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James Hoover: on 5/22/14 at 21:09pm UTC, wrote Jacob, With the new plasma-powered engine, the trip to and back from Mars...

Robert de Neufville: on 5/15/14 at 2:31am UTC, wrote I agree that Mars is close enough to Earth to fall under terrestrial...

Jacob Haqq-Misra: on 5/10/14 at 16:47pm UTC, wrote Hi Robert, thanks for the comments! You may be correct that humanity will...

Jacob Haqq-Misra: on 5/10/14 at 16:38pm UTC, wrote Thanks for the kind words, Peter! I'm glad you enjoyed my essay, and I...

Jacob Haqq-Misra: on 5/10/14 at 16:30pm UTC, wrote Water exists in the Martian ice caps, and some minerals on Mars may be...

Aaron Feeney: on 5/10/14 at 4:16am UTC, wrote P.S., I will use the following rating scale to rate the essays of authors...

Robert de Neufville: on 5/8/14 at 2:50am UTC, wrote Looks like somehow I wasn't logged in when I submitted my comments on your...

Anonymous: on 5/8/14 at 2:46am UTC, wrote Great to see your essay here, Jacob. I really enjoyed it. I agree that our...


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October 17, 2019

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: The transformative value of liberating Mars by Jacob Haqq-Misra [refresh]
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Author Jacob Haqq-Misra wrote on Apr. 8, 2014 @ 17:10 GMT
Essay Abstract

Humanity has the knowledge to solve its problems but lacks the moral insight to implement these ideas on a global scale. New moral insight can be obtained through transformative experiences that allow us to examine and refine our underlying preferences, and the eventual landing of humans on Mars will be of tremendous transformative value. Before such an event, I propose that we liberate Mars from any controlling interests of Earth and allow Martian settlements to develop into a second independent instance of human civilization. Such a designation is consistent with the Outer Space Treaty and allows Mars to serve as a test bed and point of comparison by which to learn new information about the phenomenon of civilization. Rather than develop Mars through a series of government and corporate colonies, let us steer the future by liberating Mars and embracing the concept of planetary citizenship.

Author Bio

Jacob Haqq-Misra is a research scientist with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, a nonprofit virtual research institute with an interdisciplinary approach to studying the relationship between Earth system science and the future of humanity. He obtained his PhD in meteorology & astrobiology, and his research interests include climate change, planetary habitability, extraterrestrial life, and environmental ethics.

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Member Dean Rickles wrote on Apr. 9, 2014 @ 09:30 GMT

I rather liked elements of the core idea, and I agree with the idea that "Humanity requires an “extension in morality”" - I argue something similar in my own essay (which will hopefully be online soon). I'm curious, though, about why you think simply starting again in a different location would bring about such an extension? I would think the extension ought to be brought about *before* colonising Mars, so it doesn't suffer the same fate as Earth. And just what *are* the new characteristics that will lead to a better civilization? How are they going to emerge?

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Author Jacob Haqq-Misra replied on Apr. 9, 2014 @ 12:36 GMT
Thanks for the comments, Dean! I look forward to reading your essay, too.

The problem to me is that we have no idea how to get the "extension in morality", and there are fewer and fewer options available to radically shift our preferences. Images of Earth from space were once revolutionary, but today every child has seen these since birth, and creative/musical/personal forms of transformation may improve individual lives but seem unlikely to help the population, energy, or climate crises.

What might the next biggest event that hold the potential to radically transform our global preferences? While there might be other options, I suggest that the landing of humans on Mars is one such event that will likely happen in the near future. If we let MarsOne colonize the planet as an interplanetary reality show, then that will transform our preferences in one particular way; however, I think there are better uses for Mars that can give us a much more valuable shift in perspective.

I agree that we need to decide to liberate Mars well before we actually land there. And in fact, if we as a global civilization really do decide to make this choice to liberate Mars, then perhaps we need not even go there to start realizing some of the changes.

The new characteristic I think is needed is the concept of "planetary citizenship". People today have not yet internalized that Earth is our home and a finite resource. If we can learn to view Mars as another planet, not an extension of our own resources, then that will help us to start identifying as "citizens of Earth". Only when we see ourselves as Earthlings can we truly start to approach our global problems.

Mars provides one way to help us conceptualize "planetary citizenship", and if we cannot learn this concept another way, then I hope we figure it out before we start colonizing space.



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Lawrence B Crowell wrote on Apr. 9, 2014 @ 13:32 GMT
Mars belongs to the Martians especially if they are indigenous to the planet. Of course such Martians are not intelligent life, but there could be an ecosystem of prokaryotic-like organisms in the regolith. This might take place on the boundary between glacial ice and regolith where small amounts of water might exist in the liquid phase. We might want to be mindful about this for a number of reasons, and to prevent humans from stepping on Mars before we have concluded Mars is biologically sterile. The mixing of life on Earth with invasive species is an ongoing problem. To extend this to an interplanetary scale could be a huge mistake.

