1. Becca Stareyes says

    I think about a future Mars like Antartica. It’s amazing and I think it’s good we have humans present there: for science, for art, and to support all those things. But I imagine few people would want to live there forever*. And Antartica is close enough that going home is only a few days’ trip** and instant communication is a thing, and is less lethal than Mars.

    * Though now I wonder if anyone has ever asked about having their spouse and kids present.
    ** I mean, in summer. Wintering over makes that difficult.

  2. says

    There’s roughly a trillion pounds of human meat walking around on Earth right now: that’s not going to get up out of the gravity well. When Musk talks about colonization, he just means rich people get to escape to someplace where they can screw everything up again. It’s just “mineshaft gap” all over again, which is sad because for space colonization the only strategem that makes sense is to leave all the males behind and just send women geneticists.

  3. petesh says

    Sending a modern HMS Beagle to explore is one thing, and I’d likely support it. Forming a modern East India Company and trying to exploit the joint, however, would be … tucking fypical. Get Jared Kushner on it right away!

  4. robro says

    Marcus — Galt’s Gulch? A modern version of The Rapture? In either case, I’ve got a few names to put on that list that I would be happy to see depart to Mars. Hell, lets go full-bore Hollywood and head for the moons of Jupiter. Musk could call his ark Discovery One.

  5. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I’d like to strand 45 there as the sole pioneer. See if he can go The Martian like Damon.
    Lots of real estate for his next golf resort. He could scout out the layout. Pruitt can give him plenty advice how to exploit the natural resources there with all that oil just laying around … uh … oh wait.

    aside from that desire. Mars would be a cool place to send expeditions to report back their findings to suggest improvements to our environment. uh oh shit, too late. gotta make do with what we got, keep tweaking it for improvements. darn it, (literally, not only emphatically, not metaphorically)

  6. congenital cynic says

    That’s some pretty interesting terrain there. It would be even more interesting to watch if someone who had theories or speculation about the geology was narrating it.

  7. handsomemrtoad says

    We should NOT go to Mars AT ALL. We should spend the money investigating Earth-bound phenomena which occur at ordinary energy levels, instead. The knowledge would be just as beautiful, and likely much more useful, than anything we could learn by going to Mars.

  8. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @10:
    AGREED; with one stipulation. We’re done investigating, time to repair our environment. if costs are mutually exclusive, priority goes for Earth science more than extra-terrestrial exploration.
    We are dumping trash all over our room, better to clean it than to look at other rooms.

  9. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    html err. text after “repair” should be normal text

  10. says

    Scientific curiosity and exploratory zeal are certainly good enough reasons to go to Mars, perhaps even the best reasons to go. But the reason that probably will take us to the planets and the stars is simple survival. Staying on just one planet when we’re sitting in a cosmic shooting gallery is, as many of the species on Earth have learned, not a recipe for truly long-term survival.

  11. karellen says

    I really liked Loretta Whitesides’ take on the question on this week’s TMRO:

    Why Space?

    Oh. That’s a really important one to me. That’s like my soul, my heart and soul.

    Um, I think we need to go to space as a species because it’ll help us grow, and help us become the species we’ve always wanted to be.

    And I think if you try to justify it on economic grounds, or, you know anything else it’s, um, it’s underselling what space could be for us. And I think that the only way I can explain to people who don’t just feel it innately in their heart, just understand it, grok it themselves, is to say the closest thing to explaining it is that it’s like, it’s the same reason we have children. It doesn’t make any sense to have children. They’re very difficult and they cost a lot of money, just like space.

    But we keep doing it anyway! We don’t do it for economic benefits, we don’t do it for scientific purposes. We have kids because it’s meaningful and it’s something important, an important investment in the species. I think that’s the same reason we do space.

  12. Ed Seedhouse says

    Matthew Prorok@13
    “Staying on just one planet when we’re sitting in a cosmic shooting gallery is, as many of the species on Earth have learned, not a recipe for truly long-term survival.”

    This is just Heinlein’s “Mankind shouldn’t have all it’s eggs in one basket” idea. The problem is that, contrary to the science of the time Heinlein was writing this, we now know very well that there are no other “safe baskets for our eggs” within realistically reachable distances.

    Our only available option is to make sure the one basket we have is pretty robust and reasonably safe for at least a few hundred thousand years. Of course we can never absolutely guarantee this, but the search for absolute security is futile and only creates more insecurity.

    I agree with out gracious host. Go to Mars, if we can, because it’s fun and cool, if we have the available resources to spare. But forget about safely colonizing the rest of the Solar System for at least a very long time, let alone the stars. And I am a big booster of Space Programs and have been all my fairly long life.

    But at the very least, we need to learn one hell of a lot more before permanent habitation of the rest of the universe is even remotely feasible.

