Mandy Fisher

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The colonization of Mars vs. solving the problems at home

I am a space advocate and sci fi junkie. I look at the night sky like a teenage boy peeks at Playboy. The curiosity and wonder within me burns as red as that elusive rocky world next door.... And now, in this glorious age of technology, the dreams of Kim Stanley Robinson and geeks world round is finally becomming a reality. The colonization of Mars is just around the corner, and although many are thrilled, some are hesitant and even sour about the prospect. An argument aganist a human-occupied Mars is based on the belief that Earth has far too many problems, that are far more urgent and necessary to address, then the satisfication of curious scientists and hopeful investors. So, what do you think? Shall humanity step beyond our watery world and onto a rusty alien desert, or should we focus our efforts on Earth and find solutions to our dire issues before considering such a endeavor?

  • Aug 8 2013: This is my first comment on TED and the first article I read. That being said I truly believe if we, either as a species or even as an individual country set the lofty goal of colonizing Mars the resulting push would not only benefit mankind on Mars and then eventually, beyond, but here on Earth.
    When we set a goal such as the Moon or Mars we inspire not only those already in the space industry but many people who now want to do "their part". To colonize Mars you don't just need to get the colonists there, you need to get shelter, an atmospheric system and a way to eat and drink there also. In finding a way to build a shelter that can sustain life on Mars we could discover how to help build a shelter system to help those in arid lands. Our need for food and water can help those where farming has failed or could be more productive.
    A young mind, inspired by the colony may become interested in science. They could go to school and while there, decide that they want to be a medical doctor, and agriculturist or many other fields that don't have to deal specifically with space exploration but that is what got them going. That young mind could discover the cure for AIDS.

    This type of endeavor doesn't exist in a bubble, but it permeates throughout society.It is not just a journey to Mars, it is a journey for knowledge and advancement.
  • Aug 5 2013: Mandy, the way you framed the question is the major problem with how the general public views space exploration.

    The truth is that this issue should not be brought up in the context of “this or this.” When there is a couple talking about having children, the question is not, “Should we have 10 children or no children?”

    Budgets can be allocated for both space and projects at home.

    There will always be "dire issues" on earth but that does not mean we should stop research, development and exploration regardless of if it is space, the ocean depths or the cells within our bodies.
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      Aug 6 2013: That is true Bob Shingles. I agree, it can both be done if balanced correctly.
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    Aug 1 2013: Hi Mandy, I think Neill DeGrasse Tyson answered your question best:
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      Aug 1 2013: This is by far one of my favorite speeches, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a personal hero of mine. Thank you for sharing Lawren!!
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      Aug 2 2013: Always good answers from Mr. Tyson.

      Great answer to a difficult question. watch from 1:12:30.
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      Aug 4 2013: Dr. Neill DeGrasse makes some very good arguments in this video. And not only about the cost of the space program.
  • Aug 13 2013: If civilization can't find stability on our home planet we should not be colonizing anything anywhere.
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    Lejan .

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    Aug 11 2013: Mars is plain boring! Not to mention all the other downsides this planet has. Who on earth would trade this beautiful blue planet full of wildlife for a rusty old red desert? It wouldn't even be fair to use it as a prisoner planet, although I could picture some, who would... :o)

    Nope, Mars isn't even worth the time to travel there. Actually, no other planet but ours is, within our system. Just imagine how lucky we were to have come to life right here, where we have all we need and more and any sunset and dawn comes in beautiful colors and ... for free! ... or behind clouds in shades of grey ... :o)

    The only thing you'd do once you set your foot on Mars was to look back for earth anyway, so why leaving at all?

    Leave the rest to our little robots and explorer drones to bring us some pictures and data to marvel about, yet terra-forming is beyond our reach, financially as well as technologically, so we use those resources better for those we have in need next to us on this our spherical spaceship... :o)
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      Aug 11 2013: Legan, you bring up a great point that I was hoping someone would make. I love your comment "the only thing you'd do once you set your foot on Mars was to look back for earth anyway..." Very true my friend. Would I forever settle on Mars? Hell no. But man, I sure would like to visit. ;)
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        Lejan .

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        Aug 12 2013: Now you are cheating, Mandy, as the headline of your post clearly states 'colonization of Mars' and not just 'visiting'... :o)

        As being someone who is concerned about our atmosphere, I do not even endorse the low price airline tickets one can get today. So for just visiting Mars, the energy balance to just get there turns even worse and so does the damage it inflicts to our planet!

        I have been a space romantic myself when I was young, which even lead me to major in aerospace technology, because I wanted to be part of it. But even hough I finally graduated, I realized over the course of it, that my romanticism had nothing to do with the given reality. Near the end of my studies I happen to meet Jesco von Puttkamer, a NASA engineer who was working under Wernher von Braun on the Apollo Program and I asked for his view on my increasing doubts if spaceflight is worth the tremendous cost it produces, compared to what could be done instead with this money on earth. His answer didn't convince me at all as it was more superficial than I have ever expected.

        Since then I do my space exploration exclusively within my fantasy which gets me far deeper and way faster into space than even our best technology ever could and this only by the use of a view calories worth my neuronal energy... :o)

        But it may easy your urge to know, that we ARE already on a space ship traveling through space. And the spaceship we have is more beautiful, luxurious and fragile than most of us ever come to realize. And to enjoy our journey to the full extend, we should look after our ship better than we do, and care about the whole crew we have on board as well.

        And as I also once was a 'teenage boy peeking at Playboy', I can tell you, that those girls do not exist in reality at all... and if they do, they are not in my league anyway ... :o)
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    Aug 10 2013: Both missions, if I may call them that, should be embarked on simultaneously. Making this planet sustainable in the long run whilst looking for others.

    Terraforming Mars will take from 300 to 500 years, it is doable while problems at home are being addressed. I see no reason for postponing the launching project especially if we bear in mind that a lot can happen in 300 years, both down here and up there.

    I appreciate your posting this conversation, but for some reason the very title of it made me furl my eyebrows a bit. Had Galileo, Copernicus, Turing, Einstein, Chandrasekar been discouraged by pests and poverty or relocated to the mundane tasks of doing something with them, had they not had the curiosity you and I share with them that made them gaze at the stars and down at their notebooks, we wouldn't be able to have this discussion.

    "Look up at the stars, not down at your feet." - Steven Hawking

    PS. Do look down at your feet from time to time to ensure you won't fall and break your neck while looking up. Just a security measure. Best wishes.
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      Aug 10 2013: Anna, I agree with you. We must make efforts to made possible both dreams: Mars or beyond and a better life for mankind, a better planet, and so on. I consider that working for discovering new ways trough the universe, probably will help us to improve life here, at Home.
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    Aug 9 2013: I think the universe is like the brain of our human ,and the civilization of the planets is like the cell of the brain.Our problem of the earth is need more and more conversations and talk like ideas spreading . intelligence growing day by day ,more we understand about the world more we realize the universe is a wise brain ,even one of the earth and mars
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      Aug 10 2013: Yeah, dude, roll that in a joint and pass it.
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    • Aug 8 2013: Deepak, I must disagree for the reasons I just expressed in my reply to the original poster.

      When we strive for such a lofty goal as colonizing Mars the resulting increase of interest in science benefits all of mankind. If you were to say "let's solve world hunger!" on TV a few people may perk up but so many others would shrug and turn the channel. World hunger and disease have been a problem for centuries.

      Now get on TV and say "we are going to colonize Mars in ten years." All of the sudden we have a goal and a lot of problems to solve to make that goal. Those problems, such as feeding a colony and sheltering the colonists could benefit all of mankind. A way to grow food on Mars? It could work in the arid lands of Africa, right? Need shelter against the elements of Mars? That could help displaced villagers who lost their homes in a flash flood in Columbia.

      I will say it again: This type of endeavor doesn't exist in a bubble, but it permeates throughout society.It is not just a journey to Mars, it is a journey for knowledge and advancement.
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        Aug 10 2013: Sorry, dude. I think you're missing Deepak's point. Which is clearly that if the ship you're on is already taking on water the solution to the problem is not trying to build another ship.
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    Aug 8 2013: This is like the question "should I clean up my house, do dishes, laundry, and other chores or should I go downhill skiing?"

    The first is a mundane necessity. The second is fun, but expensive and potentially dangerous.

    "There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens"
    • Aug 8 2013: "should I clean up my house, do dishes, laundry, and other chores or "

      should I work on solving a problem that will not only take us to another world, but create new technology that could make my mundane life better here on Earth?
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        Aug 8 2013: This is a good point. Often these endeavors lead to development of technologies quite useful here on earth. It's hard to imagine our life today without GPS, satellite imagery, and satellite communications. And this all started with the proverbial "rocket science" and sending objects up into the orbit. As Einstein said, "If we knew what we are doing, it would not be called 'research'."

