America is a land of plenty, but an American colony on Mars, which NASA scientists and Elon Musk's SpaceX hope to begin by 2030, would be anything but. A scarcity of crucial resources like water and air, and the high stakes of even temporarily running out, suggest that any Martian government would function as a military dictatorship.
That poses serious challenges to maintaining the liberties we prize here on Earth. So to answer that challenge, the British Interplanetary Society recently convened in London to imagine what a free and democratic Martian colony would look like.
In order for the colony to survive, violent revolution would be best avoided at all costs, as conference organiser Charles Cockell, professor of astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh, explained:
“Say, for example, you don’t like your government and you resort to revolution,” says Cockell. “Someone goes and smashes up the habitat, destroys the windows and instantly the place is depressurised, the oxygen is lost, and everyone dies.
The consequences of violence in space could be much more catastrophic than on Earth, so how do you dissent in an environment in which violent disobedience might kill everyone?”
The conference ultimately recommended founding documents based on the American Constitution and Bill of Rights, believing that free expression of thought and democratic principles are the best combination of rule and freedom to secure peace.
One freedom we currently enjoy, the freedom to opt-out of society, would likely not be possible on Mars. Everyone's efforts and skills would be needed for the group to survive, and hoarding resources for one's private use would soon spell death.
Former NASA astronaut Ron Garan argues that a moon base would be the best way to create space-based societies. If we get our footing closer to home, a Martian venture would be more successful.