Why Mars

International First Place in “Why Mars” Essay Contest, The Mars Society
by Boris Yim (November 15, 2003)


We are so fortunate to be humans: we have evolved into a technological civilization unique on Earth; we are the dominating species on Earth; we are enjoying the technological boom in the twentieth century. Most luckily, we were born on Earth where there is another terrestrial planet beside us, not too far but not too near, not too different from Earth but not the same as Earth, which gives us the suitable challenge and thus acts as a steppingstone for human to go deep into the universe. The honorable planet is called “Mars”. This essay explains the importance of a human to Mars program in our era by considering the ethical foundation for our decision, why we should go into space, why we should choose Mars, and why we should take such action now.

Ethical Foundation

Before deciding whether or not we should go to Mars and be spacefaring by bringing life to the stars, we need some criteria or an ethical system so that our decision can be more reasonable and logical. This concerns the fundamental difference between matters and human beings. Suppose the universe is totally dead and filled only with matters, how the universe is will not be important. How hot the matters are in the stars, how they are “tortured” by explosions or how harsh and desolate the environment is at every corner of the universe are not of interest. Humans certainly are made up of matters. However, humans are more than some functional matters by the very essence of humanity – emotion, or you may denote it by other names. The result is that we have pleasure and pain, and we hope to satisfy our emotion by being happy. As illustrated by Duemler (1993), the qualities a successful foundation for an ethical system would require are supporting evidence, biological plausibility and inherent value. It should not need huge intuitive leaps of thinking because of the abundance of supporting evidence. It should be a product of natural selection and drive the continuation of human survival; otherwise, there would be nobody to apply the ethical foundation. Also, no underlying conditions should be present in the foundation, as it is called, or the underlying conditions would be more fundamental and have the inherent value. The emotion of pleasure and pain possesses all these qualities and is the ethical foundation for our discussion. As such, it has to be shown how a human to Mars program would be of value to our ethical foundation.

Why Enter Space

Now that an ethical foundation is established, the next question is why we should enter space and the universe. It is essential to address this issue before answering why Mars, because it will be shown that space is what we are fascinated in and Mars is what we choose to be our next step towards space.

New worlds in space promise better technology, better social system, better living, better habitat, more resources and so on. The significance of technology cannot be stressed more, since it is just around people in their everyday lives. The clothes we wear, the food we eat, the place we live in and the transportation we use all depend heavily on the technologies mankind has been developing. Nobody on Earth is now willing to be naked without protection, hunt for dangerous animals by hand, live in caves and suffer from cold nights and travel to remote workplace on foot. Even if a person is willing to do so, he cannot easily survive in most part of Earth. Indeed, our status nowadays as a technological civilization is essentially brought about by our technology. Experience has demonstrated that space has given us far greater return than its cost. Over 30,000 examples of space technology has entered our daily life (“Views differ on need for human space travel”, 2003). We obtain new materials, medicine, electronics and so on. One of the most important examples is the satellites which have redefined our communication and our economy. When we bravely step into space, the technology generated will greatly promote the status and capability of our civilization to a grand new level.

Another reason for new worlds is that the Earth may not be able to afford a growing population in future. Our continued effort to further explore space is needed for developing the technology to utilize the resources of other planets and asteroids. Given the vastness of the universe, the resources out in space are virtually infinite relative to those on Earth, if we are able to fully utilize them.  Therefore, opening space for resources reduces conflict between people to compete for resources, and is enough to literally make poverty among humanity worldwide unjustifiable, and perhaps even impossible. The increase of average status of mankind in turn helps solve many problems back on Earth and on other places we are going to settle. If the general living quality of humans is not improved, history has it that many problems among humanity cannot be solved.

New worlds render possibilities and challenges, allowing us to try out not only new technology but also new social systems and culture. There are chances to live with one’s own ideal and establish more desirable societies and habitats. It proves that humans are not merely inhabitants but makers of world, thereby showing the dignity and value of mankind. All these fulfill our ethical foundation.

