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Space Colonization: A Farce, Distraction, and Irresponsible Idea

Written by Leanna Bai ‘25

Edited by Josephine Chen ‘24

Image Source: Penguin Press [11]


Space has always captured the human imagination—from franchises like Star Wars to the countless sci-fi novels that exist, humanity has romanticized the idea of going beyond planet Earth, exploring other planets and galaxies.


However, for the time being, space colonization should and will remain purely fiction.

In recent years, billionaire and founder of Tesla Elon Musk has been making preparations for humanity’s first extraterrestrial colony on Mars. Clicking on SpaceX’s Mars Mission website, the viewer is directed to a page with fancy graphics and scenic depictions of the red planet. Upon closer inspection, SpaceX provides neither a concrete timeline nor a solidified logistical plan. Besides the website’s misleading promise of “six months to get to Mars,” the website seems to be thriving on lofty ideals of “the future of humanity” rather than being embedded in realism. Although Elon Musk hints at a crewed Mars mission in 2029 [1], the entire project exposes itself as a farce with selfish intentions for the following reasons:


Space colonization may not even occur in our lifetime (or ever). Even before planning the trip to Mars, one must consider whether living outside of a habitable environment is even possible. Mars’s gravity is about ⅜ of Earth’s, which could drastically impact human health and fertility [1]. For example, astronauts on the International Space Station may experience severe muscle and bone loss, development of metabolic and immune disorders, and sensorimotor/coordination problems after prolonged residence in zero gravity environments. Additionally, the decreased force of gravity on Mars may force infants to push against their mother’s diaphragms, making it difficult for the mother to breathe and remain healthy throughout the pregnancy [1]. Aside from this, Mars’s thin atmosphere would expose humans to hazardous levels of radiation, leading to problems such as skin burns, cancer, and cardiovascular disease [2]. Scientists have only begun tackling some of these issues (creating artificial gravity using centripetal force, blocking radiation on a planetary scale)—we are not technologically ready to colonize Mars [2].


Despite his persona as an environmentalist, Elon Musk does more damage than good to the planet. While Musk is responsible for the promotion and popularization of electric cars with his company, Tesla, the billionaire should be considered a climate criminal. This year, Tesla ranked last in progress to reach net zero carbon emissions out of all tech giants—ironic considering the company’s mission [3]. Furthermore, SpaceX’s launch and test site has been polluting an ecologically diverse refuge for wildlife in Texas, ignoring concerns from local environmentalists. Finally, a recent study provides evidence that the promotion of space tourism by Musk and other billionaires like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will be incredibly detrimental to our atmosphere, with nitrogen oxides and chlorine components inducing damage to the ozone layer [4]. As a result, it is difficult to claim that Elon Musk has Earth or humanity’s best interests in mind. Unlike what some may believe, space colonization will not be the solution for climate change if polluters like Musk are spearheading the efforts [5].


Rather than a refuge for humanity from the detrimental effects of climate change, Musk views Mars as a commodity for the taking. An article in the Washington Post argues that the push to privatize space from companies like SpaceX echoes the patterns of imperialism in 17th and 18th century Europe: “imagined ‘empty’ spaces…may promise that a new world can be created freed from the evils of the old, but those doing the imagining are still replicating the real evils of the old world” [6]. Essentially, colonizing Mars and beyond is a self-centered mission that will perpetuate corporate greed, rigid hierarchies, and human exploitations—problems that already exist on Earth.


Advocates for space colonization often capitalize on humanity’s natural fear of extinction—that it is necessary to move onto other planets because Earth will not be a viable option forever. This idea is also heavily flawed, however, and several counter-arguments exist for this point:


For colonization: because extinction is inevitable, there is a moral obligation to make humanity a multi-planetary species [7].


Counter: As mentioned above, space colonization will have nothing to do with saving humanity and all to do with owning property. Furthermore, it will be a luxury reserved for the rich—the cost of a single ticket to Mars will be 10 billion dollars per passenger, which may be brought down to “only” 100,000 dollars [6]. To construe the work of SpaceX as humanitarian would be incredibly misleading, as the privatization of space may amplify inequality. Space colonization is not the solution; it is a reflection of the social issues that already exist.


