously, does it matter to the Universe that humanity outlasts our home planet? The Universe doesn't care one way or another. Insistence that our destiny is among the stars, that humanity needs to propagate on other planets sounds like religion to me, and needs a far more rigorous justification. Because the orbiting zero gravity sex motel sounds like a far more justifiable reason for human space travel.

Someday, we may actually find a driving reason to send people into space, and colonize other planets. But the reality remains that nobody can come up with a very compelling reason to even try doing so. Hell, we might never have even gone to the moon were it not for America's desire to show the Soviet Union how big our dick was.

I also tend to think the concept of "Mother Earth" is probably more literal than we may think. Humans are specifically suited to living on our planet. As such, meaningful colonization won't happen until either we find a way to transform other planets pretty much exactly like Earth, or transform humans into beings that can withstand alien territories. Would they still be considered human at that point? The prospect of sheltered colonies, even ones that truly self sustain, strikes me as a pretty dim destiny for humanity.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:06 PM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Colonizing Mars is appealing for many reasons, though I would prefer to start with more accessible steps like asteroid mining, its pretty clear that one reason is just to get away from the governments of Earth. While there are many areas of the Earth that haven't been colonized that would be easier (the aforementioned southern polar cap, various deserts, the ocean (not just the floor, the ocean is a volume available for habitation on a vast scale), etc.) we know that those areas are officially off-limits for anyone trying to set up a new colony. The south pole is officially off limits with the major governments all agreeing that nobody can settle there, since they've already claimed all the territory there. Greenland is the only major northern ice cap, and its of course controlled by Greenland under the Danish crown. Sealand and other oceanic experiments in self government have all been shut down by governments offended by the declaration of independence (and quite a bit of lunacy on the part of said independents.) Hell, history shows that any island that has something another government wants, from bird guano, to ports and resupply, to a place to detonate massive nuclear bombs, just gets annexed and plundered. If I set up an underwater community funded, lets say, by mining manganese nodes and other underwater minerals, it would only be a short matter of time before someone decided those profits should go to them or their country, and then turns the utopia into the next "see, we told you it wouldn't work."

At least, on Mars, someone trying to come all that distance to take your stuff and turn your settlement into the next , and therefore less likely. If resources are scarce (remember, Mars doesn't even have any nitrogen), great, that's even less reason for someone to come over and blow things up in the name of profit and/or glory (or whatever). Would most early colonists die? Hell yes, but that has always been the case for the first colonists. What else could be gained? Again, as per earlier colonists, the primary drivers were money, but the next waves were mostly about making a place where a new society could form, away from the stifling governments and religious restrictions that kept people from doing what they wanted.

Get a foothold started, a jumping-off place to land and get your gear unpacked, experienced hands to walk you though the learning curve, and the migrations will start. Oddball religious sects, scientists frustrated with the laws restricting their research into currently proscribed areas, people who want a radical life change or a way to really leave their pasts far, far behind, and those who just find the idea of colonizing Mars fascinating would be the next wave, followed by more mainstream folk who just want to get on with life.

The Europeans who colonized the Americas didn't have to go. Certainly the Chinese, whose own history documents that they had explored the Pacific all the way to the Americas and down to Antarctica, turned around, went home, and stored the scrolls away for generations rather than colonize -- can you imagine if the Chinese had started aggressively colonizing back in the 1400s what the Americas would be like?

Maybe its truly impossible, though it appears merely extremely difficult. Maybe we should just sit on the planet until some disaster or ascension removes humanity from the universe. Maybe we will just bring all our problems with us.

Or maybe we can leave the cradle of mankind, and start taking some steps out in a wider universe, the naysayers be damned.
posted by Blackanvil at 3:11 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


People like novelty. People like challenge. People like wide-open spaces. People like the feeling of discovery. People like being there first. People like coming back with stories to tell. People like to shake off the familiar and try out something new. People like cheap real estate. People like to escape oppression. Any or all of these might prove to be adequate motivation for people to chuck themselves off the planet and find somewhere else to live.

