27 September 2023

A space oddity: Whoever thought humans could live on Mars?

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Katharine Lackey* says that famous science educator Bill Nye supports exploration of the Red Planet, but he says the idea that we will one day live on it is pure science fiction.

Sorry, Elon Musk.

Bill Nye says the idea of Mars colonisation and terraforming — making a planet more Earth-like by modifying its atmosphere — is “science fiction.”

“This whole idea of terraforming Mars, as respectful as I can be, are you guys high?” Nye said in an interview with USA TODAY.

“We can’t even take care of this planet where we live, and we’re perfectly suited for it, let alone another planet.”

As for living on Mars permanently: sorry, Nye says, that’s not happening either.

“People disagree with me on this, and the reason they disagree is because they’re wrong,” he quipped.

The famous science educator and CEO of The Planetary Society appears on National Geographic Channel’s series MARS.

While the series explores human beings living on the Red Planet and even mining it, that doesn’t mean Nye buys into the idea.

For starters, he points to Antarctica, where scientists are stationed even during the harsh winter months, but no one lives permanently.

“Nobody goes to Antarctica to raise a family,” Nye said.

“You don’t go there and build a park, there’s just no such thing.”

“Nobody’s going to go settle on Mars to raise a family and have generations of Martians,” Nye said.

“It’s not reasonable because it’s so cold.”

“And there is hardly any water.”

“There’s absolutely no food, and the big thing, I just remind these guys, there’s nothing to breathe.”

Plus living in a dome, then putting on a spacesuit to go outside will get tiring — fast.

“When you leave your dome, you’re going to put on another dome, and I think that will get old pretty quick,” he said.

“Especially the smell in the spacesuit — all the Febreze you can pack, I think it will really help you up there.”

But Nye is still in favour of astronauts travelling to the Red Planet.

“I want to find evidence of life on another world in my lifetime, so Mars in the next logical place to look,” he said.

“People say what are you going to find there?”

“We don’t know, and that’s why we go and explore the unknown horizon.”

The reason the Red Planet captivates us so much is because it’s like Earth in a variety of ways, Nye said.

While it’s quite a bit smaller and has lower gravity, it also has ice caps, seasons and days just like here on Earth.

“You can see it in the night sky, it’s romantic,” Nye said.

“You want to say, ‘Let’s just drive over there, take a trip, have a look around.’”

But sending astronauts has a very practical purpose: what our best rovers on the planet can do in a week, a human can do in about five minutes, Nye said.

“We would send people there to make discoveries,” he said.

“To explore, that’s the big idea.”

“So, when we go to Mars, you don’t know what you’re going to find, it’ll be new.”

“I guarantee it will be amazing.”

Particularly amazing would be to find life on the Red Planet.

“If we were to find evidence of life on Mars … it would change the course of human history,” Nye said.

“Everybody would feel differently about being a living thing in the cosmos.”

* Katharine Lackey is breaking news editor at USA TODAY. She tweets at @katharinelackey.

This article first appeared at www.usatoday.com.

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