(p. C3) The stated goal of the U.S. Mars program is to create a permanent base there. That is difficult to imagine in the planet’s harsh environment, which was depicted with such stark realism in the 2015 film “The Martian.”
But there are possibilities on the planet for making bases more viable. Mars explorers could use natural lava tubes in extinct volcanoes to create an underground base shielded against harmful radiation. Underground deposits of ice discovered in recent years could be used for drinking water and to provide oxygen for breathing, as well as hydrogen for rocket fuel. In theory, astronauts could eventually establish agricultural stations to create a self-sustaining colony, using genetically modified plants that could thrive in a cold environment rich in carbon dioxide.
A new spirit of exploration and discovery is certainly part of the push for this new space age, but concerns about the future of the Earth are also a motive. There is a growing realization that life on the planet is extremely fragile, that killer asteroids, super volcanoes and ice ages have nearly extinguished life in the past, and that climate change may spin out of control. Even if the Earth remains habitable, we know that one day the sun itself will expire.
So the choice ultimately will be simple: Colonize outer space, or perish. We need an insurance policy, a backup plan. The dinosaurs didn’t have a space program. We may need ours to evade their fate.
For the full commentary, see:
Michio Kaku. “To the Moon, Mars and Beyond.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018): C3.
(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Feb. 6, 2018, and has the title “SpaceX Rocket Launch Is Latest Step Toward the Moon, Mars and Beyond.”)
Kaku’s commentary is related to his book:
Kaku, Michio. The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth. New York: Doubleday, 2018.