  13. says

    Our only available option is to make sure the one basket we have is pretty robust and reasonably safe for at least a few hundred thousand years

    Then again, one piece of that puzzle is having Someplace Else to do all of the stuff that we need in order to sustain our civilization, that would be devastating to the ecology if we continue to do it on earth: Particularly mining for raw materials, certain kinds of manufacturing, and energy production. It’s not so much a question of colonizing as development.

    There’s also the small matter that we are terraforming our planet, whether the particular terraforming we’re doiing right now is a particularly good idea is secondary. It is a matter of survival that we learn how to do this correctly and, chances are, doing it correctly will probably entail massive resources that are probably not available here (e.g., if we need to get more oxygen/whatever from somewhere to reset the CO2 balance, that probably means diverting comets or something).

    Which means we’re going to need some kind of presence in space, within our own solar system at least

    (yes, it’ll probably be a long, long time before we need anything from elsewhere).

  14. consciousness razor says

    Matthew Prorok:

    Staying on just one planet when we’re sitting in a cosmic shooting gallery is, as many of the species on Earth have learned, not a recipe for truly long-term survival.

    Earth has had life for a little more than four billion years, despite the kind of impacts you’re worried about, meaning those were manifestly survivable. And life will probably continue to be here until the Sun boils the planet several billion years from now. So unless that’s not “truly long-term” (if not, I’d like to know what is), then in fact there is some such recipe for the survival of life on a planet like ours. We already have it.

    If you’re talking about the survival of a particular species, like humans, then apparently no species persists for that long (much less orders of magnitude longer), due to all sorts of other evolutionary pressures, apart from being in a “cosmic shooting gallery” as you put it.

    Earth has a lot of nice features which have helped us, as well as other species that have come and gone. Let’s think about some of those:
    1) We have a nice big moon, which can take some hits on our behalf or divert some potentially threatening comets/asteroids away from our orbit.
    2) We have a nice atmosphere, which can soften the blow a little or break it on its way down. It’s also nice for us that it’s generally breathable, non-toxic and in a good range of temperatures/pressures. That also goes for many of the species we depend on — you might at least wonder what “long-term survival” would be like for us or how well it would go, if we didn’t have wheat for food or cotton for clothing or pine lumber for houses, or any other species we depend on for numerous things like that.
    3) We have nice big oceans here, which can take some hits that may otherwise be much more devastating. A big enough rock which is moving fast enough relative to us will still be very bad, but there’s at least some potential to limit the extent of the badness. An abundant supply of liquid water is obviously nice for lots of other reasons — we drink it, fish live in it, etc. — but I won’t delve into all of that now.
    4) We have a nice orbit. On top of being a good distance from the Sun (for the next few billion years), Earth is also not so close to a big scary-looking asteroid belt, as well as some gas giants with a zoo of moons and assorted objects around them, which would definitely have the potential to throw all sorts of unpredictable shit in our general direction. They obviously still could, even where we actually are, but those chances would go up if we were closer to the action.
    5) We have a nice strong magnetic field, protecting us from radiation. That’s often from very distant sources, and we can’t predict when/where it will be, much less do anything about it. So it’s awfully convenient that we don’t have to do much of anything (except maybe wear hats, use sunscreen, etc.), as long as we’re here. That might seem less scary than a big looming comet/asteroid. But if you’ve left behind our comfy blanket, then it certainly will be hitting you on a routine basis. It will be doing all sorts of scary shit, and you won’t even see it coming. It’s true that you probably won’t make lots of money producing a movie starring Bruce Willis, in which he heroically blocks a high-energy photon, saving the day — so you just put him on a big CGI rock to blow the thing up. Explosions are exciting. But anyway, that’s not how you want to think about which one is actually more of a problem for you, every single day you hope to survive somewhere in the universe.

    So what’s the plan supposed to be like, if it will give us (i.e., people and all of the other organisms we need) some kind of a recipe for long-term survival? If we took away all of those nice things, because we were on a planet like Mars … then why does that look like a tasty recipe to you?

    Even if it boosts our chances a little, by spreading the risk around or whatever it’s supposed to accomplish, how much of a boost do you expect that to be, given what we know about surviving on Earth? I mean, sure, on the face of it, it sounds reasonable enough to say you shouldn’t put all of your eggs in one basket…. But does it sound okay to pick another “basket” that is almost certainly not going to hold your “eggs” (or not for long, if it does at all)? And what if you do lose your first good-looking basket? That is, would a Mars colony depend on any resources from Earth, or would it be able to sustain itself indefinitely without anything like that? How would that work?

