Monday, October 21, 2013

I Vote Moon-Base

According to the Mars One Project, more than 100,000 people applied to be on the first voyage to the red planet despite the fact that it's a one-way trip. Now I'm all for space exploration; in fact, I think that's humanity's only hope for long-term survival. We've all seen what happens when a big rock slams into our planet.
Aw fuck.

As far as I'm concerned, the faster we establish a foothold on another world, the better.

But why Mars? Or more specifically, why Mars first?

Our obsession with the red planet is ancient and well-documented. Before we knew it was just another planet hurtling through space, we thought Mars was a god, typically one of war, fire, or plain old destruction. In time we became obsessed with Mars as a source of alien life and, more recently, as the possible origin of life on our own world. We've sent a few machines to the red planet and recently discovered traces of water. And now there's plans to send a bunch of people over there by 2023 and make a reality TV show out of it.

The logistical problems of going to Mars are staggering. First there's the 9-month voyage through the freezing abyss of space and the effects such a voyage will have on the human body. Then there's the issue of what the lucky applicants will do once they reach the red planet. Where are they going to live? How will they adapt to the harsh conditions on the planet's surface? And once their supplies run out, how will they feed themselves? It's not as if they can start raising cattle or growing their own food. Nor could we send them supplies across 225 million kilometers of space.

If the Mars One project is starting to sound like a suicide mission to you, that's because it kind-of is. The human desire for exploration and discovery is admirable and, in my opinion, essential to the prosperity of our species, but it doesn't justify sending a bunch of people to their death.

Here's the thing, though: it doesn't have to be a suicide mission. Or at the very least we can give these brave souls a fighting chance at survival. How, you ask?

By building a moon-base.

M-O-O-N. Moon, bitches. We going.

I know it sounds crazy, but think about it. The moon is way closer than Mars and we've already been there (unless you think the Moon landing was a hoax). Why are we going from zero space colonies to colonizing Mars? That's like someone who has never gone for a jog signing up for a marathon.
Think of my proposed moon-base as training for the marathon. If we can’t manage to establish a foothold on our dusty old moon then we certainly aren’t ready to send people to Mars with no ticket home. 

Logistically the moon is a much better site for our first extra-planetary settlement. Its close enough that we could send help and supplies if something goes sideways. The moon may not possess the same mystique as Mars in our collective imagination but its settlement would be much more practical. It could serve as a dump for hazardous materials, a jump-off point for further space exploration, a site for testing dangerous new technologies, etc.

You may notice the liberal use of the word "we" throughout this post. According to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the Moon and all outer space is the province of all humanity, and that's exactly who I am referring to here. Colonizing the moon ought to be an international endeavor led by private citizens, not governments. In this one thing I believe the Mars One project has got it right. Greedy capitalist governments are ruining our planet; we should strive to keep such outdated and dangerous organizations out of space.

Working together to establish a permanent human settlement on the moon would certainly bring us closer as a species and who knows? It might even help us realize that we are at our best when we cooperate toward a greater purpose, a greater good.

So yeah, Mars is cool and all that but if you ask me, I vote Moon-Base. Once we nail that, we can start planning for Mars.

And beyond.