Elon Musk, founder of the private space company SpaceX, recently introduced his new spaceship. Amazingly, it is designed to carry up to 100 crew members on interplanetary journeys through the solar system, starting with Mars in 2024.
The announcement is exciting and evokes deep feelings of hope and adventure. But I can not help but have moral reservations about it.
Musk has given a fascinatingly short amount of time to orbit this rocket. He plans to build four or five versions of the vehicle over the next six months. The first rocket will launch a 20km test launch within a month, and the final version will orbit the earth.
Whether this is possible remains to be seen. Bear in mind that in the early 1
Still, it has worked Since the beginning of the space age, moving people between planets has been an important goal for people – helping us to explore, mine, and colonize the solar system.
There are many reasons to believe that SpaceX will succeed. The company made a most impressive contribution to space and closed a gap when government agencies like NASA could not justify the expenses. I do not doubt it's rocket technology. My main concern is Astrobiology.
If there is life elsewhere in our universe, the solar system is a good place to start looking for time. Mars, along with a few moons of Jupiter and Saturn, is one of the main competitors for taking in some sort of microbial life or life in the past.
However, there is a danger that humans who are attacked by microbes may run on Mars red planet could contaminate it with bugs from the earth. And contamination can threaten foreign organisms if they exist. It may also be impossible to find out if any microbes later found on Mars are of Martian or terrestrial origin.
A mission to return samples from Mars to Earth is expected to be completed in the early 2030s with the entire collection completed by sterilized robots. While such missions also carry a certain risk of contamination, there are strict protocols to minimize the likelihood. These were created by the Space Treaty in 1967 and must be followed by anyone in the space industry, governmental or non-governmental organizations.
Can we be confident that the limits of human exploration will be exceeded in such a short time? Frames, corners are not cut or standards must not slip? It will be much harder to follow these protocols when people are actually on the planet.
If SpaceX takes planet protection seriously, I would expect a policy to be posted on its website or simply found by searching for "SpaceX planetary protection." This is not the case. While it is possible that there is a rigorous plan behind the scenes to protect the planets, its publicly available content seems to indicate that it is more important to move the frontiers of human exploration than the consequences of this exploration.
Musk does not seem to worry too much about the contamination. He has escaped the concept of panspermia, the notion that Mars and Earth have been exchanging material or even life in the past because of asteroid impacts. In the last video above, he also says, "I do not believe that an Earth-based bacterium will be able to travel much through Mars" and "if there is life, it will be very deep underground". At the same time, however, he argues that we can do excavations to make room for people underground on Mars, where they would be protected from radiation.
Other moral issues
Another problem is the health of people sent to Mars. Space is not safe, but at least in the Earth's orbit, on the Moon and the International Space Station, the Earth's magnetic field provides some protection against harmful space radiation.
Mars does not have its own magnetic field and its atmosphere offers little protection against cosmic rays. Astronauts would be exposed to the radiation of space for at least six months of travel between planets.
Although much work is done, radiation protection technology has lagged far behind other aspects of rocket technology. I am not sure whether it is fair or ethical to expect astronauts to be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation that can cause significant health problems – or imminent death.
Add to this the environmental impact of these missions, which release a lot of carbon dioxide when they occur more frequently.
So while there is obviously much to gain by sending people to Mars, the risk of contaminating Mars, injuring astronauts, and damaging the environment is very real. I would argue that it is our moral obligation to prevent such damage. I hope SpaceX is considering as much as its launchers, and I would like that to be a priority for the company.
Once we have better radiation shielding and proven that Mars is completely uninhabited, even though it is very difficult, it will most likely become an adventure well worth exploring. At the very least, the company should stop sending people to Mars until the results of the upcoming life-tracking missions are up and running. Mars Sample Return and ExoMars Rover.
Until then, the Moon is a great destination for people exploration, resource extraction and colonization. Since it is close by and we can be pretty sure it has no life, why not start there?
Regardless of the thrill and hopefulness that comes with this kind of adventure, it does not mean that we can do something we should do it now or in the future.
This article was from The Talk by Samantha Rolfe, Lecturer in Astrobiology and Chief Technical Officer at Bayfordbury Observatory of the University, re-published by Hertfordshire under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.