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Ask HN: Why would a city on Mars avoid Armageddon?
53 points by amichail 51 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 134 comments
And a nuclear war could be multi-planetary, wiping out humanity everywhere.



<<Edit: maybe I should have prefaced my comment with the following: I am going to argue as if you were referring to a self-sustaining colony on Mars because the idea that an Earth-dependent martian city might improve odds of survival does not make much sense at all, imo.>>

Sure, that could happen but expanding to Mars would improve the odds of survival (because an extinction event on both planets simultaneously is less likely than one just on Earth). Earth is currently a so-called "single point of failure" (SPOF)[0] for humanity and all forms of life that we know of.

If we spread humanity and life to Mars and beyond (in an independent/self-sustaining way and not just as an outpost that depends on Earth), neither of the planets alone is SPOF anymore. The solar system is still SPOF but even the close galactic neighbourhood might not be of much help against events that threaten the solar system as a whole (see e.g. about the effects of a gamma-ray burst [1] in our 'proximity'. Note when reading [1] that 1 kiloparsec = 3200 light years! [2]).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_point_of_failure

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma-ray_burst#Effects_on_Ear...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parsec


While Earth is technically a SPOF, it is also a very large place with a very long track record for successfully supporting complex life forms. We can even say that life forms as we know them are attractors (local minima) in the chemo-energetical ecological landscape provided by Earth. None of this holds for Mars. Even if we are successful in establishing a handful of outposts, they are likely to be short-lived because the ecological balance works against them.


And humans are quickly and systematically extinguishing nearly all life on this planet, including themselves before too much longer at the rate we are going.

As the legend George Carlin once said, “the planet is fine, the people are fucked”. Although most animals and a bunch of plants are fucked too.

Now that being said, I don’t think that means we should start colonizing Mars or that things would be any better out there.


Consider: The Earth cannot save itself from asteroids without humanity.


Earth has been hit by asteroids before and survived so far, but sure, it's possible it could be hit by enough, eventually, that it loses its atmosphere, as people think the Earth has already lost 60 percent of its atmosphere from an asteroid strike that they think created the moon[1].

[1]: https://www.sciencefocus.com/news/earth-lost-60-per-cent-of-...

I don't think humans will be around long enough to deflect an asteroid that's big enough to do this, as it could easily be hundred or thousands or tens of thousands of years before it might get hit by one big enough to do this again.

When I was young I would assume we would be around that long, but I don't see a path to escaping our own destruction (possibly not total, but 90% or more of the total population, probably) within the next few hundred years at most, possibly sooner.


And neither it can with humanity. I never heard of plausible plan to do it with technology we have or will have.


That may have changed as of a week ago. NASA is testing a method of deflecting asteroids. See https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/science/nasa-launch-test-m....


We launched DART last week.


Of course it can. If it hadn't already done so at least once, we wouldn't even be here.


The thing that leads to No life on Mars more certainly than trying to colonize and terraform it and maybe failing at it is not even trying to do it.


We should practice our terraforming skills on Earth first. When we are able to improve the atmosphere and climate of Earth (easy mode) we can try our skills on a remote and hostile planet like Mars (hard mode).


I'd consider Earth to be hard mode too, since it's already in production and riddled with irrational users who run their entire business on the memory leaks you want to patch. ;-)


Everyone is always seduced by the new — the new idea, the rewrite. But often what one finds is that as development goes deeper, the same bugs resurface, the same challenges. Our society is full of grand, ambitious, “let’s do it right from scratch” plans — Le Corbusier, etc — and they often fail. The blank page is seductive, but it begins the to fall apart with the first mark of the pen.


Conversely, the unpredictable nature of our first big mistake as we transition Terraforming out of science fiction and into text books argues for having a backup planet in place before we try it here.


We can and should do both simultaneously. There are lots of humans.


This is the correct answer. War may spread to mars, but a massive volcanic eruption that blots out the sun (or other non-war mass events) is less of an issue if you live on another planet.


Earth post a super volcano would still be far more habitable than mars, same thing goes for a major impact event, nuclear winter and pretty much anything else that doesn’t turn the atmosphere into a firestorm, boils the oceans and turns all land mass into lava…

And if you get to the point in which you can terraform mars then fixing the earth would be again far easier unless all biomass somehow dies and there is no atmosphere left and earth somehow loses its magnetic field.

At best mars might serve as a temporary lifeboat but even then if you have the technology to sustain life on mars you would be better off building protected habitats on earth.


My issue with this is the definition of “you”.

Yes, “humanity” will be in the universe, but they will not be one homogenous culture. What’s the probability that Martian humans will get jealous of Earth’s vast and plentiful resources in 100 - 200 years, and they wage open nuclear and biological war on Earth to wipe out all Earthling humans? Based on what I know about humans, the probability this happens approaches 1 as time moves forward.

And how will they evolve? What will they look like in 1000 years? 1 million? We don’t know of any alien species now, but if we send humans out into the stars we will essentially be creating a new evolutionary branch of spacefaring humanoid aliens. What kind of aliens will they be? The friendly kind that sends scientists to other planets to study their ways? Or will they be warlike aliens from Independence Day, roaming the cosmos like Genghis Khan and consuming all in their path? Again, based on what I know about humanity, we will be both, but the latter could show up one day and just destroy Earth.

Personally I think none of this will happen. We will wipe ourselves off Earth before we can support autonomous space colonies. Likely we will fuck things up here and then our space colonies will shrivel and die from lack of supplies.


The problem with pessimism is that it is usually wrong, always counterproductive, and almost never gets held accountable for either. History is chock full of wrong pessimists. Smarter ones than you or I, even -- but still wrong. Hopefully you will be another.

Imagine an alternate history where Britain never let colonists go to the Americas on the assumption that either Britain would collapse before the colonies became self-sustaining or the colonies would become belligerent and conquer Britain. Now extrapolate out what the actual alternate-history would have likely been, and whether those concerns would have been wise or foolish.


> The problem with pessimism is that it is usually wrong, always counterproductive, and almost never gets held accountable for either. History is chock full of wrong pessimists.

History is filled with correct pessimists as well. Has anyone ever been wrong by predicting that humans competing for resources on a frontier will come into violent and deadly conflict with one another?

