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2d01 – It is worth going to Mars!

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Is it actually worth the effort? Dirk says no, Sebastian argues yes!

Picture credit: By ESO/M. Kornmesser – Artist’s impression of Mars four billion years ago, CC BY 4.0, link.

Episode Transcript

Sebastian – Hi everyone! Welcome to our very first pilot of this debating podcast. I’m Sebastian and my co-host is Dirk right here in front of me. Today we will debate on the following question: is it worth going to Mars, the planet? But before we go into the details of that debate, let’s explain how it will run: so it goes in three parts the first part is that each side will have two minutes to deliver a speech presenting their arguments in favor or against that motion of going to Mars or not. Then the second part will be another three minutes each to respond to the other side’s initial argument and possibly add further arguments to defend their case. And finally we’ll have one minute each the closing remarks. Dirk, would you like to present yourself?

Dirk – Hi I’m Dirk. I’m the co-host of this new debating podcast.

Sebastian – But what’s interesting about you is that you’re actually an active podcaster already.

Dirk – Yeah that’s true.

Sebastian – I have no experience in this.

Dirk – You have no experience?

Sebastian – Absolutely not!

Dirk – You’re like a pro. Yes I am. I am running 2 shows already.

Sebastian – OK so what we did yesterday because this is a pilot, we actually already flipped the coin to decide who would be for and who would be against the motion. So it turns out that I, Sebastian, will be for the motion that is “it is worth going to Mars?” and Dirk will be against it. Now we’re going to flip the coin to know who’s going to start with their first speech so Dirk, you are heads and I’m tails and whoever has their side of the coin will start the debate. And it’s heads said Dirk has the pleasure to start the debate. Okay so whenever you’re ready Dirk you have two minutes and then I will start my own speech. Are you ready?

Dirk – Yeah I’m ready!

Sebastian – Okay let’s get started!

Dirk – I think it’s not worth going to Mars and my reasons are three-folds. Number one I believe economically it’s just not the useful and sensible thing to do; it’s very expensive to go to Mars Elon shared with us the current projection, he says it will come down to the cost of the equivalent of one house in the States to fly to Mars if we follow his plan and I’d like to remind everyone that there are still plenty of people on the planet that cannot afford a house if we spend that kind of money on, I don’t know, giving everyone water or making sure everyone actually has a house, I think that is a more useful use of resources than flying to Mars. Also flying to Mars will pose quite a number of expensive challenges: so you have to build the infrastructure, you have to create the rockets that fly you there, the cities we’re going to build at Mars and such; it’s not coming with a ready-built economy of its own so it’s not a given that we will see that that so-called return of investment anytime soon and I think this kind of money, this kind of resources is better spent elsewhere. The second argument is an argument of practicality: there are actually plenty of places in our solar system that are easier to reach than Mars. Mars just happened to be the poetic won that one everyone kind of has in its mind: how about we start with having a base on the Moon which is easier to reach because it’s in our system and we don’t have to wait 22 months before we come back from there. And here I am running out of time so I’m not getting to my third argument.

Sebastian – You can add this afterwards. You have a second part with an additional three minutes which is not just about responding but maybe for your additional backpocket arguments, holding them. OK let’s reset this: my turn, two minutes and it’s indeed very quick, two minutes, so I am tempted to respond to you but the game is, or the exercise is actually not respond but to actually give you my initial speech so it’s a bit tricky because I have some of the counter-arguments already. Okay my two minutes. I have a dream! I have a dream that by 2100 we will have colonies on various planets and we have to get started somewhere and I have a dream that indeed humanity will survive, that we will not nuke ourselves with nuclear weapons, you never know what is gonna happen in North Korea, you never know what’s gonna happen by accident, if Trump pressing the wrong button, right? So I am very, very eager for Humanity to maybe give it to give itself another chance to survive maybe beyond 2100 so let’s get started quite quickly and finding another planet, and Mars will not be enough by the way because of what’s going to happen to the Sun in what 4.5 billion years and it’s tomorrow! Try saying like it just you know the planet exists but what 4.5 billion years itself so it’s literally tomorrow so we better get started somewhere. So we find indeed, maybe going to the Moon first then to Mars than to another planet then to another solar system and I think yesterday I just read in the news that we discovered the universe is ten times bigger than what we thought. So great, I mean, we will find hopefully another planet, another system where it’s livable for human species but for this, you need to get started somewhere and I had the dream that we can indeed reach that possibility fairly quickly. So my argument here is that we should get started very quickly and we can talk about money and I’ll talk about this in my later argument. And the dream aspect is also another thing: it’s a shiny project people want to dream, people want to have a hope to look forward to something. When people landed on the moon I think it was a huge thing. I remember my mom telling me like she was watching TV for this. Imagine reaching Mars: I have that dream! OK your turn now, Dirk, and I have to change my timer to 3 minutes. So for for this next section, you have three minutes to add further arguments and then you can also respond to any of my points. Are you ready?

