With Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster now racking up the miles in solar orbit and Mars One aiming to land astronauts on the red planet by 2032,1 space has truly returned as the frontier that government and private enterprise are keen to conquer.* Whether we can get there, or survive there if we do, are of course two fairly important questions science and economists are still trying to answer, but assuming we get past those little hurdles, should we be thinking even bigger?
As we noted in our report on harnessing the 4th industrial revolution for sustainable emerging cities, poorly planned cities on Earth are often plagued by consequent poverty, disease, inequality and environmental damage. Healthier cities, however, those that embrace digital technology to manage and plan space allow for better access to services and transit, as well as the smarter use of land.
By embracing smart city ideology we as a civilisation have the opportunity to change the way that cities on far off celestial bodies are designed, managed and built to meet individual and collective needs while being intelligent about natural resources. Starting from scratch could be an easier task than building a smart city by retroactively retrofitting a ‘dumb’ one. But simply applying smart city principles (of which there still isn’t all that much clarity) to a (really) foreign land might not be enough.
Smart cities on Mars would need to incorporate thinking past simply ‘what have we learnt’ on Earth to also take into consideration the psychology of isolation and unfamiliarity with a new landscape,2 perhaps initially requiring a little bit of an Earth 2.0 familiarity.** Getting the balance between living in harmony with a new terrain, ensuring we don’t repeat mistakes we have made in the past on our precious blue marble, while also embracing the need for a bit of non-Martian humanity? A tall order.
It’s time to start thinking about how to put our best small step forward so we don’t leap into the giant unknown unprepared.
In the meantime, this infographic from space.com looks at the history of space colony design and gives us some food for thought about what we might want to consider.
*Though it might please you to note that the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, conceived in 1967 and signed by 107 countries, states that ‘outer space’ is not subject to claims of sovereignty by nation states and the Moon and other planets should be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
** Antonio Sabato Jr optional.