Do We Deserve Mars?

I was recently engaged in a conversation about Mars.  Not about whether we can go to Mars, but whether we should go to Mars.  My friend basically argued that we shouldn’t go to Mars because we don’t deserve to go; and we don’t deserve to go because we can’t even organize ourselves properly on Earth.

He is definitely right that there are a lot of things we still need to take care of on our own planet for our own species and the environment.  There is still extreme poverty and inequality, several international wars, rapid loss of biodiversity, several forms of intense environmental degradation and unsustainable fossil fuel emission levels causing global temperatures to increase dramatically.  By his logic we don’t deserve to populate two planets because the universe does not need any more of our chaos, our war, our pollution, our poor record of humane treatment of our own species and all life.  Even Carl Sagan echoed this point saying “we who cannot even put our own planetary home in order, riven with rivalries and hatreds, are we to venture out into space?”.

We are not a static species

However, we are not a static species.  We have made incredible moral, technological, cultural and economic improvements over time.  The problems that plagued our species 100 years ago, are either no longer major issues or are less significant issues than they were.  Although there is still poverty, economic inequality, warfare, etc., the global community as a whole has never been so wealthy, healthy and peaceful.  This trend towards greater wealth, health and peace has been happening throughout history and there is no reason to suggest that it won’t continue into the 21st century and beyond.  We are a species that constantly learns from our mistakes and adapts accordingly.  At the moment we are learning how to function as a truly global species, and I wouldn’t bet against us eventually putting our planetary home in order.

But what if I am wrong and we don’t?  Should we continue to spread our problems across the universe, starting with Mars?

What if we don’t improve?

Even if our species fails to improve and the problems that plague us now only become worse, I still believe the moral position of whether we should go to Mars is just not valid.  This position claims we shouldn’t go to Mars because we are destroying the Earth and that if we keep spreading we will just destroy Mars and keep making the universe a messy, chaotic place filled with the virus of humanity.

But the universe is just too big for us to damage, pollute and destroy it.

I have so many points I’d like to make here it is hard to organize my thoughts.  So maybe I will just list them:

a) What is there to destroy on Mars?  If we don’t go to Mars it will just continue circling our star for the next 5 billion years as a dead, lifeless and cold world.  Our presence would only bring life:

b) Are we even capable of destroying the Earth?  I mean even if we nuked ourselves off the face of the planet, the Earth would still recover.  Even if we kill most of the species on the planet, that has already happened five times before without our presence.  Life always returned afterwards, just as strong and diverse as before.  AND even if we could destroy our planet, what would it matter on a universal scale?  Our planet isn’t going to be habitable in a couple billion years anyway and in all likelihood there are 100’s of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone.  We could purposefully destroy a billion Earth’s and it wouldn’t matter on a universal scale.

c) This sort of connects to the idea of my last point.  We could colonize Mars and we could go onto colonize the rest of the galaxy and even if while we did this we were spreading poverty, war, pollution, etc. around with us it still wouldn’t matter on a universal scale.  There are 100’s of billions of galaxies just like our own.  Our species can’t pollute the universe.  It is too big, it is too resilient.

One more thing…

But there is one more thing to consider as well.  This wasn’t a consideration in the conversation I had with my friend, but I have talked to people who feel we shouldn’t go to space because we have too many things to worry about on our own planet.  I guess the logic is that we have a finite amount of resources and they are better allocated here on our home planet.

This argument is unappealing to me for two reasons:

a) We allocate our resources horribly already:

As the graphic above illustrates, the world wastes 2.1 trillion dollars on military related expenditures every year.  This is money spent for no other reason than to kill and exploit one another.  Putting more money into space would not all of a sudden make solving our other problems impossible.  Solving our problems are currently impossible because we waste money on the military.  If we could get along as a truly harmonized global species and we could stop investing money in the military that money could go towards far more useful things on our own planet (like reducing income inequality and reducing hunger and poverty).

b) Money spent towards space doesn’t disappear in space

People seem to jump to the conclusion that space programs are a waste of money because it is money we are just losing to pointless exploration.  But this is really a misguided belief.  Money dedicated to space programs is invested in jobs and technology that helps our planet and species.  I think this is key.  Money dedicated towards space programs isn’t a burden on society.  It creates jobs and improves technologies that will benefit society for decades.  Also, the intangible effects of investing in space are infinitely valuable.  As Neil Degrasse Tyson has pointed out before, when you invest in space it gets the public more interested in science, technology, school and learning. It stimulates the next generation to literally reach for the stars (sorry to be corny!).  Although this doesn’t mean all those kids will become astronauts, it will get more people interested in school and learning and will likely lead to a more educated society with more useful skills that can be applied in a variety of different professions.  Space isn’t a waste of money.

I hope this wasn’t an article that floats around too many big ideas without focusing coherently on the main message.  I just think that claiming we shouldn’t go to Mars because we can’t put our planet in order as a species is an argument that is wrong for many reasons.  It is wrong because we are not static, we keep changing and improving.  It is wrong because even if we do spread our problems throughout the universe, it wouldn’t effect the universe in the slightest.  And finally it is wrong because putting money into space can only improve our species.

Let’s go to Mars!



About Cadell Last
I am a science educator, freelance science writer, and founder of The Advanced Apes based in Toronto, Ontario. In the past my academic research focused on the evolution, ecology, and behaviour of non-human primates (i.e., chimpanzees, gorillas, ring-tailed lemurs). Currently, my official blog, The Ratchet, can be found via The Advanced Apes and Svbtle. I enjoy exploring recent research in human evolutionary sciences, as well as biology, ecology, astronomy, physics, and computer science. My work has been featured in Scientific American, American Humanist, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and Jane Goodall Institute of Canada. I am also exploring science popularization in new mediums in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios with an animated YouTube channel. You can contact me on Twitter (@cadelllast) or via email:

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