Monday, August 17, 2015

My Vision for Mars

I was reading this article on the Mars One project the other day (warning: the article is worksafe, but the title may not be something you want to have front and center when your boss walks in) and thinking about the key point therein: We do not have the technology to sustain human life on Mars, because things break and spare parts are somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 million miles away. According to the article, we will not truly be able to set up a colony on Mars until we can make it self-sustaining...that is to say, until everything the Martian colonists need can be found on Mars itself.

And it got me thinking. We are, in some ways, already deep in the post-human era of humankind. We are still somewhat limited in the ways we can modify ourselves (although growing less limited by the day) but we are already to the point where we can make surrogate bodies that are able to better withstand inhospitable environments and that technology is improving with vast leaps on a daily basis. Mars One talks about sending people to Mars to set up a colony, but why bother when we can make shiny metal people who do whatever we tell them and don't need to breathe?

My vision is this: We begin sending robots to Mars. Not just one or two, like Spirit and Opportunity, and not just to explore. We design a robot or a team of robots that can find out if there are natural resources on Mars that humans could use to create a self-sustaining colony--water, mineral resources, fuel, et cetera--and then, and this is the cool bit, we send robots that are miniature factories. They would be able to build the colony...and this is the really cool bit...and they would also be able to machine parts to build more robots and repair/replace parts from broken robots. Basically, I'm talking von Neumann machines, but with an end goal of building a self-sustaining, habitable environment suitable for humans. I know it sounds like science fiction, but so does building a self-propelled camera to go take a look at Pluto and that happened last month.

And once we have that, well...then we can start the big step. We can live on Mars, and I feel sure that someday we will. But the smart way to do it is send our shiny metal children ahead of us to prepare the way.

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