I realize it’s not a particularly deep or insightful thing to say, but there seems but be an unchecked optimism in these threads, one that builds a narrative of humanity spreading to the stars and filling the universe with our light. Meanwhile on Earth Prime we have famine, genocide, war, and an unquenchable need to consume and multiply. If Corona were sapient it would be making the same argument - we must spread to the stars to continue our existence! No one really stops to ask “why?”. Why should we spread to the stars? Why is the continued existence of our species important to the universe? Doesn’t this line of reasoning make humanity no better than a virus?

Imagine humanity coming across a planet filled with sapient alien trees. Completely defenseless and they have no concept of war. What would humans do at first chance? Slaughter them and use them for fuel or building materials. Is spreading the idea and practice of genocide across the universe really what’s best for anyone? What’s the other side of it? Is there an argument for why we should do this thing that isn’t grounded in selfishness?


>Why is the continued existence of our species important to the universe?

It's important to us, which is the only criterion worth a damn when deciding what we should do.

Specifically, the continued existence of at least some members of the human species is probably the only ethical axiom that every single human on Earth can agree on. If you openly disagree - if you embrace the extinction of the human race as a personal goal - well I can only say that we are irredeemably enemies, and I will seek your destruction with proportionate effort to my estimate of your likelihood of succeeding, and I do not think I will be alone.

(This is not to say I do not also consider sapient alien trees worth preserving.)


I get what you're saying but what do you think about Mutual Assured Destruction then? Your reasoning goes against this doctrine. That is the leadership of a nuclear country must not retaliate to preserve humanity.


That's a game-theoretical curiosity rather than an earnest desire to eliminate all of humanity. The point is to make a big show of being willing and able to commit mass murder, while fervently hoping it doesn't actually come to that. MAD is actually a result of people trying to prevent nuclear death - for themselves, at any rate. And I don't think human extinction is an intended outcome even in the very worst case (Dr Strangelove's Doomsday Device being, thankfully, a work of fiction).

But of course you're right - it would be extremely unethical to say the least to actually retaliate in a MAD scenario. This fact is well known and widely discussed.


> History is chock full of wrong pessimists

You mean like the ones who were warning about how the world was woefully unprepared for a global pandemic? Or the ones who were warning about climate change?


> Based on what I know about humans, the probability this happens approaches 1 as time moves forward.

Wouldn’t it be far cheaper for a Mars civilization to exploit the resources of the asteroids rather than bother earth? It’d be enormously uncomfortable for Mars adapted people to spend any time on earth. So if it’s neither economic to exploit earth resources nor would it be possible to enjoy a conquered earth, why ever bother? I guess if it’s possible for a 007 style mad scientist scenario to emerge it approaches 1 given enough time, however it could be so much time that the sun blows up or humanity spreads to other stars.


And that mad scientist could just as easilly be from Earth as from Mars.

Once you have the ability for individuals to launch multi ton payloads on escape velocity, you have the ability for individuals to launch multi ton payloads at earth. While such an individual could target Mars and Earth, the implication of the technology level of a self sustaining mars base is that mankind will be spread throughout the solarsystem (at least the asteroids, venus clouds, mars, moon and earth), and at that stage wiping out the species becomes even harder.


>>>Once you have the ability for individuals to launch multi ton payloads on escape velocity, you have the ability for individuals to launch multi ton payloads at earth.

An important plot point in Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" https://www.amazon.com/Moon-Is-Harsh-Mistress-audiobook/dp/B...


Not forgetting "Mike" :-)


> Wouldn’t it be far cheaper for a Mars civilization to exploit the resources of the asteroids rather than bother earth?

Depends on the resource. If they want milk and chicken for example, it might be better to get that from Earth.

> It’d be enormously uncomfortable for Mars adapted people to spend any time on earth.

They could breed a race of human slaves to work on Earth.

> I guess if it’s possible for a 007 style mad scientist scenario

I’m thinking more along the lines of a Martian Hitler scenario.


> If they want milk and chicken for example, it might be better to get that from Earth.

If we have a self-sustaining Mars colony as a given then wouldn’t it be more likely they have at least artificial substitutes for such things? I find it hard to believe we’d have total war erupting over what would essentially be artisanal foods. This is especially true if they’d only get delivery once every 26 months or so, and, if they were advanced enough that the relative position of the planets were no object then they’re even less likely to need anything Earth had or for Earth to have a monopoly on anything worth waging total war over.

> I’m thinking more along the lines of a Martian Hitler scenario.

Hitler got started in his conquests by securing land and resources lost or unavailable to Germany. What would motivate a Hitler in a self-sustaining Mars colony?


> If we have a self-sustaining Mars colony as a given

I don't think I stipulated to that. Sorry if I did, I didn't have that in mind.

> Hitler got started in his conquests by securing land and resources lost or unavailable to Germany. What would motivate a Hitler in a self-sustaining Mars colony?

That particular Hitler did, but others through history came to power through different means and circumstances. All that's required is the right mixture of psychopathy and narcissism, mixed with power and you've got yourself a budding Hitler. I think psychopathic narcissists are very good at finding power, so it's not really a question of "if" but "when" a psychopathic narcissist becomes in charge of Mars colony, and whether or not the guardrails of the society would hold (as they have in some Earthly societies when Hitlers have come to power) or if they would crumble and yield to an authoritarian dictator (as happened in Germany and other places where Hitlers took over).

Yes, going out into the stars sounds great and all, but one of the implications of that is that we spread human pathologies, which includes fascism and Nazism. That's basically the Empire in Star Wars. I just think that we have to be realistic and recognize that could happen sooner rather than later. What if Mars colony goes full fascist and decides they want to ethnically cleanse Earth for no other reason than they believe them to be inferior and impure? It's not like it hasn't happened before.


What’s the probability that Martian-Terran humans will get frustrated by sending off Earth’s vast and plentiful resources in 100 - 200 years, and they wage open nuclear and biological war on Mars to wipe out all Martian humans?


> They could breed a race of human slaves to work on Earth.

Wouldn't just buying stuff they need from Earth be much cheaper than exterminating all people on Earth and then repopulated with some new genetically engineered human species?


I didn’t say anything about genetic engineering, they can be regular humans.

Moreover, wars and conquest are not rational endeavors that are undertaken after a careful cost/benefit analysis. WWII wasn’t exactly cost effective for anyone who started that war.