        I could compare Mars research to the Columbus expeditions. The goal was to find a way to Asia, but it lead to something altogether different. Certainly, there is a thrill in this process of discovery. If not for these endeavors, we would still live in the trees or, at best, herd goats. Herding goats provides meat, milk, and skins. Why would one want to get on a back of a horse and take off to unknown and dangerous places?
        • Aug 8 2013: I believe that thrill of discovery is in our DNA and drives us. Sure, there will always be some curmudgeon yelling "Get off my lawn!" sometimes the gene skips a generation or two... but all in all we want to know what is over that next hill...
        • Aug 9 2013: Actually, all those satellite derived technologies came not from space exploration, but were originally designed for military use.
          Humanity's very first vehicle which left the atmosphere came in the form of the ballistic missile, Germany's V2 rocket. Once the US and Russians figured out how to miniaturize a nuclear weapon enough to fit on top of such a ballistic missile, the technology became the heart of the cold war.
          Since the launch of Sputnik up until today, launching a satellite is essentially a nations' way of saying "we can build a ballistic missile that can land anywhere on earth".

          Space exploration has always been a superpower's way of showing off their wealth and technological prowess. Practical application has always been secondary, and frankly, nowhere near enough to compensate for the exorbitant price tag (which could be simply been used to fund more conventional research).
          Military R&D is the same for that matter, but it at least comes with the practical benefit of strengthening one's armed forces. Until we figure out how to mine asteroids, space is just for showing off.
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        Aug 9 2013: "A bear went over the mountain to see what he could see
        Another side of the mountain is all that he could see."

        There is boredom in novelty as well. For example, new gadgets don't excite me any more. This is my inner Eeyore speaking. The previous post was from my inner Tigger :-)

        It seems to be not about what's over that hill, but about us - can we get to the top of that next hill and to the top of the hill behind that next hill? The result seems to be not as important as the process and the ability to get there.
        • Aug 9 2013: Yes! It is the journey, not the destination that will define us.
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        Aug 10 2013: That thrill in your DNA can be repudiated by any geneticist. We prefer the known and the safe. That's a basic fact.

        If you find life on Earth mundane, then the colonization of Mars is the least of your worries.
  • Aug 7 2013: It is exactly because our Earthly Social Problems are so, historically, Intractable, that having the ability to move to another planet is such a good idea. It's like a dysfunctional family debating about whether we should all live in the same house, or , hey, how about those who want to leave should be encouraged to do so. Everyone would feel much better. Not to mention The Asteroid Problem.
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      Aug 10 2013: Dude, poor metaphor. It's not like moving out of the house condemns the rest of your relatives to death, which would be the likely result of aiming for Mars and ignoring the real-world (no pun intended) problems of Earth. You are right, one would have to be dysfunctional to think that some of us should move out of earth and leave the rest to suffer.

      p.s. shawn, I heard your great grandfather is gonna lose like a quarter of a billion dollars on 'The Lone Ranger.' jk.
      • Aug 10 2013: Daniel: You are suggesting that some trifling expeditions to Mars by a few enthusiasts would doom the rest of humanity on Earth to some awful fate. As if Columbus and a few other explorers seriously crippled Europe in some way by leaving in 1492 . I seriously question this.
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          Aug 11 2013: Trifling? The Mars rover Curiosity: "Total Cost: $2.5 billion, including $1.8 billlion for spacecraft development and science investigations and additional amounts for launch and operations"

          Imagine how many problems at home you could fix with $2.5 billion dollars. Or to bring the point closer to home, imagine how many people have died of starvation or preventable diseases in the last week and that could have been saved with an equal amount of money.

          And it's not being done by a few enthusiasts, it's being done with taxpayer money, to the point that it cost every person in America $8 dollars. Now to a lot of people that is a movie ticket or a pack of smokes, but to a lot of people it's the difference between food on the table or paying the electric bill. To the billion plus people on this planet that live on less than $2 it is an even more impressive sum.


          I don't know why you are bringing up Columbus. Columbus wasn't even the first European to cross the Atlantic, why would he cripple Europe with three ships? On this day in 1519 Ferdinand Magellan set off with five ships and two hundred seventy men to circumnavigate the globe. While Columbus was Italian and Magellan was Portuguese they both sailed for Spain. I'm not sure why we're talking about sailing, but you're the one that brought it up. I think Magellan would have been a better example. His expedition went all the way around the world and the cost was greater, because the expedition lost all but one ship and eighteen men.
  • Aug 5 2013: I say, go for it. As for the problems at home, these demand more than the handful of people that are going to be 'colonizing Mars'. There's a whole host of issues and I don't foresee any world Utopia any time soon. If your passion takes you elsewhere, such as Mars, I say go for it. There are some real leaps necessary in order to accomplish colonizing Mars, so it could be argued that any real attempt in the near future might be a wasted effort. When considering where science technology and our understandings of the cosmos will be in 50-100 years, we could wait till then and accomplish the task relatively quicker. It's easy to lose money on the horse that leads the race out of the gates. That being said, while undertaking the research necessary to find solutions for colonizing another planet, we might find ways in which we may help our own. Which is the best part of all :)
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    Aug 3 2013: Hi Mandy.
    If we colonise Mars it will be in bunkers, with supplies brought from earth. We are only beginning to understand the complexities of planet earth that allow us to survive. If we really must play Dan Dare, then the moon would be a much more realistic prospect. We get carried away with 'Star Treck' and ' Star Wars'. They're fantasy folks, we don't have a terra-forming bomb. We can't even forecast tomorrow's weather.

  • Aug 2 2013: The earth has No problemos.
    Humans have One problemo.
    The horrors we witness are symptoms of the One problemo.
    The problemo is not a disease.
    You swim in the Solution but do not see it.
    Humans will take their problemo to Mars.
    Because, for now, it is their nature.
    Enjoy the stars. They are beautiful indeed.
  • Aug 1 2013: Lets get a grips on some of the problems involved first.
    You can terraform the atmosphere after a herculean effort, and you could conceivably genetically engineer plants designed for the martian soil. Problem is, both require technologies which as of today, simply don't exist. Maybe in a few decades.
    Worse is the geological problem. Mars simply isn't geologically active, and that's something that as far as I'm aware, can't be fixed. That means that you have no magnetic field around the planet to stave off solar winds like you have on earth. The radiation will do you no favors, and the solar wind may have an averse affect on the atmosphere as well.

    And that's without addressing the astronomical budget the entire endeavor would require.
    We're talking about immense amounts of money here. A single manned probing team is so expensive, even the economical juggernauts like the US or China decided it was simply too expensive a way to show off. Colonization will be several orders of magnitude more expensive, never mind the new technology you'd have to develop just for the project to work.
    There is also no real benefit to the country(s) funding it. Shipping mineral resources from mars is ridiculously expensive compared to just mining them on earth. Other then the prestige (read bragging rights), there is no real motivator to get mars colonized except perhaps the long term safeguarding of human species (which is far too long term for these types of stellar investments--you'll never get backing for it without a short term benefit)

    Until something changes on the fundamental level of interplanetary travel as we know it today, its just not going to happen.
    Its a shame, but with a cost high enough to buy several first world countries in their entirety, over decades of work, its just not realistic.
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      Aug 5 2013: Nadav, I was thinking about this last night. It is true, the negative outright the positive. As far as resources, it wouldn't be productive to mine from Mars, but instead, mine asteroids. This is my worry- the cash being pumped into space will have more focus on ships and mining operations and bypass Mars as a silly playground for curious scientists.

      Of course, we do not have the technology to do much right now... But the question is, when should we start? If we don't take the first step, who are we betting will?
      • Aug 5 2013: Frankly, we shouldn't. At least, not in the foreseeable future.
        As much as I like the concept, being realistic about it, it simply can't be done, and will remain so for at least a few decades.

        Turning barren rock into breathable atmosphere would require infrastructure that would be a challenge to build even on earth--setting it up with a few colonists that have maybe a single light weight nuclear reactor as their power supply... You'd have better luck attaching a pig to a jet engines and a pair of wings.
        Combine that with the surface radiation, and the people living there would have to spend all their lives in complex bunkers. It would be centuries before they'd be able to walk on the surface without a hazardous environment suit.

        I suppose one could theoretically attempt to colonize Venus or one of Jupiter's moons instead, but they each present their own set of problems, just as severe. In the end, after a truly herculean effort, you still end up with a bunker.

        Factor in costs, and it simply isn't worth perusing. Not with the technology we have today, anyway.
        Its like nuclear fusion or world peace. Everyone is waiting for the day it'll happen, but being realistic about these things, there are better places to allocate resources to (maybe some of the required technology we could also use on earth even if we never colonize Mars).

