Should We Col­o­nize Other Plan­ets?

Sky at Night Magazine - - BOOK REVIEWS -

Adam Mor­ton Polity £9.99 z PB

What ex­actly is the point of hu­man space ex­plo­ration? This timely and well­writ­ten polemic ex­am­ines the ar­gu­ments for and against hu­man coloni­sa­tion of other plan­ets, in par­tic­u­lar Mars, in the light of var­i­ous am­bi­tions to es­tab­lish fu­ture colonies there. Sci­en­tif­i­cally, it’s go­ing to be a challenge. Adam Mor­ton re­minds us just how dif­fi­cult it will be to pro­tect hu­mans against all the haz­ards of a months-long jour­ney, and also of the huge quan­tity of re­sources re­quired to sup­port any suc­cess­ful colony. The sur­face and at­mos­phere of Mars will also have to be ter­raformed to sup­port hu­mans and Mor­ton es­ti­mates that this will cost tril­lions of dol­lars, ar­gu­ing that this money might be bet­ter spent on re­vers­ing ex­ist­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age to Earth.

SpaceX and Mars One are pro­mot­ing their Mars-bound mis­sions as a way of en­sur­ing the fu­ture of the hu­man race. Mor­ton takes is­sue with this line of think­ing, ar­gu­ing that per­haps we’re too wed­ded to the con­cept of hu­mans as a bi­o­log­i­cal species and that we might do bet­ter to con­sider the idea of coloni­sa­tion via ro­bots up­loaded with our mem­o­ries. As well as of­fer­ing some prac­ti­cal ad­van­tages, he points out that hu­mans are con­tin­u­ing to evolve and per­haps ro­bots with hu­man thought pro­cesses are simply a fu­ture stage in our evo­lu­tion.

This book’s brevity makes it a sur­pris­ingly easy read, but some read­ers may pre­fer more de­tailed ar­gu­ments. What’s not in doubt is that it’s es­sen­tial we dis­cuss these im­por­tant and dif­fi­cult ques­tions be­fore we go any fur­ther down the road to Mars.

PIPPA GOLD­SCHMIDT is an as­tron­omy and sci­ence writer

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