Anyway, the way I see it playing out would be that Earth, realizing they are Mars’ one and only lifeline, will do its best to squeeze Martians for everything they’ve got. It won’t be a mutually beneficial trading relationship between peer nation/planets, but an exploitive one where one party has much more power than the other. Probably a lot like Africa’s place in the world. Unfair and exploitive deals will be cut that reflect the power imbalance, which will brew resentment and envy, and ultimately conflict. This is how you start irrational wars.


>Wouldn’t it be far cheaper for a Mars civilization to exploit the resources of the asteroids rather than bother earth

There are lots of available resources on earth in abundance that aren't on asteroids. But yeah, they wouldn't be after metals


> but they will not be one homogenous culture

No, as Humanity is not a homogeneous culture here on Earth. We'll diverge as we make colonies a couple light-hours and we'll diverge a lot more when our worlds are separated by light-years and people and goods take centuries to go from one world to another. Hopefully we can invent some form of FTL travel or, at least, communication so we are less disconnected.

OTOH, wars get really complicated when the fleet takes a century to arrive at its destination, carrying 100 year old weapons.


> Based on what I know about humans, the probability this happens approaches 1 as time moves forward.

Yes given infinite time we know humans are extinct. We will not survive the heat death of the universe. But i don't think this truism says much about whether or not creating a self sustaining colony on Mars will increase the longevity of our species.

The chances of some type of existential interplanetary war between Mars and earth is so much lower than than an existential earth war. It's really difficult to wage any type of meaningful war across planets. They're really far apart, and it's really expensive to leave Earth.


Worrying about gamma ray bursts is silly when we're staring down the barrel of widescale planetary disaster within one or two lifetimes if we don't immediately start doing more about climate change.

If the time it would take for a colony to not just self-sustain but grow is less than the time it will take before Earth's economy and industry become unstable, colonization doesn't help with single point of failure.

Look at what COVID and a handful of bad weather events have done over the years to major economic sectors and industries. The chip shortage is in part due to water shortage in Taiwan. Flooding a while back caused huge hard drive shortages. Etc.

Now imagine instead of the problem being "make enough pickup trucks", it's "put a bunch of electronics and equipment on a rocket and send it to a colony, or people start dying."

Talk of colonization efforts right now is like building a garage for the Ferrari you're going to buy some day. You just have to convince the HOA in your trailer park to accept the plans, and figure out how to use your lawnmower to bring home the lumber from Lowes...

Let's worry about colonization when we've sorted out how to live sustainably on this planet, and feeding/clothing/housing and medically caring for everyone who needs it...


The problem with, “let’s wait until Earth’s problems are taken care of”, is that Earth’s problems are never going to be truly taken care of. Reduced yes, eliminated no, and there will always be someone arguing that we’re not yet at the threshold at which settling other planets is ok.

This is dangerous because we don’t know how much of a window we have for doing these things. We have the capability to get into space and out of Earth’s gravity well now, but there’s no guarantee that we will continue to. It’s not hard to imagine that as part of efforts to “solve Earth’s problems”, the launch industry becomes restricted to satellite launches only and atrophies to a point where taking a crew beyond Earth’s orbit can’t be done without a decade+ of relearning.

Its better to continually develop these capabilities and make use of them so the field is always moving forward and more entities gain them, making them harder to lose.

We have enough people and resources to do that alongside environmental disaster prevention efforts… it’s just a matter of political will. If you ask me, the biggest problem that is in most dire need of solving at this particular moment is actually obstruction of environmental reform coming from powerful corporate entity superpolluters — chiefly, manufacturers, ocean cargo shippers, airlines, and the the oil industry that feeds all of them.


> Talk of colonization efforts right now is like building a garage for the Ferrari you're going to buy some day.

Someone in a trailer park isn't likely to ever get that Ferrari, so your scenario kinda begs the question that we're never going to be in a position to reach Mars after fixing the earth.

But I think your scenario is flawed anyway. We aren't living in a trailer park, we're in Holland and the dykes are breaking for the last time. Some of us (you, in my analogy) want to try and fix them again. Others (me, etc) want to build boats and send a colony elsewhere.

The plans aren't mutually exclusive. But it's foolish to do only one.


Right? Our worst problems here seem pretty mild compared with the expense of a meaningful human establishment on a far away rock. It would be massively cheaper to build settlements on the most hostile desert on earth.

But more importantly, a Mars colony would require an incredibly stable society on earth. Because it would take decades and massive amounts of money — and that ain’t happening in the midst of societal collapse due to a failure to solve our problems here at home.

I’m a fan of space exploration, and I don’t think we should hit the breaks on it. But I don’t think we should be delusional to think there’s any realistic chance of it solving problems here on earth fast enough. Me must find a way to live sustainably here over the next few centuries.


> Earth is currently a… "single point of failure"

The problem with Earth isn't Earth, it's us. Going to Mars isn't going to change everything about humans that has made us hellbent on destroying ourselves. It'll definitely be cool and exciting, and sure, maybe it'll offer some protection against a once-every-billion-years asteroid, but that is not the threat we face today. The threat we face today is ourselves. Going to another planet isn't going to fix that; it's just going to move the problem to a new place. At this stage in our development, thinking that colonizing Mars is going to solve our problems is like someone who has had a string of bad relationships thinking that maybe the next one will magically work out despite having taken absolutely no stock of themselves.


I think your analogy is not valid. Colonizing Mars is like having another home in different country in case that current home is destroyed by fire. It has nothing to do with relationships, apart from being able to have relationships at both places. Sometimes changing your neighbourhood actually helps.


I see what you're saying but I disagree because I think your analogy inverts the risk analysis. In your second home analogy, a house burning down is an asteroid. But the chances of an asteroid hitting Earth in any reasonable timeframe are so minuscule as to be completely negligible. Far more likely is that we destroy our own house through willful negligence. Having a second home doesn't mitigate that risk in the slightest. It just means we burn down two houses instead of one.


I agree with your risk analysis. Destroying civiliasation by ourselves is much more likely, it even happened several times, humanity still survived, but now we have weapons which can fuck up whole planet much more thoroughly.

BUT we can still insure against more than one scenario. Having home on another planet seems easier than changing whole humanity so we should at least try.


How do you think this affect policy? Would we be likely to engage in more dangerous activities simply because we have a backup planet?

E.g: 1. Maybe we would have carried on with more risky nuclear test in the past? 2. Maybe less people would care about global warming on earth?

These questions came to mind while reading your comment. Not sure if they make sense.


No, because continuity of civilization is nowhere in most people's decision making process. Everything they actually care about is on Earth and that doesn't change with a mars base.


> Everything they actually care about is on Earth and that doesn't change with a mars base.

I can see what you're saying for the first generation of people who go from Earth to Mars. I don't see that scenario for the majority of people eventually born there, and subsequent generations. Just like how I know relatively little of my European ancestors who came to the US, and I've never been there, and that's on the same planet with international travel relatively cheap compared to the first ones over. Some people will be born there and never leave or know anything other than Martian life except what they read or view on some video. Some will be able to travel back and forth. I don't think most will.


People on Earth will care about Earth, people on Mars will care about Mars.

Do you give up on US problems just because you have lost relatives in Europe? No. Do your lost relatives in Europe give up on European problems because a lost relative moved to the US? No. Neither of us has ever met them, but I can still confidently say "no" because that's just not how people work. We have plenty of things to worry about, a mars colony altering basic psychology shouldn't be one of them.


Correct, but obviously Martian populations would need to be completely independent of Earthly support.


In order for that to happen, one needs to have Martian populations. Necessity being the mother of invention.


Perhaps too many words can conflate Mars only being a small step toward us "Contact"ing who we are to become: https://youtu.be/sRPUO6gGSh8 ?


Nuclear attacks could target all points of failure though.


Adding redundancy makes our civilization more resilient. Being more resilient is a good thing. The fact that this increased resilience doesn't make our civilization invincible seems like a weird sticking point, since a) that goal is obviously beyond our capability right now, and b) redundancy is a necessary step in that direction.


If we send humans into space they won’t be part of our civilization, they will be their own. They may depend on us at first, but that bond will lessen over time and they will likely eventually demand independence and autonomy from Earth over time. This will be denied to them, and a bloody interplanetary war between Martians and Earthlings will ensue. See: America v. Briton.


Does anyone else get the feeling that HN readership is far too biased from sci-fi?

With that logic, no country would have ever let explorers leave their country to begin with.


The logic of the host country is that they can quash any rebellion through the extreme application of violence against the rebels. It works out sometime for them, and other times it doesn’t.

Either way a lot of people end up dead on both sides. They are the poor, children, colonists, and indigenous peoples. Importantly, they are not members of the aristocracy, so no lessons are ever learned by elites as to why empire building is a bad idea.


With that logic we would all still be living on the same continent and would never have spread across the Earth to begin with.


I mean, I think it’s widely held that humans coming down from trees was a bad idea and should have never happened.


You may notice the people who say that are hypocrites who believe their existence is legitimate and worthy of defending. Hint: they don't actually believe that.


They’re referencing a bit from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.


That's happened to me twice in the past week. Time to re-read it.


Trees? Hah! We never should have crawled out of the ocean.


Perfect is the enemy of good.

There's a chance the data center where I host my offline backups could be destroyed at the same time as my house. Does this mean I should stop wasting my time and effort on off-site backups?


On both planets simultaneously?


Addressed in Ray Bradbury's novel The Martian Chronicles (1950).

In Bradbury's story, the vast majority of residents of the Martian colonies returned back to Earth when (atomic) war was imminent, leaving Mars all but deserted, and the Earth destroyed.

I found this hard to believe, but this set up a really cool ending.


You Inners have no idea how bad its going to be...


Dui. Pinché inyalowda na sa-sa nichts. Que si?


Vrai. Inyalowda pensa beltalowda towchu imalowda. Namang keng da peng mi finyish vedi.

Tenye wa diye gut Beratna!


Before to colonize mars there is a thing that we as species could, or should probably do (in my arrogant opinion), and is to put a copy of security of the human species in the moon, in form of a few boxes full of frozen reproductive cells. Maybe also copies from a few animals that are really essential to us as wolves, red jungle fowl or horses. If we can put it in the moon, we can put it in Mars, and that would be the cheaper way to put a significant amount of people in the planet Mars. This will be needed either to replace the people that will die in accidents in a such hostile environment, or to replace fast people killed in a massive catastrophic event in the earth, like a nuclear winter period and to alleviate the effect of bottle neck genetic periods in humans. We had some in the past.

The problem is that would grant like 30 years of safety. Maybe. Not much more, but could be enough.


> copies from a few animals that are really essential to us as wolves, red jungle fowl or horses

Wolves or horses? I see no reason to bring either outside the planet except for zoos, experiments or otherwise totally non-vital things.


Bring outside or reintroduce in the earth

I can figure out a lot of reasons to want rescue dogs in Mars. Much faster finding people in unstable terrain than a robot. And also useful for quick detection of fires and gas leaks. Or having pets. Life is much better with them.

Using the wild species would be more useful for the genetics, but assuring that some of the genetic preserved is from the same bread as Laika would be nice, as a sort of apology from humans to wolves, the animal that has saved more human lives in the planet apart of us. If we want to conquer the space to survive, to leave behind this (and other) creatures would be a really miserable move.


This is a theme in the Mars Trilogy series. Without spoiling anything, I think the timeline can make a difference. If Armageddon happens far enough into the future on earth, Mars might have become independent. The population of Mars might also feel detached from the events, just like we in the West don't care too much about military coups in smaller countries.


I don't think "a backup copy of humanity" is the best argument for space settlement. It's not necessarily wrong, but it's not the strongest and you are correct that it's not foolproof.

The best argument is that frontiers are where innovation happens, and where outsiders can migrate as a "pressure valve" for civilization. Without a frontier there is nowhere to try new things and it's impossible to challenge existing norms without fighting. No frontier means either eternal stagnation or eternal war. (War can take the form of either overt violence or constant political turmoil.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frontier_thesis

I don't think it's a coincidence that sci-fi that posits a frontier (generally space but sometimes others) is usually more optimistic than sci-fi that posits a humanity confined to Earth's gravity well. Writers and artists see this.

We are rapidly approaching a state in which the entire planet is settled, surveilled, and regulated. This is unprecedented in human history, and I think it's going to be fairly dystopian. I can only see two possible outcomes: absolutely total global surveillance state or a global "failed state" resembling a dystopian cyberpunk anarchy like Stephenson's Snow Crash. They're not mutually exclusive; the first could lead to the second.

I don't think it's feasible to reverse this trend. It's a natural outcome of humanity's growth and technological advancement. Pushing out to a new frontier is really the only option.