I discuss space colonization some in my essay. The main argument of my essay involves hyper-civilizations far in the future that are capable of building Dyson spheres and developing exotic technologies.

I think that if there is a future for space colonies that an industry purpose needs to be established. There must be an economic feedback that supports it in the long run. I think the next step is maybe solar power satellites. This might require intermittent visits by astronauts to deploy and maintain these systems. The next step might then be asteroid mining. That in turn could lead to converting asteroids into inverted and rotating mini-planets similar to the space colony idea of O’Neal and others. I have no idea whether these things are at all practically possible.


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Author Jacob Haqq-Misra replied on Apr. 9, 2014 @ 16:56 GMT
Thanks for the comments, Lawrence! Your essay sounds very much along my interests, and I will be sure to read it later today.

I completely agree with you that we should be mindful of the possibility of indigenous Martian life. I wrote my essay with the unspoken assumption that Mars is barren, but we still cannot rule out the possibility that Mars still has extant forms of life. If this is the case, then my personal belief aligns with Carl Sagan's that "Mars belongs to the Martians, then, even if they are only microbes". Another scenario is that we find extinct forms of life on Mars (even microbial), which would be of tremendous scientific value. In this case, settlement of Mars should proceed with extreme caution to avoid losing transformative scientific knowledge.

Another aspect I did not mention is the far future of a "liberated Mars". The idea is admittedly idealistic, but suppose that it does work and a second civilization takes hold on Mars. Eventually, the initial restrictions will be lifted to allow mutually beneficial trade and other interactions. After all, Mars at this point should have its own governments, economies, and inventions, so interactions between Earth and Mars will be as peer planetary civilizations (rather than a controlling relationship of colonization). The proposal in my essay is initially to purposefully limit control by Earth as Martian civilization develops, but if the experiment is successful then it should eventually lead to more vibrant interactions between these planetary civilizations.



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Lawrence B Crowell replied on Apr. 12, 2014 @ 02:04 GMT
Of course you have to get past the problem that space travel is terribly expensive. Unmanned exploration is at the medium to high end cost around $1 billion per mission. Putting humans in the loop magnifies costs by 10 for Earth orbit, 100 for the moon or nearby asteroids and up to 1000 for Mars. In the past I worked on spacecraft geodesy or navigation.

I tend to argue with respect to humans in space that an economic purpose must drive it forwards. This is why I think that solar power satellites might be a good first step with respect to putting humans in space with some positive payback. The next might then be asteroid mining, which could lead to small asteroid colonies. These might be small rotating habitats on mining operations. This could in time lead to larger more permanent rotating artificial mini-planets.

I question whether a civilization can be built in space or Mars without there being some return on investments. Without that I suspect space can only at best be an arena for science funded by governments at costs that are comparatively modest. I have no idea whether any of these ideas I suggest for manned space flight are at all practical. I would imagine that maybe Elon Musk of Space-X might be looking into these possibilities. I would say that without some return on investments in space of this sort that the whole manned space flight enterprise could in time cease.


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Author Jacob Haqq-Misra replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 22:13 GMT
I agree that space travel is expensive, and we cannot ignore the power of a profit motive. Yet nearly all space exploration to-date has been for the purpose of science (as well as national defense), and human history shows plenty of examples of explorers who were motivated by forces other than wealth. I agree that removing the profit motive would slow the process of space exploration but not necessarily halt it altogether.

I tend to be critical of reducing everything into utilitarian terms, and one of the reasons for seeking transformative experiences is to help us, as a civilization, learn when we must apply principles other than utility/wealth to assess a situation. We are starting to develop these moral tools now, but they have not helped us solve our major problems yet. A new attitude toward our exploration of Mars may help us toward this goal.

Pragmatically, we need not extend this provision to every object in the Solar System. Even if we allow Mars to develop into an independent civilization, perhaps both Earth and Mars civilizations will choose to engage in asteroid mining (for profit).

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Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on Apr. 9, 2014 @ 13:50 GMT
Dear Jacob,

congratulations for the originality of your essay. The difficulty in this Contest was to remain focused on the theme, while avoiding generic considerations. Your idea of exploiting transformative experiences for impressing a dramatic turn, or, rather, offering a restart opportunity to humanity, is attractive, and well focused on the Contest topic, in my opinion. It also has...

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Author Jacob Haqq-Misra replied on Apr. 9, 2014 @ 17:34 GMT
Thanks for the comments, Tommaso! I agree that one of the interesting aspects of this essay question is the use of the word "should"; how we "should" steer the future, even if we all agree, may differ from how we actually do steer the future. Hence the need for transformative experiences to help us extend our sense of "should".