        I've known engineers and scientists that flat out told me that they've spent large parts of their careers working on things they knew would never amount to any practical benefit (not quite as bad as nuclear fusion, but not far behind). The only reason they didn't mind was that they were being paid fairly, and someone else was footing the bill; this isn't something I want to see happen with government money.
        There are better use uses of our limited resources.
      • Aug 8 2013: I wasn't talking about theoretical research, I understand that its usually necessary before any practical breakthrough can occur.

        I was talking about engineering projects, with little or no research benefits, that everyone knows will fail from the onset.
        There are a lot more of those than you think. Investors often use them as a method of gathering funds they know from the onset they're not responsible for delivering on (politicians often take on impossible challenges for the same reason).

        By the way, what's the problem with banks and the weapons industry? I can honestly tell you that without my own country's weapons industry, I'd have been either a second class citizen in a new country or a refugee by now.
        People living away from war zones tend to forget that, but force of arms has its use.
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    Aug 1 2013: 25 – 30 thousand children died every day of preventable causes related to their poverty.
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      Aug 1 2013: And that is a tragedy. But let's be realistic. The sad, dreaded reality of a world in capitalism; space=$$$, and saving third world children drains it. I hate it, and if I were in charge, I'd change it. However, you won't get investors to pour money into the never-ending money pit of humanitarian aid. Besides, the must be something more productive, more lasting, then feeding a babe for a day only for them to be hungry tomorrow. Imagine all the jobs created with the building of space stations, space transportation, and hopefully, space habitats? This, I believe, will make more of a dent in poverty then the fueling of dependence.
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        Aug 1 2013: If I may, we already have the resources to end severe poverty but are not using them. We could explore space and take care of the poor if we wanted to. Also, we have proven models that move people from dependence to independence. The only problem with your thought about space jobs making a dent in poverty is that today, today, 25 thousand children will die of preventable causes related to their poverty. Dependency for a season is better than death today. Which is more important exploring space or saving the lives of hungry children? Sometimes there is nothing to discuss.

        The reason I am writing is because I just published a book on poverty and used the exploration of space as an example of how we have misplaced priorities. I write this in a spirit of humility but truth as I view it. Thank you.
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          Aug 5 2013: Hello Doc, I apologize for my late reply.

          I agree, that life should always take precedence over everything else. Period. I also agree that dependency short term is better then the alternative.... However, my point was that the allure of mining presious metals will unfortunatly take the front seat in the minds of fat cats, the ones who hold the resources. Therefore, why not push for scientific endeavors while they play with shiny rocks? Why not make Mars colonization a benefit, thus getting the cash needed while pursuing intellect and discovery?

          People have been starving since the dawn of civilization. It shouldn't be that way, but I just don't believe those green eyed monsters will wake up one day and decide, "Hey, let's do something about this". No, I believe that the only way a difference will be made is by force: how about making all space endeavors pay a certain percentage of profit to trustworthy organizations doing good?

          The exploration of space will continure. The pretty metals and expensive resources are just too tempting, sitting out there so nicely, just waiting to be snagged up. We can explore space and feed the hungry, If the people demand this... and without the pressure, it will not be considered.
      • Aug 2 2013: Space isn't $$$ as you perhaps understand it. Space is something that comes collectively from science. In fact, you can't "throw $$$" at space. It's a funny notion that I once heard from one guy who went all on about how we could be already living in Mars if we invested money from our military technology towards space technology. When I asked, what is this space technology actually, he eventually figured it out that it's actually a bunch of technology that clashes together.

        Well, then he obviously goes on about how we could have more spaceships. But then the ultimate question arrived; spaceships for what? Again, he held his answer, because he knew that currently, we don't really need that many spaceships since we have goals which are already being fulfilled by existing spaceships.

        That being said, if we actually set up a goal of making Mars conveniently habitable, the funds would appear out of nowhere. Just like the possibility of electrically powered convenient cars, once we're running dry on oil.
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          Aug 4 2013: When the oil runs out how will we charge the electric cars? Is this your point or analogy?
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        Aug 4 2013: I disagree with the notion we can't force investors to put money into the problems here on earth. All we have to do is make them feel the real impact that poverty has on the human body. How to do that is the problem. The American civil war was one example of making certain investors change their minds.

        The great Depression was another example.

        The great impedance for space travel in a, largely conservative population in the 50's was due to the need to not let other countries have technological dominance over us. We saw the need from a perspective of defence; not curiosity or scientific -need to know. With the inclusion of China into the space arena, I think we are moving back towards that direction. That said, Mars will have to be put on the back burner, unless China decides to go there too.

        In the waning days of the Soviet Union, they decided that the costs associated with using autonomous equipment outweighed the higher costs of manned space travel. As a result, they started to focus their resources in that direction. I too think we should take mankind out of the space travel equation and move forward with robotic equipment. That way, we can expand the knowledge we gain from space research and get more bang for the buck.

        The Voyager space probes have given us invaluable information about the extremes at the edge of our solar system that would have cost incalculable more dollars if we had decided to use human beings instead of rocket propelled sensor devices. Indeed the humans would have long ceased to transmit information. With Mars pocked marked surface, and, considering the last impact episode with the planet Jupiter, I would thing the risks involved with an extension level asteroid would be greater on Mars than on earth.

        The idea of the sun destroying the earth is, of course, a problem for future generations and should not be consider in the cost of present day space travel.
  • Aug 1 2013: We had better do both.

    Suppose we somehow get the whole globe to go green, and stop the increasing temperatures, and stop destroying the environment, and everyone adopts sustainable living. Then an asteroid wipes us all out. Or, Yellowstone blows up and cools down the planet. Or our amazing transportation systems spread a virus around the globe before we can respond. Or a dozen other catastrophes could wipe out the human species on this planet.

    We now have the knowledge, and we know that these risks are real. Still, we act like youngsters who cannot imagine their own death.

    As long as we live on just one planet, we are very vulnerable.
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      Aug 1 2013: I agree Barry.

      Humanity is so fragile.... just another species that can be reduced to dirt and rock as easily as the next. I also find it odd that amidst the multitudes of end-of-human scenarios and the very real possibility of a catastrophic asteroid impact, we still tip toe around the idea of out worldly colonization. I mean, should this not be the number one priority? Secure ourselves first and then ask the questions. If your hanging on the side of a cliff without a rope, and you happen to slice open your hand, you make your way to safety before worrying about a bandaid, right?

      Thumbs-up Barry: "As long as we live on just one planet, we are vulnerable"
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      Aug 4 2013: Barry is we were to accept this philosophy, there would be no reason to get out of bed in the morning.

      We are a curious sort. I continue to get out of bed because I'm "dying", to find out what will happen next.
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      Aug 7 2013: Humans easily deny problems they can't handle directly to reduce stress. That's a root problem.
      I was reminded of it in Dan Brown's new book Inferno, it is its best till now in my opinion.

      Ironically, I remember a documentary on Discovery Channel where they said that if a nearby star would go supernova, the gamma rays could also end all life in our solar system, can someone back that up?
      The universe is a hostile place.. Robots are / can be much thougher than us, no fragile proteins, no muscle detoration, less cosmic radiation problems. Our bodies are simply not made for space.
      • Aug 8 2013: I agree about human fragility in space. The only feasible way that I can envision a space colony is to send robots first, to build a habitat for humans. In space we would be so dependent on technology, our role would be little more than pets, cared for by robots.