Dirk – I’m ready! I like how you said that we should start somewhere in need to go to Mars to basically have a second base for humankind in case something goes wrong. So some might argue that this is exactly what is wrong with that idea because after trashing Earth, we go on to the next planet instead of solving the problems we have here. Also going to other places in the universe, well, the closest planet to a system to ours is Proximus Centauri and if you fly with today’s physics that is to that system it takes several decades to get there and back. So my guess is we got to be stuck with our planet in the solar system for a while and probably maybe making Earth the best place and in the solar system is something we should continue pursuing. The other argument was about to make is an argument of sheer practicality. Mars is just not a very habitable planet by any chance so it has temperatures between 0 and 70 degrees below Celsius and is generally not suitable for us to to breathe on, to walk in the Sun. All these beautiful pictures with those mountains are actually taken out of almost vacuum atmosphere and we just don’t know if we really can survive longer than let’s say a year, which is the maximum survival right now that we have experienced within the ISS, which is still kind of close to Earth so we can do something about anything that comes up. So my counter argument to you is it’s not really practical and it’s a danger to our own current habitat if we basically say “hey we have a replacement so we don’t have to take care of our problems here because we are extending the place”. If you put the same kind of resources that we spend for going to Mars into protecting our Earth, for instance having something like the Hubble telescope orbiting the Sun instead of the Earth and therefore seeing asteroids and other dangers that come out way early enough so we can do something about it: that would be a better investment of resources in my book and I believe also, dreams aside, still something to dream for even if it’s not having people walking on Mars. Finally, I believe if we make the argument of learning something about our own ecosystem and extending it, sending a robot to Mars is probably the more practical solution.

Sebastian – OK thank you Dirk for these enlightening three minutes, it’s my time to get those three minutes now. Alright so I love your argument. Let me start with the final argument you had: sending a robot. Well turns out we have already already done that so let’s do better than that. If that’s your dream, it’s not enough for me clearly. OK I’ll take your arguments one by one actually. So you said it’s not very habitable: well you know this global warming on Earth, so I guess a lot of people will enjoy a bit of the cold weather (on Mars) if it’s too hot. I’m joking of course, I’m joking but I believe in the progress of science. We may recreate an atmosphere; in fact we have been talking for planet Earth of injecting stuff in the atmosphere to try and fight against global warming so I’m a little bit worried about what we’re gonna do to this planet so might as well use it on another planet as an experiment to see if we can actually create an atmosphere. Who knows, who knows what we can do here. Finally sending you know people to other systems well, yes it may take several decades. The thing is well maybe we need an intermediate base, right, to actually be able to propel yourself to some other system and again you need to get started somewhere because at any point, in any case, the Sun will become like a red dwarf and it is going to just you know englobe the entire solar system so you have we will have to exit it at some point if we want to survive as a species. Starting somewhere, you said, we should solve the problems on Earth first. Well, you know, destroying another planet, well maybe you can choose who goes there. You know we don’t have to go together, that’s perfectly fine, you know I think you know from being in Germany, you’re environmentally friendly so maybe you get a free pass but honestly I think we can choose, we don’t have to send Trump there, or maybe we can send him and only him and North Korean leaders and OK we can actually go outside and enjoy fantastic so let’s go to Mars. Thank you, thank you and we haven’t even finished the debate but I had further arguments and it was actually the ones, the counterpoint of what you were saying around the economic aspect of it. The thing is we’re talking mostly about private money, right, so private money basically we do whatever you want. Yes, Obama has said a few days ago (in October 2016), a few weeks ago that he wants to have Americans go Mars or humanity to go to Mars but case in point ,right now it’s mostly private money which is funding a lot of the research so you know anyone can choose what they do ,where they want to do in that current capitalist system. Also what’s important with that dream aspect is it what we’ve seen in the past is when you have the space projects ,you actually have an influx of students who want who actually want to be in science degrees, right, so it’s actually a good way to incentivize people to actually be a bit more of engineering and physics at university. And finally, it is also from a science and research perspective, a good way to learn about our own origins of life and maybe learn more about medicine, agriculture in an environment which is very different. So yes, I do maintain that it’s worth going to Mars. Okay we have one more minute to close off and you start whenever you want.