    Maybe you think Mars in particular is just a less-than-ideal choice (to put it mildly), so we should find another planet or moon somewhere else. Well, okay…. Where is that, and how far away is it? How is that going to work, for human beings and for whatever other species that would have to make the trip with us? The extra distance will make it even more impractical to transport resources to/from this colony, so it’ll have to be easy to set up camp there, without needing Earth for anything. This also assumes you’ve got a giant spaceship that offers everything you need, at least for many years/decades/centuries if not indefinitely. If your spaceship is good enough, maybe you don’t even need to aim it at a habitable planet, but one way or another, you’ve got something which is basically as good as Earth, only it’s at some other arbitrary location.

    Even supposing you had all of that, how exactly would that help? And what’s the problem we’re trying to solve? The problem is that several billion years of life existing in our little neighborhood just isn’t enough to do … I don’t know … whatever it is you (or some thing billions of years from now) wanted to do?

    It seems like we have enough trouble just planning ahead for a few years at a time — billions of them is asking for an awful lot. If my government (in the US) wasn’t constantly trying to blow up random people while in the process of throwing itself off a cliff, and more generally if things stabilized a bit for everybody for a reasonable length of time, then maybe the story would be at least slightly different…. maybe for a while. But it’s hard to imagine anything that would so radically change our situation, such that we’re actually doing anything to address events (like the Sun’s evolution to a red giant) that won’t happen for billions of years.

    Ed Seedhouse:

    But at the very least, we need to learn one hell of a lot more before permanent habitation of the rest of the universe is even remotely feasible.

    I don’t know what we may learn, but “the rest of universe” is an awfully big place. I assume you meant to say we should settle for “any other part of it” or something along those lines. There’s no sense in trying to inhabit all of it.

  15. says

    But the reason that probably will take us to the planets and the stars is simple survival. Staying on just one planet when we’re sitting in a cosmic shooting gallery is, as many of the species on Earth have learned, not a recipe for truly long-term survival.

    Humanity is overrated. Why not let it die with its planet?

  16. Ed Seedhouse says

    consciousnesses razor @27
    “3) We have nice big oceans here, which can take some hits that may otherwise be much more devastating”

    Nope. A big rock, say kilometer size, that hits the ocean would raise ginormously huge tsunami that would do a lot more damage world wide than that same rock hitting a continent.

  17. Ed Seedhouse says

    Marcus Ranum@27

    You have a point, I suppose. We will almost certainly go extinct long before the planet becomes uninhabitable for life. And who are we that we should object to sharing the fate of the vast majority of species on the planet?

    Still we’ve been around as “modern” humans for a hundred thousand years (maybe longer) or so and might make another hundred thousand if we smarten up.

  18. Brian English says

    There were moments in that clip when I thought the music was going to seque into ‘Careful with that Axe Euguene’ by Pink Floyd……

    Humanity is overrated. Why not let it die with its planet?

    Humanity will die or evolve into something else long before the Oceans boil off due to solar expansion….
    We aren’t going anywhere.

    As someone once said, it’s a dangerous planet, nobodies getting out alive!*

    *A few might die in space or when the air runs out on Mars.

  19. consciousness razor says

    Nope. A big rock, say kilometer size, that hits the ocean would raise ginormously huge tsunami that would do a lot more damage world wide than that same rock hitting a continent.

    The question is whether or not it would completely wipe out all people — not destroying a hemisphere or something like that, but the result is that humans as a species go extinct. Of course, something less than total extinction could still be very bad, but the stated justification for expanding beyond this planet is that we’re supposed to be worried about going extinct here, not just any old generic bad stuff that may happen.

    It isn’t so easy to do that, because we live “all over the planet” in certain a sense — except of course in very large areas (like the ocean) where we don’t — so it would need to be something extremely destructive if that’s what will happen. I’m sure a ginormously huge tsunami would be bad…. And as I said, with enough momentum, then it doesn’t matter where it hits or what it hits or what it’s made of, because a shockwave (not exactly your typical “tsunami”) will destroy the entire surface of the planet, fuck up its atmosphere, etc. That means our risk of extinction (or even a very bad day) goes down considerably, because those types of events are much more rare.

    A different way of putting it is that we’re already in a situation where all of our eggs are not in a single basket. Basically every continent is a different basket, and we live in these relatively dense pockets on the surface, in one basket or another. That is, we’re not evenly distributed across the entire surface of the planet. It might have been otherwise: we could’ve been a species that only lived on the poles or the equator, maybe we had a planet where we could spread out more or less uniformly all over the surface because nothing like an ocean is taking up large chunks of that space….

