Setting Mars Free: What Allegiance to Earth Should A Human Colony on Mars Retain?

NASA continues to plan for manned missions to Mars in the 2030s. NASA’s missions plan for humans to land, stay perhaps for as long as a few months, and return. Others have bolder plans. Probably the most daunting problem with a traditional Mars mission is getting astronauts back. Why not solve that problem by letting them stay as permanent colonists on Mars?

Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which already builds Falcon 9 rockets that resupply the International Space Station, plans to build a massive rocket of unprecedented size called “Interplanetary Transport System” which could carry up to 100 colonists to Mars at a time. The “Mars One” organization has its own plans to land human colonists on Mars for long-term or permanent residence as soon as the middle to late 2020s.

It seems inevitable that some sort of human colony, or colonies, will eventually exist on Mars, possibly even within our generation. Everyone assumes that such a colony would be the “property” of the country/countries that put it there, with the colonists retaining the citizenship of whatever nations they are from. But will that work for the long term?

Eventually, “Martian” interests would diverge from the interests of those on Earth who sent them there. This has always been the experience of colonization here on Earth. (Consider the American Revolution.) Surely colonies separated by the vastness of space, existing in a completely different environment, would come to feel even less connection to their “homeland” over time. Think of the second and third generation “Martians” who grow up, live and die, never having seen Earth, never mind their supposed “home” countries. How long could we expect these people to continue thinking of themselves as Americans (or whatever)? This is particularly true considering that private organizations such as SpaceX and Mars One appear to be leading current colonization efforts, rather than national space programs like NASA.

This fascinating question was probably first explored by Isaac Asimov in his 1952 novella The Martian Way. In that story, the Martian Colonists remain dependent under increasingly despotic Earth rule because of their need for water from Earth. However, they achieve and declare their independence from Earth after providing for their own water by moving a large chunk of ice from Saturn’s rings. The notion of Mars fighting to achieve its independence from Earth was also a primary feature in the two Total Recall movies and Cidney Swanson’s Saving Mars series.

At least one forward thinking scientist studying this question has a radical proposition. Dr. Jacob Haqq-Misra of the Blue Marble Space Institute for Science suggests that any Martian colony, upon its creation, should be free and independent from Earth with the people of the new colony losing their citizenships on Earth. They would instead be citizens of a free, independent and sovereign Mars to govern themselves as they deem fit. In his article The Transformative Value of Liberating Mars, Dr. Hagg-Misra details just such a plan that is further discussed in a Popular Science article.

But I see a problem with this. In Brenda Hiatt’s Starstruck novels, a sprawling colony on Mars, with its roughly quarter of a million people, has existed independent of Earth for nearly 3,000 years after being brought there, then abandoned by their alien overlords, the Grentl. Those living in Nuath were never regarded as part of any Earth government and they achieved both their political and economic independence long before most modern nations on Earth (including the United States) existed. The Nuathans of Starstruck never had to achieve independence from Earth because they were never dependent upon it.

That’s a problem. Earth colonial history suggests a colony cannot become independent of its host nation until it has achieved some degree of economic independence from that nation. A Mars colony, likely for quite some time, would be heavily dependent on Earth for basic supplies. That economic dependence would likely make political independence difficult for them. Even in Asimov’s The Martian Way, the Martian colonists had to effectively end their economic dependence on Earth before declaring their political independence. Similarly, the citizens of a real, future Mars colony might not ever become wholly self-sufficient, any more than any nation on Earth truly is, but would eventually need to create their own products or services of value to trade with Earth, in a roughly equal exchange, to move their relationship with their home planet from parasitic to symbiotic.

Still, with enough time, it seems unimaginable that a colony, or colonies, on Mars would not eventually cut the 100 million mile umbilical cord to Earth. Perhaps it’s not too soon to start thinking about how we might make that transition a smooth and nonviolent one, so that it will not mirror the various colonial battles for independence scattered throughout Earth’s history. Sure, a gradual, peaceful solution might not make for great fiction, but I’m guessing my great-grandchildren will be able to live with that!

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Retired lawyer & Army vet in The Villages of Florida. Lifelong: Republican (pre-Trump), Constitution buff, science nerd & dog lover. Twitter: @KeithDB80

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