Who should colonise Mars?

How do we choose who should colonise Mars?
05 November 2019


Image of Mars during a dust storm



DiverJohn on our Naked Scientists forum asks if we need to colonize Mars in a hurry, how do we choose the best people?



Space and science journalist Richard Hollingham answered this one...

Richard Hollingham - What an interesting question. There's the how and there's the who chooses, as well to that. So some scientists have done research on this and anthropologist in particular, Cameron Smith at Portland State University. I met him a couple of times he reckons you need 2000 people to successfully colonize. So presumably if you talk about in a hurry right we have to get off the earth after the earth has been hit by an asteroid. Let's get 2000 people to Mars so that's your starting point of around 2000 people and then it's the - well who chooses? So let's say we've got a fair and balanced system of choosing and I've been to several conferences on this and I always figured that the people who go to these interstellar conferences and are really into this stuff are exactly the people you do not want to send to Mars! Take a room like this. Okay so we've got a doctor, a biologist, investor, an optometrist. So would you take - I'm journalist and I'm also asthmatic - so I'm probably the last person you want to take - so I've gone.

Chris Smith - The journalist is out on the grounds because no one needs to know what happens on the day?

Richard Hollingham - Well this is the interesting thing actually, because if you look at this logically you say right we need we need doctors, we need plumbers, we need electricians, we need engineers, we need those basics and we need people to be fit and healthy - be a nice cross-section. Actually you probably also want to, if you've only got 2000 people you want to take Earth with you. So you want artists, you probably want musicians, artists and maybe even journalists.

Chris Smith - Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen on the set list as he's good at getting the space dome looking good.

Richard Hollingham - You want a cross-section of society, want a mix of people you can get mired in the ethics of who you take...

Chris Smith - Would you go Peter?

Peter Cowley - Well, I came on this program about two years ago and had somebody next to me, who was trying to get on that list or something. The list of 100?

Richard Hollingham - So, there'd been various Mars projects. There was this project which is now it's now gone out of business, which was you could sign up to go to Mars. All the people I met - and I can't talk about the person who was there - but all the people I met who had signed up - I thought you do not want to, you aren't the right person to go. 

Chris Smith - No one wants to go to Mars really. If we're being sensible and they really were informed of the facts they would not want to go to Mars would they?

Richard Hollingham - It's a horrible place. I think that Elton John put it best "Mars ain't the place to raise the kids. It's a grim place". I suppose, if we need to send 2000 people off the planet to save humanity then that becomes the question.

Chris Smith - Would you go to Mars Keziah?

Keziah Latham - No! No I would not be hurrying to get onto that list. I think I'd prefer to be on the B arc as it were, in Douglas Adams terms.

Richard Hollingham - Yes exactly. And that's a really interesting example. So the  Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide, the supposedly useless people including the telephone box sanitizers and the whole of civilisation gets wiped out by a bug that starts in the telephone box. So I mean it's of its time in the 1980s, but that is exactly right! It's very difficult to choose who you take.


Some think the 'cost of living' or the problems and the dangers associated with basic living are too
high to make colonizing Mars...practical...possible.
I in fact don't think so.
You do have to send responsible, committed people who really know what they're getting into.
But I think human beings in principal are adaptable enough to survive and thrive there.
The 'cost' of living is much higher there...but over time I think those that make the choice to
go there can make it a success.

Add a comment