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Tech & science of Mars colonization are jokingly trivial to solve, ex-NASA scientist argues

While we are endlessly killing time by scrolling social media, one can – very occasionally – come across something actually meaningful. Like smart people discussing the challenges of deep space exploration and colonization, for instance. And that’s a great opportunity to learn a thing or two.

For example, that colonizing Mars and setting up an actual colony with viable economics isn’t as challenging as it might sound. Well, the word challenging needs a bit of context.

Over the weekend, planetary scientist Dr. Philip Metzger commented on a new book A City on Mars by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith. He didn’t like the challenges their book apparently highlights, although admitting he didn’t actually read the book. Still, Metzger hopes for the whole book genre to focus on the real problems keeping our civilization stuck on Earth.

Human deep space exploration is facing several challenges and risks. Some are related to doing stuff in space, and some are related to simply being present in the environment of space for long periods of time. Metzger quickly mentioned some of the most known issues often raised by people arguing against the viability of our life outside of the low Earth orbit.

“Perchlorates in sand is not a problem. We can easily wash dirt. Radiation in space is not a problem. We can easily put dirt over our habitation. Etc.,” said in a thread on X (Twitter) Metzger, who is currently the director of The Stephen W. Hawking Center for Microgravity Research and Education of the University of Central Florida.

Elon Musk publicly dreamed about occupying a Mars base for years. He wanted to send the very first people to Mars in 2022, but his timeline for the development of his Starship rocket was unrealistic as so many times before.

Metzger is also an ex-NASA engineer and scientist with almost 30 years of experience working with the agency, for example on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station projects. Therefore, he has a lot of valuable insight into both the scientific and technological challenges of space. According to his opinion, all the supposed technology or environmental problems related to doing stuff in space are “so easily solved it is a joke”:

“The one thing lacking is people willing to put money into doing it. And it isn’t even that much money, on the scale of a global economy. It is trivial money, in fact.

If the top 4 billion wealthiest people in the world put a few dollars a year into it, then 40 years from now we would have cities on Mars, factories in cislunar space, etc. It’s on that scale of trivial.”

If it is that easy, why we don’t have our “Mars Neil Armstrong” already? Metzger claims it is difficult to convince people to put that trivial amount of money into doing it, again addressing today’s literature: “This genre of writing, which convinces people to put less money into it, are a significant part of the actual problem.”

There are already billionaires such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Jared Isaacman investing heavily in spaceflight projects. However, Metzger considers their wealth insufficient compared to the productivity of the global economy.

That makes the need for government and commercial sectors’ involvement and commitment a necessity.

Metzger thinks the government sector is already being helpful and while the commercial sector might struggle to justify its involvement in the mid-term, ultimately it will benefit from the mature space economy.

Former NASA planetary scientist also shared his vision for off-Earth industry development scenarios. The trio of scenarios differ in pace which is dictated by the commitment of all the stakeholders. The ultimate point of Metzger’s timelines is the moment when our civilization is “fully revolutionized.”

Although there are a lot of variables and unpredictable factors, he expects the civilization to be fully revolutionized by 2070, 2090, or 2120, depending on the proposed scenario.

Anyway, if you are Elon Musk or somebody else also thinking 2070 is way too late, you can kill that unnecessary time reading the 150th edition of ours This Week in Rocket Launches and watching some rockets roar toward the sky before the first humans head to the Red planet…

Image: Dubai Media Office

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