I wonder to which extent our current Western re-orientation towards introspection and a crusade against psychological harm stems from a lack of space for physical expansion, and the exhaustion of the IT revolution. The Zeitgeist tends to concentrate on one or two things only. Maybe a rebooted Space Race could make us again look towards the sky.


Absolutely. The Internet was for a short while a proxy frontier, but now it's largely "settled" at least as far as the average person is concerned.

The endless culture war shitshow is a preview of what happens when there is nothing to do and nowhere to go. Anyone with children knows what bored isolated kids are like. Adults are just grown up children; our psychology is not that different. We go fucking nuts. Our cultural and political insanity will only get worse from here on out unless there is some frontier, some unknown, some mystery somewhere.

Again I feel like I should stress that this condition is unprecedented in human history. One has always been able to walk off in some random direction and go elsewhere, and contrary to what some people think there was quite a lot of travel in the ancient world. Ötzi the ice mummy was found carrying copper tools with copper that likely came from quite far away:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ötzi#Tools_and_equipment

Edit: total tangent but: I use the term settlement instead of colonization because I think the European colonial era is kind of a bad model of what this will be like. The best model I see in history for what space migration will be like is the Polynesian settlement period.

https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1586/polynesian-navigat...

SpaceX is building our equivalent of the Polynesian multi-hulled canoe.


> I don't think it's a coincidence that sci-fi that posits a frontier (generally space but sometimes others) is usually more optimistic than sci-fi that posits a humanity confined to Earth's gravity well. Writers and artists see this.

But see The Expanse for a strong contradiction of this pattern.

It has frontiers but human nature has not suddenly gone through a transmutation that makes it natively good.

...and I'll argue The Expanse is actually way better than most of those optimistic shows. Especially any of the Star Trek series. (Season 1 of Picard was an improvement on most ST, I'll happily grant)


It’s not that human nature will get better with a frontier. It’s that it gets worse without one.

The best scenario I can think of for a closed Earth is Singapore but with more surveillance and a much more stagnant culture. Oh, and a very high rate of suicide and mental illness.


Earth still has vast oceans and polar deserts which are virtually unclaimed and uninhabitable, yet still offer a more inviting environment than mars: ample water, protection from radiation, in some cases more available solar power, low-latency communication with other inhabited areas, etc. There's an opportunity to work toward the kinds of radical self-sufficiency that would be needed on Mars without leaving the planet.


I see this brought up often and I think it glosses over a lot of things.

Antarctica is a common red herring in these discussions. It's illegal to settle there, otherwise there already would be settlements likely bootstrapped through mining. The entire continent is locked down by treaty.

Seasteading is technically possible but there are many issues once it gets to the point of declaring oneself a nation state. It's also worse in certain respects than Mars. The climate is obviously far better, but you can't mine anything and land in the form of floating platforms is vastly more costly.

Lastly though, I really think space as a frontier is qualitatively different and people know it. Compared to the scale of current or even foreseeable future human civilization, it's infinite and near inexhaustible even without positing any kind of FTL or near-light-speed travel. The solar system alone is just monstrous. It's called space for a reason.


> Lastly though, I really think space as a frontier is qualitatively different and people know it. Compared to the scale of current or even foreseeable future human civilization, it's infinite and near inexhaustible even without positing any kind of FTL or near-light-speed travel. The solar system alone is just monstrous. It's called space for a reason.

This is really key. Once the cat is out of the bag with spacefaring being democratized and relatively cheap, the frontier is truly endless. It won’t peter out like all of Earth’s frontiers have — space will always have more wilderness than we have people.


> democratized and relatively cheap

This is not and is unlikely to ever be a thing. Every human surviving off Earth needs to carry a minimum amount of infrastructure with them at all times. They need air, heat, water, and food (roughly in that order). None of those things can be found in usable quantities off Earth. They also can't be easily fashioned out of local materials.

So even your cheapest most democratized scrap yard rocket needs reliable life support. It also needs a lot of fuel to actually get to a "frontier". Willpower and desire don't have enough mass to provide propulsion. Like with life support fuel for any given rocket is not easily synthesized from local materials.

Doing anything in space requires expensive infrastructure and complicated supply chains. Promises of 3D printed rockets from Mars rocks are as realistic and practical as rockets constructed of unicorn bone and powered by dragon farts.

The cheapest and most democratized things you can send into space currently are CubeSats. They are several orders of magnitude away from "cheap and democratized" manned spaceflight.


You could have said the same thing about air travel if you were in the 1930s.

Ultimately the limiting factor is energy. If we can transition Earth's power systems to renewable and nuclear power our remaining fossil fuels (mostly gas) will become cheap and can be used for space flight. In space nuclear fission is much less problematic than it is down here inside a biosphere. If we crack fusion we are done and eventually nobody else in the galaxy will be wondering about a Fermi paradox.


> You could have said the same thing about air travel if you were in the 1930s.

Space travel and air travel are not comparable in the way you're implying. For instance the Taylor Cub (predecessor of the Piper Cub) came out in 1930. A little 500lb plane could carry two people ~200 miles. It could do this because the atmosphere does a lot of the work lifting the plane and the crew doesn't need to bring their own life support system everywhere they go. A tear in their jacket wouldn't cause them to suffocate.

Space travel has much higher minimum requirements to simply keep a human alive. Humans need their life support systems, power for the same, and ample supplies of everything because there's none wherever they're going.

> Ultimately the limiting factor is energy.

That is the first of several problems.

> In space nuclear fission is much less problematic than it is down here inside a biosphere.

Fission has its own problems in space. Reactor design is more complicated due to lack of gravity, the non-trivial challenges of excess heat, and no ready sources of a working fluid for turbines.

> If we crack fusion we are done and eventually nobody else in the galaxy will be wondering about a Fermi paradox.

Marginally better than fission but has several of the same problems. Heat is an even bigger issue to deal with because some sort of fusion engine is always wanting to melt itself.

Space travel is hard. It's not at all safe to assume it can ever be "cheap" or democratized. Air travel is just not a good comparison. The atmosphere does a lot of the work involved in flying. In space there's no medium to work in. You've got to take everything with you everywhere you go.


The problem with frontiers is that one culture’s “frontier” is another culture’s homeland. Look what happens to native populations every time they encounter a more technologically advanced civilization.

