Professor Darby Dyar
7 December 2010
The Colonization of Mars: Links to the Past
Along with the moon, Mars has become a body of astronomical interest in recent years. Pun intended, people like Robert Zubrin and President George H.W. Bush have caused public interest to arise about Mars and space itself, and how political affairs should be conducted in regards to them. If the technology becomes available, it is possible that people will be sent to Mars in the near future? How will the colony in Mars be set up? It may be like former colonies that have been set up all over the world, by many different countries and in many different time periods. The Mars Society, established in 1998, draws links between a future Mars colony and the histories of the Viking, Easter Island, and British colonies. It is pointed out that, as a drawback, all of these colonies can be considered failures through one argument or another (Archbold 882). The Mars colony, like many of these former colonies, could become its own country, to the chagrin of its mother country. It may become its own nation-state, with its own laws and political principles to guide it. However, by learning from the course of human civilization and its colonies, we can establish our own successful Mars colony.
The three colonies listed above were not very successful, if one looks at the way they were established, as well as if and how they still exist today. The Viking colonies in North America, for example, do not still exist today. Or at least, they do not exist as the Vikings originally established them. The colony of Vinland, established by Leif Eriksson around 1000 A.D., was believed to be fictional because of its existence in the Norse sagas, which are commonly known as legends. The Saga of the Greenlanders tells the story of the first known European sighting of North America by Bjarni Herjulfsson, a Viking explorer. On his way to Greenland, Herjulfsson was blown off course and sailed along the coast of North America before heading back to Greenland. In another story, the Saga of Erik the Red, a crew of 35 men, including Leif Eriksson, set out to find the land that Herjulfsson happened upon. First, they arrived at an icy area which they called “Flat-stone Land.” Then, they came upon a wooded area which they called “Wood Land.” Settling at neither of these places, Eriksson’s crew continued to sail south until they landed at Vinland (“Wine Land”), a warmer, more wooded area than Wood Land or Flat-stone Land. Although Eriksson’s men did not colonize the area, a late expedition returned with about 130 people to start a colony in Vinland, with stories and promises of wild grapes spurring them on. They stayed there three years and traded with the Native Americans of the area before their cooperation turned into warfare. The further emergence of failed crops and the lack of the desire to stay in North America turned the colonization mission sour (Archbold 882). The Vikings returned to Scandinavia, thus ending their colonization of the Americas (“Vinland” 1).
A seemingly helpful expedition to a “New World” can easily turn into a problem for the colonizers, as shown by the Viking sagas. The same sort of thing can happen in a Mars colony. There are many reasons that a colony on Mars could be helpful—economic growth, scientific exploration, and political expansion. However, the mission of the Mars colonizers could turn sour in the same sort of ways that the Vinland colony turned sour. There is, obviously, a harsh environment on Mars. Although greenhouses can help the colonizers to grow their own crops so that they can sustain themselves, this does not mean that the crops could not fail, or worse, not grow at all. With lack of sufficient technology to sustain them in Vinland, the Vikings had no choice but to return home. The same could happen to the Mars colonists.
The case of Easter Island is not exactly the same as the case of Vinland, in the case of expansion and in the case of relation to a new colony on Mars. Easter Island and its inhabitants themselves were neither colonizers nor the colonized, but their example still applies to the model of a new Mars colony. The population of Easter Island around 1550 sky rocketed to 9000, but in 1982 dwindled to only about 2000 people. No one knows why this decrease in population occurred: perhaps it was a civil war, as suggested by a few modern historians (“Easter Island” 1), or perhaps it was that the island’s natural resources were overused, much as what we are seeing on Earth with the depletion of natural resources today, but at a microcosmic level. It has been found that the soil there was overused so that it eroded, causing inhabitability of the island by a large number of occupants (Archbold 882).
It is interesting that the population of Easter Island had dwindled to such a small number. No one knows exactly why the population loss occurred, but the theories could inform a new colonization of Mars. Exploitation of the soil is an important fact in this exploration. If Mars is not treated with care for its environment, then the damage that is occurring on Earth’s environment could occur in some form on Mars. If a human population moves to Mars, one of the deciding factors in going could be that the Earth is slowly becoming unlivable—we would not want to do the same thing to another planet, thus putting ourselves in the same predicament that originally put us on Mars.
