Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mars is also a harsh mistress

Warning: Spoiler alert for The Martian

I'm a big fan Andy Weir's book The Martian, and I recently saw the motion picture it inspired, which I think is one of the most faithful and enjoyable book adaptations in recent times.

For those who haven't read the book, it is the story of one astronaut who is accidentally left behind on Mars and the extraordinary efforts he needs to go through to survive. Since Earth is so far away it takes years to send help, so he needs to basically MacGyver everything in order to survive from only the supplies on hand.

One thing I love about the book is that it properly captures how Mars' distance from Earth, combined with its cold and completely inhospitable climate, make it a great setting for a dramatic story of survival. These factors also make it a really stupid place to colonize. The story really drives home that Mars has almost nothing to help a human survive besides some weak sunlight, rocks, and modest gravity.

While I strongly support limited manned missions to Mars for scientific purposes, the idea that it should become a second home to save our species from extinction is deeply misguided. If we are looking for a place to colonize, there are numerous asteroids which can be brought close to Earth, have better access to free solar power, and can be turned into rotating habitats to produce a more desirable level of artificial gravity.

*image of Martian landscape from NASA

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