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Piece of Mind: Life on Mars?

Posted: Thursday, Mar 28th, 2013

If Eric Anderson is right, by the time I am 56 a few thousand people will be living in a Mars colony. As the cofounder of Space Explorations, which sold tickets ($20 million each) aboard Russian space flights, and two other companies: Intentional Software, a programming company, and Planetary Resources, a mining company with plans to extract minerals from near-Earth asteroids, Anderson has reason to be optimistic.

There are very few hurdles in our way. Anderson sees “no technological or engineering challenge.” The problem is a lack of resources.

Just like the early settlers of California, it won’t be possible for the Mars settlers to bring with them every supply they might need. That’s why, Anderson believes, we need to be able to harvest “the resources of space.”

For Anderson, technological developments not only make life easier, they make life elsewhere possible. Since asteroid mining will not involve people and will rely solely on artificial intelligence and machine learning, Anderson hopes that space exploration can become an exponential-growth technology, rather than stuck as a linear-growth technology. Already with advances in technology, his prospecting spacecrafts have gone from $100 million to between $4 and $5 million to build. With that, rather than the $20 million Space Explorations charged for a seat aboard Russian flights, Anderson sees a future were tickets are only half a million dollars a person.

The question at this point is who will climb aboard and why? Anderson explains that “throughout history, most of the frontiers that we have had on the Earth have been opened up because people were seeking land, new hunting grounds, or fertile locations for cattle, or mining for gold or precious metal.” With this “new frontier” none of these old reasons apply.

No matter the reasons, I have no doubt that finding a meaningful life on Mars is possible, even if it sounds absurd. Everyone has, on at least one occasion, claimed that they could “never live in X”. The Valley is too dry. The Midwest is too flat. New England has too many trees. Alaska is too cold. Arizona is too hot. California has too many earthquakes and celebrities. Every place has its faults. How much does it matter that humans can’t actually breathe on Mars?

The drive to explore and to build something new is part of human nature. This reality may challenge the idea of “home,” but like the smartphone tucked in my pocket, I agree with Anderson. There is no going back.

Gena Akers can be contacted at Gena.leneigh@gmail.com

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