Opinion: let’s make Earth great before colonizing Mars

    23 Nov 2021

    It’s time we introspect if we are morally and socially eligible to inhabit worlds when we are competing for our own destruction in our beautiful blue planet, the only place we can call it home, claims Jaykhosh Chidambaran in his article for the Arabian Stories.

    Mark Watney, the stranded astronaut and protagonist of the book ‘The Martian’ laments his solitary life on Mars in these desperate words, “My terrifying struggle to stay alive became somehow routine”. The Andy Weir best-selling science fiction novel, The Martian and its film adaptation by the legendary director Ridley Scott, summarizes the sensational excitement of adventure of a planned human mission to Mars. NASA is on a journey to Mars, the mythological God of War, the Red Planet touted as the next human habitation in the Solar System. For decades, NASA and its partners have launched unmanned orbiters, rovers and landers to the Red Planet.

    Our understanding of it has since been dramatically increased, which NASA believes, will be fundamental and provide a groundbreaking information database for future explorers! The Curiosity Rover has collected wealth of information on the risk from high energy cosmic rays and ionizing radiation which future astronauts will encounter.  It has also been discovered that ancient Martian soil was suitable for supporting life when it found traces of sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon – the key elements necessary for life- in a powder sample it drilled in ‘Sheepbed’ mudstone in Yellowknife Bay on Mars. Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover will study the Martian terrain for microbial life, bio signatures (past microbial life) and availability of resources for human survival, including production of oxygen from Martian atmosphere.

    Are we finally on trajectory to colonize Mars, if NASA overcomes the staggering funding constraints and set sail for our new home with the first humans in the early 2030’s? Billionaires are already talking about Mars colonization as if it’s as easy as making Margherita cocktails! Jeff Bezos of Amazon wishes to live there, Elon Musk of Tesla is projecting a population of 1 million in the next 50 years and the maverick businessman Richard Branson of Virgin Group wants to start a family on the Red Planet!

    But what are the facts? Are we biologically configured to survive there? Mars is a barren wasteland of reddish Iron Oxide devoid of the elemental pre-requisite of human life – Oxygen! The gravity is 40% less compared to Earth, which necessitates wearing heavy spacesuits in addition to oxygen canisters. And there is no food because no crops can be grown! It takes 8 months to travel to Mars. The probability of a psychological breakdown is paramount since cut-off from fellow humans; bereft of any real-time communications and it costs in excess of 500 billion for the mission!!

    And no waterfalls and butterflies, streams and brooks, rivers and oceans, verdant plains and lush forests, mountains and snow, no fun and frolic, neither joy nor sorrow, neither hope nor promise, no love, no heartbreaks, no longing and none to wait for…

    We have it all here… on Earth… and we are here…!!

    It’s time we introspect if we are morally and socially eligible to inhabit worlds when we are competing for our own destruction in our beautiful blue planet, the only place we can call it home. We have notoriously abused nature and an inflection point is imminent for a major geographical and environmental catastrophe. Emission of greenhouse gases are increasing exponentially; sea levels are rising at alarming levels as ice shelves in the Arctic and Antarctica are breaking off.  Underwater volcanic activity is rampant and an upsurge could cause marine acidification, resulting in massive depletion of global fish stocks, that will jeopardize millions of livelihoods on an unprecedented scale. Permafrost is thawing in Northern Canada, Alaska and the Arctic Tundra, opening up pathways in the deep reservoirs of earth to release toxic gases of Methane and Carbon. It is warping landscapes and destroying vegetation. Prehistoric pathogens and deadly viruses like anthrax, small pox, influenza and plague could be resurrected from the cemeteries in the permafrost zones across North America and Russia.

    Have we ever imagined the world we are bequeathing to our posterity? Kids have new toys in Syria, Iraq, Gaza and other war-ravaged nations – empty magazines and hand grenades!! They witness their fathers burying the headless bodies and limbless torsos of their siblings and human bombs exploding… all at an impressionable age… causing irreversible damage… and woefully, we use our free will to… ignore!

    We have lost love and light in our hearts… and ironically wage war and murder millions to determine which religion is the most peaceful…preposterous ideologies of ruin run amok…corrupting societies and good people. True to Karl Marx, religion has become “the opiate of the masses” and as the English poet Matthew Arnold bemoaned that “we are on a darkling plain, where ignorant armies clash at night” in his iconic poem Dover Beach. Many are extremely religious and at the same time extremely wicked. We are still, only man who has forfeited the opportunity to become human. Our civilizational glory has been regressed to outclassing, outgrowing, outwitting and outpacing each other. Politics, business and social life are ruefully reduced to a Zero-Sum Game. “Beggar thy neighbor” is the foreign policy motto for both advanced and emerging economies. And in a 100 billion galaxies, there isn’t yet another human being though!

    Isn’t it better we make Earth great again by changing our wicked and selfish ways before we embark on our journey to become a multi-planet species?

    If we would have failed to inhabit Mars due to insurmountable physical, terrestrial and biological challenges, the least good thing would be that, Mars will remain as a Red Planet in the Solar System, undefiled by human greed and deception. Humans have wasted the spectacular blue planet Earth as its dominant species. Are we embarking on another journey to disrupt the peace and tranquility of another planet? To script another gory tale of wars and bloodshed, hatred and destruction? The Socratic aphorism reverberates with astounding clarity in the face of human hypocrisy, “Physician, heal thyself…”

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