Throughout human history, the stages of settlement have been: discover, explore, settle. Humans have followed these three stages to settle on every continent. Can we translate these rules into space? We have completed the first two stages. Many believe we can complete the final one. Believers include the richest man in the world and the most famous entrepreneur in the world: Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Both stated in order for the human race to survive in the long run, we need to become a multi-planetary species. They believe it can be done. Musk even detailed how SpaceX will make humans a multi-planetary species in a paper aptly titled “Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species.” In this paper, he provided only a brief paragraph as to why: we can either stay on Earth forever and risk an extinction event or go to space and become a multi-planetary species. His choice was obvious. There has always been a driving force behind humans urge to explore. We are curious and always looking for something new, but there are reasons for becoming a multi-planetary species beyond curiosity. I agree with Elon that becoming a multi-planetary species is necessary for the survival of the human race.
I think there are really two fundamental paths. History is going to bifurcate along two directions. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. I do not have an immediate doomsday prophecy, but eventually, history suggests, there will be some doomsday event. The alternative is to become a space-bearing civilization and a multi-planetary species, which I hope you would agree is the right way to go. – Elon Musk
Earth is fragile and one of a kind. Actions which harm Earth now will cause ongoing harm for the human race into the future. Climate change is the main long-term problem and many don’t fully grasp the future consequences. Climate change is a collective action problem. Humans believe that the actions of many are causing climate change while simultaneously believing their actions have no effect. We need collective action to slow climate change but lack the structures to do so. National governments must cooperate on this problem. Intergovernmental organizations exist which have put in place policy to curb climate change, but they have lacked the ability to enforce the policy. Democracies have reelection periods of 2-10 years, so it is reasonable that politicians lack the foresight to make changes affecting far into the future. Their constituents are the people of today, not the people of the future. Any radical climate change policies would be unpopular with a majority of the population. We don’t know how our current consumption will affect the future. The worst case scenario is Earth becoming uninhabitable and we must leave in order to survive. Being a multi-planetary species will allow us to leave and survive.
Nuclear weapons are the greatest risk to humankind today. The impact of nuclear weapons on Earth cannot fully be understood, but we know it would be bad. Again, intergovernmental cooperation is the only way to prevent usage or an increase in nuclear weapons. This problem is more difficult than climate change. Governments are even less likely to destroy nuclear weapons than implement climate change policy. Nuclear weapons are a prisoner’s dilemma. Everyone would be better off if we didn’t have them, but since the threat of only one country having them and using them is so high, countries instead opt for mutual deterrence. With the potential for smaller, less stable nations getting their hands on nuclear weapons and larger nations with nuclear weapons potentially becoming unstable, the risk of nuclear strikes is rising. Any weapon, controlled by a small number of people with the ability to impact the whole world is dangerous. It would provide a small number of people, with a relatively small amount of resources, the ability to destroy the planet. For the good of the human race, we must be able to survive a global nuclear war. The best way to do this is to become a multi-planetary species.
Governments have a monopoly on nuclear weapons and climate change policy, two areas with the greatest risk of decimating the human race. They do not have a monopoly on space. Investment into aerospace and the eventual colonization of other planets is a hedge against nuclear weapons and climate change. It is the only possible hedge against the ability to destroy the whole world. Governments can support becoming a multi-planetary species, but they cannot be the only ones. If the government are the only party invested in becoming a multi-planetary species then we run into the same short-term thinking and collective action problems we face on Earth.
Problems arise from the fact a Martian colony is unlikely to be self-sustaining anytime soon. Ships can only realistically be launched from Earth to Mars every 26 months. This means colonies will have to stock up and wait. Production of their own vital resources such as food, water, and construction materials is the only way a colony can realistically survive on its own. Specialized equipment, medical supplies and other non-producible yet important resources will have to imported in massive quantities and varieties. A colony on Mars must become self-sustaining before Earth evitability causes its own downfall.
Critics argue against the creation of a colony on Mars because of expenses. The expenses of having a colony on Mars are high because it needs support from Earth until it becomes self-sustaining. From what we know now, Mars is unlikely to have resources valued enough to be sent back to Earth. Unless colonists discover valuable resources or create an industry Earth deems valuable (tourism), the colony must be subsidized. Travel costs are the largest costs to subsidizing a Martian colony. Elon Musk detailed his proposals to make a flight to Mars cheaper. The plan relies on the reusability of rockets and creating refueling stations on Mars. He predicts this will allow the price of a ticket to Mars to be the same as the median house price in the US. This would open the pool of potential colonizers. A Martian colony can be self-sustaining because of the ability to grow food, create shelter and find or create water. Having this potential means, in the long run, the colony is likely to become self-sustaining.
The arguments to create safeguards on Earth are not viable either because no matter how much time, money or resources you spend on Earth, no one will be able to stop climate change or remove nuclear weapons from existence. The argument of testing our ability to live anywhere on Earth, such as at the bottom of the sea, does not solve the survival problem either. The only way we can learn to survive on another planet is by doing it. We are seeing the impacts of climate change and it is non-reversible. The idea that nuclear weapons exists means we will never be safe from them. As North Korea is showing right now, a small nation with little contact to the outside world can focus on creating nuclear weapons and make progress. Over a long enough time period, someone will be successful.
Other than nuclear weapons and climate change, we face other threats such as biochemical weapons, disease, AI and more. It is easy to list the potential problems on Earth, but making humans a multi-planetary is both prevention and beneficial. It protects against extinction risks and fulfills our species destiny. We have explored and tamed the entire Earth. We have visited space and know we can survive there. The last exploration challenge we have is becoming a multi-planetary species. The added factor is that it is critical for our survival.
Additional Readings and References:
Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species by Elon Musk
Jeff Bezos on space and becoming a multi-planetary species
How close are we to states giving up their nuclear weapons? Not very
Harvey Is What Climate Change Looks Like