Paul G Abel, Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, University of Leicester:
Tenancy agreements come in all sorts of timescales, and it may surprise you to learn that our tenancy on this planet will one day run out. Although it is a long way off, one day our benevolent sun – for which all life on the Earth is dependent – will cease its maternal behaviour and start on a course of destructive behaviour which will, more than likely, see the inner planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) reduced to little more than dead, smoldering rocks.
I speak of course of the Sun’s transition from middle age to retirement, whereby it stops being the familiar steady yellow star we all know and depend on, and becomes a red giant- its outer surface swelling and expanding to encompass the Earth. If human beings haven’t found somewhere else to live by this time, then they will pass into extinction.
It is clear then that the survival of the human race depends upon it finding a new home, ideally on a new world out there among the millions of stars of our Milky Way galaxy. Migration of an entire species from one solar system to another is an enormous undertaking, and its first stages start today in the here and now with our efforts to understand how to make space travel quicker, cheaper and more reliable. The next step will be learning how to live on worlds completely unsuited to human life. Such is the case for Mankind’s tentative first step towards the Red Planet.
Human security and longevity does not depend entirely on technological advancement – there is a psychological element too, one which currently governs our entire way of looking at the material Universe. If we were to take an objective look at Mankind’s stewardship of this world, the record is hardly a glittering one. The continual plundering of natural resources to feed an ever-increasing population has taken its toll on the surface and atmosphere. The human condition means that such resources are rarely distributed efficiently. In many ways, we are the archetypal bad neighbours, keeping our music loud and leaving rubbish out in the street.
Yet despite this, there is much about mankind which shows great promise. At the moment, the human race is like an adolescent child, but as it matures, it has the potential to be a great force for good. We shall need to realise that all those worlds out in the Universe are not a natural extension of Earth; they are not ours by right to plunder and do with as we please, and although Mankind is worth preserving, so are the worlds we intend to colonise.
So yes, we humans should indeed go to Mars, but we should also be acutely aware that Mars does not belong to us, and we should treat it in the same manner as we do our nature reserves and places of natural beauty. As the signs in such places often say, “Please try to leave the place as you found it, and take your litter home with you!”
Paul Abel is a Teaching Assistant in the University of Leicester’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Science. He is a keen amateur astronomer, a contributor to numerous astronomy magazines and co-presenter of BBC One’s The Sky at Night.
- Find more posts about: Should man go to Mars?