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Mars One base
A Mars settlement would face many technological challenges to stay alive, but surmounting them could provide lessons for a more sustainable Earth. (credit: Mars One)

Mars Nation

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Every nation its own unique mix of reasons why it was founded: social, environmental, economic, or cultural factors that make up the founding bedrock that charts its future directions and importance in the community of nations. Many of these factors are as unique as the landscapes and native peoples that form the backdrop to a nation’s growth and change over time.

In light of the history of nation making and the value each new nation building experiment brings or exposes, it is time we examined what this idea of moving to Mars is really all about.

A quick study of world history shows that while nations rise and fall, many of the more notable ones leave powerful and impacting legacies on the nations around them and on future cultures across the world, often just as an accidental development or necessary strategy in some field or other as they grew. From the creation of new political structures and practices to the invention of new laws, social structures, or history-changing technologies, the formation of new nations over the centuries has helped pushed our world into an age where education is increasingly valued and promoted, and where enlightened thinking, science, and medical developments have utterly transformed our world. Life expectancies are rising steadily. Living standards are gradually moving up across the world, even through the shocks and jolts of wars and injustices.

The US, despite its current issues, is a powerful example of the value of a new nation forging its own path and breaking away from flawed practices of older nations, showing how the new can ultimately revive and reform the old. While America has a unique history, and no nation is perfect, this shows how nations can deeply influence the world around them for the better.

In the formation, founding, and future growth of a nation, we witness the story of settlement. The story of humanity expanding into new frontiers and both changing and being changed by the unique mix of environmental, economic, and social challenges their diverse peoples experienced. This story shows us that despite the negatives and horrors of nation building, given the right mix of influencing factors, quite vital and ultimately valuable benefits are demonstrated and then spread to other nations. These include concepts like universal suffrage; the ending of slavery; freedom of speech and religion; outlawing of racism, sexism, and other discriminatory practices; the promotion of science; and the free market.

Then look at what an incredible incubator for new technologies free nations like the US have been over the years. In light of the history of nation making, in light of the value each new nation building experiment brings or exposes, in light of the progress such nations bring, it is time we examined what this idea of moving to Mars is really all about.

Many people like to point out the benefits of going to Mars, but these points are often soundly and rationally defeated as Mars-centric “wishful thinking.” So let’s move beyond the technology benefits, “unknown” benefits, or any other mundane benefits trotted out over and over. Let’s get to the heart of our argument.

Mars is unique. It’s a whole other planet. There is essentially no air. It’s very hard to extract resources. It’s millions of kilometers from Earth. There are no fossil fuels. It has a lower gravity, and different diurnal and seasonal periods. There can be dangerous radiation levels at the surface, with no magnetic field to act as a shield. The temperatures are, at best, freezing. Its dust may be toxic. There are no trees, no oceans, and no rivers. It is supremely isolated. It’s a challenging, deadly, planet.

But we know more about Mars than any other destination in the solar system beyond the Moon. We send probes there regularly. It has polar ice, and water. It has canyons bigger than any we know. There are mountains that dwarf our Everest.

Settling Mars will create a new nation of genuine inventors. It will bring the best out of us in this sense by sheer necessity.

Mars is not just another “land across the sea.” It’s not to be confused with the “new world” of the Americas or Australia. Mars is, quite literally, the definition of the term “new world”: it’s a whole new planet. That’s why the comparisons with the settling of the Americas fail to do it justice. Mars can’t be reached by a glorified sailboat made from wood. The technology just to get there is dangerously complex, controlled by a select few governments, and is extremely expensive.

Based on the unique environmental constraints of Mars alone, it cannot begin to be compared to any place we have ever tried to settle on Earth. This is a planet where the air we breathe, our energy sources, our water, and every other basic commodity or resource will need to be extracted or produced in ways not needed on Earth. On Mars you can’t just move a few thousand kilometers away to “greener pastures” if things are not working out. The whole planet is toxic to normal human life. If our technologies can’t cut it, we die: quick and painfully from asphyxiation or decompression, or slowly as we starve to death. These levels of technological dependence and environmental dangers alone make Mars unique from any place we have ever settled.

Now come back to Earth. Our climate challenges us. Soaring populations challenge us. Dwindling food supplies challenge us. We are a wasteful society. The Earth has problems. In fact, many anti-Mars advocates commonly cite the “Let’s deal with Earth problems first” defense as a reason for not going to Mars. You know what? They are right. But, more accurately, we should be saying, “Let’s deal with Earth’s problems, period.”

In the past, we settled on new lands to secure basic needs or goals that were valuable to the founding parties. Those motivations included a lack of resources, religious persecution, and the promise of better economic benefits. These are some of the causes behind settlement of new lands on Earth in the past.

But how does Mars fit into this picture? On Mars we will be extremely technology dependent, far more than we ever were on Earth. We will learn to respect our tools, our material objects, and precious resources in a way nothing on Earth could ever teach us. The sheer isolation of Mars, millions of kilometers away, will force settlers to be more creative and adaptive than the most extreme environments on Earth ever could.

The constant threat of death via technology breakdown will force settlers to be extremely pragmatic. Resources will be respected. The “throw away” society will disappear. Mutual respect will grow in a social and political sense as settlers realize all could die by the mistakes or stupidity of a few. Renewable energy tech will be king. Technological advances will become the currency there.

Settling Mars will create a new nation of genuine inventors. It will bring the best out of us in this sense by sheer necessity. Beyond just the technology advantages that moving to Mars will give us, beyond the survival option it will offer us, settling Mars will give birth a new nation based on principles and constraints nothing on Earth ever could. It will literally force us to “adapt or die.” It is about our necessary evolution.

Only on Mars will we be forced to innovate. Only on Mars will our entire existence be subject to respecting technologies and the environment rather than taking them for granted as we do now. New models of politics will emerge. New cultures will form.

If only one more new nation could be founded, let it be Mars. Nothing we try to come up with on Earth will ever match its uniqueness.

Do we need this? Anti-Mars advocates would agree, but will try to tell us we can do all that here. However, they would be wrong. Trying to force people to do stuff when they know they have other, easier, options is what we call tyranny. But on a planet so far away, no one will be forced by other people or rules to “be” a certain way. The environment will be the boss there.

Mars will lay the foundations for a new, enlightened and pragmatic society. Do we need this? Yes. And nothing works better than a real demonstration. Yes, there will be costs and risks and failures, but dedicating our future to founding Mars and sticking to it will allow us to reap the reward of all new nations, but in a truly historic and important way.

Our world does need a better way demonstrated to it, just as the US did in its first decades of independence. Only a real live example can accomplish this. Settling Mars will lift us to a new level of enlightened society. And yes, it will ensure our survival as a species, regardless of what opponents may say. Our world does need this. The value of settling Mars will far outweigh our investment in it, but we have to make a serious start to it.

If only one more new nation could be founded, let it be Mars. Nothing we try to come up with on Earth will ever match its uniqueness. In fact the closest actual example is the International Space Station. Founded and funded by many nations, it has literally been a shining beacon in our skies as to the value of cooperation and a real example of how science can advance best in extreme environments. And the ISS is just an orbital laboratory. Imagine what settling a new planet will bring us? Bring on the new, pragmatic, enlightened, Mars Nation.