Other than the promises of new worlds, space provides breeding grounds for an enormous population and increases our chance of survival. From the ethical foundation, it can be seen that life is beyond price and every extra individual enjoying his live adds value to humanity. Hence, a civilization should spread life across space as soon as it is able to do so, and let more spiritual beings come into existence in the new worlds as life itself possesses value. In addition, any beings without entering space are vulnerable to adverse space weather such as solar flare explosion, comets, big asteroids. Technological beings are even vulnerable to nuclear wars and space wars. It is widely accepted that an asteroid impact in 65 million B.C. ended the domination of dinosaurs on the Earth. To prevent from encountering a similar incident, humans must explore and search for the asteroids that may hit the Earth. If we spread out more than one world, it would be much harder for anything or anyone to wipe us all out, no matter what kind of weapons or technology the latter possess. Then, after spreading out and multiplying our population beyond a certain degree, humans will be virtually invulnerable to extinction. Our ability to cope with space disaster is dramatically enhanced too. Meanwhile, spreading out to different environments allows us to be more diverse. Mankind evolves to adapt to the environment technologically as well as biologically. Every branch of human civilization will have its competitive advantage so that we will not be wiped out easily due to disasters like new diseases. Expanding far into space would be the ultimate insurance policy against the extinction of humanity.

Furthermore, our step into space follows the trend and will be the trend that leads us to our positive future. According to Zubrin (1999), humans take on the challenge to transform from Type I, Type II to Type III civilization status. Type I is defined as one that “has achieved full mastery of all of its planet’s resources”; Type II would be one that “has mastered its solar system; while Type III is one that “has access to the full potential of its galaxy”. It is believed that about 50,000 years ago, human, or modern Homo sapiens, originated from the Rift Valley in eastern Africa, where the living environment was very favorable even with only primitive technology. Some of them somehow left the area and settled in other continents with less favorable habitat. Nevertheless, they overcame the challenges by developing more advanced technology, and their decision allowed humans to reach the mature Type I status we now enjoy. Centuries before we come to such maturity, we have thought that Earth is the center of the universe, and space was holy and almost untouchable. The Copernicus revolution refuted the geocentric model and put forth the heliocentric model, freeing our mind from an Earth centered view. After Newton, humans realized that the Earth does not revolve exactly around our Sun, and the Sun actually revolves around the galaxy and so on. Nowadays Einstein’s relativity further tells us there is no absolute space to be called the center. The meaning given by the trend is obvious: Earth is not really more important than elsewhere in space, and space is as important as Earth to be explored just as we explored America on Earth.

The trend continues. We have sent probes like Voyager, Pioneer, Viking, Magellan and Pathfinder to observe other planets in the solar system. Without being obscured by the atmosphere, the Hubble telescope in the orbit is able to take staggering pictures of the deep space. All these advances have led to numerous possibilities for research, but more importantly, they entirely change our view of the universe and show us a clearer direction for our future. Space is full of possibilities and challenges, but mankind will blossom to enhance prosperity and quality of life in space, just like a person put in a challenging environment takes the opportunity to strive to be a better person. We will continue to develop into Type II and eventually Type III status, and hopefully we can enter the galactic club as soon as possible. It is, therefore, the trend that humans, inborn with curiosity and a quest for knowledge, will enter space.

From another viewpoint, man should not just repeat what his ancestors have done and the living his ancestors have led. Every generation works hard to relearn the knowledge and experience accumulated by its previous generations. Our perspiration should not deserve a mere continuation or duplication of our ancestors’ life, but better ones which satisfy our ethical foundation. We were born not only to live and die, but also to understand ourselves and the universe; we should lead a bright and meaningful life, and fulfill the dream we dream of. Very often, our dream is to contribute to mankind in various ways. No matter the contribution is big or small, direct or indirect, the final result would be the advancement of human civilization. As illustrated before, a major trend of human civilization is to enter space. Therefore, a direct method of contribution is to follow the trend – enter space.

Why Choose Mars

We should enter space, but where should be our new world? A candidate providing us an easier beginning is Mars. A harder beginning like Pluto or asteroids is not preferred, because we still lack many of the technologies and experiences needed for surviving there. Instead of waiting for the technologies to be developed, an easier start gives us an incentive to boost our capability and allows us to reach other worlds much earlier. Mars deliver its promise for it is similar to Earth. As on Earth, it has about twenty four hours a day, and gravity strong enough to preserve an atmosphere which is thick enough to shield the Martian surface against harmful radiation, frequent asteroids and dangerous solar flares. It is also similar to Earth in that Mars, unlike Earth’s moon, possesses all the resources to sustain life and the development of a technological civilization. Orbiters around Mars have revealed its surface in detail and give clear evidence for Mars’ watery past; by now the water is still held in oceanic quantity frozen in the soil as permafrost (Zubrin, 1996). Together with geothermal heat, if present, may be used to form artificial oases providing settlers with water and energy which may already be maintaining liquid water underground for preserving ancient Martian life persists today. Carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen, the elements necessary for life, are present in vast amount, awaiting settlers to extract them. In addition, volcanic and hydrologic activities Mars has experienced can bring mineral ores to the Martian crust for the need of virtually all the significant industries. The extremely expansive deuterium for nuclear fusion energy is five times more on Mars than on Earth. With the resources, we are able to produce grow edible plants in large scale greenhouses lit by natural sunlight, many useful materials, fuel, rocket propellants and develop new technology, and thus become self sustaining as on Earth. As such, Mars is another Earth where life could blossom into another branch of technological civilization. It is a worthy place for life.