We're not waiting for reasons; we're waiting for means.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:13 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I can't get over this argument that there's no reason to explore space because it's not rational. Humans do irrational things all the time. Like every day. That's like the most human characteristic I can imagine.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:17 PM on May 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Me miserable! which way shall I flie
Infinite wrauth, and infinite despaire?
Which way I flie is Hell; my self am Hell;
And in the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatning to devour me opens wide,
To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav'n.

posted by junco at 3:17 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


yea, i don't get all this mars talk before establishing a moon base first, like that'd seem the natural progression to me! is that what seveneves is about?

Our robotic, silicon surrogates, however, may have a chance.

CRISPR is for ousters[*] :P
posted by kliuless at 3:24 PM on May 28, 2015


We're not waiting for reasons; we're waiting for means.

I don't think this is quite right. I think we are well suited to develop the means... if we had a real reason. Witness: landing on the Moon. Also witness: decades have gone by with enthusiasts unable to convince the rest of the world to go back.

I can't get over this argument that there's no reason to explore space because it's not rational. Humans do irrational things all the time. Like every day. That's like the most human characteristic I can imagine.

Doing something like tattooing your face is arguably an irrational act. Doing something like deciding to colonize Mars, without much reason to do so, demands a cascade of long and costly steps to accomplish what is, as you describe, an irrational goal.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:28 PM on May 28, 2015


I am willing to believe we could set up a "Mars colony" in the sense of a couple hundred people living on Mars, with machines making their food and air, and regular shipments from Earth of new equipment and supplies. There would be hundreds of thousands of engineers on Earth supporting them (if that sounds crazy -- ISS employs 200,000 engineers). It would cost trillions of dollars but we could start today and have it going in a couple decades. But if something happened to Earth, they'd be toast.

A true, self-sufficient Mars colony that could continue to exist and grow with no help from Earth? Think about all the amazingly specialized pieces of equipment you'd need just to make the equipment that's actually needed to stay alive. Think about the kinds of people you'd need -- just building a new oxygen thingamajig could require a hundred different subspecialties. You'd need doctors and teachers and people to boss around the doctors and teachers and people to boss around them. You'd need 100,000 people at least. It would be a nightmare. I doubt we could make a truly self sufficient colony even on Earth.
posted by miyabo at 3:30 PM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


I was in one of these colonize Mars dicussions once when somebody said we can't colonize Mars until we can colonize Antartica. "What do you mean, we've had the South Pole station for decades!"

"Not a station that you swap people in and out of and ship supplies in. Colonize. Show me three generations that are self-sustaining, needing no outside supply. That's a colony. Anything else is an outpost, just like Antartica, just like the ISS."

He was right. Right now, Antartica doesn't pass that test, not by a long shot. Cut off shipping and air support, and almost everybody on that continent is dead in six months, and you're not surviving to raise multiple generations.

Antartica is a piece of cake compared to Mars.
posted by eriko at 3:32 PM on May 28, 2015 [19 favorites]


By that metric, every city on Earth is a mere "outpost".
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:36 PM on May 28, 2015


I can't get over this argument that there's no reason to explore space because it's not rational.

I also literally can't even with this argument. It's so clearly refuted by a basic understanding of human nature, or a cursory glance at history.

People will go to mars, and beyond, and live in those places, eventually ( unless the government forbids it or we blow ourselves up first). Because that's what people do.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 3:36 PM on May 28, 2015


I don't buy the human nature argument because it is too simplistic. We've all seen nighttime satellite photos of Earth, right? Human colonies look like a slime mold invasion.
posted by polymodus at 3:43 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Europeans who colonized the Americas didn't have to go.

Quick question- can you tell me WHY the first European colonies in America happened? Because the answer to this is also the answer for why there hasn't been colonization of the Moon or Mars.

And handwaving about humans just doing stuff for irritational reasons aside, until there's the same answer for space as there was for the Americas, brief temporary outposts is the most you're likely to see.
posted by happyroach at 3:56 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


to unlock a civilizational achievement?
posted by kliuless at 4:04 PM on May 28, 2015


I'm also completely up for living in space. But why leave Earth's gravity well? Let's get some orbital colonies at the Lagrange points! The High Frontier is much closer than Mars or the moon are. Just make sure to give the colonists enough sovereignty and no giant humanoid war machines.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:05 PM on May 28, 2015


bonus style points!* :P
posted by kliuless at 4:21 PM on May 28, 2015


Or maybe we can leave the cradle of mankind, and start taking some steps out in a wider universe, the naysayers be damned.

I am not a naysayer and would LOVE to see people living on the Moon and Mars and throughout our entire solar system.

But I'm also turning into a realist and being able to live anywhere but Earth is going to be very difficult for humanity. Going off planet is nothing like Europeans colonizing America, never mind that it has already been colonized by Native Americans.

Going into space is hard. Sending humans into space and returning them safely is incredibly hard and the human body still has trouble dealing with the changes. We don't know how to send people beyond low earth orbit, we've forgotten and will have to relearn it all over again.

I'm not against human spaceflight, I just don't see anyone being realistic about it. There's lots of starry-eyed dreams that just wind up getting people killed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:13 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


MeTa.
posted by homunculus at 5:47 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


By that metric, every city on Earth is a mere "outpost".
Well... yes, that's the point. Without things like breathable air (ok, not imported into most cities), potable water, and abundant natural resources that convert themselves readily into calories and building materials, you're either looking at a robust supply system or a massive engineering effort just to squeeze the raw materials you need out of an environment that's constantly trying to kill you (ok, not a feature of most cities).

Maybe we should try doing that somewhere closer to home, where it's easier to recover from failure, and then start exporting it in 50-100 years when we figure it out?
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 6:55 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Man is an artifact designed for space travel. He is not designed to remain in his present biologic state any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole."

-William S. Burroughs
posted by clavdivs at 7:00 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


I agree with all the sober-minded explanations of why we should not be all FUCK YEAH MARS COLONY but unfortunately human beings in general only get excited by impossible things. So we kind of need the FYMC types to try (and fail) at stuff in a wasteful and dangerous fashion in order to get the momentum going and resources committed to do it in productive way.

It's stupid and too many people die as opposed to the other, but it's how we do.
posted by emjaybee at 7:03 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sooner or later we must expand beyond this blue and green ball, or go extinct.

So hurry up and get to Mars as soon as possible! There's no time to wait for people to master basic stuff like fusion-powered rockets and space elevators, we have only a few billion years left before the sun goes all red giant.
posted by sfenders at 7:05 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


massive engineering effort just to squeeze the raw materials

I appreciate Brandon Blatcher's latest comment, that he's trying to be a source of rationality as opposed to another "never fly" voice. And he makes very important points, this rambling back porch discussion comes no where near acknowledging the extreme problems and unknown unknowns that may require not just huge new research but entire new branches of science and engineering.

There have been several efforts to run isolated environments, bio-dome projects, all so far failed.

I do rather agree that Mars probably should not be the first long term colony, the moon or a giant Bigelow balloon structure out at a Lagrange point with a minimal supply schedule or a captured asteroid that can be hollowed out would make a lot more sense.

But some things just are unlikely to get worked out on a bio-dome where it's just too easy to throw the airlock open and step outside. Necessity is a mother. Get a bunch of smart folks, with resources, a lot will get figured out.

MiFi's Charles Stross has written quite disillusion-ingly and rationally about the unlikely impossibilities of getting off the home planet.

But come on gang, let's strap into the rocket chair and be positive about the red planet.
posted by sammyo at 7:32 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


By that metric, every city on Earth is a mere "outpost".

Every train, every plane, every ship stop going to Chicago.

I can walk to the farmland. I can (theoretically, at least) grow crops. Hell, I can farm enough crops to live *in the city itself*. Enough to keep three million alive? Enough to keep 10,000 alive? Easy, with help. Hell, 100K would be easy. Chicago would be hurt, but Chicago would live. We have land, oxygen, water, seed stock and people to work that land. If we can clear land quick enough, we might be able to support far more than you think.

LA is fucked, sure, but LA is fucked already.

Now, in Antartica, or Mars. Same Scenario? Can I walk to fertile land where I can grow food and raise a family? No. No I cannot. It's not even a comparison. That's an outpost, not a colony.

Yes, if civilization were to completely collapse, many, even most, in Chicago, would die. But many would survive. EVERYBODY in Antarctica would die. EVERYBODY on the ISS would die. EVERYBODY on your theoretical Mars outpost would die.

That's the difference between a colony and and outpost. If I cut off the trains and ships and planes, yes, the cities of Earth will suffer, and suffer hard -- but Humanity will not die. Those cities will not *die*. They will be hurt. But they will not *die*.

An outpost will die. There will be no living humans left.

When you can cut Mars off completely, that's when you will have a Mars colony.

And I tell you this -- you probably never will have a Mars colony. You certainly will not in our lifetimes, or in our grandchildren's lifetimes, or in their grandchildren's lifetimes, but I'm willing to predict you *never* will. We are simply too optimized to this environment. The gravity's too low, the oxygen's too low, the solar rad flux is too high. We will *never* truly colonize Mars. If Earth dies, the Humans on Mars will die with Earth.
posted by eriko at 7:37 PM on May 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


I would love to visit Mars, and I fully support efforts to explore the place robotically and with people, but I have no desire to move there permanently because, among other reasons, I have no desire to live the rest of my life in the equivalent of a submarine, never able to go outside again. (Being outside in a pressure suit doesn't count.)
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:41 PM on May 28, 2015


I'd love to visit Mars too, but count me among the pessimists. Clifford Simak had a not-so-great-by-today's-standards sf novel in the 60's where people ("Fishhook") sent probes out to other planets, and travelers projected their consciousness into the probes and explored the galaxy like that. Some kind of telepresence project sounds like it would be way cheaper and almost as effective as sending actual humans out in space ships.
posted by sneebler at 8:07 PM on May 28, 2015


“The bones of things stuck out everywhere. Waves broke in swift lines on the beach, and she walked over the sand toward her friends, in the wind, on Mars, on Mars, on Mars, on Mars, on Mars.”
– Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue Mars
posted by gottabefunky at 8:34 PM on May 28, 2015


"earth is all we've got" is the "this is a local shop for local people" of space.

...and what is the Uber of that? Because all I care about are things the are the Uber of other things.
posted by univac at 9:59 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


SpaceX is the Uber of space, Orbital Sciences Corp. is the Lyft of space, Virgin Galactic is the Sidecar of space, Lockheed Martin is the NYC medallion taxis of space, NASA is the Dept. of Transportation of space, the ISRO is the auto-rickshaw of space.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:23 PM on May 28, 2015


"yea, i don't get all this mars talk before establishing a moon base first, like that'd seem the natural progression to me! is that what seveneves is about?"

It's not a natural progression. It seems like it in terms of distance, but that's the wrong metric in this context. The right metric is energy expenditure. The Moon is unusually large, getting back out of its gravity well makes it inappropriate as a staging post. Now, granted, this wouldn't be true if you had some big energy infrastructure on the Moon to counter this. And given that we now think there's quite a bit of water on the Moon, the idea of the Moon as a viable resource (when before it would really just be huge ongoing cost) is slightly more realistic.

Even so, the asteroids make far more sense in all these terms.

Mars would make sense in the far-future with extensive terraforming -- but that assumes so much advancement that it pretty much changes the context for the whole discussion. I agree with others here that if it ever makes sense and is possible to actually colonize somewhere off-Earth, it's not going to be Mars or the Moon. I think the only viable candidates are the asteroids, and then you still have to solve the unbelievably difficult problems that most people don't even realize exist -- from our microbiome and how it's part of the larger ecology, neither of which we are even remotely prepared to duplicate or replace, to the health issues of radiation and low- and micro-gravity, to how fragile these interdependent systems will be for decades or centuries or more even if we manage to make them independent of the Earth (and therefore an eventual catastrophic and total collapse is more likely than not), to the initial and long-term capital investments that would be required on Earth -- the list of barriers to space colonization is lengthy and most of them are (at present) apparently insurmountable. The optimism about space colonization is based upon a vast scientific, technological, and economic ignorance.

Like Brandon Blatcher and others, I'm a supporter of space exploration and space science and a lifelong fan of space science fiction. I want space colonization, and I certainly like the idea of a colonized Mars. And, yeah, I do very much like the idea of the human race, in some form, eventually spreading throughout the solar system and the galaxy. I'm not going to say that would be a bad thing (although I do enjoy novels like William Barton's that subvert the noble humans trope) because I like to think it would be a good thing and I like to imagine that as our future. But there's a way to get there from here, and it doesn't involve stupidly attempting a Mars settlement until long after we'd done many other things, first. As other people have mentioned, aside from all the robotic exploration we still need to do, and in addition to all the basic biological science that we need and the corresponding technological answers to the requirements of long-term off-Earth habitation, we really ought to be looking at colonizing (in sustainable, conservationist ways) all sorts of inhospitable environments here on Earth. A lot of those issues we're going to be forced to confront, anyway, as we cope with the climate change of the next hundred years.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:30 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


dukes, the problem is, that spreading at relatively slow speeds (ok, fast to us, but .1c, which to a civilization colonizing the galaxy is probably a decent speed), it only takes a couple of million years to colonize the galaxy.


But then we ignore the time axis of the equation. A history of three billion years has enough room in it for 1500 two-million year civilizations to colonize the galaxy and disappear, one right after the other. A different kind of big.
posted by sourwookie at 10:36 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


In 150000 years, if we've not killed ourselves off, who knows? 150000 years ago we were just becoming modern humans. Now we have metafilter.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:26 AM on May 29, 2015


This kind of discussion suggests rather uncomfortably that many people still believe uncritically that the European colonialism of the last five hundred years was justified, a natural result of the questing human spirit, part of the inevitable spread of civilisation, and so on.
In fact they believe it so strongly they insist it must bizarrely continue in the empty, radiation-poisoned void above us, now to be treated as if it were a fertile ocean. Out there the best prospects are a few unimaginably remote, scattered surfaces where, at great expense and discomfort, with complex machinery, we might briefly simulate walking around, as though perambulating around our fine new plantation.
What do you call it when a category mistake arises out of an unexamined myth?
posted by Segundus at 4:18 AM on May 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


"This kind of discussion suggests rather uncomfortably that many people still believe uncritically that the European colonialism of the last five hundred years was justified..."

When I mentioned William Barton, I had in mind Acts of Conscience, which is a deeply disturbing book for many reasons. Basically, although it's from the perspective of a human, it presents the human race doing the classic colonialist exploitation thing, up to and including slavery (sexual slavery, actually), and humans never think twice about it because, hey, manifest destiny and the human spirit and whatever the hell else. And it's deeply disturbing and doubly a scathing critique (though perhaps in this regard unintentionally) because the protagonist's awakened awareness and "acts of conscience" are, of course, a white savior narrative, complete with his own personal sexual experience with these exploited aliens (who emit aphrodisiac pheromones and have a pubescent appearance!).

It's disturbing in every respect and although it's deeply problematic for the things I just described, I sort of love the novel simply as a powerful corrective for the self-congratulatory anthropocentrism with strong whiffs of imperialism/colonialism of so much traditional space opera.

So, yeah, I think people ought to very carefully examine a lot of the underlying biases and assumptions that contribute to this sort of space exploration optimism.

That said, for me the valid critique in this has everything to do with other people (for whatever value of "people", including alien cultures) and because I don't believe that we're likely to ever encounter any actual intelligent aliens, even if we colonize nearby star systems, that critique doesn't carry much weight for me with regard to space exploration and colonization in reality. I do care about conservation stuff, even within the context of the vastness of off-Earth resources and environments, but I think if the time ever comes when we have to worry about this stuff, we'll be able to make good choices and very possibly will. We've been pretty careful about not exporting Earth biological material to Mars, for example. Granted, we've done a shitty job with orbital stuff, and when this becomes about commercial, economic interests, we may well make very bad decisions, indeed. But not necessarily.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:48 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Y'know what, I wonder if you could build an orbital delivery system on the same basic premise as a space elevator, but out of something other than solid matter, a material that freely flexes or flows so you don't have to worry about all the tensile strength issues. Like an enormous pile of bubbles or foam many times wider than it is high that somehow lifts things to the top very slowly, from whence more conventional methods of travel get you the rest of the way.

If nothing else, it would be a great way to destroy the rest of our marine ecosystems by halting photosynthesis in large regions of the ocean by siting it there.
posted by XMLicious at 6:32 AM on May 29, 2015


There would be hundreds of thousands of engineers on Earth supporting them (if that sounds crazy -- ISS employs 200,000 engineers).

While the rest of this entire argument gets rehashed any time space comes up on MeFi, this point, here? This is so laughably wrong I don't know where to start. 200,000 engineers?! That's a large multiple of the total of engineers serving every space agency on the planet, combined. NASA (whose headcount for ISS support is largest of all international partners) employes fewer than 17,500 people for all activities, to include robotic missions, ISS, science research, legal, financial, program management, you name it.
posted by Doc Ezra at 8:52 AM on May 29, 2015


Whoa. Considering the NASA budget, those guys must make more than a million dollars a year each. No wonder everyone wants to work at NASA.
posted by XMLicious at 9:30 AM on May 29, 2015


Whoa. Considering the NASA budget, those guys must make more than a million dollars a year each. No wonder everyone wants to work at NASA.

