Friday, May 8, 2015

A Greenhouse on Mars


So early yesterday, I took the train to D. C. for a SIGMA panel at the 2015 Humans to Mars Summit.  The subject of the panel was what science fiction can do to promote the colonization of our sister planet. My fellow pundits were Catherine Asaro (moderator), Tom Ligon, Geoff Landis, and Mary Turzillo. You can judge how good a job we did, if you wish, by viewing the video above.

What I remember about my own words is how fundamentally optimistic I was.  Asked for a justification for the colonization of Mars, I said that we didn't need one.  I'd just returned from China which is still undergoing explosive growth, in the wake of which they created an ambitious space program. So far as I can tell, they never bothered to come up with a reason why.  Great nations do great things.  So of course they want to take the lead in space.

Two thoughts I had on the subject which the panel had no room for, however, were:

Any reimagining of the colonization of Mars will have to start with the people. So it's a pity that it seems unlikely that anybody thought to run a study of the volunteers for the Mars One project.  Some of them never expected to go and merely signed up to get a closer look at something they found interesting. But there were a lot who really did hope to live the rest of their lives on another planet. Who were they? What did they want? What expectations did they have?

One thing I know is that they're going to live lives of very expensive poverty. For a very long time they will be unable to manufacture things like surgical instruments, birth control devices, guitar strings... the list goes on forever. All of which will be extraordinarily expensive to ship from one planet to another. I expect they'll make a lot of their own entertainment: Sing-alongs, amateur theatrics, and the like.

I expect the first Martian export will be poetry.

I want to see a greenhouse on Mars.  If a colony is going to succeed, they'll have to grow their own food. It'll be heavy on vegetables at first. And it would help if there were extensive greenhouses in production by the time the colonists arrive.

Sooner or later NASA is going to have to run an experiment on Mars to see if a robot-assembled, remotely-tended greenhouse can raise viable crops on Martian regolith. When they do, it will be as good a means of promoting the exploration and colonization of the Red Planet as the rovers have been.  I hope that in addition to the crops, they think to plant a small rosebush.

I want to be watching the camera footage when the first rose blossoms on another planet.

And afterward...

Catherine suggested we all go out to lunch together. Which made it ironic that somehow we managed to lose her before we did so.  But we picked up Rosemary Smith, who very sensibly was at the summit to learn all she could on the subject, so we had a full quorum for some very lively conversation.

Geoff Landis, ever the engineer, pointed out that it would be every bit as informative and a lot cheaper to put a greenhouse on the Moon.  Point taken.


No comments: