Skip main navigation

The ethics of going to Mars

What are the ethical considerations of colonizing Mars?

Why are humans so interested in going to Mars? Is it simply that it is there, the next great uncharted territory? Our next frontier? Do we feel we have exhausted the resources that Earth has to offer? Perhaps we feel that we need a new unspoilt environment to escape to. Whatever our motivations maybe we should consider the ethical implications of going to Mars before we commit so much ingenuity, resources and people to the endeavour. What are the ethical implications of sending people to Mars? The mission will undoubtedly be extremely hazardous, as will living on Mars. All colonists will be volunteers but we must consider whether it is still a reasonably thing to ask people to do – to leave behind all they know to travel to a planet where they will live under extreme conditions. We do not yet know what the long terms effects of living on Mars will be, living in reduced gravity, with high levels of exposure to radiation, in a confined space with a small group of other people. What responsibility do we have for the welfare of these first explorers? Long term colonization would presumably involved building relationships and raising families in an environment where we have no idea of the effects of reproduction and on babies and children. What are the ethical implications of committing future generations to life on Mars, those who will have no choice about whether they live Earth or on the red planet. Until humans arrive Mars will be a near pristine environment, if we neglect the space exploration debris that is already there. Humans will have to harness the scarce resources that are present on Mars in order to generate oxygen and water, to grow food and provide shelter. Is it ethically acceptable to travel to a new world and exploit its resources. Of course humans have explored and exploited new worlds for eons, but do modern ethics make us view such exploration and colonization differently in modern time. Humans will also take passengers with them to Mars in the form of bacteria. However much we clean and sterilize the equipment we take with us we should remember that humans themselves are host to a spectacular amount of bacterial life. We don’t yet know what the long term effects of the introduction of this bacteria to Mars will be. Is this something we should consider? Does it matter? It may be that bacterial life still exists in the deepest revises of Mars. What would the impact of our presence be on such bacteria? Is it acceptable of our presence there leads to its demise? NASA’s Office for Planetary Protection takes these issues very seriously. It exists to protect effective science, protect explored planets and to safeguard Earth. Watch this video about planetary protection.

This article is from the free online

How to Survive on Mars: the Science Behind the Human Exploration of Mars

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education