        The probability of a nearby supernova is small, but possible. Much more likely is a solar electrical storm that destroys our electrical power grid. A big one occurred sometime around 1850 that was probably big enough. The grid requires some huge transformers that require months to build. If many of those are destroyed, much of the earth will be without an electric grid for many months, perhaps years. It would not be an extinction event, but it could set our civilization back many years.
  • Aug 14 2013: The more we know the easier we will find solving problems. It is well-known we have serious issues to investigate and to improve here at the Earth, but we researching into new things give us new knowledge to take advantage of. We might find that a living thing use a system whose cells are made in a way that they cannot suffer cancer... This is just an example. When spanish discovered America they started using some techniques that they did not know previously. They started cultivating cacao which everyone hankers after it now... We must keep spending money at this issue!
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    Aug 14 2013: We need to consider the past when asking how plan the future.
    If the space race never happened and government spent our tax dollars on earth instead of going to the moon, do you ready think the earth would be better or just different?
  • Aug 14 2013: In 2010, NASA got about 3.6% of the total Federal budget. So, we're spending the other 96.4% on something that somebody thinks is a "problem at home". Closing down the Mars program would be chump change.
  • Aug 14 2013: colonizing mars will solve problems back on earth.
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    Aug 14 2013: Google search on | Phobos HIRISE |

    Real moons are supposed to be made of dirt, rocks, and green cheese, i.e. they're not supposed to reflect light all over creation. Phobos was weird enough in black/white, but those HIRISE 2008 color images show it clearly to be made of metal strakes, the thing is some sort of an ancient space station, 15 miles across. And if we don't get to it, Iran or North Korea will.
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    Aug 13 2013: Before colonization, we need to develop nanotechnology sufficient to build anything we possibly could out of whatever resources are on hand. Not only to feed and house them, but to assure their health despite likely intense periods of radiation on the trip out. Almost all such nanotech functions can be implemented by the Programmable Quantum Cascade Laser Array (PQCLA) chip produced by Bell Labs (now Aligent). From Optical Tweezers to programmable catalyst the PQCLA can move molecules and selectively alter their chemistry. This is not an advertisement for Bell Labs. They have been sitting on this technology for years despite it's immense potential and it's time we take them by force. How many people have to die while corporations keep crucial technology under wraps?
  • Aug 13 2013: I believe that while there is no immediate emergency to shift planets, the work can be put in place to explore potential habitats and the technology to make that happen so we won't be caught off-guard. Atleast initially, the settlements on other planets could be mining exploration facilities as opposed to residential lots. I feel this work must be done in collaboration among nations and not a few parties establishing monopolies in this endeavor. That said, the U.S is over a trillion dollars in debt and there are varying degrees of problems in the world, including population growth, water shortages, poverty, wars. To convince folks that yes we need to colonize other planets will take some doing. The reasons must be strong, the support must be strong. Ideas will always come and go. People need to sit down and do a resource/energy/cost analysis of the whole lifecycle of this potential operation, from idea generation here on earth to the final phase of the colonization project on Mars. It would be terribly selfish to waste existing world resources that a lot of people need for tomorrow to satisfy the quest for colonizing another planet. That's my take. Analysis is extremely necessary.
  • Aug 13 2013: I propose three ideas forgive me for my ADD thinking. But I envision a world where human beings actually covered the four corners of the earth not just aboveground or below ground underwater but all and eventually overcome most the known universe? I know mankind is at a precipice of its future or it's destruction where technology strives hand-in-hand with our ingenuity and imagination! Some people may ask when have we overstepped our own bounds, but if you ask me there's no bounds or limitations just drive on and create new ways and adapt and build. kind of sounds like the thinking of a virus or disease but they are hardest to kill? With ability to adapt. I know people are going to live on mars in mars-one people have lived on the space station for 11 years or so but what a bout right here on earth in are very own oceans I know we stay on summering's but what about permanence A underwater city with a clear doom and under water vehicles that go from land to sea easily so it is like going to any big city that is my vision my dream
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    Aug 12 2013: I agree with you pal - ability to get to Mars and sustain a small community is definitely there. Need all the major powers to work together and send up a diverse team of people to oversee the initial terra-forming projects etc.
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    Aug 12 2013: We should CURRENTLY be working on earth controlled robot colonization of Mars.
    Start with robotic mining, construction and terraforming now, so when humans are ready to go to Mars there is a livable city already there. We would need to start with mining raw materials, (stone, metal, water, and chemicals.) Then set to refine them, and hopefully than use 3D printers to create parts for construction robots to build what is needed for terraforming.

    And earth would benefit from using the same robotic mining technology here on earth, and improving our refining here as well.

    And at the same time we will work on developing a strong magnetic field for Mars, spaceships and stations, moons, and even to controls earth’s magnetic field.

    Plus keep in mind Mars is not the end goal, but just a small step towards colonization of the entire galaxy.
  • Aug 12 2013: There is a prophecy in the Bible concerning God's judgment of Earth that says concerning men "and they shall by no means escape". I understand this "by no means" to include space travel. So yes, apart from a few arrogant men who wants man colonizing other planets when he is destroying his own planet?
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    Aug 12 2013: My private theory is that we've already landed people on Mars - except that would make worldwide news. And how could you hide that much manufacturing w/R&D? But it's still a good private theory. It's that line from the Will Smith movie "Independence Day" @Area51: "'You don't think they really bought all those $400 toilet seats, do 'ya?"'

    I have lots of private theories like that. Maybe it's just the Department of Defense pretending to be space aliens? You don't think all those alien abductions were real, do ya? The personally-invasive part was real. Military-Idiots playing Space-Alien UFO - 'Doctor' and such. But the abductions weren't real. Idiots playing Doctor. Idiots should'a been prosecuted for that!

    I like the idea of colonizing Mars though. We have too many human beings for just one planet. So let's do something about that. In fact, we need to move off the Earth completely and let the Biosphere of the planet heal itself from all the damage we've done thus far. Just get ALL the people evacuated to the moon & other planets. The Earth itself is a pretty-rare event in this universe. Life got lucky and evolved here. Intelligent life evolved here. Once we get the hell outta here, Mother Earth can regenerate and evolution can start again without us. Fact is, the first Space Aliens we might meet, might also be Earthlings. They just evolved before (or after) we did. All the rest is just Science Fiction.

    Alternate Universes? We could evacuate that direction as well (maybe). But going to Mars is a really good idea in my book! All the technology we gain out of that will be really good for our kids. Look at what the space race to the Moon did for all us baby boomers! We got hopes & dreams out of that. All the rest is just Science Fiction.
  • Aug 12 2013: Colonizing Mars will help solve the 'problems at home,' the vast majority of which are traceable to or aggravated by our exploding population of humans. Barring a massive and sustained reduction, not only in the rate of increase but in actual numbers of people, the planet is doomed. Therefore, as many as can and want to be shipped to Mars -- or the sun, for that matter -- wish them good fortune and a speedy journey. One way. A win-win solution, though resident Martians may have a different perspective. ;-)
  • Aug 11 2013: A lack of enough magnetic field is causing the solar winds to strip away the atmosphere of mars. The terraforming of any kind will be fruitless unless we address this root cause. The other option is to live inside domes on there.We are better off on the moon in that case. The existence of any underground water also needs to confirmed and the way to make it potable. Any exposure to a fading atmosphere is going cause this water to vaporize.To add to all this a Hoffman transfer opportunity of any payload to mars from earth with minimum energy is every 25 months. These are real problems and idea of even getting there for terraforming without solving these is a waste of resources. It takes priority over any amount of finances becoming available in the future or the willingness of nations and people. Once the atmosphere is secured on mars something can be engineered for the rest of the pressing problems like radiation exposure. Mars can be a second home to earthlings provided we get these issues resolved. Dire issues on earth can be solved if nations prioritize and co-operate and that is what some of us endeavoring on daily basis.Even if they all do co-operate , it will be a while before things become better. So we try to solve our daily problems while we find this engineering solution for mars.The day we have it , we must step out of this cradle. Yes, other challenges will be there but at least we would know that its doable in a few centuries.
  • Aug 11 2013: Nadav: I agree with you, we should do as you say, but why be limited to anti-asteroid efforts? The very technology that would enable your program would also facilitate any Space Colonization efforts. The idea that humans must never leave Earth, for ideological reasons reminds me of the history of people who have always said: " Why should anyone ever leave home? Let's just knock ourselves out to make it better. Needless to say "making it better " has a checkered History, and not always a benign one. Rather than go to extremes to change people's stubbornly held delusions, wouldn't it be more civilized to arrange that everyone should have his wish? If that means living somewhere other than Earth, why is that so bad, assuming they are volunteers. Some people think it would be a great adventure, even if for some reason it doesn't work out. "We" do so many silly and expensive things already, like the "War on Terror", that I don't see much downside here.
    • Aug 11 2013: I'm not opposed to leaving Earth for ideological reasons, I'm opposed to it on purely pragmatic ground.
      At the moment, its technologically unfeasible, and even if it wasn't, will be exorbitantly expensive. If at any point technological developments allow proper colonization of Mars without an investment that would make the collective treasuries of the world cringe, I'm all for it.

      In the foreseeable future however, its just not realistic. It requires purely theoretical technology, and would bankrupt any country or even collection of countries to attempt it.
      That's also assuming funding doesn't dry up half way through (via either decline in political will over time, or bankruptcy looming over the horizon), which would result in the failure of any colony already set up, throwing a lot of resources into nothing at best, and potentially dooming everyone inside to a slow death at worst.

