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An Astrobiologist Is Already Fighting For Martian Independence

Should colonists on the Red Planet be free from Earth’s influence from the get-go?

(Mars One/Bryan Versteeg/Splash/ /Splash News/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The first human colonists on Mars will have to deal with a lot of things to survive, from food to water to shelter. But for future Martians to be successful in the long term, one astrobiologist thinks that they also need independence from Earth control.

In a manifesto of sorts published in the journal New Space, Jacob Haqq-Misra argues that future Martian colonists should be given the chance to develop their own culture, value systems and governments from the start. An astrobiologist at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting international cooperation in space exploration, Haqq-Misra believes that early independence might not only stave off a war for independence between Martian colonists and their Earthling rulers, but could allow Martians to develop new ways of problem solving, Sarah Fecht writes for Popular Science.

“The eventual landing of humans on Mars will be of tremendous transformative value,” Haqq-Misra writes. “Before such an event, I propose that we liberate Mars from any controlling interests of Earth and allow martian settlements to develop into a second independent instance of human civilization.”

Preventing Mars from being divvied up by corporations and governments on Earth already has some legal basis in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which was signed by 103 countries, including the United States and Russia. The treaty prohibits any country from claiming territory in space; however, while a nation couldn’t own a colony in the traditional sense, colonists could still fall under the legal jurisdiction of Earth countries, Fecht writes.

Instead, Haqq-Misra proposes several conditions that would give Martian colonists a chance to develop their own culture independently, including resigning planetary citizenship from Earth to become official Martians. Under his proposed plan, all land ownership on Mars would be under the purview of the Martians themselves, Earthlings could not trade or ask for Martian resources and scientific exploration by Earthlings could only serve to benefit the citizens of both planets, Fecht writes.

However, cutting the first Martian colonists off from trade with Earth could pose some problems for establishing the first colonies. Early colonists would likely rely on supplies from Earth and as shuttle launches to the International Space Station already cost about $450 million apiece, it would be hard to justify resupplying the first colonists without expecting anything in return. At the same time, building independence into the first colonies could prevent conflict between Martians and Earthlings down the line, as the colonists would likely grow to resent living under Earth laws, Fecht writes.

“At some point in time, they will not like that anymore,” Frans von der Dunk, a space law professor at the University of Nebraska, tells Fecht. “They won't feel like they are American or Russian or wherever they come from, they'll feel like they are Martian. They will say, 'Listen, we don't want to pay taxes anymore, and we want to develop our own legal system.'”

Luckily, legal theorists will have some time to work out a plan: NASA is aiming to develop the technology to send people to Mars by the 2030’s, but has no plans to found a permanent colony. While the Mars One project claims that it will send a small group of volunteers to found a permanent Martian colony in 2026, the company’s mission plan has been criticized as unfeasible at best and a complete scam at worst. But if people want to ward off a potential interplanetary war, it might be worth considering letting Martian colonists make their own way.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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