It’s really happening. Among Earthbound, upward-gazing humans, there has always been a deep-seated fascination with outer space; witness the huge popular reaction to the recent solar eclipse. But efforts by SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and other commercial companies to fly folks into low Earth orbit in conjunction with NASA signal an acceleration of that interest, or what has been called a “new space race.” When rocket factories, cargo missions, passenger flights and space exploration open up “a whole new world of business,” you know that momentum will build. According to a NASA director, a manned mission to Mars is “the pinnacle of Mt. Everest” at this point– but once Everest has been scaled, what will keep the momentum going?
In my science fiction novel Fourth World, NASA’s Tharsis Colony on Mars is left stranded when a great war results in the formation of one world government (the PWE) and the elimination of NASA. Here’s an excerpt:
“At other times, Mr. Walker suggested that the colony’s downfall actually preceded the PWE, that the slow death- he termed it the “apoptosis”- of Tharsis Colony was encoded in its DNA at the very moment it was conceived. To explain this apoptosis, Mr. Walker would use his guiding principle: follow the water. The second manned mission to Mars, launched in 2049 (thus nicknamed “The New Forty-Niners”) discovered significant quantities of liquid underground water, which had only to be mined in order to allow large-scale colonization. Of course, water was necessary for supporting life, but beyond that, water was found in perchlorates, hydrated salts which could be converted to solid rocket fuel (this was before the harnessing of nuclear fusion, Mr. Walker reminded them). The seminal discovery of water, he said, sweeping both arms dramatically to his left, then to his right, essentially divided the history of humanity on Mars into the pre- and post-Forty-Niner eras.”
Regarding the former, Mr. Walker reviews for his second-grade class the decades-long history of Mars exploration:
“… Many other missions contributing to the ultimate colonization of Mars, such as Mariner, Pathfinder, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Opportunity and Spirit, were never forgotten by history.
Also never forgotten: the fact that the United States agency NASA had been responsible for all of these missions. Sure, Mr. Walker allowed, successful probes were launched by Russia, Europe, China, India, Brazil, New Zealand, and even private enterprises. But only the United States had the means to access the water- to monopolize this most vital of natural resources- and establish a full-fledged colony. Tharsis was a triumph for the United States, but to the rest of the world, it was only the latest example of American empire-building and colonialism.”
But merely finding the means to colonize Mars doesn’t explain the need to colonize, does it? There have to be assets to exploit once you get there (and in Fourth World, it turns out, there are valuable resources to discover). Absent such assets, would escaping Earth justify the trouble and cost of such a long journey? Despite Hurricane Harvey’s devastating effect on Texas and the startling rise in the number of 500-year floods in just the past decade, climate-change deniers in Congress and the White House still determine US policy. It seems we will continue to prop up the coal industry until all the coal mines are under floodwaters. In the original Mars or Bust (which appeared on this blog January 7th, while I was still in post-election shock), I coined a name for the manned SpaceX mission to Mars: Elon’s Ark. Let’s hope commercial space flight literally takes off: when climate change can no longer be reversed, we’re going to need a lot more than one Ark!