On February 22nd, NASA released video footage of the car-sized Rover Perseverance, landing on the surface of Mars. After a journey of seven months and 293 million miles, the robot vehicle finally reached the red planet, with the aim of searching for ancient signs of life on Mars.
A couple of weeks later, Elon Musk’s company Space X tested a prototype of Starship, a vehicle meant to enable mass interplanetary travel, and the eventual colonisation of other planets by humans. This, according to Musk, would be an insurance policy against possible events like nuclear war or an asteroid collision, that could wipe out all of humanity if we were to remain on Earth.
But is it ethically justifiable for a government to spend billions of dollars on sending a remote control robot to Mars, when that money could be spent on improving the lives of its citizens? Should we leave space exploration to eccentric private individuals, or does that compromise humanity’s future in space? Would it be OK to try and change the surface and atmosphere of Mars, to suit our human needs? And what ethical framework should we apply to our potential future interactions with alien forms of life, if they have evolved in radically different ways from life on Earth?
Brian Patrick Green is the director of technology ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, in California’s Silicon Valley. In his forthcoming book, Space Ethics, he explores many of the moral questions that arise from a future of space exploration.
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Music by Pataphysical
Artwork by Nick Halliday