For colonization: the ability to colonize Mars and other planets opens up the possibility of developing new technologies.


Counter: NASA argues that the use of resources from occupying space may lead to “advances in architectural design, alternative fuel production, 3D printing, and low-gravity manufacturing to name but a few” [8]. However, one may argue that resources dedicated to space colonization could be diverted towards efforts to fight climate change—a far more urgent cause. Lori Marino, PhD and animal rights activist, argues that “there is every reason to think that we would treat another world exactly the way we’ve treated earth. There is absolutely no evidence to the contrary” [9].


For colonization: Mars colonies will be direct democracies, free from corruption by greedy politicians.


Counter: In a 2016 interview, Musk outlined his plans to make his colonies completely self-governing, citing that “the potential of corruption is substantially diminished in a direct versus a representative democracy" [10]. As the billionaire single-handedly constructs the government on Mars, he fails to see the irony in his statement—how can a civilization be independent if all of its technologies, laws, and regulations originate from a singular person? This also raises the question: will the United States intervene? In Musk’s plan for direct democracy, he offers an oversimplified and utopian promise; when practicality is removed from the context, what’s left is an empty ideology with little applicability.


On the surface, colonizing Mars may seem like a good idea: a last resort for a species that can no longer survive on Earth. However, Elon Musk and other billionaires demonstrate that this idea should simply remain science fiction. Our technologies are far behind, it promotes the social issues that already exist, and it distracts from the development of climate-saving technologies. In the words of John Traphagan, Professor of Religious Studies at UT Austin, “as long as we bring the… [idea] of human exceptionalism with us to other worlds, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes we have made here.” Earth is where we belong, so why flee when we are perfectly capable of rescuing it?

 

References

  1. Dvorsky G. Humans Will Never Colonize Mars [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Nov 13]. Available from: https://gizmodo.com/humans-will-never-colonize-mars-1836316222

  2. Patel ZS, Brunstetter TJ, Tarver WJ, Whitmire AM, Zwart SR, Smith SM, Huff JL. Red risks for a journey to the red planet: The highest priority human health risks for a mission to Mars. npj Microgravity. 2020 Nov 5; 6(33). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41526-020-00124-6

  3. Irwin V. Tesla is a complete climate embarrassment, a new report shows [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Nov 13]. Available from: https://www.protocol.com/three-climate-leaders-and-failures-in-tech

  4. Ryan RG, Marais EA, Balhatchet CJ, Eastham SD. Impact of Rocket Launch and Space Debris Air Pollutant Emissions on Stratospheric Ozone and Global Climate. Earth’s Future. 2022 June 9; 10(6). Available from: https://doi.org/10.1029/2021EF002612

  5. Captain S. Jeff Bezos wants to save Earth by moving industry to space [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Nov 13]. Available from: https://www.fastcompany.com/90347364/jeff-bezos-wants-to-save-earth-by-moving-industry-to-space

  6. Beatty A. For Elon Musk, space may be the final frontier of private property [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Nov 13]. Available from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/04/20/elon-musk-space-may-be-final-frontier-private-property/

  7. Andersen R. Exodus [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2022 Nov 13]. Available from: https://aeon.co/essays/elon-musk-puts-his-case-for-a-multi-planet-civilisation

  8. NASA Headquarters Library. Space Colonization [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Nov 13]. Available from: https://www.nasa.gov/centers/hq/library/find/bibliographies/space_colonization

  9. The Nature Conservancy. Climate Change FAQs [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2022 Nov 13]. Available from: https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-priorities/tackle-climate-change/climate-change-stories/climate-change-frequently-asked-questions/#:~:text=The%20best%20science%20we%20have,emissions%20no%20later%20than%202050

  10. Wagner K. Here’s how government will work on Mars, according to Elon Musk [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2022 Nov 13]. Available from: https://www.vox.com/2016/6/3/11852148/elon-musk-mars-government-direct-democracy

  11. Weinersmith K, Weinersmith Z. Soonish. Penguin Press; 2017.


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