Humanity’s Survival Dependent on Mars Exploration

Russell Jaffe, Columnist

Elon Musk — the founder and CEO of Tesla Motors and private aerospace company SpaceX — conducted a question and answer session on Reddit Oct. 23 to discuss his plan to begin a permanent, self-sufficient colonization of Mars in as little as eight years. Using the largest rocket ever designed, Musk hopes to send up to one million people on a trip to the red planet through a series of 10,000 flights. With scouting missions to test the rockets beforehand and establish necessary infrastructure, such as refueling stations on Mars, a full trip for the volunteers could take as little as 80 days. With increasing environmental degradation here on Earth, expansion is increasingly necessary. The colonization of Mars is not merely a matter of exploration; it is a crucial step toward the salvation of our planet and our species.

Even though countless questions — such as the source of funding for these plans and their feasibility — still remain unanswered, NASA has publicly praised Musk’s ambition to confront one of the most important challenges of this generation, saying it “applauds all those who want to take the next giant leap — and advance the journey to Mars.”

“Either [humanity is] going to become multiplanetary, or it’s going to remain confined to one planet and eventually there’s going to be an extinction event,” Musk said.

In fact, 70 percent of biologists believe that we are currently in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event — the fifth one being the asteroid that ended the age of dinosaurs. Every day that humanity remains confined to a planet we keep degrading, we risk becoming the next species doomed to extinction. When asked whether humanity has any chance of survival, journalist Elizabeth Kolbert simply wrote, “You wouldn’t want to find out.”

This generation marks the turning point at which human practices must evolve before environmental change becomes irreversible. This September, global carbon dioxide levels officially exceeded 400 parts per million, a tipping point that climate scientists explain is irreversible in the coming decades.

Of course, with so much of Musk’s plan still shrouded in mystery, there are many who doubt that colonization of Mars is even possible. After all, how could a spacecraft shield itself from the copious amounts of radiation that it would face over the course of its journey? How could a Mars colony become self-sufficient without constant support from Earth? There are valid reasons why nobody has gone to Mars before, and as a result, it is easy to see Musk’s plan as foolhardy. However, even if this were the case, even if all of Musk’s work is just a pipe dream that will never amount to anything more than blueprints and a nice speech, his vision of reaching the stars will still help humanity by advancing science that will be useful here on Earth.

Historically, investment in space exploration has accelerated technology in other sectors as well. Job opportunities in mathematics and the sciences spiked during the Space Race. More recently, NASA has contributed some of the most important research in robotics, artificial limbs and computer technology. For example, the publicly available “NASA Visualization Explorer” allows ordinary people to learn about climate change and watch satellite data in real time. In fact, NASA’s water purification systems paired with Musk’s newly publicized solar panel design may prove to be vital tools in saving the environment on Earth. Whether we remain on Earth or make it to Mars, Musk should be commended for his ambitious plan to advance humanity.