For those who think that NASA’s planned mission to Mars is still in its early stages, think again. A group of people (not believed part of the crew) just spent eight months in isolation, braving some of the harshest environments on planet Earth to understand how the first colonists might survive on our red neighbour. It’s all part of the manned mission to Mars scheduled to launch sometime in the 2030s. NASA is not the only organisation putting this together; China is also planning a mission along with private investor Elon Musk. What are the challenges facing the early colonists?
Who Has Jurisdiction on Mars?
Concerns about rival nations settling and claiming alien planets mean the United Nations oversees extra-terrestrial colonisation. Current law regarding space stations, colonies and even temporary bases mean that such facilities remain under the ownership of the nation who built it even though they cannot claim areas of space or land on other planets. This has concerned private investors such as Elon Musk and others who hope to build businesses for a coming space age should the Mars mission lead to a permanent colony. All nations are required to submit details of the area where the base is to be settled directly to the Secretary General of the United Nations.
Environmental sensitivity will be a key issue with any colony on Mars. Everything will need to be multipurpose, multiuse, and fully recyclable to ensure the colonists make the most out of substances. Biodegradable packaging could be an essential element of growing crops – it’s likely that nothing will be wasted.
We know the stresses and strains that isolation can place on people, even those simply living along can fall prey to depression. There is a real psychological condition called “Cabin Fever” which is the irritability, anger, depression, and friction caused by confinement and isolation. It happens most commonly in places that have long, harsh winters such as; Alaska, Siberia, and research communities in Antarctica. Any Martian colonist will experience this for months and years until the colony is sufficiently large enough.
This most recent study looked at the social interactions of isolated communities. Reports are due in time that will affect the selection process for the Mars mission.
Potential Long-Term Problems on Mars
When humans begin to colonise other planets, we will need licensing for mining minerals and materials with which to build. As current laws dictate, we have a capitalist system that allows governments to license out mining of natural resources over which the licensee will have sole property to use as they please. The problem is that this is incompatible with space laws. It may be difficult for the UN to enforce such laws on a Martian colony owned by a member nation that has given its colonists strict instructions to act a certain way. This could be problematic with a multinational crew (as the International Space Station is) but older maritime law such as the authority of a ship’s captain could apply.
Mars for Martians?
It’s a long way off potentially, but as with any colony, there remains the possibility that those eventually born on Mars will feel no affinity with the planet their ancestors came from, let alone the country. What is likely to happen is a systematic and growing feeling that those born on Mars are Martian and not “Earthling”. Kim Stanley Robinson discussed this political division in a series of books called “Three Colours Mars”. There is already historical precedent. Latin tribes that made up Rome seceded from the Greek states, as did the Sicilians in antiquity. New World colonies eventually shed the governments of their imperial powers and became independent.