Making it on Mars: keys to survival

'Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.' That old adage applies to almost all situations we find ourselves in on a daily basis. OK, when stepping into the unknown it may be almost impossible to think about and plan for every eventuality, but giving it some thought is usually a fruitful exercise. This is exactly what a group of scientists, engineers, social scientists, philosophers and writers have been doing on an annual basis in London for the last three years.

'Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.' That old adage applies to almost all situations we find ourselves in on a daily basis. OK, when stepping into the unknown it may be almost impossible to think about and plan for every eventuality, but giving it some thought is usually a fruitful exercise. This is exactly what a group of scientists, engineers, social scientists, philosophers and writers have been doing on an annual basis in London for the last three years.

Their task? To envisage human colonies on other planets and from their discussions and writings on this prepare manuals to serve as guides for future 'space pioneers'. And considering the significant advancements that have been made in space exploration in the last half century, the existence of such human colonies in years to come is not that far-fetched. That's why these professionals are taking their work seriously. 

Having previously dealt with the challenge of writing a constitution for an alien settlement where they agreed that space colonies should base laws and liberties on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, this year's conference focused on the problem of toppling despotic extraterrestrial regimes. 

While we are familiar with violent political uprisings on Earth, such events in a space colony could wipe the whole population out. That's because human settlements on nearby planets would most likely live in domes within which sufficient oxygen to survive would circulate. If these were destroyed, everybody would die.

One way to prevent such a scenario, according to conference organizer Charles Cockell, an astrobiology professor at the University of Edinburgh, is to prevent dictatorships emerging in the first place. This would be achieved by building non-violent forms of opposition to government into the rulebook, perhaps through organized labor systems — similar to unions on Earth — or by holding leaders to account through journalism and media.

Another issue that could prove problematic is if private corporations are in control, as they very likely would be. “As we know these can be just as ruthless and despotic as the worst governments,” says Cockell. “If you strike, then maybe the corporation says ‘that’s fine – let me show you to the airlock and you can leave’ and off you go into the vacuum of space.” Space is a unique environment and a balance must be struck between slavery and total freedom. Opting out is not an option. A colony that is so libertarian that everyone sits around doing nothing all day is unlikely to survive for long.

As Cockell puts it: “We need to arrive at a balance between a society that maximizes civil liberties but also maximizes the potential for people to survive the lethal conditions of space." After a few more years of planning with these conferences, we might have arrived at the 'build it and they will come' stage. Get the suitcase ready guys, 'Mars, here we come!'

Prepared by: Jonathan Zur

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