Our new home on Mars

Rona Boyle

In Kim Stanley Robinson’s seminal space-exploration novel Red Mars, the initial group of settlers on the Red Planet number 100—evenly split between Americans and Russians. When the Ibn Battutah lands on Mars, our six crew members will raise the population of the planet to just over 100; to 102, to be precise. We can only hope that space elevators and vastly expanded lifespans will quickly follow, as they do in Red Mars.

Like Robinson’s characters, though, we have to dig down before we build up; the diplomatically-named International Mars Colony exists increasingly under the surface of Mars, where colonists and equipment can be shielded from radiation and other environmental hazards more readily than above the surface under a giant dome (if only!). In our lifetimes, we’re not likely to see the colony rise very far above its rows of sturdy barracks.

The colony is rapidly expanding, however—both down and out. Each month brings a new shipment of colonists, and a new shipment of equipment to aid with the expansion. As the colony expands, our hope is that its capacity will grow geometrically. Even at the current pace of settlement, in a decade the colony will number nearly a thousand; the most optimistic hopes are that it might grow as large as several times that size.

Looking beyond that, as President Rey has said, America’s hope is that children being born today will have the opportunity to become colonists if they set it as a life goal and work consistently towards that goal. By century’s end, our hope is that the International Mars Colony will have built the capacity to spawn its own colonies—perhaps on the moons of Jupiter. That’s as far as we dare hope, rushed as this entire process has been by the rapidly deteriorating situation on Earth.

For the time being, though, what will our lives on Mars be like? They’ll be full of work, first and foremost. Our work is as writers and creators, and we’ve been assured that allowances will be made for us to spend significant time at our vocation, even if, perhaps, not quite as much as we’ve been able to spend on Earth. While the colony is stable and growing, all hands are needed to maintain the hydroponic farm and to insure that expansion efforts continue apace—lest we find ourselves with unexpected roommates.

Speaking of unexpected roommates, I’ve been mildly surprised—though certainly not shocked—to see how salacious gossip from the colony has become a central subject of fascination on Earth (and, surely, even more so on Mars). Those who choose to follow Five Years and other, even less respectful, content streams are apparently able to stay up-to-the-minute regarding the vicissitudes of relationships among colonists. We’re already being treated as the newest additions to a rapidly-growing reality show cast.

Regarding this matter, I can only say that we’ve been strongly advised not to feed the beast with social media postings of an inappropriately personal manner, and I for one certainly intend to comply with that common-sense guideline.

Our new lives on Mars will be full of challenges, to be sure—both physical and psychological. I think I speak for my entire crew, though, when I say that we’re all excited to land and to play our landmark role in this exciting chapter of human space exploration.

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Image: NASA