A lot of folks are giddy over NASA’s announcement that its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found evidence of liquid water on Mars. They imagine this points the way to a Martian colony and human expansion into space.
Put me down for a big ol’ “meh” on this waste of taxpayers’ dollars. While the Trekkies may swoon over this news, I (and many others) suspect we are too acutely tuned to the rhythms, radiation fields, and cycles of this planet to go skipping about the galaxy like disembodied brains.
I agree with Kim Stanley Robinson: “I think Earth is the one and only crucial place for humanity. It will always be our only home. … Maybe there’s only one planet where humanity can do well, and we are already on it.”
As to terraforming an alien planet to make it suitable for human habitation, Robinson says, “… there’s no place other than Earth where humanity can be healthy and safe. When we land on another planet, we’ll find out if it’s either alive or dead. It it’s alive, we’ll be in trouble because the life that’s there already will either make us sick or kill us. If it’s dead, we’ll have to terraform it, in which case we’ll die before it’s ready.”
Robinson’s objection is valid. In fact, there are so many variables involved in reverse engineering alien planets to accommodate human needs that such a project would be utterly impossible. Then there are the countless unknowns we will never grasp. It wasn’t until the past decade or so that we understood the vital role played by human flora, which outnumber human cells by 10 to 1.
I’ll believe we can terraform other worlds to our liking when we’re able to rid our own planet of earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and telemarketing calls.