Copyright © 2008 by George Drake. Published by The Mars Society with permission.
WILL THE MANNED MARS MISSION SURVIVE THE CLIMATE CRISIS?
George Drake, Ph.C.
People are not, as a rule, long term critters. They focus well, though, and many amazing accomplishments result. A frequent problem, however, is that they may easily not see the real danger for looking at specific problems. This is a sort of a forest for the trees kind of thing. The forest is the publicŐs eye and how to get and keep it is our biggest problem.
In the era of the Moon missions, the competition with the Soviet Union served to help us see past the distractions of the technical challenges of the everyday preparation for going to the Moon. The cold war was the deeper, long-term philosophical preoccupation of the public eye that spawned the project. The Cold War was to the moon mission as great religions are to the construction of cathedrals, temples, and mosques. Many of those projects took hundreds of years to complete. But what drove them was an abiding central theme.
The Cold War is no longer the thing the public is focused on and, consequently, there ’s little current support for revisiting, even in improvement, its cathedral. What drives most public interest in space is scientific exploration, and it's dawning on more and more people that "manned" has little to do with that driver.
So, where is the public eye right now? Obviously, there are always personal issues in the periphery at any time. The demands of survival will always trump any abstract goals, so when the economy is bad, or a nation is at war, or there ’s a flood, or whatever, even those who are somewhat involved will have no attention for a more remote goal, no matter how deeply it may be regarded philosophically. The appeal of marginal involvement will always yield to a more present demand.
Discounting recreational interests, which are perennial and largely irrelevant to this discussion, the current focuses of attention in America are the economy, the war in Iraq, global warming, and, of course, the election. The issue of global warming poses particularly dire dangers to building the cathedral of a terraformed Mars.
But terraforming and global warming are linked, for the one (terraforming) can ’t happen unless the threats of the other (global warming) are effectively dealt with. Disruptions to the environment that are expected to cause mass migrations, agricultural failures, water scarcity, extraordinary weather-triggered disasters, power outages, and climactic conditions such as higher humidity and temperature will focus the public eye quite locally: the only attention that will fall to space will be that which sees space as a solution to problems on this planet.
The most obvious beneficiaries of this kind of interest will be "Mission to Earth" kinds of projects. Things like solar power collection, solar energy deflection, and Earth observation. To reap this benefit, however, better dissemination of the role of these and other space applications in addressing climate change must be made.
It's worth noting, as well, that most Earth orbit activities are not particularly oriented to "manned space" activities, whether manned or not. For example, as long as we're only concerned with Earth orbital manned missions, there is very little pressure to address the problems of long term weightlessness or radiation exposure.
An urgent need, for the terraforming Mars movement, is to find and develop a link to the climate change threat on Earth that is not only the current focus of our attention, but likely the focus for a long time to come. Another urgent task for us is to recognize how long and intense the terraforming effort would need to be, for we must maintain a livable planet during that entire period lest people ’s attention be drawn irrevocably away from the task of terraforming another planet while things aren't going well on this one.
One of our first steps should be to establish a means of early recognition of additional threats to Earth and identifying applications with roots in Mars. For example, Mars has clearly undergone severe climatic, global fluctuations. One of the first ways to make a link between global warming and the study of Mars is to recognize that both involve changes in ambient temperature. Making the case for studying Mars' loss of temperature as a means of understanding and projecting the potentials of change on Earth seems like an easy step. The trend may be running in opposite directions, but the mechanisms of a global loss of ambient temperature may give vital insight into those of a global increase. Similarly, the loss of mass in the atmosphere of Mars over time might prompt a more careful examination of what, if any, effect a global increase in temperature on Earth might have. Early recognition of such a threat might be crucial in coping with it. It only stands to reason that understanding global variations on Mars will enhance our understanding of them on Earth.
The mantra should be something along the line of ŇIf it happened there, we shouldnŐt assume it canŐt happen here without some reason to do so.Ó Knowing the past on Mars might be crucial to avoiding global disaster for our future on Earth.