Over 50 years ago scientists and futurists began discussing that we had reached the point technologically that we could alter the atmospheres on other planets and make them suitable for human life, plants and animals (google terraforming and Carl Sagan). 17 years ago NASA scientist Robert Zubrin put forth a way to begin the colonization of Mars for the cost of one stealth bomber (Robert Zubrin, The Case for Mars).
Mars is considered the easiest planet for us to “terraform”. Mars has polar ice caps (the north is water, the south C02). Mars has an atmosphere which we can thicken up, heat and oxygenate a variety of ways (melt the caps, get the hydrological cycle going, rev up the volcanoes, introduce mosses, algae, lichens to begin with, and then more complex plants, build a smokestack and crank out CFCs!) Mars’ soil (regolith) contains the basic components we need to make oxygen, bricks and other things. It’s fascinating to consider an entire world within reaching distance where humans could expand onto – a new version of the colonization of North America.
But for most North American Christians, considering the terraforming and settling of Mars is outside the boundaries of their theological imaginations, because they assume the return of Jesus is relatively imminent and what business do we have on other planets anyway?
Here’s my answer to that: the period between Jesus’ first advent and second advent has already encompassed over 2000 years, despite the fact that most of the New Testament generation seemed to expect it would happen during their lifetime. There’s no indication that God won’t wait another 10,000 or 50,000 or 100,000 years. We simply have no way of gauging that. Acting as if we only need think about the next 50 years is not good stewardship, literally. We should assume we have 10,000 years ahead of us in this solar system and plan accordingly.
And while we are talking about stewardship, the Genesis image is that we are granted the role of stewards, managers, household directors of God’s good Creation. The planets are part of God’s creation. If we know how to extend our reach to make them good places for humans to live, why wouldn’t we? It’s similar to the settlement of North America by Europeans, just a different direction.
The carrying capacity of earth is notoriously hard to figure. Numbers thought rock solid 200 years ago are laughable today. We feed 50 times as many people as was thought possible in 1813. One thing for sure though, if we want a human civilization of well-being to include the people of the southern hemisphere and Asia, we will be wanting more space at some point in history. Extending our stewardship to further parts of God’s creation brings glory to Him, I believe, rather than transgressing some imaginary bounds.
Since white people aren’t starving in large numbers, Western governments don’t have a compelling reason to spend money on the settlement of Mars. Thus, at present only private industry is seriously looking at an upcoming attempt. I’m sure once settlement is viable and there are economic gains to be made, governments will suddenly realize they have wonderful, altruistic reasons to control and regulate the settlement of Mars and elsewhere (think Antarctic Treaty). In the meantime it would be nice for the Christian worldview to be one of the voices at the table for the development of God’s cosmos.