(Part 2 of 2 -- Ed.)
Without the opening of a new frontier on Mars, continued Western
civilization faces the risk of technological stagnation. To some this
may appear to be an outrageous statement, as the present age is
frequently cited as one of technological wonders. In fact, however, the
rate of progress within our society has been decreasing, and at an
alarming rate. To see this, it is only necessary to step back and
compare the changes that have occurred in the past 30 years with those
that occurred in the two preceding 30 periods.
Between 1903 and 1933 the world was
revolutionized: Cities were electrified; telephones and broadcast radio
became common; talking motion pictures appeared; automobiles became
practical; and aviation progressed from the Wright Flyer to the DC-3 and
Hawker Hurricane. Between 1933 and 1963 the world changed again, with
the introduction of color television, communication satellites and
interplanetary spacecraft, computers, antibiotics, SCUBA gear, nuclear
power, Atlas, Titan, and Saturn rockets, Boeing 727's and SR-71's.
Compared to these changes, the
technological innovations from 1963 to the present are insignificant.
Immense changes should have occurred during this period, but did not.
Had we been following the previous 60 years technological trajectory, we
today would have videotelephones, solar powered cars, maglev trains,
fusion reactors, hypersonic intercontinental travel, regular passenger
transportation to orbit, undersea cities, open-sea mariculture and human
settlements on the Moon and Mars.
Consider a nascent Martian civilization:
Its future will depend critically upon the progress of science and
technology. Just as the inventions of produced by the "Yankee Ingenuity"
of frontier America were a powerful driving force on world-wide human
progress in the 19th century, so the "Martian Ingenuity" born in a
culture that puts the utmost premium on intelligence, practical
education and the determination required to make real contributions will
provide much more than its fair share of the scientific and
technological breakthroughs that will dramatically advance the human
condition in the 21st century.
A prime example of the Martian frontier
driving new technology will undoubtedly be found in the arena of energy
production. As on Earth, a copious supply of energy will be crucial to
the success of Mars settlements. The Red Planet does have one major
energy resource that we currently know about: deuterium, which can be
used as the fuel in nearly waste-free thermonuclear fusion reactors.
Earth has large amounts of deuterium too, but with all of its existing
investments in other, more polluting forms of energy production, the
research that would make possible practical fusion power reactors has
been allowed to stagnate. The Martian colonists are certain to be much
more determined to get fusion on-line, and in doing so will massively
benefit the mother planet as well.
The parallel between the Martian frontier
and that of 19th century America as technology drivers is, if anything,
vastly understated. America drove technological progress in the last
century because its western frontier created a perpetual labor shortage
in the east, thus forcing the development of labor saving machinery and
providing a strong incentive for improvement of public education so that
the skills of the limited labor force available could be maximized. This
condition no longer holds true in America. In fact far from prizing each
additional citizen, immigrants are no longer welcome here and a vast
"service sector" of bureaucrats and menials has been created to absorb
the energies of the majority of the population which is excluded from
the productive parts of the economy. Thus in the late 20th century, and
increasingly in the 21st, each additional citizen is and will be
regarded as a burden.
On 21st century Mars, on the other hand,
conditions of labor shortage will apply with a vengeance. Indeed, it can
be safely said that no commodity on 21st century Mars will be more
precious, more highly valued and more dearly paid for than human labor
time. Workers on Mars will be paid more and treated better than their
counterparts on Earth. Just as the example of 19th century America
changed the way the common man was regarded and treated in Europe, so
the impact of progressive Martian social conditions will be felt on
Earthy as well as on Mars. A new standard will be set for a higher form
of humanist civilization on Mars, and, viewing it from afar, the
citizens of Earth will rightly demand nothing less for
Politics on Earth with Humans on
The frontier drove the development of democracy in America by creating a
self-reliant population which insisted on the right to self-government.
It is doubtful that democracy can persist without such people. True, the
trappings of democracy exist in abundance in America today, but
meaningful public participation in the process has all but disappeared.
Consider that no representative of a new political party has been
elected President of the Unites States since 1860. Likewise,
neighborhood political clubs and ward structures that once allowed
citizen participation in party deliberations have vanished. And with re-
election rates typically close to 95 percent, the U.S. Congress is
hardly susceptible to the people's will. Regardless of the will of
Congress, the real laws, covering ever broader areas of economic and
social life, are increasingly being made by a plethora of regulatory
agencies whose officials do not even pretend to have been elected by
Democracy in America and elsewhere in
western civilization needs a shot in the arm. That boost can only come
from the example of a frontier people whose civilization incorporates
the ethos that breathed the spirit into democracy in America in the
first place. As Americans showed Europe in the last century, so in the
next the Martians can show us the way away from oligarchy.
