What kind of social issues do you support? I mean really support by volunteering every weekend at your local pet shelter and maybe adopting that cat you totally fell in love with? I admire the people who really want to make a difference in people’s lives. Ghandi led a successful nonviolent campaign that gained independence for India. People with nerves of steel and names like John Glenn, Gene Kranz, Chris Kraft and Neil Armstrong were on the front lines of America’s effort to put men on the Moon. These were people who were willing to roll up their sleeves and actually do something rather than sit back and complain about the state of things.
I try not to be one of the complainers. I know perfectly well that this planet can be a sad sorry place and there’s not a lot I can do for starving people in Africa. You try to make me feel bad by showing me videos of kids with their ribs sticking out? Tough. When I’m not making much of an income, no number of big-eyed starving children is going to help me afford even twenty cents a day to feed them and I know part of my money would have been used to pay for that TV commercial anyway.
However, I know there are things I can do. I volunteered for Mars One because I know it’s a shame that NASA seems to lack both direction and the budget it takes to do anything worthwhile. The shuttle is retired and, with the recent tensions with Russia, there’s a chance that our access to the Space Station could be cut off. However, me signing a petition isn’t going to help matters. Bas Lansdorp founded Mars One because he knew there was a serious chance that a private organization could do what the U.S. government is unwilling to do if he can only find the funding. He also knew that actually colonizing another planet is going to take an entirely different breed of cat from your ordinary run-of-the-mill astronaut. So he threw the applications wide open so that anyone could apply and I signed up with the reasoning that I can be more effective in supporting human expansion to other planets by putting my own life on the line. This is me giving up on signing petitions from the comfort of my own home and actually taking a real opportunity to go to Mars.
I’ve heard some people talking about why we want to send people to Mars in the first place. Couldn’t the money be better used to help solve the social issue of the week? What I’ve learned is that there’s not a lot I can say to convince the skeptics. These are people who might check the weather report before hitting the golf course and then use a GPS-enabled range finder while on the green without thinking about the fact that there are satellites in orbit that make accurate weather reports and GPS possible. They look at Mars and might not know that it’s an average of 225 million kilometers from Earth. They just don’t see how colonizing Mars can affect their daily lives.
In all fairness, it probably won’t affect them any more than being entertained by one of the better reality shows out there. However, I very often ask the complainers what they’ve done lately to solve their favorite social issues. Usually, they can’t give me an honest answer because the one-word answer is, “Nothing.” And usually it’s not on a golf course, so fortunately they can’t go after me with a golf club. Then I laugh and tell them that I’m an actual Mars One candidate because the way for me to solve my favorite social issue is to sign up for the ultimate high-risk, high-reward operation.
It’s not that I don’t support feeding starving children or saving dolphins (which, BTW, are the coolest animals ever). It’s that I realize that some large corporations have marketing budgets of more than a billion dollars. I put up with the reality show side of Mars One because I figure we might as well snag our share of those overblown marketing budgets and apply that money to a worthy cause. This is the entire reason I’ve been yarping at the Bitcoin community to get involved while sponsorships are still cheap. The currency of the future can be involved in the future of space travel if businesses that deal mostly in cryptocurrencies would simply pony up the Bitcoin it takes to have a logo and blurb about their business on the official Mars One website. It also makes such a good argument when I’m talking to those golf players. They generally agree with me that, if the 36 companies that spent more than $1 billion in advertising in 2011 had just donated half that money to the Salvation Army, it might have made a real impact in helping the poor. (Here’s a list of those 36 companies if you’re interested.) So there are definitely bigger money-wasters than space exploration.
Sometimes you just need to buy bitcoin with credit card instantly. We all know from NASA’s PR efforts that spinoffs from the space program has enabled a wide range of products that include stations for remote monitoring of patients in hospitals, improved methods for early detection of threats to food crops, a type of insulating foam that reduces the spread of flames in an aircraft fire, and a type of graphite that can be used in molds for poured glass artwork. What kinds of benefits could grow out of establishing colonies on Mars?
I could rattle off some of the obvious ones. Mars will literally be a new world that will give people who have been dissatisfied with life on Earth a chance to build a new life on a virgin planet. I say “a chance” because many of those people won’t be prepared for the risks involved with attempting to settle the frontier. However, like the Puritans who sailed to America to escape religious prosecution, many people may still believe that the risk is worth the chance at freedom. And if the nations they originally came from are smart, they’ll just be like, “Good-bye and good luck,” while inwardly going, “YESSS! That’s fewer annoying Puritans in our backyard and all we had to do was let them leave.”
The colonization of Mars will also lead to new technologies like improved agricultural methods that can feed people without the inefficiencies currently involved in the agricultural industry. The Mars One plan calls for a “greenhouse” module that can produce enough food to sustain four people with more being added as new colonists arrive. This will include a special kind of light source that only emits light at the frequencies that plants actually use with very little being wasted on frequencies that plants don’t. The plants can be suspended in a solution that provides nutrients using technology that already exists. Improvements adapted to the needs of future Martians can provide unique greenhouse technologies that adapt the Martian regolith, which isn’t precisely soil, into a form that can be used by plants like asparagus. I’ve joked about smuggling coconut and banana plants to Mars, too, simply because these plants have so many uses and we can develop new ways to grow them in the Martian environment. This might be difficult to envision now, but future generations of Martian colonists can develop new ways to efficiently produce food that makes local, sustainable agriculture practical for anyone to use. It would sure be nice to see community gardens that can grow all the food a town needs take the place of the produce aisle in the local supermarket, wouldn’t it?
With its lighter gravity, Mars could reasonably become a jump-off point for the development of the rest of the solar system. Imagine the looks on the faces of the CEOs of large Earth-based mining companies when we suddenly start hauling in shiploads of valuable rare-Earth elements that we mined in the asteroid belt. Miners on Earth have very little incentive to care about the environmental impact that their operations have other than the obvious health risks, but miners in the asteroid belts will understand that one mistake could leave them wheezing and coughing for the rest of their lives if they survive at all along with the fact that it could cost them a couple of paychecks simply because of the fact that they have to clear out until it’s safe to go in and work again. This will mean improvements in mining technology that will hopefully improve conditions of Earth-based miners along with making their work more efficient if their companies are willing to adopt them. If they use that ever-dangerous phrase, “We’ve always done it this way,” they will collapse under the weight of a combination of mines that are emptying of valuable ore and interplanetary traders who bring in the good stuff. This can be good for helping Earth begin the process of healing itself of the damage done by mining.
Those are just a few examples. Really Mars One is simply starting the process because, if successful, we will demonstrate that it’s possible to live on Mars. We might last for one month or we might last for twenty years, but we will have proven that people are still capable of becoming the rugged space frontiersman of the same sort that you might have read about in tales of the American frontier.