Why Mars? / by Bryan Bishe

A lot of people think that going to Mars would be a waste of resources that could otherwise be spent to make life better for people on Earth. That’s true, to a certain extent. We could save the billions of dollars it would take to get to and survive on Mars. But how would we spend it? Where could we invest that money to have the biggest impact on the future of humanity? I think the answer is to spend money on Science.

The problem with spending money on Science, though, is that people want results. They want to see something right away; something that will convince them that it’s worth their tax dollars (or tax-deductible donations to non-profits). And Science often doesn’t work like that. Science is advanced by countless failed experiments, dead-ends, and diversions. The path forward isn’t always clear, and for non-scientists, that process can seem like a waste of money. And yet, science has done more to improve the day-to-day lives of modern humans than any other activity. So the question becomes: How do we draw attention to the need for more investment in scientific research?

One of the ways? Big, splashy projects that really get people excited about the prospects of science. Projects like going to the Moon, or colonizing Mars. They give us a goal, a reason for continuing to spend money on Science. And that research, no matter how any particular experiment turns out, will benefit all the people of Earth.

Mars is never going to be an outlet for an over-populated, warming Earth, but it really highlights the point: the reason to go to Mars isn’t Mars; it’s Earth. Mars is like Earth minus the benefits of our home planet’s biosphere. To survive on Mars, we’re going to have to excel at sustainability. We’ll have to treat our waste as an invaluable resource, rather than a bi-product to be pumped into our local waterways. We’ll have to find ways to live and manufacture things like plastics without the benefit of fossil fuels, in a high CO2 atmosphere. In other words, the science we’ll have to do, and the subsequent technologies we’ll develop to survive Mars will also let us live more sustainably on Earth.

If we’re going to survive the consequences of global warming, we’re going to have to get much better at functioning efficiently. Right now, on Earth, we’re pampered with cheap fossil fuels: the legacy of billions of years of life, processed and refined. Billions of years of energy captured from sunlight by tiny micro-organisms, available to power our cars, cell phones, and TVs. Mars has (as far as we know) none of those resources.

That’s the most important reason that Mars is a worthwhile goal. Not because it’s a place to expand the reach of life, not because we’ll need to jump ship from a warming Earth, not because of the incredible things we might find there (though those are all good reasons). The most important reason is because it gives us a goal, and a reason to fund science; science that will help us all, in the long run. Do your part to support scientific research by donating today.