Space colonization: Should humans settle beyond Earth?

Is it time for humans to inhabit space? SpaceX and NASA certainly think so. Elon Musk’s space company had its first rocket test flight and Musk has been vocal about his goal to reach Mars. NASA has also made strides towards space habitation by announcing the crew manning the next mission to the moon and unveiling 3D-printed habitats for four people to live like they would on Mars

The moon is also viewed as the next colonizable territory for the world, which has launched the U.S. into a fierce space race with China. NASA’s Artemis mission aims to get people to the moon once again and use that knowledge to “take the next giant leap: sending the first astronauts to Mars.” While the effort has set into high gear, there are plenty of critics of space colonization.

Some argue that there are far too many hurdles to jump before we can actually inhabit space, while others see it as the way of the future.

Pro: There is a chance for rapid scientific discovery

So far, much of our exploration of space has been through robots and technology, however, humans “can move faster than robots and make quicker decisions,” NASA chief scientist James Green told Upfront. This could allow for Mars and the moon to be studied and analyzed far faster and more efficiently. Sending humans to Mars could be a huge step in discovering whether it once contained life.

NASA revealed a potential habitat for four astronauts to live in Mars-like conditions in preparation for a Mars expedition in the future. “What can take a rover days and weeks to analyze, a person can study in just hours,” Green added. NASA also emphasized the goal of its Artemis mission to the moon is to “allow our robots and astronauts to explore more and conduct more science than ever before.”

Con: It distracts from fixing problems on Earth

While some view extraplanetary habitation as a way for the human race to survive, others see space travel and colonization as merely a distraction from addressing the problems on Earth. “We should deal with our own environmental issues here first,” wrote Bruce Dorminey in Forbes. “Then worry about terraforming Mars.” The lessons learned “from cleaning up our own planet and preserving its flora and fauna will only help us when terraforming the world next door.”

Climate change is currently one of the largest problems human civilization is facing. It is threatening our resources and livelihood. Advancing technology like carbon capture methods and geoengineering as well as switching to renewable energy can help combat climate change but require more investment to come to fruition. “The billions – if not trillions – of dollars needed to colonize Mars could, for example, be better spent investing in renewable forms of energy to address climate change,” argued Zahaan Bharmal of The Guardian. “There is no guarantee that the same fate would not befall Mars colonists.”

Pro: It is the logical next frontier in human discovery

Humans are meant to explore and space is simply the next treasure trove of discovery. “The greatest accomplishments come from taking risks, exploring the unknown, and reaching for the stars,” remarked Lauren Brace for The Central Trend. “For a planet that is constantly evolving, it seems only fitting that we expand our horizons to another destination out of this world.”

Exploration and discovery are tenets of the human experience and “we pick up the mantle of our explorer ancestors, and we explore again,” Jack Brady opined in The Michigan Daily. Having an otherworldly goal gives society a goal to work toward and “expanding, outwardly-focused civilizations are far less likely to turn on themselves,” per Fred Kennedy in Forbes. Brady adds that space exploration “gives us an opportunity to dream again — to change our course as a species forever.”

Con: It is unsafe for people to spend time in space long term

While the idea of being a species of more than one planet is exciting, the “idea of living on another world where we can’t be outside just doesn’t sound that appealing,” according to Bill Nye. In reality, neither the moon nor Mars has an atmosphere or environment that humans can freely live on as they do on Earth. Mars in particular would require terraforming or “transforming Mars into a more Earth-like habitat,” according to USA Today.

“Everything on Earth, from its atmosphere to its climate to its gravity, is a factor that we have evolved around,” and in turn, humans have the “extreme disability to survive anywhere other than Earth,” Skyler Verrone wrote in an opinion for The Triangle. Essentially, “it’s an enormous challenge to get humans safely to these destinations,” senior scientist for the Planetary Science Institute Amanda Hendrix told Upfront.

Pro: It could be a backup plan to prevent human extinction

With threats like climate change and nuclear war, moving to the moon or Mars might just be our only hope. Elon Musk has long supported this idea, saying that becoming interplanetary will “safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen.” Perhaps a “Planet B” is not a terrible idea.

Life on Earth is fragile as it is and any number of world-ending events could occur. “In the last 500 million years of the Earth’s history there have been five mass extinctions of species,” NASA’s director of planetary science Jim Greene, told NBC News. “If we’re going to live as a species, we’re going to have to ‘back up’ in other places … and that place is Mars.”

Con: It’s super expensive

Even if we do decide to move to the moon or Mars, the cost is a substantial barrier. Humans “require a vast support infrastructure to provide things like water, food, and breathable air,” Bharmal continued. All of these require significant technological advancement in addition to the cost of actually moving people on Earth to the moon or Mars. 

“The question isn’t whether or not we’re technologically capable of doing it, because we are. The question is whether or not we have the political will to do it,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. Governments have long expressed interest in putting man back on the moon and traveling to Mars but fell short when it came to budget. However now, there are private investors like Elon Musk as well as better technology. “The question is: Will we receive the budget to do it right now?” 

Is it time for humans to inhabit space? SpaceX and NASA certainly think so. Elon Musk’s space company had its first rocket test flight and Musk has been vocal about his goal to reach Mars. NASA has also made strides towards space habitation by announcing the crew manning the next mission to the moon and unveiling…

Is it time for humans to inhabit space? SpaceX and NASA certainly think so. Elon Musk’s space company had its first rocket test flight and Musk has been vocal about his goal to reach Mars. NASA has also made strides towards space habitation by announcing the crew manning the next mission to the moon and unveiling…