My worry about a lawless infinite frontier is that it will encourage lawless exponential exploitation. What happens when one of these spacefaring humanoids innovates a planet-eating or sun-eating machine. Just a vessel that consumes an entire planet. Or a death star type weapon?

Now you have a civilization of innovating planet eating humans roaming and multiplying throughout the universe like a virus. Does life exist on the planets they eat? Who knows or cares? Who would stop them if it did? I wouldn’t leave it past the human mind to implement this.


There are no guarantees of course, but I am fond of saying “it’s called space for a reason.” There is so damn much of it. Go find one of those “solar system to scale” models.

Anyone with interstellar capability could definitely go somewhere else. That doesn’t guarantee they won’t be assholes but it means it’s unlikely that future spacefaring intelligences will be pushed into an aggressive position by scarcity of land or resources. They will at least have the option of just going elsewhere.

Personally I think large scale space conflict for rational reasons is unlikely both because of how costly it could be (any spacefaring being has ludicrously overpowered WMDs) and the optionality. So if it does happen I would predict it occurring for irrational reasons. That happens of course.


If you imagine humanity as the first single celled organism of the galaxy, diversification and evolution goes hand in hand with spreading out.


The time to travel from Earth to Mars is about 8 month. They'll have plenty of time to launch some intercepting mission.


That's for a minimum energy Hohmann transfer, and within the launch window. To be truly threatening, nukes aimed at Mars have to be much more wasteful in terms of payload for the reaction mass. You can get to Mars in a day or less, but with a lot more energy needs, it's a matter of what you're willing to pay.


What's the time for a realistic scenario like "I'm in a hurry but I don't have unlimited money" ?


I would imagine a human civilization with a sizable Mars city is already pretty adept at putting big payloads into space, so their understanding of "cheap" might be considered quite wasteful for the present day.

On the other hand, if you can hide nukes in small packages in Mars orbit, maybe you don't need to launch all the way from Earth.


The exponential part of the rocket equation makes time reduction too difficult even if you have a bigger budget.

I found this from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_mission_to_Mars

> Shorter Mars mission plans have round-trip flight times of 400 to 450 days, but would require significantly higher energy. A fast Mars mission of 245 days round trip could be possible with on-orbit staging. In 2014 ballistic capture was proposed, which may reduce fuel cost and provide more flexible launch windows compared to the Hohmann.


I feel like I've missed some context here. Currently we do not have a city on Mars, nor have we developed nuclear missiles which can deliver a payload to Mars. I'm sure that such a thing is within our grasp, but a military still has to be incentivized to build an interplanetary nuclear weapon stead of spending that defense budget elsewhere. If the martian cities cannot strike from Mars, then there is little incentive to building the capability to destroy them.

Anyhow, what are we talking about here? Why did the topic of Mars and avoiding nuclear armageddon come up?


To propose we go to Mars to protect the species is backward. People with the means want to go to Mars to show off or other personal reasons. Then they drum up some humanitarian-sounding reason for government and popular support.

If we could prove beyond shadow of a doubt that no dangerous asteroids would hit Earth for a million years and that pursuing Mars accelerated our environmental problems here, I don't doubt that the same people would come up with new justifications and keep going, even if counterproductive.


100 times worse than living on Mt. Everest. Maybe build a nuclear shelter on earth?


It's already been done.


It's not about saving humanity or saving consciousness or all that BS.

It's about a very selfish 1st world problem:

Seeking thrill and also not to be discounted the willingness to feel special. Everyday we see and interact with so many people, we have also internalized the concept of being one unit in a 8B sample and that hurts our ego as we want to feel unique and irreplacable.

People hope to find that in a small Mars community, feeling irreplaceable both on a conceptual level as well as a practical level (meaning for the operation of the colony).


It takes ~1 months at quickest approach. This pretty much eliminates any biological pandemic level issues.

War on Mars will also be something else. Canadians understand this all too well. You're far enough from everything to make you not a target. Life on Mars will be precarious for everyone far worse than the mutually assured destruction that prevents it happening on Earth.

It doesnt eliminate all issues, but it certainly eliminates lots of issues.


For the Moon-Earth war, read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Robert Heinlein.

For the Earth, Mars, and Asteroid belt conflict, watch "The Expanse".


This question presupposes a lot and it's a deep topic so I don't want to get lost in the weeds.

Your question, I assume, is based on the idea that humans may well colonize Mars and one of reasons for doing so is to increase humanity's chance of survival an otherwise extinction-level event.

It's worth pointing out that nuclear war is just one of many potential extinction level events. Even then, nuclear war in particular is unlikely to exterminate the entire species. Another where colonizing Mars would help is, say, a massive body impacting Earth.

But stepping back, colonizing Mars is largely a romantic notion, not a logical one. People imagine themselves walking on Mars but there are severe problems with this:

1. Gravity is much lower than Earth. It's roughly similar to the Moon. It's unclear how we'd deal with living in low-gee like this on an indefinite basis;

2. Mars has an atmosphere but it's actually worse than no atmosphere in many ways. It's barely above vacuum so you can't breathe it, even if it was the right gas mix (which of course it isn't). All it really does is stir up dust to cover all your above-ground installations. Solar panels are likely to be one of these so you can't really avoid it. Dirt and dust on Earth have been eroded by eons of wind and water. Not so on Mars. Martian dust is jagged and "sticky" as a result. So it's more annoying.

3. Mars has no protection from solar radiation unlike Earth (ie the Van Allen belt / magnetosphere); and

4. Even though gravity is lower, getting into and out of the gravity well is still a considerable issue, particularly given the lower atmosphere doesn't have the same potential for aerobraking as Earth's atmosphere does.

For nuclear war in particular, a political entity may well also exist on Mars that will make a nuclear strike. You'd likely get more warning since Earth's superpowers have quick strike capability from nuclear attack submarines that can be positioned off the coast of major cities. Mars of course has no oceans so you're talking air or ground vehicles or ground installations.

Nuclear missiles could come from Earth but you'd get a lot of warning for this (weeks to months) and this wouldn't be cheap.

Personally I'm convinced the future of spacefaring humans is in orbitals not on other moons or worlds.


To some extent, this is the overarching theme of the second season of For All Mankind; you may find it interesting.


If it were a self-sustaining colony, within a couple generations basically everyone would be everyone else's cousin. That would probably reduce the impetus for major war as opposed to family drama.


The royal families in Europe were closely connected with each other but that didn’t stop them from starting World War 1 and many other wars.