The last “colonization” attempt that the Mars Society outlines in relation to a Mars colony is, of course, the British colonies in North America, the “New World,” to use the historical vernacular. This colony is perhaps the most related to a future Mars colony, in regards to how the colony could learn from the past to inform their present. The most important aspect of American colonization, according to the Mars Society, is that Britain lost control of the colonists once the American Revolution started. Their main failure, The Mars Society states, is that “Britain failed to recognize the effect of taxing the colonies as if the colonial environment were as highly organized and productive as the environment in England.” (Archbold 882)
This correlation is important—the Mars colony can never be, in the near future, as advanced a civilization as the civilization here on Earth, as long as it is attached to a country and relies on this country of sustenance and political rule. The solution to this problem, the Mars Society proposes, is to make the Mars colony its own country, as the American colonists made their own country through the American Revolution, splitting permanently from Britain (Archbold 885).
But what are the motivations for creating this colony as a precursor to a future nation-state? The first and biggest motivation for colonization of Mars is military expansion and competition (Heiser 74). In past colonization by European countries, this was the primary motivation. The New World was divided between six countries: Spain, Portugal, Sweden, England, France, and the Netherlands (Heiser 74). This caused much conflict between these countries: the same could happen in dividing up Mars colonies between countries. Although the political motivations that were apparent in dividing up the New World were a great factor in determining the countries that still exist in the Americas today, the same political motivations would not exist in the future, at least not in the same way that they had.
Military expansion, the desire for human conquest, has been a great determining factor not only in exploration of the options that Mars gives us, and in past colonies, but also in the “space race.” At the time of the space race, the US and the Soviet Union were in competition with each other to reach the moon. As evidenced in 1969, the US won the race when Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon. As the US planted its flag in the surface of the moon, it was claiming its territory: as the first country to land a person on the moon, it believed that it had the right to have land there, as if the moon was part of the United States itself.
This race can extend to Mars. Although the competition between the US and Russia does not exist today in the same form as it used to, competition can still drive military expansion to Mars. The United States is the major power in the world now, the hegemon, but its competition with China, for example, could easily change the balance of hegemonic power in the world. If the two nations were to compete with each other for control of Mars, then it would be as if the competition between the USSR and the US were born again, given new life. There are those who believe that cooperation between two nations, not competition, would drive space exploration into Mars. “Still, the late Carl Sagan, among others, hoped that cooperation between the two nations [the US and USSR] might yield exploration of Mars, a crucial preliminary step to colonization.” (Heiser 75) Hopefully, such a solution could be possible to colonize Mars.
There is another kind of motivation that could drive exploration and colonization of Mars: economic exploitation. This option is risky, however, because it requires technologies that have not yet been created to exploit materials on Mars. There is no possibility of gaining any type of profit from Mars any time soon if someone first has to spend money to create the materials necessary to gain the profit. The people making the materials have to persuade banks and private companies to expand their operations to Mars. The main problem here is this—will the companies find explorations on Mars lucrative? Will they want to expand to Mars, or will they laugh at the idea as if it were some sort of science fiction project? These companies must also be multinational, if the expansion to Mars is to be peaceful. If one country ends up controlling all of Mars, then other countries will seek to overthrow the nation controlling it and take control of Mars themselves (Heiser 75). This happened in the New World between England, France, and Spain, just to name a few countries that sought to control the Americas. This must be a multinational effort, as both Robert Zubrin and Carl Sagan have advised.
There is a past colonial example of this type of economic exploitation. Although this is not a multinational example, it is still applicable, as other nations later sought to control this land. The Roanoke Colony off the coast of North Carolina, established in 1587 by Sir Walter Raleigh (Heiser 75), was the third effort by the English to settle in the Outer Banks. 130 people lived in this colony, where they intended to establish friendly relations with the Native Americans. It was also thought that gold could be found there, as Britain intended to make a profit off of its colony here, which would later come to be known as “the Lost Colony.” It attained this name because, after John White (the leader of the colony) returned from England with extra supplies for the colonists, all of the people there were gone (“First” 94). To this day, it is still not known exactly what happened to the settlers. The only clue the left was the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree near the settlement. Perhaps this was a reference to a nearby Indian tribe, with whom the settlers could have moved to another location. It is also possible that the settlers ran out of food and died out, as it took John White three years to return with provisions from England (Heiser 76). However, no one has been able to determine exactly how the Roanoke settlers died.
