Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mars on life

The Martians are trying to communicate with me through Google Reader.

Today thinking with my hands yet led me to Symphony of Science which is fabulous and entertaining, it also has "The Case for Mars". Once upon a time, many moons ago, when I wrote this blog more regularly, I was thinking of posting something about why I think terraforming is a bad idea but then someone told me that first I should read Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy and I haven't got around to it. I don't think there is a case for Mars, not for sending humans there and especially not for colonising it.

But it will probably happen because today my favourite webcomics told me:

Perry Bible Fellowship

xkcd (in rollover text)
"all [JFK's] arguments for going to the moon work equally well as arguments for blowing up the moon, sending cloned dinosaurs into space, or constructing a towering penis-shaped obelisk on Mars."

Further research is needed on the morphology of Martian genitalia.


Mashugenah said...

I'd be interested in your elaboration of these thoughts. It's hard to engage with such a fly-by summary of your position.

In terms of KSR's "Mars Trilogy"... I strongly recommend NOT reading this. It's hugely long, over-wrought and tedious. Your time would be better spent doing virtually anything else.

RUTH said...

Here is some elaboration of why I don't think there is a case to send humans to Mars:

To me the purpose of space exploration is to expand the scientific understanding of the universe.

I think that unmanned probes do an excellent job of this. They are expendable and do not require life support which makes them much cheaper than astronauts. We get more knowledge for our buck. This is true of exploring anything in space not just Mars.

I think it is important that we cause as little impact as possible when we explore. Take only photos, leave only footprints and, in the case of space exploration, some rubbish with limited environmental consequences.

One reason for this is so that we can do more exploration later. We are likely to have different questions, different technology and different methodology in the future. I don't want us to change Mars now because there is only one and I want people in the future to be able to investigate it too. Consider some of the well meaning desecration that occurred in the name of 19th century archaeology.)

What if there is life (e.g. microbes) on Mars and we change the atmosphere of Mars and the life dies? Even if extinction of alien life is an acceptable outcome (which I do not think is true) is it acceptable to risk losing our chance to investigate it?

Sending people increases the impact the probe has on Mars because the probe is bigger and needs a lot more energy, some of which may harvested on Mars in destructive ways (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_atmosphere#Potential_for_use_by_humans)

(I am much less concerned about the impact of people changing a few asteroids. Mars is unique in our accessible neighbourhood, there are many, many asteroids.)

Mashugenah said...

I hear what you're saying. I've seen first-hand what can be lost by ill-advised excavation and recreation of Bronze Age sites. There are a lot of things we might know, except for some Englishman on the Grand Tour of Europe stealing everything.

But what if Mars is just a dead rock? You're arguing to preserve something as an aesthetic entity that can never be enjoyed by anyone, except in an imaginative abstract sense. If we can't go there, it doesn't really matter what's there anymore - we must necessarily imagine it instead of seeing it.

I think that the argument "we can do better later" is a dangerous one. If we do nothing because later we might do it better, we never will. The future is always a better time to do anything, isn't it?

I don't really think there's a benefit to exploring Mars, or indeed colonizing it. But I can't see the harm that you're talking about here as being significant.

Luckily, I don't think Mars is actually in much danger from us. :)

RUTH said...

I'm not arguing that we preserve its aesthetics, I'm arguing we preserve its scientific value.

I'm not saying we shouldn't go there, in fact I think we should but I think probes without people do that best and the way I'll see it is the same either way (through photos etc).

I'm saying we should no nothing now, I'm saying that if we investigate now we should take the impact on future scientific investigations into account.

I do think it is worth exploring Mars for what it will teach us about the world, solar system and universe we live in.

jwq said...

The case against reminds me of the arguments put forth by the Betrizated dystopian society in Lem's Return from the Stars.

FWIW, what do scientists believe about the scientific benefits and costs of manned exploration vs unmanned exploration?