NASA blasted its new Perseverance rover off to Mars recently to study a crater for evidence of ancient lifeforms that may have once inhabited the Martian land. The move was a vital stepping stone as the space agency joins Elon Musk with a vision to send humans to Mars before the end of the decade in the hope of one day colonising it. And American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says the research is crucial for the survival of the human race in the long run.
During an episode on his StarTalk podcast, the 61-year-old was asked by co-host Chuck Nice: “Let’s say the world ends, do you think that is the end of the human race?”
To which Dr Tyson responded: “The answer is no.”
He added: “If Earth is destroyed – we have 4.5 billion years left – but if Earth is ready to be vaporised by the Sun, you need some ability to planet hop.
“The Sun will grow in size, the temperature of the surface will get hotter and hotter – then it’s time to move folks.
“You pick up your luggage and you move to Mars – the next farthest planet from the Sun.
“But the Sun will also start to make Mars hot, so you want to move farther out again.
“Then the Sun will eventually die and can no longer be a source of energy to any of us.”
But Dr Tyson says it’s vital to learn even more about the deeper cosmos as well.
He added: “Then you want to be able to star hop and another solar system to move to.
“You could become so smart that it’s impossible to survive because you invent something that is cool and it’s the end of the world.
“It was Kurt Vonnegut who wrote ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ who said ’this will be the last sentence ever spoken by humans’, it will be one scientist saying to another ‘let’s try it the other way.’
“Once you have the power over nature and the forces of nature are greater than you, then you are wielding forces that can render your own extinction.
“Almost everything we do interferes with nature, even farming.”
NASA has previously published its strategy for human exploration and colonisation of Mars.
There are three distinct phases of the plan leading up to fully sustained civilisation on the Red Planet.
The first stage, already under way, is the “Earth Reliant” phase, this will continue to use the International Space Station until 2024, validating deep space technologies and studying the effects of long-duration space missions on the human body.
The second stage, “Proving Ground,” ventures into deeper space for most of its tasks, to test the habitational feasibility and validate capabilities required for human exploration of Mars.
Finally, phase three, the “Earth Independent” stage includes long-term missions on the Red Planet with surface habitats that only require routine maintenance, and the harvesting of Martian resources for fuel, water, and building materials.
Mr Musk’s aspirations are for SpaceX to land the first humans on Mars by 2024.
Starship, the company’s fully-reusable launch vehicle will land two cargo vehicles on the Red Planet in 2022 to confirm water resources and identify hazards.
They will then place power, mining and life support infrastructure for future missions.
Two years later two crewed Starship cargo vehicles will bring more equipment and supplies, set up a propellant production plant and build a base.