      People always talk about the technological side benefits of such projects, but in reality, its a very inefficient way of funding R&D.
      Grand military developments at least come with the immediate practical benefit of bolstering one's armed forces. Space exploration, and even colonization on the other hand, are really more of a super power's way to show off, knowing full well the practical benefits are minimal.
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    Aug 11 2013: One-Way Mars Trip: Aspiring Martian Colonists Land In Washington
    by Tanya Lewis, Staff Writer | August 04, 2013 12:29pm ET

    WASHINGTON — A group of volunteers hoping to become the first human Martians congregated in one spot for the first time Saturday (Aug. 3) to discuss their hopes to join the Mars One mission, a project to send colonists on a one-way trip to the Red Planet.

    Read more here:
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    Aug 11 2013: Both can go hand on hand ...just need to prioritize time to time
  • Aug 11 2013: The Columbus thing was an analogy. As you observantly pointed out, such expeditions did not injure Europe at all, actually enriched them in many ways. Why be so sure that Mars expeditions would not do something similar?
    • Aug 11 2013: Because all they did with Columbus was send him over with three ships. No prior research, no new technology, and with an objective not to discover new land, but to discover a new trade route (an inherently profit driven objective).

      Mars has no trade potential, and setting up a colony on mars is a horrendously expensive undertaking even before terraforming attempts.
      Properly colonizing the planet, terraforming and all, is projected to last hundreds of years, and cost enough to buy up several first world countries in their entirety. It is also, at the moment at least, unfeasible with the technology we have today.

      It would take centuries to see any real return for the investment, and that's without considering the very real possibility of failure.
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        Aug 11 2013: Well put.
      • Aug 11 2013: Mr. T. Taking the long view of "economics", the world may very possibly be wiped out by an asteroid, said to be a question of when, not if. In that case, human settlements elsewhere would be the best possible investment.
        • Aug 11 2013: If asteroids are your concern, then you should be investing in early detection systems and nuclear tipped earth-to-space missiles to deflect them (not destroy them, mind you, just push them aside a tenth of a degree with early enough detection, and they miss), not trying to settle other planets.

          The deflection approach will also have the side benefit of having not only humanity survive as a race, but also, you know, save the lives of everyone on earth.

          In a colonization attempt, even under a best case scenario, only a small group will be able to move to mars--they may grow over the years into a sizable populace, but if the the earth is done for, colonizing mars will only save a tiny fraction of the populace.
          Asteroid deflection can potentially save everyone, and will probably have a higher success rate (a colony on a distant planet may be wiped out by any number of things, some as small as a technical fault--if a missile misses the asteroid, there is always a second missile).
  • Aug 11 2013: Yes, trifling. How many fighter planes can you buy with 2 1/2 billion
    ? Not too many. How many Wall St. bonuses would it buy? Not too many. You say we can solve vast human problems with that money. My point is, we have spent a lot more than that on "saving people" ,with no perceptible result.
  • Aug 10 2013: Before we send people to mars we need to have some basic experience first transforming a planet. Human beings have done a pretty good job messing up the place we got here and there's no do-overs if we hit a turning point here on earth.

    I think we need to focus on medicine, reprogenetics and increasing human lifespan/intelligence so more accumulated wisdom is possible within any given population.

    Our real problem on earth is genetic instability, lack of intelligence and short lifetime (roughly 30,000 days). 30K days doesn't sound like a lot does it? That is how short our lives really are and it gives perspective to how much any one single human being can learn and accomplish over such a short duration of time.
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    Aug 10 2013: To play a different hand. We don't need to go there yet. Mars needs a base set up before we can have a permanent human presence. If we develop surrogate technology then we can do all the foundation work without risking human life.

    How long would it take to terraform Mars? How much would it cost to put a base up there and for what?
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    Aug 10 2013: There are a billion solutions to any problem.
    Reduce your efforts to persuade organizations to do it your way and do it yourself.
    Lobby any organization that restricts your freedom to reduce its interference in your life.
    And make public the oppression of any organization that thinks it knows what is best for you and forces you to do it their way.
    Faith, Family, Friends, Fellowship, Freedom are yours and yours alone.
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    Aug 10 2013: Mandy: I sincerely think that both of them are possible. The power of many people, nations, groups, working for discovering new ways, new worlds, new horizons, I'm completely sure will bring us good news for improving life here in our dear Earth. It's possible the solutions (here and there) will delay more than choosin another options, but we can't be sure if it'll be so. And it's always possible to find useful surprises. Anna's comment explains better than I (my Énglish is not so good) what I want to say.
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    Aug 10 2013: You might also like this talk:

    The concluding remark:

    "Science has the power to predict the future in many cases now. Knowledge is power. The worst thing we can do is say, jeez, I got enough to worry about without worrying about an asteroid. (Laughter) That's a mistake that could literally cost us our future. Thank you."
  • Aug 10 2013: Im pretty lazy, so forgive me if my points have been made in previous posts because I only read a few.

    I believe that if humanity has to abandon Earth to survive, we have no hope but repeating that disaster on Mars. After that, where do we run?

    However, if current trends continue on Earth, we have maybe 50-100 years left before we start running low on a lot of resources. This leads to Wars, Fallout, and possibly the movie "Red Dawn" mixed with nuclear radiation. For those of you who don't like cheesy 80's films, it basically means apocalypse.

    The best way to utilize Mars would to send over a small group of people in the upcoming decades to "prepare the planet". I honestly don't know what they would do to make the planet livable, but whatever that is, they would do it. This project would be funded by all the world's countries and Mars would become a planet independent of Earth. Cram as many people as possible onto Mars, give them all the tools to survive then let them loose.

    Of course this could lead to a scenario of the movie "True Lies" (The remake portrays it better) where Mars becomes the Slums filled with next-to unlivable conditions. While everybody on Earth is reveling in surplus.

    This is starting to sound like a book I should write....
  • Aug 10 2013: From my perspective, we have to first make sure everyone on earth has the things that thinkers like Maslow emphasized as being essential for the basic health and welfare of human beings. These are things like consistent access to nutritious food, clean water, warmth, human companionship, safety, etc. Far too many people do not have those things & this is wrong, especially considering that such things would not be expensive or difficult to provide.

    Next we'd need to make sure that everyone has access to comprehensive and engaging education, and remove any / all barriers to learning (socio-economic, physical, physiological, emotional, etc.). Far too many young people, even in developed countries, don't have what you clearly have had in your life--parents interested in education and a supportive educational atmosphere. Far too many kids grow up in the world's inner city areas and can only see a life of drugs and gangs in their futures. 25 million US school-age children can't read, as is true for 1 in 5 American adults. Reading ability predicts future success more than any other skill, dooming these people to poverty.

    I grew up looking at the stars (& Playboy), built a star drive for my telescope, and dreamed of being an astronaut. My father was interested in everything and provided me with all the opportunity I needed to be able to learn & grow.

    My point is basically that before we spend a trillion dollars to send a favored few to Mars, we should first make it possible for ALL children and adults to be able to dream like you and I have. Even though I was glued to the TV set during the Apollo Moon Landings and Shuttle Missions, there were millions of people on earth who were much more worried about their next meal than watching a few very privileged people do things that did not change their reality at all.

    We can have a world of 'enough' for everyone, but first we must care enough to act responsibly--so one day everyone can dream...

    Take care, Prof. Schneider
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      Aug 10 2013: Daniel, please respect all comments and refrain from negative replies. This accomplish nothing besides spreading toxicity and irritation. I believe that the goal of TED is to encourage all forms of thought and conversation and in return, creating new realities of goodness that will inevitably be shared. It would be a valuable life lesson to learn the age old "agree to disagree" and instead of putting someone down, bringing them up while still giving an opinion. Thank you, and I hope to hear more of your thoughts.

  • Aug 10 2013: The options are not mutually exclusive. The science and technology developed for Mars colonization could solve some of the Earths problems, Breakthroughs in fuel cells and nutrition could easily be used to ease some of earths problems. Many more developments could occur that would be beneficial.
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      Aug 10 2013: You're point has already been made by previous commentators.
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    Aug 9 2013: “Shall humanity step beyond our watery world and onto a rusty alien desert, or should we focus our efforts on Earth and find solutions to our dire issues before considering such an endeavor?”

    The same could be said about professional sports, TV, Movies, Games, weddings, luxury goods, funerals, etc. etc. etc.
    Having grand dreams is what makes life worth living, I will say that the private sector should be the ones working on the mars dream. For those tax payers who don’t share that dream should not have to help pay for it.
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      Aug 10 2013: Excuse me? "Having grand dreams is what makes life worth living"? You're entitled to your own beliefs, but personally, I wouldn't want a life spent in grand dreams. I want to connect with the Here and Now. Those two streets happen to connect at an intersection called the Present.

