There’s a story on New Scientist about the feasibility of growing plants in space and on Mars. The conclusion is that while some organisms can survive space travel (even in the vacuum of space!) they will not survive the harsh UV rays of the Sun that fall on the red planet. Plus, the dirt on Mars probably doesn’t have the organic material that would be friendly to growing plants.
All of this means that if we’re going to send humans to Mars we’re going to have to bring some potting soil with us, and some classically-styled UV shielding greenhouse domes. I’m okay with that. But there’s still the ethical question of potentially destroying life that may already exist there.
I hate to be the one to say it but, if there are microorganisms alive on Mars… uh, does that matter? Yes, yes, it matters, I know, and there are a lot of people who would be really, really excited about studying the bacteria or whatever may be over there, but we might have already contaminated Mars with Earthling organisms, so…
So maybe I’m just being selfish and I don’t want the scarce possibility of microbial life on Mars to prevent Humans from going there. But is that so wrong? Throughout human history we have ventured forth into the unknown wilds, wiped out the species that have stood in our way or posed a threat. It’s all in the name of progress.
Historically that progress has been in pursuit of new reserves of natural resources, or the conquering of other people. Mars doesn’t have that, and the advancement of “science” isn’t a motivating factor for most people. So my prediction is that we’re not going to go to Mars unless there’s a decent middle-class business case for doing it. Kind of like how the desert of Arizona used to be an inhospitable, you know, desert.
Sun City, Arizona is one of those places where if the money ran out they wouldn’t be able to water the lawns, or run the air conditioning and all the golf courses would dry up and blow away. They had to destroy an ecosystem to build it but now it’s home to over 40,000 delighted old people. Which is great, because I’m sure that for a lot of them this is what they’ve wanted for most of their lives. If we can live here, we can certainly live on Mars, we just have to be willing to spend the money and kill the microbes to do it.
Yeah, that’s right, I’m actually saying lets build some retirement communities on Mars. Under glass domes.