First Click: The hidden dangers of life on Mars

September 29th, 2016

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There are a lot of obstacles blocking Elon Musk’s ambitious plans to colonize Mars. But let’s say we do get a hundred people to the Red Planet. Let’s say SpaceX develops a ship big and powerful enough to house a hundred humans for a months-long trip in the vacuum of space. Let’s say those would-be colonists are shielded from dangerous cosmic radiation, they’re fed, watered, and kept safe from danger, and they land on Mars as our species’ first interplanetary citizens.

Well, then, the real work is just beginning. Humans would be living on Mars, but they’d have to start surviving, and as the media has shown, the Red Planet is a hostile environment indeed. A number of early reports indicated that Mars is secretly the home of a race of ultra-advanced creatures who have long been planning an attack on Earth. The creatures — which purportedly go to war in three-legged fighting machines — may see our planetfall on their home as a preemptive invasion.

Should this race be destroyed or driven away, SpaceX's human settlers would need to turn their attention quickly to another of Mars' supposed native species: a large-brained, bug-eyed race that also has designs on Earth. Reportedly communicating in a series of barks, the aggressive species has a distinct advantage over our colonists, being able to breathe Mars' atmosphere without the kind of apparatus humans would require. Their weaponry is apparently advanced, too, capable of stripping the skin, muscle, and sinew from a body in a single blast, leaving only the target's skeleton.

Any philosophical breakthroughs would belong to SpaceX

Colonists would also have to be on the lookout for giant stone faces guarded by sentient dust storms: footage unearthed from what appears to be humanity's first crewed Mission to Mars details the discovery of such a monument on the planet. Colonists too timid to approach the edifice are apparently in danger of being battered by Martian tornadoes, so Musk's company will need to instill an insatiable curiosity in its applicants, conditioning them to follow strange aliens down space alleys.

Those that do venture inside may discover the secrets of creation, existence, and our origin as a species, but because colonists will need to sign their lives away to afford the trip to another planet, any philosophical breakthroughs discovered inside the magic rock are presumably the material property of SpaceX. That corporate ownership may cause friction between early Mars residents and the company that sent them over to their new homes.

Away from the prying eyes of Earth governments, there's a proven danger that citizens of Mars may break away from their corporate overlords, unionize, and live underground. All that cosmic radiation they endured on the way to the planet could easily* manifest itself in the form of rapid-onset mutations, forcing SpaceX to have to perform regular gut-checks to ensure that talking psychic babies aren't literally growing on colonists' guts. If they are, then memory wipes may be the only solution.

Watch out for atomic blue men

Other less well-known problems may also manifest themselves on the surface of the planet, but they should be minor concerns. An Earth representative may be called in to mediate between warring factions on the planet, but nobody will bother to watch what happens, and as a general rule, colonists should stay away from any naked blue men standing near vastly complicated crystal castles. SpaceX may also need to train colonists to fight incredibly buff bug people, but any Japanese applicants may be able to give colonists from other nations a primer there.

Of course, the sources describing these potential problems may turn out to be inaccurate, but SpaceX's first settlers will still face serious issues being the first humans on a new world. Mars may have water, but it's not exactly flowing with the stuff, and the very atmosphere itself will happily kill you. Even worse, any internet connection accessible on the Red Planet's surface is going to be seriously slow, meaning a lifetime of being late to memes, watching YouTube videos in 240p, and renouncing Netflix. You might be able to survive a journey through space, but can you really go back to physical media in this day and age?

I certainly couldn't, and I'd guess a lot of people are with me, turned off by both the lack of amenities on Mars and Elon Musk's assessment that any potential colonists must be "prepared to die." But as centuries of books, movies, shows, and games have illustrated, humanity has a clear obsession with our planetary neighbor, and I've got a feeling SpaceX won't have a shortage of people happy to sign up for an uncomfortable, isolating, and downright dangerous new life on Mars. At least when they're up there, they can bring Matt Damon back.

(*I know nothing about genetics but I think that's how it works?)

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