Space Time

The ‘Escape to Mars’ Plan Has a Fatal Flaw

Elon Musk and other futurists are missing something big

Shannon Stirone
Published in
5 min readNov 13, 2018
Credit: Mark Garlick/Science Photo Library/Getty

MMars, our neighboring red dot, has been the focus of human exploration for hundreds of years. Science fiction writers, scientists, and explorers alike have spent decades imagining what life would be like if humankind could pick up and move there. Never mind the radiation, lack of oxygen, and inhospitable atmosphere. According to some billionaires and scientists, Mars is our future.

The private space industry has exploded, with companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic all designing spacecrafts to bring people to the cosmos and orbit the earth as tourists, or, in SpaceX’s case, to set up a massive settlement of humans on Mars.

But the field of space exploration is at an ethical impasse.

Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that space travel is difficult and risky, and that people could die on the journey. Critics of privatized space travel also take issue with the implications these companies are built on. What does it mean when a company makes it their goal to colonize an entire planet?

The desire to become interplanetary harkens back to the 19th century, when colonizers believed it was their God-given right to expand out to the west and take over land and communities. The adoption of Mars as a second home is the Manifest Destiny of the 21st century. Even the language is problematic. “Colonize Mars” is one of the phrases private companies use most often to describe their grand plans. SpaceX sells a T-shirt that reads “Occupy Mars.”

“These issues intersect with so many lessons that we have here on Earth, be it the rights of indigenous people or the way we even think about a wild environment,” says Lucianne Walkowicz, the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA Chair of Astrobiology at the Kluge Center, and astronomer at the Adler Planetarium who studies the ethics of Mars exploration.

Throughout history, colonization has resulted in mass deaths, the spread of disease, and the decimation or suppression of native cultures. Yet these issues are rarely discussed among Mars colonization planners. Some think Mars is a dead planet, covered in a fine layer of rusty dirt…



Shannon Stirone

Freelance writer in the Bay Area