Bending Mars

Is putting humans on Mars important? Yes. Humans need land to live on, and, in a dynamic environment, they need land to move to. Closed systems are bad because they remove options. A single planet is a closed system. And the thing about land is, as a history teacher of mine used to say, they don’t make it anymore.

Put aside the grim meathook future of our coming environmental doom for a moment. What if something drops on us? What if some natural freak event like a sequence of volcanic incidents drops us into faux-nuclear winter? We’ve come close to that before, in the 1880’s. What if something no-one ever thought of happens to make human life no longer viable on this planet? Do we just shrug and say fuckit?

I believe that exploration is necessary to the human spirit. But even if you don’t share that particular delusion, I think most people would agree that any kind of extinction is bad. Except maybe for dogs.

Mars is the best local option for setting up a colony and, eventually, a second life for humanity. It’s a bit of a crap option: no magnetic field to speak of, cold as hell, and currently no guarantees of usable water. But Venus is a shithole, Mercury’s a suicide trip and the Jovian system is a radiation trap. Forget everything you heard about asteroid habitats, it’s bullshit. Right now, it’s Mars or an extrasolar planet, and an exoplanet is going to stay out of our reach, barring a dramatic breakthrough in propulsion engineering, for at least fifty years.

There has long been a movement to preserve Mars. It’s said that terraforming Mars is nothing but another wart extruded from the human imperialist tendency, and it should remain the equivalent of a national park, unspoiled. The same people have said that if we go to Mars, we should ”do it with class,” eschewing nuclear-drive options.

I’m currently working on a project written from, if you like, the pro-Mars Id. The chances are good that in fact there is no life on Mars beyond the odd super-tough bacterium. And while I did indeed just say that no kind of extinction is good, it should also be pointed out that giving up a bolthole for human breeding pairs — which are, make no mistake, the stakes on a Martian colonisation drive — on the basis that we might kill something less substantial and self-aware than a cough is no way to run a railroad.

So my characters — and the dark side of my conscience — say what are we waiting for? Let us now bend Mars to our will (and I’m aware of the overtones of both ”run a railroad” and ”will”) and fix the place up for human habitation. Let’s cover the bastard in GM lichen and bugs, thicken up the atmosphere, drop a few nukes on Tharsis, do everything we can think of, fast and dirty, because the universe is hiding the stopwatch from us and we don’t know how much time we’ve got left. Let’s get a bit of air pressure happening, see if we can force out some of that water, do what it takes to at least get some overground stations into a safety zone.

Because it’s not doing us any good as a national park. And we are barely clinging to the surface of our world. And not through any fault of our own. Successful human life was a fluke on this planet even before we started poisoning ourselves. Playing the “we need to learn how to look after our planet before we go to another” lament is utterly beside the point. Think about your favourite art, your favourite memories, the best things people ever did. Does that have to go away because some people want Mars to always look like that quarry in Wales where they always shot DOCTOR WHO episodes in the 1970’s?

Fuck the Martian bugs, one of my characters says. In forty years I want my grandkids to email me from a .mars address. It’s not like we have to hunt whales or give a Tasmanian Devil face cancer to do it. It’s just sitting there. Why not bend it?

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