The solution is idealistic admittedly, but I think it could be a goal (perhaps through international treaties) that we strive toward. There is a real conflict between the goals of the Outer Space Treaty and current plants to colonize Mars, and even a small step to limit, rather than extend, Earth's control over Mars would be a good start.



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Wilhelmus de Wilde de Wilde wrote on Apr. 11, 2014 @ 15:37 GMT
Dear Jacob,

I just cannot believe that just going to another planet (place) can change our "way of life" when America was "discovered" we brought along all our human characteristics, and it will be the same everywhere we go...

The cahnge in menatlaty will be very difficult regarding the basic duality of humanity, good/bad, black/white / have/havenot , war/peace and so on even in LOVE we need two parts : man and woman (this does not mean that gays are better).

We always need to compare so we have to have a refernce and once we have a refernce there are always two kind of men, those who do not care and thise who care....

My essay is giving other solutions, and I hope that you will find some time to read an comment on my thread (and eventually give it a rating).

best regards


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Author Jacob Haqq-Misra replied on Apr. 11, 2014 @ 17:35 GMT
Thanks for the honest feedback, Wilhelmus!

I agree with your interpretation of history, and repeating this history is indeed my fear for our settlement of Mars. While the patterns of history are perhaps the most likely outcome, what we "should" do, in my mind, is try and realign these forces before we reach another planet.

The change in mentality will be very difficult, and it is impossible to predict how this will occur. I do think that space exploration will change our mentality one way or another--for better or worse--and I think that we should make some decisions now to help steer us in the right direction.



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Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 17, 2014 @ 14:45 GMT
Dear Professor Haqq-Misra,

I found reading your essay quite intriguing and I do hope that it does well in the competition.


Joe Fisher

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Author Jacob Haqq-Misra replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 22:14 GMT
Thanks for the kind words, Joe!



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Ioana Petre wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 18:58 GMT
First of all, I'm not sure if humanity really possesses all the knowledge needed to solve its problems.

Second, what's the point of an extension in morality? To make us morally better or morally different? If morally better is your answer, then why not use moral bioenhancement, which will probably come around sooner than the type of self-sufficient colonization that you are proposing? Also, moral bioenhancement will avoid the suffering of all these people who, in order to relocate, have to start everything anew and sever all the ties with their former lives. This just sounds like a cruel experiment to me. Furthermore, these brave colonizers - if there happens to be any, under these constraints- have been brought up on Earth, so they will share all of our moral biases. In this case, how would they produce a radically different moral climate on Mars?

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Author Jacob Haqq-Misra replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 22:24 GMT
We may not have all the knowledge we need, but we are also not putting into action the knowledge we have. We know how to reduce our population or energy consumption, for example, but few people are interested in taking the needed steps. Hence the need for an extension in morality.

You are correct that any colonists would share our moral biases--this is impossible to eliminate. The goal would be to allow the colonists to continue their development without the continued influence of our biases. I will also add that any colonists would be volunteers and would be willing to abandon their ties as needed. (I attended a conference session several years ago on a "one-way trip to Mars", and several dozen of the audience members indicated they would volunteer for such a trip.)

As for bioenhancement, I only wonder how we will know what to enhance. My proposal would help to stimulate an open-ended set of transformations that will lead us toward new knowledge and insight. Bioenhancement requires us to already know what or how we would like to enhance ourselves. Perhaps we could engineer ourselves to be more environmentally-conscious, or we could reduce the desire for breeding to limit population; however, I doubt out capacity to develop such efficient strategies. If we knew how to make the necessary bioenhancements, then I think we would have already solved our global problems.

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Anselm Smidt wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 16:45 GMT
Keine nachhaltigen Ressourcen auf dem Mars.

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Author Jacob Haqq-Misra replied on May. 10, 2014 @ 16:30 GMT
Water exists in the Martian ice caps, and some minerals on Mars may be useful for industry.

But in general, you are correct that any Martian settlement will require at least an initial inventory of supplies from Earth--and will probably benefit from periodic shipments of supplies (at least, until the colony itself becomes self-sustaining by producing its own food, etc.).

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Peter Jackson wrote on May. 6, 2014 @ 10:56 GMT

I agree your viewpoint. We anyway need any opportunity to see the effects of escaping our embedded assumptions and 'Earth centric' modes of thought. The opportunity for a more inherent morality also mustn't be missed. I suspect there will be initial imperatives tying Martian survival inexorably to Earth, and massive earth investment in building the colony up to self sustainability. No doubt the investors will expect some return on such outlay.

Do you think we can learn from previous models of such colonizations? Exploitation may be a necessity to repay costs. I think of the British empire in India and the colonisation of the America's. Both support and exploitation were imperatives, but at a certain stage so was independence inevitable due to different interests. Certainly to recognise and plan for such process rather than have a 'war of the worlds' is very wise!

