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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Will People Colonize Mars?

All the technology needed to colonize Mars already exists, more or less. It would be extremely expensive, but not impossible. I think the more interesting question is whether people will want to colonize Mars.

Suppose Mars had the same climate as San Diego (breathable air, rain, etc.) and that the price of a one-way ticket was $500. Suppose also that you could spend the trip in suspended animation. Putting all this together, a trip to Mars would be comfortable and cheap, and you wouldn't need any special equipment to live there.

Even in this case, I still think very few people would make the trip. People generally don't migrate long distances unless they are forced to. The immigrants who came to the US were fleeing poverty, persecution, war, etc. By and large, they didn't move because they were feeling adventurous or wanted a change of scenery.

Secondly, people generally like living near other people- that's why most people live in cities. A person adventurous enough to go to San Diego Mars to get away from it all would be just as happy going to Alaska or some other sparsely populated place. I think the wilderness areas of Earth will fill up long before anyone starts venturing into space. If space travel becomes exponentially cheaper, I could see people visiting Mars and the moon the way people climb Mt. Everest, but that's about it.

It would be great if people started colonizing Mars, and I might even sign up if journey is not too arduous, but it looks very unlikely for now.

I think Bruce Sterling sums up the situation well:

"I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people settling the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach. Nobody ever writes "Gobi Desert Opera" because, well, it's just kind of plonkingly obvious that there's no good reason to go there and live. It's ugly, it's inhospitable and there's no way to make it pay. Mars is just the same, really. We just romanticize it because it's so hard to reach."

For more depressing info about the difficulties of space travel, Charlie Stross has an excellent article.

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