You believe that NASA's entire budget is payroll? And you believe that NASA's entire payroll is for engineers?
posted by JackFlash at 9:49 AM on May 29, 2015


I also don't believe that putting the ISS in orbit and maintaining it only involves employing engineers who directly work for space agencies.
posted by XMLicious at 9:55 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Neil Tyson points out that if it were possible to terraform someplace like Mars to make it habitable, then it would be orders of magnitude easier to just do the same thing to the earth without the massive overhead involved in space travel.
posted by Flexagon at 10:28 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Elizabeth Kolbert is a staff writer for the New Yorker. Elon Musk is a billionaire who has already made significant changes to the fields of banking and transportation before funding the first private enterprise to re-supply the ISS. That's not even talking about his new home battery or the high speed 'train' he's prototyping.

Who would you bet on?


For getting rich and/or making new things, definitely Elon Musk. For being right? Ultimately? Probably someone else. Nature is not run like a business. If it were, humanity would have been "disrupted", sold, downsized, and had its intellectual property bought up a long time ago.
posted by amtho at 10:46 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there's no question that Musk has made a big impact in several areas. That doesn't mean he's right about colonizing Mars. If fact, his rationale for doing so, i.e. to have second home for humanity in case something goes wrong with Earth, doesn't make a whole lot of sense when scrutinized. Simply put, humans can't live anywhere except Earth, so it's not like we can move and set up a completely self sufficient town on another planet.

But man, I would love to be wrong to about that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:42 AM on May 29, 2015


You can't aerobrake at the moon so energetically it's not really that much closer than Mars is. Mars is quite a bit smaller than Earth so getting to orbit from the surface is a lot cheaper and if you bring along some hydrogen and have a good source of energy (which, yeah not trivial but not impossible) you can manufacture rocket fuel in-situ. Add in the...mildly insane temperature variations on the lunar surface (28 days of 100 degrees C followed by 28 days of -173 C is pretty rough) for which you'd either need to build a lot of infrastructure (batteries are heavy!) or be extremely geographically picky (peaks of eternal light, etc). Not that mars is a picnic climate-wise but -55 to +20 is a hell of a smaller variance. Plus you've got a much shorter day/night cycle so you don't need to bank so much energy during the night.

The economic argument (IMO) hinges entirely on the viability of mining asteroids for ore. A single, unremarkable asteroid is some trillions of dollars worth of pure mteal which of course would instantly crash all commodities markets worldwide so it's hard to get a feeling for the ongoing demand for metals if the price changed so dramatically. China is already slowing production so will we really need that much metal? If there is terrestrial demand for a large amount of metal then Zubrin's triangle trade seems at least roughly plausible. Retirement homes for starry-eyed millionaires seems more like priming the pump to get some space infrastructure paid for somehow so the barrier to entry is only super high instead of infinity.
posted by Skorgu at 12:00 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


actually i can't think of a better (keynesian) new deal type work program than colonizing space -- future space stations + moon/mars/asteroid bases -- um, i guess besides 'terraforming' the earth to make it habitable, if not pleasant to live on :P kind of like the opposite of paul krugman's fake alien invasion!*
posted by kliuless at 2:22 PM on May 29, 2015


Neil Tyson points out that if it were possible to terraform someplace like Mars to make it habitable, then it would be orders of magnitude easier to just do the same thing to the earth without the massive overhead involved in space travel.

Furthermore, I'd say nuclear war, asteroid collisions, and supervolcanoes still can't make Earth less habitable than any other place in the solar system.
posted by polecat at 2:50 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I mentioned William Barton, I had in mind Acts of Conscience, which is a deeply disturbing book for many reasons.

kind of sounds like William Vollmann's Seven Dreams: "Fathers and Crows being most accessible and Argall my actual favorite."
posted by kliuless at 3:45 PM on May 29, 2015


“Doing something like deciding to colonize Mars, without much reason to do so, demands a cascade of long and costly steps to accomplish what is, as you describe, an irrational goal.”