      And why should the private sector (interested in private profit) be aiming for the 'mars dream' when people all around the private sector are living in the poor sector and the homeless sector and diseased sector and the preventable disease sector and the dirty drinking water sector and the etc.....
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        Aug 10 2013: You completely missed that point in that statement, and misunderstand what drives the private sector.
        We each have our own grand dreams; Richard Branson’s is to live and died on Mars, my grand dreams is to find the meaning of life and give my life meaning. Part of that is living by the 9 Noble Virtues, including being Self-Reliant. BUT because I have to help pay for NASA’s, Pentagon’s and congresses’ grand dreams, I struggle living my own dream.

        Richard Branson does not seek living on mars for profit, but instead uses profits to found his dream.
        Grand Dreams work best when they our self-founding, both Richard Branson and Allan Savory understand this. Even thou their grand dream have nothing in common.

        FYI: Allan Savory Grand Dream,

        I hope this clarifies my statement.
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          Aug 11 2013: It doesn't clarify it for me, but let's leave well enough alone.
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    Aug 9 2013: Mandy, Why either / or. The effort to colonize another planet is not totally exclusive of resolution of some problems we face on Earth. Many of the ventures of the military and space exploration have provided spin off benefits to the general population and citizens of the world.

    Though political ideologies differ from country to country ... separated by religions .... languages ... customs ... we are generally united by science ,,, exploration ... arts .... mathematics ... etc .... Those are the disciplines that will unite us and bring us together. So I propose that education and our individual passions are the uniting force.

    The Bible wrote of the Lion and the Lamb lying down together ... it has been a while since that was proposed and we are no closer.

    If the colonization become a truly International effort then we have the opportunity to start from square one and each person brings value, support, and dependence as a valued member of the community .... to me that would be the equivalent of the Lion and the Lamb living in harmony.

    In the USA we have become more divided that any time I can recall in my 70 years. The problems are across the board with responsibility divided among media, parenting, poor leadership, education, religion, etc ... I do not see these entities changing in the near future. They are and will remain part and parcel of the existing problems.

    I wish you well. Bob.
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      Aug 10 2013: I proposed the lion and the lamb last week. Seriously. I stood on a street corner and had a sign suggesting just that. If you believe that, then maybe you'll believe it has been awhile since that was proposed, because in reality that is proposed every day all over the globe.
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    Aug 8 2013: If the human race expects to evolve and continue to grow we must got to mars. If we spend all our time sitting on the earth and trying to solve every problem and create a perfect planet were no one his hurt and no one goes hungry we will be on this planet till the end of time.
    If we want to solve the problems of earth we must leave this planet not because we need mars as a new planet and just abandon the earth all together, because if we leave the earth in this generation it will give our children something to strive for it will give them heroes and people to be like and eventually be better than and advance our civilization more both on earth and mars.
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      • Aug 9 2013: Words of wisdom if I ever heard them.
        The only real, practical benefit of colonizing other planets is to make humanity as a species more resistant to the hazard of species wide extinction.
        Aside from some applications for some of the new technology developed for the colonization, there will be no real benefit to earth. Its also an extremely expensive way to develop new technology--one could simply foot the bill for regular R&D without launching an expensive colony mission along with it.

        Humanity's problems will haunt humanity for as long as human nature remains unchanged.
        Most stem from our own evolutionarily developed thinking patterns. What works for a hunter gatherer rarely works for civilized man, and our emotional and intuitive responses were originally meant for animals without the capacity for rational decision making.
        Moving to a new address won't fix that, we'll just suffer from all the same issues someplace new.
      • Aug 10 2013: Honestly, I don't think human nature will ever change without some very extensive genetic and cybernetic modifications. Philosophizing on the subject won't lead us very far (sorry, but I never was one for mysticism; consciousness isn't magic, its an illusion driven on by brain chemistry, and as much as I like using mine, its no more than a very complex electric and chemical reaction).

        No matter how much you educate (and in extreme cases re-educate by force), basic human nature always wins in the end, because that's what we're biologically programmed for. Until the programming is dealt with, that won't change.
        It may never happen. As much as I'm for the concept of transhuman modification, I know others who would willingly bleed their last trying to stop it.

        Has nothing to do with going to Mars though.
        If it ever did happen however, it'll change every single rule in the game. Maybe what descendant of ours will eventually colonize Mars, we won't even see as human.
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    Aug 8 2013: We have to colonize Mars for the space and its resources.
    • Aug 8 2013: You'll never be able to get the resources back to earth in an economic fashion. Mars' gravity well, while not as severe as earth's, is still formidable enough to see to that.
      The real potential for gathering space resources is in asteroids, and to a lesser extent moons as well.

      I'm afraid that the most likely scenario for future space exploration and settlement is what Mandy Fisher said jokingly a few comments down. Mars will become a playground for silly scientists, while everyone else is busy mining asteroids.
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      Aug 10 2013: What does colonization have to do with resource extraction? We're way more likely to start mining comets than we are colonizing a planet. Do you realize the Mars rover Curiosity is dealing with 180 degree a day temperature changes and one third the gravity of earth and a whole-household-host of other challenges? There's no way that resource extraction of Mars is going to involve more than skeleton crew (at most) of human beings.
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    Aug 5 2013: i understand that it is not exactly on topic, but have you heard about the potential of colonizing venus instead? the problem with mars is that it is cold, and there is no atmosphere. both present dangerous conditions. on the contrary, 50-55km high in the venusian atmosphere, the temperature is a friendly 25-75 degrees (70-170F), the pressure is approx 1atm, there are no wildly strong winds, clouds, or weather of any sort. since the atmosphere is mostly CO2, a large balloon of air would float like an airship. the only concern would be the sulfuric acid content, which is toxic and highly corrosive, and the nasty ultraviolet radiation of the sun. for that reason, airtight design and UV filtering is a necessity. but this is a minor engineering problem. so would you want to live in a behemoth city floating above the venusian clouds or what?
    • Aug 5 2013: The problem with that approach is that you're more or less done for if you can't control your altitude for some reason. That pretty much means designing a city like an airship.

      Its hard to say exactly how practical it'll be, given that no one has ever attempted anything like it. Weight limitations sound like they'll be a pain, and the whole thing would have to be very carefully made fail safe.
      You'll still be stuck inside a bunker all your life and unable to set a foot outside though. Its just that this bunker floats.
      I think it just makes more sense to build an airtight bunker with high pressure and temperature differential tolerances at ground level and be done with it.

      No solar wind like on Mars though, so that's something.
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      Aug 6 2013: I'll join you Krisztian Pinter! Off to the cloud city!
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    Aug 5 2013: The only thing that stands in our way from colonizing Mars is willful ignorance on the part of those who would stand in the way. Many of the problems that people say need to be fixed will be fixed when a new frontier is opened up. History bears this out. Europe was stagnated until markets were opened to Asia. When stagnation started to occur again, North America was colonized by Europeans. And it is not just Europeans either. Native American tribes have a long history of migration and movement. China sought to open up new markets with its neighbors, and sent out various groups. There is some evidence that suggests that Japan was at least partially colonized by early traders. Even the very first permanent settlements in modern day Iraq demonstrate movement when things begin to stagnate. Colonization usually fixes more problems then it creates, at least in the short term. And since the universe is almost limitless, there should be no end to the solving of our problems. Another positive is that this time, there is not already somebody there. It is true free land available to those bold and brave enough to go there.
    • Aug 5 2013: I'm afraid that argument starts breaking down the moment colonization of a new frontier isn't profitable.
      There is a reason Antarctica wasn't colonized. There is really no shortage of uninhabited or barely inhabited regions on earth, that simply aren't worth the resources to settle, never mind finding people willing to live there.

      We won't colonize Mars anytime soon for the same reason we aren't colonizing Antarctica or the Sahara desert right this very moment.

      Its not like settling the American frontier, where all you needed was a couple of people, some wagons and a horse or two. The expenses involved are immense; you won't be able to as much as walk outside your airtight bunker without a hazardous environment suit for the first couple of centuries.
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        Aug 5 2013: Fear is the only thing that will keep us locked on this planet.

        Nobody said it was going to be easy. The first American colonies failed even though they had everything necessary to succeed. Humans, and the human spirit, is indomitable. The Sahara desert is already "colonized" by people. Humans also live in Antartica, although as you indicated there are no permanent citizens.