There are greater threats that a humanist society faces in a closed work
than the return of oligarchy, and if the frontier remains closed we are
certain to face them in the 21st century. These threats are the spread
of various sorts of anti-human ideologies and the development of
political institutions that incorporate the notions that spring from
them as a basis of operation. At the top of the list of such
pathological ideas that tend to spread naturally in a closed society is
the Malthus theory, which holds that since the world's resources are
more or less fixed, population growth must be restricted or all of us
will descend into bottomless misery.
Malthusianism is scientifically bankrupt
-- all predictions made upon it have been wrong, because human beings
are not mere consumers of resources. Rather, we create resources by the
development of new technologies that find use for new raw materials. The
more people, the faster the rate of innovation. This is why (contrary to
Malthus) as the world's population has increased, the standard of living
has increased, and at an accelerating rate. Nevertheless, in a closed
society Malthusianism has the appearance of self-evident truth, and
herein lies the danger. It is not enough to argue against Malthusianism
in the abstract -- such debates are not settled in academic journals.
Unless people can see broad vistas of unused resources in front of them,
the belief in limited resources tends to follow as a matter of course.
If the idea is accepted that the world's resources are fixed, then each
person is ultimately the enemy of every other person, and each race or
nation is the enemy of every other race or nation. Only in a universe of
unlimited resources can all men be brothers.
Western humanist civilization as we know
and value it today was born in expansion, grew in expansion, and can
only exist in a dynamic expansion. While some form of human society
might persist in a non-expanding world, that society will not feature
freedom, creativity, individuality, of progress, and placing no value on
those aspects of humanity that differentiate us from animals, it will
place no value on human rights or human life as well.
Such a dismal future might seem an
outrageous prediction, except for the fact that for nearly all of its
history most of humanity has been forced to endure static modes of
social organization, and the experience has not been a happy one. Free
societies are the exception in human history -- they have only existed
during the four centuries of frontier expansion of the West. That
history is now over. The frontier opened by the voyage of Christopher
Columbus is now closed. If the era of western humanist society is not to
be seen by future historians as some kind of transitory golden age, a
brief shining moment in an otherwise endless chronicle of human misery,
then a new frontier must be opened.
But Mars is only one planet, and with
humanity's power over nature rising exponentially as they would in an
age of progress that an open Martian frontier portends, the job of
transforming and settling it is unlikely to occupy our energies for more
than three or four centuries. Does the settling of Mars then simply
represent an opportunity to "prolong but not save a civilization based
upon dynamism?" Isn't it the case that humanist civilization is
ultimately doomed anyway? I think not. The universe is vast. Its resources,
if we can access them, are truly
infinite. During the four centuries of the open frontier on Earth,
science and technology have advanced at an astonishing pace. The
technological capabilities achieved during the 20th century would dwarf
the expectations of any observer from the 19th, seem like dreams to one
from the 18th, and appear outright magical to someone from the 17th
century. If the past four centuries of progress have multiplied our
reach by so great a ratio, might not four more centuries of freedom do
the same again? There is ample reason to believe that they would.
Terraforming Mars will drive the
development of new and more powerful sources of energy; settling the Red
Planet will drive the development of ever faster modes of space
transportation. Both of these capabilities in turn will open up new
frontiers ever deeper into the outer solar system, and the harder
challenges posed by these new environments will drive the two key
technologies of power and propulsion ever more forcefully, opening the
path to the stars. The key is not to let the process stop. If it is
allowed to stop for any length of time, society will crystallize into a
static form that is inimical to the resumption of progress. That is what
defines the present age as one of crisis. Our old frontier is closed,
the first signs of social crystallization are clearly visible. Yet,
progress, while slowing, is still extant; our people still believe in it
and our ruling institutions are not yet incompatible with it.
We still possess the greatest gift of the
inheritance of a 400-year long Renaissance: To wit, the capacity to
initiate another by opening the Martian frontier. If we fail to do so,
our culture will not have that capacity long. Mars is harsh. Its
settlers will need not only technology, but the scientific outlook,
creativity and free-thinking individualistic inventiveness that stand
behind it. Mars will not allow itself to be settled by people from a
static society -- those people won't have what it takes. We still do.
Mars today waits for the children of the old frontier, but Mars will not
Robert Zubrin, Ph.D., is the
chairman of the executive committee of the National Space