    But our actual situation is not like that. So in order for something to wipe out all of us in all of those separated pockets where we actually are, it will have to be a very big one indeed, because something less than that would not do the job. Otherwise, it may just be that some fish will have a very bad day, or people on one very unlucky continent will have a very bad day. As bad as that would be, it isn’t enough for all people to go extinct. The risk of that sort of thing is obviously much higher, but the super-rare planet-busting ones are the issue here, because it’s supposed to be the sort of thing we’re so worried about that we should seriously consider living on Mars. (Or wherever this safe place is supposed to be…. If you ask me, Earth itself is safer than anything else we’ll ever find, as long as we take care of it.)

  20. brett says

    @19 Marcus Ranum

    Judging by the silence in the stars, intelligent life is rare. It would be a shame to have it disappear, especially if it means some part of Earth’s biosphere might survive the end of the Earth itself. Of course, I don’t know whether we’ll be anything resembling what we our now by the time that happens – and in any case, we won’t have been in a hurry for a long time.

    @ Ed Seedhouse

    I get more optimistic about space stuff the longer the time-table. We really do seem to be making some remarkable progress on robotics, and that’s both a replacement for humans in exploration, and a massive potential aid for humans if they want to live anywhere in space. Want to live on Mars (or in an asteroid) in the 22nd or 23rd century? Have the robots build the habitat for you, and set everything up so you can go live in it if you want and can transport yourself there along with others. It might seem strange to choose to do so, but there’s people in large enough numbers to form communities who choose to live in desolate places on Earth.

    On the other hand, I’m very pessimistic about near-term efforts to do that. It just doesn’t make sense from either a cost perspective, or a technological one. Unless some of the private space efforts work out, I’d be surprised to see humans on Mars before 2050, and anything longer term before the 2070s.

  21. methuseus says

    As I’ve said elsewhere. I’d love to colonize space just for the fun and wonder of it. We would need some serious colonies to possibly get to the point of saving the human race if the Earth is gone.

    The minimum viable human population, in realistic scenarios (isolated islands), is around 10 male and 10 female. These people would have to be pretty friendly with each other, and their children as well. It would also be hard socially. These people would all have to be genetically compatible and have no genetic abnormalities (which we can’t really test for, necessarily, at this point). They would also need to be socially compatible.

    More realistically, for a non-Earth colony to be viable in that sense, they would likely need a few thousand people, since the people on the colony would not be 100% chosen for genetic viability in the case of an “accident” happening to Earth.

    Supporting a few thousand people off the Earth is a huge task that we will probably not be able to do for at least a century or a few. Though I would like it to come sooner, reality gets in the way.

  22. Holms says

    Rare… and/or exceedingly difficult to detect. One thing that is continually forgotten about is that signals attenuate over the square of the distance travelled, and also that planetary scale emissions are rather comprehensively overwhelmed by their parent star.

  23. Amphiox says

    “Staying on just one planet when we’re sitting in a cosmic shooting gallery is, as many of the species on Earth have learned, not a recipe for truly long-term survival.”

    Well, here’s the thing.

    On the the day of the Chicxulub impact that trigged the KT mass extinction that offed the dinosaurs, the very day, 99% of earth’s surface was still more habitable for humans than any place currently on Mars. Basically everywhere except for the immediate impact one of instant annihilation.

    From that day forward, for the next 10,000 years (ie roughly the entirety of human civilization since the invention of farming), earth remained at least an order of magnitude more habitable than any place on Mars. There were still places on earth, through all that time, where a community of naked humans with no technology more advanced that stone-tipped spears, could survive for more than a year. There is no place on Mars where you can say the same thing.

    Thus Mars is not now, nor for the foreseeable future, a viable haven for humans or any other earth life, in the event of a run-in with the “cosmic shooting gallery”. If our purpose is long term survival, then we are much better served to spend our current resources fortifying and defending the earth to prevent those impacts. In the event that one gets through and we are hit, we are still better off spending our resources trying to survive on the surface of earth than supporting a colony on Mars. It will be easier, cost less, and save more people.

    Only in a hypothetical distant future, with life support, manufacturing, ecological management and propulsion technologies far in advance of what we have today, where the civilization on earth at that time as more or less perfected the ability to manage earth’s ecosystems optimally and nearly indefinitely, would the resource expenditure of colonizing a planet like Mars, or attempting an interstellar flight to a extrasolar habitable world, be justifiable when compared to devoting those same resources to improving and maintaining earth’s environment, if the goal is longterm survival for the human species.

    If we cannot manage the environment of earth to ensure our longterm survival on earth, then we have no chance whatsoever of transforming Mars’ much more challenging environment into one where humans could live in large numbers long term and self-sufficiently. The first is a requirement for the second.

    And a Mars colony has to be fully self-sufficient to actually be useful as a “second basket”. An outpost with a small population of uber-rich, maintained by complex high technology that requires regular re-supply from earth, is of no use in this regard. If the supporting civilization on earth is taken out, and the resupply missions cease, such a colony is dead along with the homeworld.