        Mars solves tremendous problems, such as access to the wealth locked in the asteroid belt. It offers solutions to overcrowding. Terraforming Mars is a fairly straightforward process. It is all something that we can accomplish and overcome, if we decide to.
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          Aug 6 2013: I agree Michael. I wrote a poem not too long ago after spending time in the Anza-Borrego desert regarding this thought....

          by Mandy Fisher, 2013

          Shall we cradle our soft fear that

          is birthed in the bone? The soft whimpered

          whine of a warning long ago? To embrace the

          angry panic and the beating of our heart;

          the cries of our frail bodies to return

          and not embark? Indeed the decison is a

          choice that's worth the make, but perhaps

          sometimes the latter is a risk far

          more great....

          for where does purpose lie

          if not man to test his fate?
        • Aug 6 2013: Terraforming Mars is anything but straight forward.
          We're talking about producing an atmosphere out of nothing but rocks and Mars' weak sun light, using only the limited resources you're able to fly in (remember that at first, you have no infrastructure that won't fit on a rocket from earth--a best case scenario is a light weight nuclear reactor, not exactly something you can build an industry out of).
          Feeding the colonists is also an issue, seeing you won't be able to use the local soil with the technology that exists today (not that anything would grow without a better atmosphere anyway).
          And if you somehow manage to solve those two problems, Mars isn't geologically active, and has no magnetic field to protect it from the solar wind. Essentially, the entire planet's surface is basking in ionizing radiation. Outright radiation sickness is more of a concern than cancer.

          People don't exactly live in the Sahara either. They live next to wells and the occasional oasis, and they only travel through the Sahara proper, not actually live there. Its like saying the oceans are colonized because of the occasional ship passing through or because people live on the islands.
          As for Antarctica, a few dozen scientists that would starve or freeze to death within a year if outside contact was permanently cut off doesn't exactly count. Mars would have access to so little support from Earth that it may well be cut off from anything other than communication for years on end.

          By the way, over crowding on earth is only a concern when it comes to feeding and providing energy for the populace, not in terms of room to house everyone.
          Colonizing other plants doesn't actually solve that problem unless you can move large numbers of people between colonies relatively easily. The physics of space flight as we understand them today suggest that will never be possible, I'm afraid.
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    Aug 5 2013: Bernal spheres, Stanford tori, and O'Neill cylinders are all open air environments that simulate the outdoor experience pretty well. There's no upper limit to the size they can be built.

    Even if terreforming technology can advance far enough to make Mars an outdoor environment (which I very highly doubt), we still have the problem of the lower gravity, which cannot be fixed. think that artificial environments in space will be much more physiologically pleasing than the best terreformed planet could ever be. In fact, I believe that space environments will eventually be preferable to Earth itself.
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      Aug 6 2013: You may be right about that Lawren. I think the only problem would occur in our human tendency to think the grass is greener. The very fact that we know it is stimulated would be enough to drive people into wishing for escape.... I believe. It's not about how real they can make it, nor how pleasing it is... Consider the conundrum of The Matrix. .
    • Aug 8 2013: With the limited resources of a fresh colony world, you wouldn't have proper outdoor environment simulators.

      Space travel is as spartan as you can get (in the minimalist senses, not the military one), and as any colony will initially have the bare minimum of infrastructure, almost everything will have to be delivered to it via spacecraft.
      As result, they'll be scrapping by with the bare minimum, simply due to the horrific expense of sending over anything heavier.

      Its sort of like terraforming in that sense, except that rather than walking outside after a couple of centuries of hard work, they'll be building a luxury bunker in decades.
      While it may well be a key part of any future attempt to colonize mars, it doesn't really solve any of the fundamental problems. You can still only have as many people as you can build bunkers for, and at least at first, you'll hardly be able to build at all.

      One thing we don't have to worry about is envy from the people of earth though. Frontier life is harsh, frontier life off planet, is simply grueling.
      A bigger worry is the funding and interest in the project going dry half way through and leaving the poor colonists out to dry. It'll take years before any future colony can even sustain itself--its life the people posted in Antarctica; if outside support gets cut off for an extended period, they all die.
    • Aug 8 2013: Lawren, I am a huge proponent of the O'Neill cylinder. You get simulated gravity and enough space for thousands including farms etc.
  • Aug 5 2013: you are right space travel is a problem. However difficult having humans on Mars or the Moon might be We will no longer have all our eggs in one basket. While i don't believe human adult space travel is possible, maybe we can spread our seed among the stars until we verify that there is other intelligent life elsewhere. So the people on the Moon or Mars can't return home - neither did half of Columbus's men. Maybe criminals should not bethe first colonists on Mars or the Moon, but that's an idea.
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      Aug 5 2013: "Since they're going to go crazy anyway, why not just send insane people in the first place, and save them the trouble?" - Quote from Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
      • Aug 6 2013: Sorry Mandy I like this one Am I supposed to think that because I am not so sure it would be so bad. Also, there are so many different kinds of insanity. Is living in a cave on Mars so different than living in Springfield with the Simpsons? No I like this idea.
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    Aug 5 2013: I just read the article on the Mars rover in the July 2013 issue of National Geographic by John Grotzinger. Throughout it, I kept thinking back to that trilogy on colonizing Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson, it's hard not to. But his first-hand account of the painstaking effort that is going into every minute detail of this excruciatingly complex endeavor sending a rover to land in Gale Crater and begin a three-mile journey to Mt. Sharp leaves me thinking that "just around the corner" is correct in the sense "you go down the street several decades, turn at the next century and you'll see the colonization of Mars next to the clone dealership and the eleven dimension amusement park."

    Mars may have daily 180 degree F temperature swings, direct contact between its ionosphere and solar winds, and no liquid water, but the much starker reality to me is that Earth may not be a plant capable of sustaining life if we don't deal with SOME of the problems here first. To be a little more specific, we have to solve the problem of our terrestrial climate changes before we try adapting to extraterrestrial ones.
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      Aug 5 2013: True. It is all a folly if we don't survive long enough to see it through. I agree with previous posters however, that perhaps we can do both and use the technology we develop to better the earth and get us closer to Mars.

      I'm actually reading Robinson's trilogy now, which sparked this conversation. ;)
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        Aug 6 2013: I confess this is one of rare, well, rarer occasions when I did not read the other posts. I clicked on the conversation, because I saw 'Mars' in the title and just read the amazing article in the second most recent issue of NG.

        If life were long enough I'd re-read that Mars trilogy; I hardly remember it much since it was back in middle school, but I hope you're enjoying it as much as I did. I remember it shifted me into science fiction, into Robert Heinlein and David Brin, specifically.

        I never thought of the dual application of technology developed for Mars helping us to solve problems on Earth. The shortcoming of that position, however, is that we already know how to solve many of the problems on Earth and the tools to fix them.

        There are an enormous amount of things that get in our way from doing so and they run the gamut from our own individual greed to the inability of governments to work together, from corruption at international levels down to apathy on the part of most every citizen. Put the right money in the right place, give the right people the right things and so much of the suffering, more than I could make you believe, would go away.

        The esteemed economist Jeffrey D. Sach's 'The End of Poverty' convincingly describes how to tackle that particular problem, just as the Gates Foundation is convinced it can handle several of the major health issues, but these are just a few examples.

        It is my own belief, which says next to nothing, that all the benefits of space exploration technology are utterly useless unless they effect a 'simple' shift in people's values. Still, I would be glad to have been wrong were there some cross-over and massively influential technology or discovery of any sort gained in the pursuit of space exploration, but profited by through the alleviation of humankind's terrestrial troubles.
  • Aug 5 2013: This question may seem a large one, but it's actually no difference with how we deal with things everyday: To go to the party or to stay at home studying ?. No one is superman which means you have limited energy and have to choose.

    Then how do we choose? Priority, Prioriy, and Priority. Still taking the above example. How close is the exam? How prepared are you? Anyone you like that'll appear at the party? Will there be other chances you meet him/her besides this party? After you've found the answers to these questions I think the choice will be obvious.

    Back to the space program. The questions transforms to: How sick is the earth? How are we doing with clean-up the mess? How much are the chances of success in colonizing Mars? Will there be other suitable planets than Mars? Would the expenses spent on Mars had greatly improve the environment on earth if we use it here?

    But I believe we always need that curiosity because it's amazing to discover beautiful things in this world.
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    Aug 4 2013: One thing that stands in the way of Mars colonization is the low gravity problem.
    A child born and raised on Mars can never return to earth. An adult who travels there, lives of a couple of years and returns to earth may also not be able to live under earth gravity.

    The fact Mars is bathed in radiation levels from the sun and other stars that humans cannot endure is another problem.

    The problem is even worse on the moon.

    According to this Wikipedia article: "Humans are physiologically well-adapted to life on Earth. Consequently, spaceflight has many negative effects on the body. The most significant adverse effects of long-term weightlessness are muscle atrophy and deterioration of the skeleton (spaceflight osteopenia).[1] Other significant effects include a slowing of cardiovascular system functions, decreased production of red blood cells, balance disorders, and a weakening of the immune system. Lesser symptoms include fluid redistribution (causing the "moon-face" appearance typical in pictures of astronauts experiencing weightlessness),[2][3] loss of body mass, nasal congestion, sleep disturbance, and excess flatulence. Most of these effects begin to reverse quickly upon return to Earth..."

