Send Old People to Mars!
I have always been an advocate for space exploration and, eventually, colonization. There is nothing cooler than the thought of humanity spreading out beyond Earth. One of the most discussed topics in this field is the idea of building settlements on Mars. Recent news stories have made this seem practically inevitable, but I am worried this might just be a fad. People often lose interest in difficult things. That is why it is vital to discuss the reasons for colonizing Mars, and more importantly, the people send there.
When asked why we should colonize Mars, the answer is usually along the lines of, “Well, it’s the closest normal planet, and there is definitely water there, and we could use local materials…” That is a concise argument for why it is possible to colonize Mars, but not why we should. There are lots of ideas that are possible, but are also bad ideas. Colonizing Mars is a good idea, because it will make us better at living on Earth.
The technology that will be developed as a result of colonizing Mars will also have great terrestrial applications. We will advance in the areas of bioscience, food production, clean energy production, rocketry, advanced materials, and much more. If we can figure out how to keep people alive on Mars, then we can do anything. Overcoming impossible conditions there can help us to build a real utopia here. Not to mention all of the great art that would be created during the effort. And, as an extra bonus, colonizing Mars would make it less likely for humans to go extinct.
To date, all of our efforts at exploring Mars have been done with a temporary mindset. When we talk about sending humans to Mars, we imagine it is only just to visit and maybe tinker around a bit before going home. This is not cost-effective. Sending people to Mars is absolutely worth it, but it will only work if we send people to stay.
Throughout history, when humans have settled a new land, the first people to go were often undesirables. Lots of criminals were sent as colonists in the past, as well as poor people and people who just didn’t fit in. We can’t send poor people to Mars. It is too expensive. We can’t send criminals or weirdoes, because we can’t really trust them. I think the best candidates for colonizing Mars are the elderly.
Old people might be willing to go to Mars and never return. Old people are wise, and wouldn’t mind building up infrastructure they might never get to use. Plus, you won’t have to worry quite so much about keeping them healthy if they weren’t exactly spring chickens when they blasted off. Who knows, maybe 1/3 Earth gravity will be good for their joints. Maybe Mars radiation will prove to have a weird anti-aging effect. And there are a lot of old people.
Even if the vast majority of them refuse, I am sure you could find enough willing old people to make the first mission a success, and you could replace the ones who die. Strapping young astronauts are a big investment. They are difficult and expensive to replace. An old colonist with a crash course in biology and engineering is much easier to replace. And it may sound morbid, but you could even use the old colonists after they expire as essential fertilizer for the greenhouses.
Personally, I would love to think when I reach a certain age I can cash in all my worldly possessions, say goodbye to my grandkids, and launch away to do something awesome for the future of humanity. That would give me something to look forward to. Even without a future on Mars, there is still plenty to look forward to. But the Mars future would be so cool.
If we start sending old people to Mars now, maybe by the time I am old enough to go it will actually be sort of nice there.