Moon Before Mars
Novelist Andy Weir rose to prominence for his bestseller The Martian, which was subsequently adapted as a film starring Matt Damon. The writer is swapping Mars for the moon in his new book, Artemis, and he discussed the prospect of colonizing both bodies in an interview promoting its release.
"I wanted to write a story about the first human settlement somewhere other than Earth," Weir told Business Insider. "And I just really think that's going to be the moon. That'll definitely be the first place that we colonize outside of Earth."
The author downplays the idea of "leap-frogging" the moon and heading directly to Mars, even though he states that we're likely to visit the planet within the next century. As far as a lunar station being our next step, it seems that the experts agree.
"I agree 100% with everything that he says," Aaron Ridley, a professor in the University of Michigan's Climate and Space Sciences and Engineer faculty, told Futurism. "Establishing a colony on Mars is incredibly technically challenging and expensive. Establishing a colony on the moon is less challenging and less expensive (by a long shot), but still will cost a huge amount of money."
Amanda Hendrix, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute and co-author of Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home, told Futurism that a lunar station would be a good "stepping stone" to Mars, even if it's not completely necessary.
"It makes sense to have a semi-permanent station on the moon (where humans don't stay permanently due to radiation concerns but can relatively easily transfer back-and-forth to Earth) for launching to Mars or other places, and for doing science on and from the moon," Hendrix wrote.
In Artemis, Weir explains away the impact of radiation by having the lunar colony housed inside aluminum bubbles. Hendrix said this could be effective if they're thick enough, but wondered how desirable such living conditions would be.
In the Red
Weir argues that a Mars colony isn't going to happen any time soon, if for no other reason than how expensive it would be, in addition to the fact that there's no pressing need to head there.
"The reality is that there is no economic reason to colonize Mars. At all," he said. This includes its capacity to serve as a new home for the human race, which Weir guaranteed would be more expensive and less effective than cleaning up our home planet.
"We are not going to go to the moon or Mars because of population pressure," explained Ridley. "It is really because we have an innate desire to explore."
"For Mars the only plausible activity is scientific research in [government] bases," Chris McKay of the NASA Ames Research Center told Futurism.
Mars isn't likely to make a private space company a ton of money from tourism or mining operations, and it's not going to solve overpopulation here on Earth. It does offer plenty of scope for scientific investigations — but it remains to be seen who will foot the bill to get us there in the name of research.