Although there would be little motivation for money-driven people to settle on Mars without the promise of economic exploitation of the planet, there would still be motivation for other people to venture into space and land on this unknown planet. This last most important motivation, the Mars Society believes, would be pursuit of religious freedom. This is not the pursuit of religious freedom in the historical sense—as in, people escaping from restriction of the practice of their religion or death because of their beliefs—but people escaping from a societal restriction of their beliefs. Although we know it to be inherently true of the United States in particular that its constitution provides a safe haven for people of all religions, no one can guarantee that modern society as a whole will not persecute and make unhappy people who practice a religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or even polytheism. The Mars Society points out an important quote from James Turner’s book, Without God Without Creed, regarding “unbelief” in today’s society:
Unbelief has transformed the hopes, aspirations, purposes, and behavior of millions of unbelievers. It has affected believers almost as remarkably. Wrangling over prayer in public schools is only one minor eruption, pointing to a major shift of the tectonic plates on which our culture moves. The option of godlessness has dis-integrated our common intellectual life, both in formal disciplines like philosophy, science, and literature and in those informal habits of mind by which we, as a culture, experience and order our world. God used to function as a central explanatory concept. As cause and purpose, the idea of God shaped and unified natural science, morality, social theories, psychology, political thought into one vaguely coherent (though very loosely assembled) approach to understanding humankind and the cosmos (Heiser 79).
… [A]t the most fundamental level, God provided the frame of an agreed-upon universe in which to argue. Our web of shared assumptions has not unraveled altogether—without some unity, a culture collapses. But the traditional linchpin is missing; our culture, in this sense, now lacks a center (Heiser 80).
Although the ideas of “godlessness” and “unbelief” are what drive cultural religious distinctions now, in past colonies of the New World, differences in belief, not belief and unbelief, were what drew people to migrate. The Puritans, Quakers, and Catholics, who moved to what are now the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, are past examples of this phenomenon. They moved to the British colonies in America to escape the persecutions of their religions. For the Puritans, their qualms about the similarities of the Anglican Church to Catholicism drove them to move to New England (Bremer 7520), so that they could create a pure society there. The Catholics, who had been persecuted because they refused to become Protestants in an increasingly Protestant world, moved to Maryland and established Baltimore, named after the Catholic Lord Baltimore (“Maryland” 1). Although the Quakers did not move exclusively to Pennsylvania, as the Catholics did not move exclusively to Maryland, they established a government in Pennsylvania that proclaimed religious toleration and freedom of conscience (“Quakers” 309). The theme among all of these Christian religious groups were the same: they moved to the future United States so that they could celebrate their religion freely, as those who might immigrate to Mars for social freedom of religion would also hope to do.
The Puritans were a group of people who were similar to those they were breaking away from and yet intrinsically different. The Puritans were adherents to the recently established Church of England; however, they did not agree with much that was going on within the Church of England (Bremer 7518). When King Henry VIII of England started the Anglican Church, his purpose was not to break away from Catholicism specifically, but from the pope himself. The pope would not let him divorce from his wives as he pleased. Therefore, he created his own church of which he was the head, so that he could make his own decisions within the Church of England as its Supreme Head. The Puritans were happy to break away from the Catholic Church, but they also wanted to purge themselves of the customs of the Catholic Church, which the Church of England was not keen to do. They themselves stayed part of the Anglican Church, so that they could reform it from the inside. The leaders of the Puritan reform, like clergymen, were able to do so because they still had access to the inner workings of the church, thereby still being able to affect it and change it (Bremer 7519).
Still, this gave them hardly enough ability to reform the Anglican Church. As they realized their efforts were failing, a new idea began to form within the Puritan community. They wanted to create a model community, one that could be the basis for how all Puritans lived their lives. John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, described how this community would be “as a City upon a Hill,” (Bremer 7520) which is an allusion to Jesus’ parable of the Salt and the Light from his Sermon on the Mount (Allison 4845). According to this quote the Puritans, led by John Winthrop, believed that establishing this community would bring them closer to what Jesus preached over a millennium and a half before the Great Reformation.
Thus, what is known as the “Great Migration” to New England occurred. A group of Puritans in the 1630’s moved from Britain to New England, specifically to found the colonies of New Haven, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. In addition, the more moderate community of Plymouth, Massachusetts, was formed. Although these Puritans moved to New England to escape the “too Catholic” Anglican Church, there were those who stayed in England who became the dissenting minority (Bremer 7520).
These people, those who stayed in England instead of immigrating to the New World, would now be the kinds of people that would think that moving to Mars for religious societal freedom is too much of a risk. The Puritans who stayed in England did not want to migrate to the New World because the opportunities they already had in England were too great to give up. The people who choose to stay on Earth instead of going to Mars may feel the same way: what if they were to give up all the comforts of living on Earth? What if they moved to Mars, where they had to fend for themselves and create their own government; would this be too difficult to do, too much of a strain for them? Those Puritans who moved to New England, and the religious groups that may want to move to Mars may answer “yes, but it is worth it.”