    Not good news for would be space travellers.

    This wiki article goes into good detail about the effects of space travel on the human condition. It's a must read for would be space travellers:
    • Aug 8 2013: Radiation could be solved by being underground. Of course, you have to shield against the radiation on the way there too!

      Gravity... I agree, it is a one way trip. Exercise would be key to keeping some of the bone density lost but it would never replace Earth's gravity. But imagine the sports!
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        Aug 9 2013: Sports...... I think you are on to something there :)

        Yes, Increased activity due to lower gravity might have an effect on a human population. Perhaps the evolutionary process might be reenacted within our bodies.

        But, returning to earth would still present the same problem, would their bodies be able to stand up to the increased gravity? Could they adjust? Would people born on Mars, or the moon ever be able to return to earth?

        This brings up a question as to why aliens have not visited us. What if the gravity on their planets were lower than on ours? Physical contact would not be possible. We would only have to meet them in space. If they had mastered artificial gravity, we might be perceived as a stronger more agile species (alien vs. Klignon like earth people) in their normal environment. That might present a problem for them, considering our normal violence prone attitude.

        I guess in the normal, galactic, scheme of things, we are the Klingons.

        Look at the problems we would have if we decided to do some mining operations on Neptune, which has a gravity influence of 1.12 times earth gravity. Jupiter with 2.26 times earth gravity is out of the question. Or, look at the problems associated with trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in an environment where you are constantly accelerating at 1. 5 times earth gravity. Is it even possible?

        A normal 165lb human being would weigh 248 lbs on Neptune. Imagine trying to crawl up a ladder. The more you weight the less work you can do after about 80 Kgs.
        Also, consider the metabolism. A normal 75 kg human produces about 80-100 watts of energy just standing still. Increase your activity and you increase your energy production.

        A small green skinned alien weighing only 40 kg would be crushed by earths gravity is their home planet had our moon's gravity (.25 earths gravity). They couldn't even stand up here, hence, the reason they don't visit us. :)
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    Aug 2 2013: Ultimately, I think, the economic factor will define our option. Faith has its effect, but it's not quite powerful as other factor such as science or our economic base.
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    Aug 2 2013: I think that going to Mars can actually ease or help a lot of problems...

    We'll need to terraform Mars, and can learn a lot from that in order to help fix our climate problems or even get hold of our whole ecosystem in better ways.
    A whole lot of new technologies found their development in space flight, and with Mars Missions, that would probably be the same.

    I don't see a problem in doing both: there are so many things that need fixing, but that can all go in parallel...
    It's not that we drop our research in Malaria or funding of art because we first need to get rid of dictators or slavery...
    • Aug 8 2013: I don't see us terraforming Mars because of the lack of magnetosphere to protect the atmosphere produced. If you have thoughts on that, would love to hear them because I am far from an expert.

      I agree with you in regards to new technologies developed. An endeavor like this will spark discovery all over the scientific community and that will benefit all.
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    Aug 2 2013: Dear Mandy,
    Mars exploration and screwing up earth habitability are going hand in hand. I am just worried that the later may outrun the former.
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    Aug 2 2013: Like humans can walk and chew gun at the same time, the human race can work on learning (about and from) the past, work on improving the present conditions, and work for short and long term future goals, AT THE SAME TIME!

    Past, present and future are all connected, and require equal addition. You can’t engorge one, without weaken the others.

    Before humans can colonize Mars, with need to send robots to make it livable, and the same robots could be used here on earth to improve its livability. We now know holistic management* can reclaim deserts here on earth, some day that may be used on Mars. As I said it's all connected.

    Diversity is the human race greatest strength, and not only diversity in nationality, but also culture, focus, and ways of thinking and doing.

  • J D

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    Aug 2 2013: It is nonsense.
    It took billions of years for earth to develop into the paradise we know today.
    We think it is possible only because we see it brought to life on tv and in movies.
    Shameful that such an extraordinary planet is not enough for men of great power, influence and wealth.
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    Aug 2 2013: The colonization of Mars is a long way off if possible at all. Some have already stated the reasons. But there are other reasons to consider;

    Attempting to colonize Mars is going to require technology development that will undoubtedly benefit all that remain here. There are many benefits inherited from the Apollo project.

    There will come a time in the distant future that people may no longer be able to live on this planet. Development of alternative options shouldn't wait till then.

    Money put into research into Mars exploration will go into creating jobs here and now. People think that money spent on space goes into space. That is simply not true. Money put into space exploration produces jobs. The income goes to buying houses, autos, food, clothes, etc. The only thing that goes into space are the recourses used to create the systems and subsystems used in space. The money recirculates here on earth. Not a dime goes into space.

    I have my own theory. The end of the Mayan calendar was not what the media played it out to be. It is a point of transition in the evolutionary process. Life came from the stars. All the atoms that make us up came from stars. Science fiction is predicting that we will one day return. The end of the Mayan calendar is the beginning of our journey back. I have information that would corroborate that theory.
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      Aug 4 2013: The actual hardware that goes into space has a definite monetary value Roy that is not reflected in the earth bound cash on hand accounts. I'm sure some of it is worth much more than a dime. It's an interesting speculate you present. Are the space situated assets considered a write off? Is money recuperated in the value of the information gain from space endeavours?
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        Aug 4 2013: I have to confer with your claim that space hardware has a monetary value. We create a bus and people get to use it in transportation. We create a space station and it only benefits those who get to use it. The tradeoff is in what is learned. Can that knowledge be used to benefit life on earth?
        We sent the voyager spacecraft on a journey to the planets. Not only did it create jobs to manufacture the spacecraft, it is still supplying jobs to those who are trained to interpret the data that was sent back. Although we no longer hear about the voyager, many people are still employed analyzing the data. It is helping us to gain new information. We are also still engaged in producing better processors to make better use of the data, so it is a cascading effect. I think we can't lose sight of the big picture. The only ones not benefitting are those who want money but don't want to get involved in what it takes to earn the money. Those are the only ones I hear complaining.
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          Aug 4 2013: The knowledge gain from the space station includes knowledge that both, confirms knowledge we currently have in our possession -but could only be surmised from calculations and experiments with a high degree of error- and knowledge that could not be discerned on the earth with the effects of gravity, etc.

          We still received radio signals, which include data, from the Voyager space craft.

          I fail to listen to those whose complaints are redundant and out of date. That leaves people who are knowledgeable of current scientific trends and projects.

          As far as space travel for individuals, that task is being taken over by private enterprise. I suspect we wlll see people taking a hike into close orbit, around the earth, within the next 3 to 5 years.

          The will of mankind will continue to advance until/if we create such advanced technology that we destroy ourselves with it. The idea of space travel and exploration is not a "what if". It is a matter who will pay, where is the profit, and what will the design of the technology look like.
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    Aug 1 2013: Firstly, in my opinion, people should start by looking within and changing themselves. When they improve themselves, the world must improve. Once the issues of our Earth are solved (and some of them are hardly likely to be solved, like the ozone issue) shall we start looking outside of our planet.
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      Aug 5 2013: But why will they change themselves? What will be the spark that motivates them to do so? Noting is being done different, nothing seems to change fundamentally... only the details. The issues will not solve themselves. We must act. And who will be the first the step up?
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    Aug 1 2013: Open our minds and head to the stars the problems on earth will leave far behind.
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    Aug 1 2013: I'm also a space advocate, sci-fi junkie, and futurist, but I'm confident that we won't be colonizing Mars. There's nothing on Mars that's not available to us in space itself. I highly recommend reading 'The High Frontier' by Gerard K. O'Neill and 'Mining the Sky' by John S. Lewis.

    Why colonize planets when we can colonize space itself? Once we've escaped the gravity well of Earth, there's no reason for us to settle into another one. All the resources we need are already in space: water and all the volatile gasses (comets), metals and hydrocarbons (asteroids), and unlimited power from the sun.

    Instead of colonizing planets, rather we will build space habitats such as Bernal spheres, Stanford tori, and/or O'Neill cylinders:

    For science fiction references, I recommend award winners 'Titan' by John Varley and 'Rendezvous with Rama' by Arthur C. Clarke.

    I'm glad to see someone else as excited as I am about the future of colonization beyond Earth.
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      Aug 5 2013: But what about the human mind? It is from experience and social observation that human beings have this undeniable urge to be "outside", In a space suit or otherwise. I imagine being cooped up in a ship, no matter how advanced and stimulating, would cause claustrophobia and cabin fever to creep in. Even if it is modeled to look like Yosemite National Park, the mere thought of knowing it is false would be enough to cause psychological harm in the long run... Don't you agree?