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Ethics of Sending Human to Mars

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  • Published
    1st Sep, 2021


From Elon Musk’s vision to build a human city on Mars to the recent pioneering space flight by Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. It appears to be setting the stage for the future of space tourism. All these developments raise concerns about the ethics of sending a human to Mars.


  • The idea of going to Mars seems new but actually, it's not. In 1966 Gordon R. Woodcock from the George C. Marshall Space Flight Centre had come up with the idea of using Saturn V launch vehicle from the Apollo Mission could be used for Mars exploration.
  • The two competing ideas –“duty to maintain the light of consciousness–via space colonization” and the duty to make the world, where we live a “just and equitable place” opens a pandora of ethical issues which need a deeper introspection.


Space exploration has resulted in many extraordinary discoveries, but it has also led inevitable exploitation of natural as well as human resources. Why are we so much inclined towards going to Mars? There are many answers to it, a few of them are mentioned below:

  • To conquer an uncharted territory.
  • We have exhausted the resources that Earth has to offer, so we need more.
  • Quest to look for the possibility of finding life.

Keeping the reasons aside, what come forefront is the Ethical question of sending humans to Mars. The space environment is not viable to support human life, so newethical issues concerning the value of human life may appear. We need to look into the possible ethical challenges and issues, which may appear during a human mission to Mars and moreover the ethics of sendinghumans to Mars at the first instance.

Claim for Ownership:

  • The whole exercise of sending humans to Mars surfaces the issues about the ownership claims. Does the first country that puts its foot on the surface of another world get to claim ownership? All of this shall not do any better for the future of space exploration than it had for human history on Earth. If we want to settle on another planet, it is probably going to be an outcome of multinational efforts in harmony, else it may lead to a conflict among the competing nations who are striving to make it a reality.
  • Capitalism and consumerism have adversely turned our species into a parasitic one. Increased consumption has increased the area of our landfills while the ethical standards that we expect from businesses are declining. The cocktail of Industry and mindless consumerism has created our current state. Thoughtful consumerism can possibly save us from the race of capturingother planets to fulfil our ever-growing needs.

Possible Harm to Martian life forms

  • One of the strongest ethical argumentsthat are not in resonance with the idea ofsending humans to Mars and colonizing it,is the possibility of causing a potential to harm any indigenous life forms that might be existing there.
  • Surelyanything can’t be said firmlyabout such life forms at the moment. The discovery of liquid water (and evidencethat indicates that Mars may once have had it in relative abundance) strengthen the possibility of Mars having life forms on it in the past.
  • The possibilities of processes happening right now through which life on Mars could emerge cannot be ruled out. Sending humanswould disrupt these processes. Our sense of moral community is inclusive and extends to life forms that sufficiently resemble Earth life forms and otherwise.

Potential harmful impacts on Earth

  • It is not a narrative but a fact that space travel uses depleting natural resources and generates waste products. It can’t be denied that it shifts funds away from other projects or purposes. The ethical issue here is not confined to the amplitude of the costs involved for sending human missionsrelative to the benefits. It also raises a question, how those costs and benefits are distributed — of whether the people who bear the costs will also be experiencing the benefits.
  • We mustalso weigh the impacts of shifting scientific and engineering human resources to the task of sendinghumans to Mars instead of addressing other human aspirations and needs, few of them are quite pressing. For example, to address diseases, climate change, war, social and economic inequality.

Potential long-term impacts on Human life

  • We are wonderfully fit for Earth, but the same is not true with other planets. They are cold, empty, without or with a thin atmosphere. Especially the exposure to radiation, for which space suits and ships provide little protection are few of exhaustive list of threats.
  • Earth’s magnetic fields and atmosphere shelter us from the ionizing radiation from outer space. On the surface of Mars (which lacks a magnetic field or much atmosphere) or aboard a spaceship, exposure to cosmic radiationwould kill cells and make them malfunction. The affected cells cause heart disease or might result in cognitive decline. DNA damage is even worse,leading to mutations that cause cancer and heritable diseases.

Risks with longhuman space flight:

  • Health hazards from space radiation; the possibility of a mission getting sabotaged by the crew itself – based on studies of isolated communities, psycho-social issues; physiological risk– including bone and muscle loss due to the near absence of gravity; and medical risk – difficulties of treating injuries and illness. Space provides the harshest possible human environment, exceeding conditions that cannot be experienced on Earth. It is important to note that, more is unknown about the physical and mental challenges of space travel than is known.
  • So, what makes risk ethical? The answer has been one thing: “consent”. The ethical considerations take a different path if we think of the crew as military personnel. We anticipate soldiers to encountersubstantial risk. And think of the explorers who travelled to distant and secluded places with no thought of return. The mission if done must be done publicly for peaceful purposes, by free people, with the results considered common stock.

To answerethical questions related to sending humans to Mars or the colonisation of Mars, we usually resort to the three important ethical theories:

  1. Consequentialism
  2. Deontology and
  3. Virtue ethics
Consequentialism Theory: It focuses on judging the moral worth of the results of the actions. Actions are determined to be right or wrong based on consequences.The rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by its consequences.
Deontological Theory:It focuses on judging the actions themselves. How we are to act in a given situation and comes bundled with the concept of duty.The rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by moral duties.
Virtue Ethics: This differs from both deontology and consequentialism as it focuses on being overdoing. It tells us primarily about what kind of person we are and should be.The rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by the reasons (motives) one has for acting and these motives flow from one’s character.
  • Space ethics is no different and it is meaningful enough to find the answer to the above questions by examining how they each fit into our available ethical frameworks. The development and nurturing of virtuous characteristics that make us ready to act in an ethical wayis the best approach when the moral landscape is uncertain and unpredictable.
  • Owing to the unpredictability aspects of human activity in space, we should ask the meta-ethical question of whether these normative theories and frameworks, which were constructed to guide human action and interaction on earth, are relevant to the space outside. Or do we require new space ethics?
  • The story is not complete without looking at the other side. The human expansion of space is regarded not only as an obvious phenomenon but also as a natural process of human evolution. Colonization of space objects is sometimes being seen as to become a common practice in the short term. Lately, we are experiencing the formation of a sequence of actions that, at the first stage, will lead to the colonization of Mars. And it is difficult to side with anyone possibility.


  • Ahigher sensibility of consciousness, rationality, ethics and values is required to build the future generations. Mere having the technical expertise to do something doesn’t mean that we should do it. Sending humans to Mars is going to be an expensive and risky venture if the goal just amounts to having Mars for our own.To sum up, Bravery is not enough: Realistic preparation is crucial.
  • At the same time, we need to consider how best to engage with radically different life forms, cultures and environments. We may be capable of scripting a new constitution and givingit to ourselves fora completely new form of engagement with other planets but we should begin with the presumption that we need to counter our invasive impact on another planet that may be completely defenceless—before we embark on a new era of galactic exploration and imperial conquest.

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