There is another group of religious dissenters that believed that the strain of moving to a new place was worth the opportunities that it brought for them: the Catholics of Maryland. In 1632 a charter was attained by the Catholic Cecilius Calvert, who represented many Catholics in England who wanted to escape the rules placed upon them by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I and her government (“Maryland” 9). Cecilius’ younger brother Leonard became the first governor of the colony, which started in St. Mary’s City on St. Clement’s Island at the mouth of the Potomac River. These people were careful to establish friendly relationships with the Native Americans of the area, so that they were not driven out by conflict. To make money, the colonists established tobacco farms on which they used indentured laborers and slaves for work (“Maryland” 10).
The Calverts established the Act of Religious Tolerance (1649) in Maryland, by which anyone who practiced Trinitarian Christianity were accepted and tolerated in the Royal Colony of Maryland. Although it made a landmark for future laws concerning religion, it did not affect border relations with other colonies and was repealed in 1692. Protestants of the area resented the Catholic rule of the colony, and so overthrew the government of the Calverts and an intermediary government controlled by the crown of England was put in place until the Calverts returned, who by that time had converted to Protestantism. Although Maryland was now under Protestant control, its history of religious tolerance made it a haven from religious oppression (“Maryland” 2).
The same could happen on Mars. There may not be competition between two religions on Mars, because the motivations for moving to Mars in the future are likely to be for different reasons, although still religious. Establishing Mars as a haven for those who want to escape from societal, not political oppression from religion, could be a great boon for a new Mars colony and future country. The people who are there could be able to boast that they live in a place that does not socially condemn people for believing in something that is not scientifically provable, yet spiritually possible.
The last religious movement discussed by the Mars Society is the Quaker movement, or the Society of Friends, best known for their pacifist ideals (“Quakers” 308). Many of their hymns advocate this true force of their religion. One of their songs, called “Chester,” was sort of a theme song for the American Revolution:
“Let tyrants shake their iron rod/ and slavery clank her galling chains, We fear them not; we trust in God/ New England’s God forever reigns./ When God inspired us for the fight/ Their ranks were broke, their lines were forced;/ Their ships were shattered in our sight/ Or swiftly driven from our coast/ The foe comes on with haughty stride;/ Our troops advance with martial noise./ Their veterans flee before our youth,/and generals yield to beardless boys,/What grateful offerings shall we bring?/What shall we render to the Lord?/ Loud Halleluiahs let us sing,/And praise his name on every chord (Quakers 310).”
Although this song has obviously integrated some American non-pacifist ideals into it, the Quaker idea that one should praise God with every action still remains.
Their move to the United States was led by William Penn, namesake of the current state of Pennsylvania. The largest Quaker populations were here and in New Jersey. William Penn founded the city of Philadelphia in 1682 as a haven for his fellow Quakers and other religious minorities. The name “Philadelphia,” meaning “brotherly love” in Latin, exemplifies the ideals of the Society of Friends. Philadelphia soon became well known for its religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity. At all times the Quakers were against war of any type, so they were behind many of the peaceful measures taken by the colonists against the British regime before the American Revolution began. During the war they still served their pacifist ideals by providing medical and financial help to the revolutionaries (“Quakers” 309). They were also against slavery in all its forms, fueling many abolition movements before, during, and after the American Civil War (“Quakers” 311).
Although pacifism exists today in a more modern and widespread form, it will not likely be the reason that socially religious dissidents will want to move to Mars. It is more likely, however, that a city somewhat like Philadelphia could be established on Mars—it could be a place where people can practice their religions without enduring scowls from mainstream society for “unreasonably” believing in something that cannot be physically proven. This city would take a long time to be established, however, because there would have to be a strong desire among many people on Earth to move to Mars to create this city. This desire definitely does not exist now, as we have not even sent a manned mission to Mars yet.
All of these dreams of a Mars colonized for expansionary, economic, and religious reasons may seem like very distant imaginings. The ideas we have for a colony on Mars can be extremely idealistic for now, because we have not actually created a Mars colony to create a basis for a realistic explanation of a Mars colony. However, we do have past colonization efforts to help us imagine what could happen on Mars. For example, people could become bored of the Mars colony and begin to lack the desire to stay there, as the Vikings did in Vinland. The colonists could exhaust Mars’ resources so that they cannot support themselves any longer, as the natives of Easter Island may have done. They could also get lost on Mars, even die there, without any people on Earth knowing exactly what happened to them—the same thing that happened on Roanoke Island during some of the first colonization efforts of the New World by Queen Elizabeth I of England. However, these are cautionary tales for the colonization of Mars. They do not predict the future of a Mars colony. In fact, the adverse could happen—we could use this information to create a positive colonial impact not just on Mars, but for the future of planetary exploration.
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