Winter 2022; On Mars

How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals!
Makes no sense.
— Andy Weir, The Martian (2011)

A couple of days ago I added the stub for the Winter 2022 issue of Yellow Brick Letters which will focus on possible scenarios for how humanity can become a multi-planet, spacefaring species. It's understandable that most people working towards this goal are preoccupied with first getting there, and perhaps a little on setting up an initial base. But it's a bit like a dog chasing a car. The dog hasn't a clue what to do with the car if it actually catches it. We don't want to get to Mars and then not really know what we will do next.

After establishing an intial base which is completely dependent on Earth it will need to grow into a partially self-supporting settlement and then into a self supporting colony and from there into a full blown native civilization. This is a far larger undertaking than flags and footprints and there really isn't any precedent. Humans have never had to create a sustainable biome and ecosystem from scratch in which to live.

The smattering of books and articles that even skirt this topic are poorly thought out and in most cases are little more than projections of people's hopes, fears and beliefs here on Earth. It's a bit like descriptions that alien abductees give of the interiors of alien space craft that they believe they had abducted in. In the fifties and sixties, spaceship interiors looked suspiciously like the inside of a '59 Buick or were dream-like swirlings of vapor coming in and out of focus… except the anal probes; those were always in focus. We have evolved to expect that the future is largely a continuation of the past. When we leave this planet we will be in an environment in which very few of our assumption of how things work will hold true.

Our focus will be on what happens after the first decade on Mars, which will be preoccupied with learning how to survive. The initial base will be crewed by explorers like the fictional character Mark Watney; real astronauts, engineers, technicians and scientists. The second wave will be pioneers made up of average people looking to make a new home.

How does one build the infrastructure that will be needed to turn what is essentially a research station into a permanent home and not merely a hardship posting. Most people living in cities here on Earth already spend the vast majority of their lives indoors. We're going to have to get better at that when living on a cold barren rock with almost no atmosphere.