Code Red

The reality of putting human settlements on Mars is closer than ever, but is it a good idea?

The Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. the world and its people belong to him.” (Psalm 24:1)

But what happens when those people abandon that world altogether? This November, academy Award- and Emmy-winning producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard are launching MARS, a dramatic miniseries based in scientific reality. the show envisions the first human crew sent to inhabit the red planet in 2033.

What’s unique about the series is the scientific foundations it is built upon. Leading innovators and scientists, including SpaceX founder Elon Musk and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, all consulted on the show to make sure it was based in scientific fact instead of science fiction.

Mars exploration is a universally exciting and beneficial premise for the scientific community, but the concept of building permanent human settlements on the planet is actually a point of contention.

In September, Musk unveiled SpaceX’s plan for a human mission to Mars by the year 2024—at the cost of tens of billions of dollars. NASA’s plan is to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Musk’s team has already successfully landed their Falcon 9 reusable rocket on a drone ship off the East Coast of the U.S. this past April, a technology key to SpaceX’s Mars plan. (It was a groundbreaking feat likened to throwing a pencil over the Empire State Building and landing it on a shoebox on the other side—in a windstorm.)

SpaceX’s plan appears achievable. But it is not about space exploration for Musk; it is to create a new home for humanity because of inevitable Earth extinction.

“The future of humanity is fundamentally going to bifurcate along one of two directions: Either we’re going to become a multi-planet species and a spacefaring civilization, or we’re going to be stuck on one planet until some eventual extinction event,” he says. “In order for me to be excited and inspired about the future, it’s got to be the first option.”

Tyson, though, disagrees with Musk. For him, the question is not “could we?” but also “should we?” Tyson isn’t convinced that we have to send humans to Mars; he bets it would take less effort and less money to figure out how to survive threats to Earth than to colonize another planet in order to maintain the species: “I think we should visit planets, as you’d visit any place you’ve never been before,” he says. “But we evolved on Earth to live on Earth.”

In other words, why spend the money to go to Mars, when the resources to solve Earth’s problems are here?

This tension—whether to invest in fixing this planet or invest in finding another one—could end up being one of the most important questions our generation faces. And it has a unique application when it comes to Christian theology.

In short, does God have a plan for humanity specifically on Earth, or does He intend for us to create our own future and populate other planets as a sort of backup plan?

Jim Stump of the organization BioLogos, a thinktank dedicated to exploring Christianity and science, believes the disagreement between Musk’s and Tyson’s perspectives is a conversation people of faith need to join.

Stump says Christians are called to explore creation—an act that helps learn more about the Creator. “The first chapter of Genesis basically commands us to do that—to uncover what God has done,” he said.

The question then becomes, does uncovering everything God made within the “heavens and earth” extend to colonizing worlds beyond this one?

It’s a question that soon may not simply be the stuff of science fiction, but a reality for people who may be calling the Red Planet home.

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A few challenges of living on Mars

Mars’ air is less than 1 percent of the density of Earth’s and more than 95 percent carbon dioxide

The average temperature on Mars is minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit

Lacking a substantial magnetic field like Earth’s, Mars cannot deflect harmful radiation from space

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Mars’ gravity is 38 percent of Earth’s

Communication signals from Earth take between 3 and 24 minutes to reach Mars—one way

A year on Mars is 687 days

Spacecrafts take a minimum of six months to travel to Mars

The miniseries premieres on National Geographic on November 14.

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