Dirk – So clearly you like comparing a ten-year-old rover with today’s AI and robotics machinery, I would argue that is something that is to be disputed and I believe dreaming of other places in our solar system and dreaming of a clean planet is worthwhile pursuing. The general idea of going to other planets within that timeframe that our Sun has yet to live, I actually think we’re going to go to Mars sometime I just don’t think that it needs to be in the next hundred or two hundred years. So in those, what was it 6.4 billion years that we still have to live, I’m not convinced that we need to start now with inhabiting Mars. I think there are other places to explore.

Sebastian – Fair enough. My turn. OK it is not incompatible to preserve Earth and going to Mars, it is not incompatible to fight against hunger and get people educated on this planet and go to Mars. There’s enough money around the planet, it is just not distributed very well right, I think it’s a very well-known fact and we can look into studies around this but this is not the issue. We can do multiple things at once and we have a lot of people on this planet hopefully there’s a lot of talent so that gives you a lot of opportunities to explore. Finally people want a dream. Let’s look at the success of Star Trek or Star Wars, I’m not even a big fan, but actually going to the movies is like exciting, right, you actually go there and explore the outer boundaries of the universe with a spaceship. Come on, don’t tell me that you haven’t gone to the cinema and seen these films or downloaded them or, you know, streamed on free streaming website. Come on you want to dream you’ve seen Interstellar, you’ve seen all these films you want to go out there. I have a dream, you have it too.

Sebastian – We’re done! OK closing.

Dirk – I want to live on the Moon. Can we do these things first? We keep doing we keep doing the second step because we didn’t. It’s like starting the second million because the first million didn’t work out.

Sebastian – Fair enough but I think if you haven’t yet we’ve already gone to the Moon but the problem is as you as you probably have read in an article is that the nice thing about Mars is that it has an almost similar your gravity, a third of the gravity and the rotation right in terms like the day is almost as long as on Earth so it’s easier for us to accommodate.

Dirk – I actually read up on that that one honestly and the interesting piece is we don’t even know if you can function for a long time with a third the gravity so plenty, a lot of the life on Earth depends on the the parameters you find here, including the gravity so it is an interesting question, for instance can we conceive children on Mars, it’s not sure. And I didn’t get into that but what made it to my arguments list actually that I thought about: what is the damage done to your body while you’re traveling there, there is quite a bit of radiation and on Mars too. So you have to get there and basically we have to live from the ground.

Sebastian – In Fukushima too there’s a bit of radiation still.

Dirk – Still I people living underground are not very happy.

Sebastian – I agree but I think it’s an interesting for research purposes. I mean to be honest I’d be scared to be among the first explorers but then I would not buy the first ticket there. If I know you can imagine like you would recreate maybe an environment where to simulate the gravity where you live into this dome or something or you have a suit which somehow reproduces this so your organs just like float around in your body because you don’t have much gravity. I don’t know, I’m just excited to see what could happen. I just, I just wish I were born today or in a hundred or in a thousand years. Oh my god, I am so frustrated. I hope, I think I’m immortal actually. I’m gonna live forever.

Dirk – Well so far, I didn’t die so statistics work for me.

Well I’ve got a few health issues here and there so that’s not going great. Okay so that’s it we’re done with today’s debate: let us know what you thought of the debate in the comments of our whatever website we’re going to give you. Don’t hesitate to let us know what better or other arguments we could have used to make better case for either side. Thanks very much for listening. Any final words, Dirk?

Dirk – Thank you so much for making that a great debate and now I think you kind of won.

Sebastian – You’re too generous. No final words. Okay, it’s okay, I stop the recording.

Dirk – Next time I’m going to be prepared up to the roof.

Sebastian – Oh sh*t! I thought that was the most you could do. It’s fun. I like to win! Clearly, I have won right?

Dirk – In terms of discussion quality, you did.

Sebastian – I have the massive final argument because you can’t finish after me. I’m joking, I don’t have anything anymore. I’ll use everything against you. I’ll put my own camera next to me. Just to be absolutely certain you are Dirk and you agree to be recorded on video here.

Dirk – I am Dirk.

Sebastian – And I’m going to give you a paper to sign it as well. Perfect! Because you never know, German, regular.

Dirk – Americans are famous for the lawyers, not the Germans.

Sebastian – What law does apply here since we’re here in New York, US soil. Yeah so anyway you give your consent. You’re gonna suffer, my friend. This is serious stuff. What can happen to the Sun in what 4.5 billion years and it’s tomorrow! For Christ’s sake!

Dirk – Yeah so if you put in your famous sense of humour, we’re gonna going to get to Mars and back!

Sebastian – Okay good, I love you too!

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