Pugwash: Mars trip could be one-way

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of SpaceX, believes he can land humans on Mars by 2026. Mars One, a nonprofit organization, wants to begin establishing a human colony on Mars in 2024. But don’t start planning your vacation to Mars just yet. Despite SpaceX’s goal to have reusable rockets, this feat has not yet been proven outside of tests. Meanwhile, the Mars One mission plans on having the colony’s members live their lives out on Mars. Now that life on Mars appears to be feasible within the coming decades, what are the consequences of sending people on a journey that might be one-way?

A manned mission to Mars has the potential to be extremely beneficial to the progress of science; it would be a litmus test to see how well technology can allow humans to live in harsh conditions and in extreme isolation, far from any immediate help. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on Earth to host humanity forever. Currently, human behavior is forcing Earth into a volatile state. There is also the chance that a meteor or other extraterrestrial disaster could destroy the planet. A manned mission to Mars could lead the way to potential colonization on a more massive scale — Mars could be the new home for humans.

However, the exploration and experimentation comes with a cost, particularly when travelers to Mars are not able to return. Pugwash raised the concern during its weekly meeting that sending humans to Mars could be unethical. For one, scientists and engineers do not know what to expect. Landing and setting up a successful, inhabitable living place on Mars is no small feat, and there is the possibility that a trip to Mars could lead to immediate death. One Pugwash member even said that choosing to live on Mars could be similar to choosing imminent death, almost like euthanasia.
Another concern is whether or not humans should alter the ecosystem on Mars. On Earth, we try to conserve many natural phenomena through the National Park Service. We must consider that our occupation of Mars would alter or destroy natural formations on Mars. We must weigh the importance of preserving nature when planning the missions to Mars.

In the end, a trip to Mars will always be a person’s choice. Yet, Pugwash was concerned about whether or not humans are informed enough to make that decision. It is difficult to create a completely informative and fair consent form. Giving people a choice could lead to corruption including misunderstandings, misinformation, and the potential of forced consent. Some Pugwash members were of the mindset that it would be wrong to deprive a person of travel to Mars if they had the capability of doing so and would otherwise be a prisoner on Earth. Finally, the group considered the possibility of travelers having Martian-born children. Do we subject these children to grow up in such a hazardous atmosphere? Although children are born and raised in poor conditions on Earth without choice, a naturally uninhabitable planet adds a new layer to the discussion.

In 10–20 years, it is likely that the technology to send humans to Mars will exist. Certain people will be asked to make the decision if they would like to inhabit another planet. Living on Mars has its benefits in terms of scientific progress, but we must consider if these unknown living conditions are ones we want to subject humans to.