Climbing Everest is a pointlessly costly and irrational goal. But people do it.
It's funny because after all the training and time and work and privation, you're not really 'you' anymore.
Not the 'you' that was sitting at home.
And maybe that's the entire point. We want to get out into new vistas in order to be changed ourselves.

William Gibson writes in “Red Star, Winter Orbit” about people who want a frontier in their bones and a ‘wonderful lunacy’ in the eyes of explorers:

“In moments of extreme depression he had sometimes imagined that he could detect a common strangeness in their eyes, particularly in the eyes of the two Americans. Was it simply craziness, as he sometimes thought in his most cynical moods? Or was he able to glimpse a subtle manifestation of some weird, unbalanced force that he had often suspected of being human evolution in action?

Once, and only once, Korolev had seen that look in his own eyes on the day he'd stepped onto the soil of the Coprates Basin. The Martian sunlight, glinting within his helmet visor, had shown him the reflection of two steady, alien eyes fearless, yet driven and the quiet, secret shock of it, he now realized, had been his life's most memorable, most transcendental moment.”
posted by Smedleyman at 6:40 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Climbing Everest is a pointlessly costly and irrational goal. But people do it.

On their own dime.
posted by JackFlash at 7:49 PM on May 29, 2015


Counterpoint to "the moon sux": Why the moon.
posted by Skorgu at 8:12 AM on May 30, 2015


I have a huge romantic attachment to landing on the Moon, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to go there at this point.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:15 AM on May 30, 2015


Ivan F: ...we really ought to be looking at colonizing (in sustainable, conservationist ways) all sorts of inhospitable environments here on Earth. A lot of those issues we're going to be forced to confront, anyway, as we cope with the climate change of the next hundred years.

This makes a huge amount of sense to me. In the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver, some of Canada's best farmland is being bought up for condo development. If we're so fired up about going to Mars, we could learn to occupy the Earth in a more careful manner. Or we could let sea level rise drive us to inhospitable environments.
posted by sneebler at 5:46 PM on May 30, 2015


Humans will go to Mars because people want to do it, and advances in technology will make it feasible. At some point we'll have the materials to build space elevators, and then we'll build them, and then why wouldn't people go to Mars, even if they are mostly living underground there. And maybe people will just love the lower gravity?

In the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver, some of Canada's best farmland is being bought up for condo development. If we're so fired up about going to Mars, we could learn to occupy the Earth in a more careful manner.

Using land to house humans versus using the same land to grow food for humans, is there supposed to be a moral distinction here?

This kind of discussion suggests rather uncomfortably that many people still believe uncritically that the European colonialism of the last five hundred years was justified, a natural result of the questing human spirit, part of the inevitable spread of civilisation, and so on.
In fact they believe it so strongly they insist it must bizarrely continue in the empty, radiation-poisoned void above us, now to be treated as if it were a fertile ocean.


Humans, and other species, have been colonizing for a lot longer than 500 years, it's not like Europeans just invented it FFS.
posted by amorphatist at 12:00 PM on May 31, 2015


Using land to house humans versus using the same land to grow food for humans, is there supposed to be a moral distinction here?

Actually there is. Agricultural land is a limited commodity. If you use it up for sprawling suburbs, then it is gone forever. You can build houses in the hills and mountain sides, although at somewhat greater expense. You can't easily do the same with farms.

Instead of gobbling up agricultural land for wasteful suburban ranchettes, you can either build on non-agricultural lands or else require greater housing density in agricultural land you do appropriate to minimize sprawl.
posted by JackFlash at 7:18 PM on May 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


... some of Canada's best farmland is being bought up for condo development. If we're so fired up about going to Mars, we could learn to occupy the Earth in a more careful manner...

Yeah, this infuriates me. Not to mention the displacement of wildlife. Do developers and real estate salespeople have to go through a doublethink course so they can ignore the effects of what they're doing to the environment?
I mean, it's not like it's the vague ".03% change in temperature over 'x' amount of time" it's *dump* we put big slabs of concrete foundations down to build a woodsy-themed housing development but, oops, ran out of money, oh well." Like the wildlife can just adapt to a vast swath of concrete.

I think focusing on getting to Mars will help ancillary issues like conservation and land management. It's all part of the same package.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:52 AM on June 3, 2015


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