Their subjects however weren’t.


Mars city is irrelevant. What matters is self sustaining spaceships.


Exactly. This is why I am pro exploration but not colonization. At least not until we can terraform. Colonizing mars now would be a huge waste of resources.


Depending on the definition of colonizing, however. Does sending 100 scientists there count as exploration or colonization? I'd be in favor because the discoveries they'd make about the history of life on Mars would radically weaken mythological stories of religion, it'd be a death-blow that would advance Enlightenment another notch, after the work of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein.


If we are on Mars likely we'll be in space habitats very shortly thereafter.

So it's more a signifier of diaspora on space than about a single Mars city


All this effort to avoid the collapse of human civilization seems misplaced. Protecting humanity from calamity is only necessary if humanity serves a purpose. Would you back up computer data that is of no use to anyone? Of course not. The fact that something exists does not justify going to extraordinary lengths to preserve it.

Uniqueness does not make something useful or worth preserving, either.

As individuals, we all expire at some point. Is there a reason to think that humanity should be any different?


The human mind is the most complex and entropy-reducing machine the Universe has ever produced (to our knowledge).

If you look around the rest of the Universe you may find thing of interest and beauty, but those concepts of "interesting" and "beautiful" are entirely constructs of that human mind. The only way anything in the Universe is "beautiful" or "interesting" is because minds exist which can appreciate other parts of the Universe as such.

Protecting humanity isn't about protecting individuals or anything specific, it's about preserving a process that can make new and interesting things happen in the Universe.

One of the most interesting things that humans can do is conceptualize something like "purpose", just like "beauty" one could make the case that the Universe has no purpose without an intelligence embedded inside which can articulate one and that we are in the process of deciding a Purpose for the Universe through our philosophical/theological discussions.


On that same scale, your life is insignificant, but you try to preserve that no?. Do you have kids? Family? Their lives are also insignificant in the same way. If you're invested in your own life, or the lives of loved ones, but not in the lives of your fellow man, you're not enlightened to our insignificance, you're selfish.

I want the next generation to have the opportunities I've had, if not more, and I'm sure they'll want the same for the next. Given that, it only makes sense to try and preserve a future for humans in general.


I don’t see how this is a rational response to the question that the commenter posited. It’s all assumptions on top of assumptions about his/her personhood.

What do you mean by “preservation” here—is it just attending to our most basic physiological needs? Is doing that really even an active choice? What about the things that we do for our loved ones—is that on the same scale as trying to preserve our species from mass extinction? What if the commenter contributes to charity or puts out excellent work which improves people’s lives—does that not count as caring for the lives of one’s fellow man?


> What do you mean by “preservation” here

Preserve, as in, to maintain. Like, not let it disappear. That should be obvious from the context, so I have a hard time believing this was a good faith attempt at poking holes in what I said.

> Is doing that really even an active choice?

Mostly no, but only because choosing not to preserve your own life is such a startlingly rare occurrence we don't really think of it as an option. How is chosing to preserve humanity as a whole not a similar 'non-choice' in that case?

> What about the things that we do for our loved ones—is that on the same scale as trying to preserve our species from mass extinction?

It doesn't need to be on the same scale to be driven by the same factors.

> What if the commenter contributes to charity or puts out excellent work which improves people’s lives—does that not count as caring for the lives of one’s fellow man?

It certainly would, and would make the cognitive dissonance of thinking humanity is itself not worth preserving pretty stark.

> I don’t see how this is a rational response to the question that the commenter posited.

I am likewise confused how you thought any of this was a rational rebuttal to my own statements.


You believe there's nothing worth preserving in human civilization, that's there no purpose to anything humanity does? I'd argue we are biological beings with consciousness, we have the capability of experiencing wonderful things. As our ancestors did before us, isn't on us to keep the ball rolling, to allow future descendants to experience the joys of life and thought?


Trace up our ancestry far enough and you’ll realize that the earliest humans didn’t mean to bear us to experience the joys of life and thought but, really, they were just performing their natural, animalistic urges to hump each other.


It's not procreation that's our sole purpose on Earth, however. Yes, Darwinian evolution posits that ability to procreate successfully shaped every species. However, I'd argue due to our consciousness, our ability to generate culture via language and history and tradition, our ability to manipulate the environment via tools and learning, these move beyond Darwinian evolution. Our culture and language and toolsets are extremely powerful and wonderful collective objects that are worth preserving and cultivating evermore.

Just ask yourself, wouldn't it be a shame if there was no one around to listen to Beethoven or Mozart, to look at Monet or Van Gogh Paintings, or to appreciate the sound of poetry or the movement of a dancer? I think denying that humans are social beings in a massive social network is easy, that way nothing we do really "matters" to the universe, even though it matters intensely to other humans.


> wouldn't it be a shame if there was no one around to listen to Beethoven or Mozart, to look at Monet or Van Gogh Painting

I notice the specific examples you list here are part of the western canon, which I assume is part of your culture and therefore important to you. But you didn’t list any artists from other cultures. Why do you think people living in another planet some time in the distant future would miss the artists from your culture? Wouldn’t they have their own art and music unique to them that they would care about more than the things you care about?

I get that it’s sad to think about these artists dying for good (as in their art being wiped from collective memory) but it’s something that happens all the time to artists throughout history, and I really don’t think it’s a great shame on a cosmic scale that the artists you mention might be forgotten in the future. I think as much as you would want to share Mozart with the Martians, they will care about him just as much as you care about artists from South America in the year 900. That is to say, not at all.


To whom would it be a shame that no one is around to listen to the likes of Beethoven and Mozart when your premise is, exactly, that no one is around?


Yet we don’t abandon our young, or even our elders, we look to find meaning beyond procreation and survival. Look at song, dance, storytelling, love, rituals, writing, art, mentoring, etc. We invest tons of time not procreating.


Well some of us think we serve a purpose and that’s as good as we’ll probably get because there is no absolute truth or definitive objective to measure against.

Even you posting a comment shows some purpose. In that sense humanity is worth saving to preserve your comment / thought process alone.

Or, if we save humanity as a reminder to ourselves and others that our humanity exists absent of any purpose, that sounds like plenty of purpose to me.


Imagine the cosmos without a single solitary observer. Populated with automata which simply act out their genetic instructions, never seeing beyond the next meal or the next opportunity to couple. Imagine the cosmos without one single sentient being that could look up at the sky and think, "Wow!".