There are also other potential worthy places for life with plenty of resources. Obviously, Mars is chosen because it is the nearest of them. However, it is sufficiently remote, at least physically separated from Earth, to nurture the free development of a new society. As transporting large amount of resource from Earth to Mars is not affordable or almost impossible to sustain, Martian resource must be utilized. The differences between Earth and Mars push humans to innovate, while the undeveloped Mars allows creative innovations. Additionally, there is no established ruling institution before humans arrive, leaving space for attempts of better social structures and laws suitable for the new environment. People there can fully make use of their potentials. They are not only inhabitants but makers, innovators, inventors, scientists, engineers, explorers, politicians and governors of Mars.

Although Mars provides resources, technological incentives, nearness and separation, we choose Mars because it can be eventually terraformed to a fully habitable place. If Mars somehow cannot be terraformed, it makes not much difference to live in artificial habitats built on Mars and in the Antarctica or undersea on Earth. However, Antarctica or undersea on Earth cannot be terraformed without adversely affecting other regions on Earth that are habitable and have already occupied by us. The case for Mars is totally different. There might be microbial life forms on Mars, but at least there is no evidence for the existence of intellectual organisms of significance. In agreement to our ethical foundation, terraforming Mars is not an inhumane act but boosts the value of living there.

As a result, a human to Mars program constitutes our next goal for entering space, and really begins our journey to a mature Type II civilization status.

Why Act Now

If humans are to go to Mars, are we prepared? We already have the method, technology and money to go there, as demonstrated in the affordable Mars Direct plan by Zubrin (1996) and the related experimental tests on Earth. By the justification mentioned before, life should be spread to Mars as soon as possible. Though some hardship may be encountered at first, the benefits will be realized earlier and the value of a new world will far outweigh any difficulties.

We also need a frontier to continue the vigor of human civilization. The vigor of our ancestors came from surviving in Europe and Asia, and the vigor of Americans rooted from the unexplored America. In the twentieth century, many of the technologies needed to utilize resources on Earth and live comfortably were developed: wireless communication, spacecraft, electricity, computers, nuclear power, antibiotics and more. Since then, mankind has begun to use to the comfortable setting on Earth. The incentive for more advanced technology has gradually decreased. There is no longer a huge need in magnetically levitated trains, fusion reactors and hypersonic flight, because we are already satisfied in freeways and highways, fission reactors and subsonic civil aviation, but are we honestly? In fact, the risk of our technological stagnation is due to the lack of a frontier to continue our pace of advance. We urgently need a frontier to provide us with numerous opportunities for creativity and innovation, to assign new roles for those who are prepared but do not have significant role on Earth, to free our mind from the bondage of the past, and to offer us the necessary competition and drive. Mars is the frontier humanity now needs; a human to Mars program will booster our technology once again just as in our golden twentieth century.


We are so fortunate to have Mars. Imagine a civilization having only an identical planet as its close “satellite”. What a grand idea it is to land just some experts and workers and machines to the twin planet. What an enjoyable task it is to transfer information from its home planet to duplicate another world. The civilization expands, but it does not get to know the way of mastering more challenging worlds or interstellar flight. Imagine a civilization having virtually uninhabitable planets in its solar system. What a difficult leap it is to leave an enjoyable home for an extremely harsh world. What a long process it is to develop the necessary technology to merely survive on that planet. The civilization loses all its vigor, only until it is discovered by other civilizations. To our human civilization, Mars is neither a duplication of Earth that is very near, nor a hardly livable world that is too remote, offering just the appropriate training as an intermediate step into space. A human to Mars program is thus our central near term goal. It is a decisive step in mankind’s outward migration into space. It establishes humanity as a multiplanet species, and serves as an outbreak of humans into the solar system and the universe. It is the beginning of our voyage that never ends, that free man shall sail, that free man shall not deny.

Let’s act for a human to Mars program now!