Life

Early Days On Mars: A Primer For The Issues First Colonists Would Face


National Geographic

Imagining life in space has been part of our collective fictions for some time. Many of us grew up watching some iteration of Star Trek with our parents or we have a strong opinion on the best Doctor Who or we still say that Firefly was robbed of its rightful hundreds of seasons. As a species, we’re drawn to shows, books, and movies about discovery — humans pushing the boundaries of what we know and where we’ve been. It’s in our very nature to explore.

“For 95% of our existence, we’ve been nomadic,” Stephen Petranek, author of the book How We’ll Live on Mars, says. “Humans are two million-years-old. Up until just 20,000 years ago, we spent our time moving over the horizon to the next area where there was more game, more fruits, and more things that we could eat. Then, we would move beyond that.”

It makes sense then that, now that we’ve explored the corners of our own planet so thoroughly, we would feel the longing to move again. To go beyond the horizon we can see. And Mars is the next great frontier — wild and untamed.

Mars became Stephen Petranek’s scientific obsession when he interviewed Elon Musk for a TED project. Talking to the Tesla visionary and hearing his plans blew Petranek’s mind. Through their conversations, the writer realized that going to Mars wasn’t just possible in the future, the current technology makes it possible now. Bigger still, he felt certain that a mass pilgrimage to the famed “red planet” could save our species from extinction.

No wonder Petranek’s book, How We’ll Live On Mars, grabs people’s imaginations so strongly. This isn’t purely fiction but it does inspire the imagination. Enough so that it became the inspiration for the NatGeo show, MARS — a hybrid of real scientific interviews and scripted drama about the first Martian colony. Recently, we talked to Stephen Petranek in advance of the second season of MARS (out November 12th 9/8c) and he addressed problems on Earth that could still plague us on another planet.

PART I: We’ll have to figure out who owns land on Mars.

National Geographic

The 1967 Space Treaty, modeled after what we did with Antarctica, says no nation can build anything in orbit around the Earth or in space that is a threat to any other nation. So, you can’t militarize space — although it has been militarized to some extent. And no one can own anything outside of Earth’s orbit.

That means if you go to the Moon, you can’t plant a flag on the moon and say the United States owns the Moon. This is contrary to the way it was for many, many years (on Earth). Throughout Earth’s history, explorers would go off to other continents and, even though there were indigenous civilizations, they would plant the flag and say, “This belongs to Spain and this belongs to France”.

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