By Roxanne Young
I caught my first glimpse of futuristic technological innovation watching The Jetsons as a kid. With flying cars and robot maids, I was fascinated by the idea of space habitation and wondered if it would be possible in my lifetime. I am not alone in this curiosity, evidenced by widely funded spacecraft manufacturers like SpaceX. Their mission is to “revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets”. While certainly revolutionary, I find this statement concerning.
The planet we currently reside on is in trouble, in both the short and long term. While one solution to this is to potentially “switch planets”, it seems unethical and irresponsible when we have yet to figure out how to live sustainably on earth. I understand the pressure to find a solution to the issue of climate change but investing in space travel seems misguided. With a finite set of physical and financial resources, the more sustainable investment would be in repairing the earth. If we, in a sense, put all of our eggs in one Mars-shaped basket we could end up neglecting our dire climate situation at home.
However, one must also consider the possibility of success. If SpaceX eventually meets its goal of interplanetary habitation, what would that mean for humans? I suggest we examine this possibility through the lens of intercontinental discovery, as this seems the closest parallel. Perhaps it would be as if a group of native Hawaiian’s landed in Iceland wearing grass skirts. Or perhaps it would mirror Columbus’s “discovery” of the already-inhabited Americas. Another possibility still, is that SpaceX somehow manages to hedge all risks and arrive in Mars completely prepared. We must examine all possible outcomes and risk factors.
The lowest estimate for a manned Mars mission is $30 billion, making life away from earth only possible for the super rich. Somehow I have a hard time imagining Mark Zuckerburg hurling through space alongside the Koch brothers. Without groundbreaking risk reduction and major personal incentives, SpaceX’s mission seems light years away.