Socialist Worker

Mars - the latest arena for capitalist competition?

John Parrington is excited by a new plan to send humans to Mars—but warns that our rulers want to use it for their own ends

Issue No. 2371

Fed up with life, job, family and friends? Fancy starting again in a brand new environment? Then consider going somewhere where life will never be the same again. 

The catch is your new location is 34 million miles away. It will take a seven-month journey through space, to arrive at your new home, the planet Mars. 

Oh, and the trip is one way.

When I first heard of the Mars One mission, I thought it was a spoof. The aim is to travel to the red planet on a rocket developed by PayPal founder Elon Musk, funded through a Martian version of Big Brother. 

It sounded like a plot by a science fiction writer with an over-fertile imagination. Yet the plan is real. And over 200,000 people have applied to be selected as the first colonists. 

I must admit to a sneaking admiration for them. And I hope that Mars One achieves its goal of landing humans on the planet in 2023.

I wonder, though, whether most applicants have an inkling of the possible hazards. 

Travellers could be exposed to half the recommended lifetime radiation dose for astronauts. And a recent study suggests that the very dust of Mars could be toxic to humans.

That’s if the mission ever gets off the ground, which some doubt. It has a shoestring budget compared to Nasa estimates for sending humans to Mars. But this also raises the question of whether the US space agency will ever fund such a mission.

Colonies

As a small child watching enrapt as Neil Armstrong made that first lunar footprint in 1969, I expected to see colonies on Mars before I reached adulthood. As the post-war boom crumbled into economic crisis, that dream was quickly dashed.

Later, I learned that the moon landings weren’t driven by a quest for scientific knowledge but by the desire for US military dominance. And yet only three years after the last moon landing in 1972, a ragged guerrilla army drove the world’s greatest power out of Vietnam. 

Recently Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, called for a bolder Nasa attitude to the colonisation of Mars. Aldrin backs an “international effort” that retains “US leadership in space”.

This would be assisted by “Chinese, Indian and other space experts from around the globe”. With China pushing its own space programme, such assumptions of US dominance seem premature. 

And it would be naive to expect any future “space race” not to be integrally tied to military and economic competition. However, the exact economic and military benefits of a manned mission to Mars remain far from clear. 

And to complicate matters further, the input of private individuals like Elon Musk into space travel poses an increasing challenge to Nasa’s dominance.

Personally, I still dream of humankind “boldly going” where no one has been before in the peaceful spirit of scientific discovery. 

A future socialist society will have many urgent issues to address. They will include the millions of children dying for want of clean water or global warming. 

But I hope one day there may be colonies on Mars, based not on profit by the few, but on the needs and fulfilment of everyone. Now that truly would be a red planet.


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Tue 17 Sep 2013, 16:06 BST
Issue No. 2371
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