I apply the non-Earth centric thinking approach in my own essay, suggesting great import in understanding that there is 'no up in space'. Bob and Alice go rather farther than Mars to find truth. Beneath is a classical derivation of QM, hopefully made understandable, certainly able to help advancing space travel! I hope you get to it.

Well done for yours which I think deserves far better than sitting at the bottom. After the contest I must look up your institute. Do pop a link on my blog.

Thanks, and Best wishes.


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Author Jacob Haqq-Misra replied on May. 10, 2014 @ 16:38 GMT
Thanks for the kind words, Peter! I'm glad you enjoyed my essay, and I share your hopes that any eventual space settlement will learn from the past and avoid the bloody wars often linked to colonization (although the example of India's non-violent revolution is an interesting counterpoint). Political independence of a Martian colony seems like an eventual inevitability--but I worry more about lasting corporate control that could transcend political boundaries. Nevertheless, perhaps we can find clever ways of repaying investors that avoid some of these pitfalls from history.

Also, I appreciate your interest in our research institute! Here is a link to our website--and feel free to send us a message if you'd like to be added to our public email list.



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Anonymous wrote on May. 8, 2014 @ 02:46 GMT
Great to see your essay here, Jacob. I really enjoyed it.

I agree that our major problems appear to have manageable technical solutions. But as you suggest implementing them will mean changing our norms and institutions. I think using the colonization of Mars as a kind of civilizational experiment is a bold, important idea. Historically, it was the relative independence of the cities of...

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Robert de Neufville wrote on May. 8, 2014 @ 02:50 GMT
Looks like somehow I wasn't logged in when I submitted my comments on your essay, so I'm going to try submitting them again. Sorry about that!

Great to see your essay here, Jacob. I really enjoyed it.

I agree that our major problems appear to have manageable technical solutions. But as you suggest implementing them will mean changing our norms and institutions. I think using the colonization of Mars as a kind of civilizational experiment is a bold, important idea. Historically, it was the relative independence of the cities of Europe that allowed the social experiment that produced modern western civilization. An we certainly need to think through the right way to settle Mars before we start sending people there.

You may be right that such an experiment requires make a sharp break between the societies of Mars and Earth. But I think it will be tough to enforce rules against trade since the incentive to circumvent them would be so strong. And without some kind of commerce settling Mars will be a much tougher task. I would also worry that disputes on an initially lawless first-come-first-serve frontier could to turn the experiment into a disaster.

I am also not sure that such a sharp break from Earth is really necessary. I think that simply colonizing an alien world at that distance from Earth would have a transformative effect on human civilization. I also suspect that we are most likely to work out the problems of the commons on Earth, where they are most pressing.

But in any case this is an excellent essay and precisely the kind of idea we should be discussing. I hope it does very well in the contest.


Robert de Neufville

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Author Jacob Haqq-Misra replied on May. 10, 2014 @ 16:47 GMT
Hi Robert, thanks for the comments!

You may be correct that humanity will solve the problems of the commons on Earth--and I do hope this is the case. But in the even that we don't, then I worry that Mars will be an extension of our unsustainable development patterns. Even at interplanetary distances, I'm not convinced at autonomy is inevitable for a Martian settlement. (But if we instead talk about interstellar colonies, then I agree.) Trade would be tricky, and the initial Martian colony might be reliant on goodwill donations from Earth. However, in the event that the Martian colony eventually did succeed, then trade restrictions should eventually be relaxed and allow for interaction between these two, independent civilizations.

Getting past the "wild west" phase of Martian colonization is a big risk, too. However, I think that this anarchic phase may be precisely the stimulus needed to derive better forms of governance than we have today.



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Robert de Neufville replied on May. 15, 2014 @ 02:31 GMT
I agree that Mars is close enough to Earth to fall under terrestrial influence (although I also think that its distance and its alienness would inevitably give it some degree of autonomy). My point was mostly that I'm not sure how sharp a break would be possible, given the incentives people will have to get around the rules. Of course, that doesn't mean it's not worth trying to enforce the separation between the two worlds.

If you get the chance, by the way, I would love it you took a look at my own essay. I would be really interested to hear your thoughts.


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James Lee Hoover wrote on May. 22, 2014 @ 21:09 GMT

With the new plasma-powered engine, the trip to and back from Mars is months rather than years, so we are not talking of severed contact for years. I fully agree with your concept of planetary citizenship, a level of commitment to the planet not short-term gain. My essay speaks of "looking beyond" scientific orthodoxy and our planet and "within" a underused brain, the microcosm of the universe.

I see your point about a new start but wonder if that is the answer, but I must say the most daunting task is to work together for a viable future. I don't have the answer either.


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