It would be a shame for all of this to go on, just existing, unappreciated. The cosmos deserves to be loved.


So you’re saying is this is all about to become Conway’s Game of Life without an observer? Interesting thought.


It's just survival instinct that is built in our DNA. It operates at the species level too, probably to a lesser extent, since we don't seem equipped to prevent the collapse.

But overall, this is how I make peace with my mind with the announced decline. On the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really matter, and we're bound to disappear anyway. So maybe Bill Gates is right: having fun burning as much fuel as possible with his jet and super yacht while it lasts, and hoping that something comes up from innovation.


> As individuals, we all expire at some point. Is there a reason to think that humanity should be any different?

It's not a question of living forever. It's a question of living as long as possible. Individuals certainly try to do that.

I think your post is playing a game. You think your life has value. Claiming otherwise is meaningless verbiage unless you, um, follow through. It's difficult (maybe impossible) to rationally ground that belief but that doesn't stop us from holding it.


Just because you think that humans aren’t special doesn’t mean that you should commit suicide, though.

I’m personally not against humans reaching for the stars, heck I think we should do everything we can to succeed in that, but for the purposes of acquiring knowledge and not first and foremost self-preservation. I mean, if we’re disagreeing with this comment because we think we are special and have the moral obligation to survive, there’s a ton of work that we need to and can do here on Earth before trying to settle in another planet, right? If we can think of terraforming Mars, heck we should be able to stop all kinds of pollution right now, but that’s not even the kind of rhetoric that I’m seeing here in HN.


> Just because you think that humans aren’t special doesn’t mean that you should commit suicide, though.

No but it implies there's nothing wrong with suicide.

> If we can think of terraforming Mars, heck we should be able to stop all kinds of pollution right now, but that’s not even the kind of rhetoric that I’m seeing here in HN.

Really? I see it all over HN. Lots of posters are very concerned about global warming and pollution and those posts are often highly upvoted.

But I don't think we have to choose between colonizing Mars and treating the Earth better. We can do both. (Well I'm not optimistic about the Mars colony but I certainly think we should try).


Acknowledging the fact that everything perishes, including humans, because we are not special, does not imply that there is nothing wrong with suicide (though I’d like to see you successfully argue that point—but that’s a separate discussion). You’re making a huge leap here.

I mean, sure, we can do both, but I do maintain that since, right now, the only success that we can guarantee from exploring space with our current tools is to gather knowledge, anybody who genuinely believes and is committed to the idea that we have a moral obligation to prolong the life of our species should be trying to save Earth right now.


> Acknowledging the fact that everything perishes, including humans, because we are not special, does not imply that there is nothing wrong with suicide

Suicide remark aside, my overall argument was that "human life has no special value" is a pose. People value human life in a special way, including their own, for whatever reason, rational or not, and we know this by observing human behavior, including our own.

> I mean, sure, we can do both, but I do maintain that since, right now, the only success that we can guarantee from exploring space with our current tools is to gather knowledge, anybody who genuinely believes and is committed to the idea that we have a moral obligation to prolong the life of our species should be trying to save Earth right now.

Not only can we do both but we are. I'm not a Musk fanboy but I am glad that battery tech, solar, electric cars, and rockets are all being built.

Also, due to politics, fixing problems on Earth is in some sense a harder problem than colonizing Mars. Whether or not a Mars colony survives, if we have the technology to try it, we can give it the old college try. Meanwhile, something as simple as a carbon tax is politically impossible.


Of course we all expire at some point, individually and collectively.

However, we almost all make efforts to push that point as far into the future as possible (the main exception being when doom is near and assured, and only increasing misery is foreseen on the way).

So, why would we not try to extend the expiration date, individually and collectively? It's a big universe, so much to explore!


This sounds like bare nihilism to me. Why do anything, if nothing matters?


> The fact that something exists does not justify going to extraordinary lengths to preserve it.

The flaw in your premise is that you're dropping context on the individual. If you pretend humans are a mere non-thinking, non-individual collective, then what you're saying is correct. That's false. Each person will strive to exist, to persist, for their own reasons (with each life being different, literally; with each reasoning pathway being unique, literally).

> As individuals, we all expire at some point. Is there a reason to think that humanity should be any different?

That something ceases to exist, that it expires, doesn't automatically determine whether it has value. By your premise all entities have no value. That I exist and place value on at least one entity acts to prove you wrong (ie you're wrong).

> Uniqueness does not make something useful or worth preserving, either.

You've got the premise entirely formulated incorrectly. I'm not asking your permission to exist. I'm not asking to be granted value by you. I exist. I decide if my life has value, you do not (more precisely: your input has essentially zero value in that calculation; my input has enormous consequence/value in the calculation). I decide how great of a value to place on my existence. I decide if I think my life is useful, in other words, and whether it's worth preserving - your input is not necessary and is in fact meaningless. I decide with my own reasoning what purpose my life has, what value my life has, and can change my thinking on the matter at any time I see fit; my thinking on the matter is the extreme primary, and by comparison your thinking on the matter is irrelevant. That is to say, it doesn't matter what you think, when it comes to whether you think my existence is worth preserving or of value. This is a simple demonstration of how you dropped context on value determination as it pertains to the fact that humans are individual actors.

That should all be quite easy to grasp.

Yeah, but why does that matter? It matters because Elon Musk is an individual and has decided to go to Mars. How do you plan to stop him and his SpaceX party of happy Mars bound radicals? You can't, most likely - they're acting on their individual value systems, aligning with other like-minded persons, to achieve something greater than they could accomplish alone. They have decided their goal matters, that it is has value, they're not waiting for the permission of 7.8 billion other people to go; they're not waiting for a billion other people to tell them that what they're doing has value, that their existence matters, they're going regardless of what most people think: they decide if what they're doing with their lives has value or not (and yes, of course, there are some very powerful forces that could potentially stop them, such as the US Government; some amount of permission is usually required for such a considerable undertaking when operating within a society; although to be clear, the government still doesn't dictate whether their goals have value, those people can still value their goals even if denied permission by the government to pursue them).


Forget nuclear war. If Mars was used to test bio-weapons or nanotech weapons then it could leak onto earth by accident.


How likely is it that a life-destroying Gamma Ray Burst hitting Earth would spare Mars ?


Probably because there would be no humans.




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