Imagine Earth in a thousand years, void of mankind.
The planet is coming out of a miniature ice age, and the colors across the globe are transforming from white to a vivid green everywhere. Wildlife is flourishing and the oceans are teaming with life again.
Cities no longer exist, most are not even visible from overhead. Metropolises such as New York City or Tokyo have collapsed within themselves. Fires have destroyed many buildings, skyscrapers have crumbled as concrete, rebar, and steel supports succumb to the elements. Bridges are nothing more than crumbled stone as vegetation has taken over and trees have reclaimed the land.
Further away from city hubs, homes have all but completely disappeared. Wood frames have rotted away, roofs have collapses, and foundations have been blanketed in meters of soil and deposition. Just as old South American civilizations disappeared, so has most formal recognizable imprints of mankind’s existence.
Upon further examination, it is discovered that Earth’s limited resources are almost non-existent. Oil and gas reserves, any form of fossil fuels, are depleted. Precious metals and ores are gone. Vast stretches of ground have caved in from empty aquifers. It will be several millennia more before Earth is recharged of these non-renewable sources.
Did humanity finally face the apocalyptic future predicted centuries prior? Was mankind wiped from the planet by a devastating disease? Or did they simply run out of resources and move on to another source, another planet?
With finite resources, a changing climate, and problems stemming from overpopulation, alternative solutions for sustainment will be needed. One growing philosophy is to turn to answers outside of Earth. And, with an infinite amount of resources available in just the Milky Way Galaxy alone, prospects of other world colonization are hopeful.
The next generation of the space exploration has seen a sharp increase in attention the last decade or two as both the private and public sectors race to be the first to catalog, research, and potentially colonize other planets and satellites. The primary focal points of exploration are the Moon and, more specifically, Mars.
In 2012, NASA scientists, began to piece together the puzzle on the ecological history of Mars and ascertain the viability of microbial life. Its Curiosity rover, now well over 2000 days on Mars, successfully continues to gather samples and research the properties of the Martian strata.
Additionally, the Mars InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) rover landed successfully in November with a different mission. Unlike the Curiosity, the vessel will be stationary in a zone to study the earthquakes and attempt to uncover the geographical secrets beneath its surface. The expedition will be monitored through the MarCO cube mission, where CubeSats (tiny satellites) will relay scientific information back to the team on Earth.
Even with these robotic vehicles, experts believe they have barely scratched the surface, hence the need for a more impactful deliverable with the upgraded Mars 2020 rover Planet. Accompanied with a similar chassis as its predecessors, this advanced vehicle will contain new features and add-ons:
- Advanced photographic features, such as the super cam and mast-cam Z that supports mineralogy studies
- Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) which serves as a barometer (gauges wind properties) and compares dust size and shape
- Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX), which provides a centimetre-scale resolution of subsurface geologic structure
The private sector is also seeing its fair share of interested parties. Billionaires of Fortune 500 companies are applying their wealth to their own personal development.
Space X’s and Tesla’s Elon Musk will launch his Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), a fully reusable rocket system, in 2019 in hopes of reaching Mars. The BFR will hold the Big Falcon Spaceship along with the Big Falcon Booster, the section of the craft launching the spaceship. Musk intends to complete two cargo missions to Mars: one absent of human passengers by 2022, one with passengers by 2024.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has also devoted a large portion of his fortune to the future of humanity. Bezos founded Blue Origin, a venture company seeking alternative resources from outer space to help alleviate demands on limited terrestrial resources. The entrepreneur has also detailed a moon colonization proposal, making the satellite of Earth as the hub for heavy industry and, hopefully, lessening the demand on Earth. While the idea is still speculative, Bezos hopes that moon colonization will unite world governments and create a healthier planet.
Old is new again?
Instead of spending billions on space expansion, many opponents to the idea believe governments and private sectors should spend funding on improving this planet. Safeguarding Earth and its resources should be the primary objective before venturing into extraterrestrial space.
According to the Journal of the American Philosophical Association, while Mars has precious resources that would benefit Earth, it is currently more cost-effective to mine asteroids than to engage in the colonization of Mars. The publication also mentions other potential risk and ethical factors such as contaminating Mars with microorganisms and viruses and destroying its existing biota. If humans remain incapable of solving the resource dillemna on Earth, it is possible that Mars could end up as another damaged planet rather than serve as a solution to future problems.
Additionally, NASA cannot act alone due to the magnitude of their expected expenditure; and, with budgetary cuts from Congress, NASA could be forced to depend on private investors like Musks and Bezos.
Will the emerging intentions of Fortune 500 entrepreneurs be purely for the sake of bettering the future of mankind? If NASA and other government agencies have to rely on billionaires for funding, would objectives then be steered in questionable directions? Is it possible that privatized funding could open the possibility to exploitation of personal agendas? Is colonization outside of Earth worth the investment and risk?
Should mankind focus on the one world known so far to sustain its population and species? Wouldn’t protecting the environment and providing renewable resources be more cost effective and a better investment in the long run? Would mankind be able to colonize another planet or explore the galaxies before time runs out on this one? Are the new horizons not in the sky, but in the oceans and land?