As the public face of science for so many people, Bill Nye frequently encounters people who are eager to explore Mars and establish a human population on the Red Planet. Big Think fan Sam Whitehead wants to know what explains this enthusiasm? We are by our nature explorers, says Nye. Human history is the history of expanding beyond known boarders in search of something else. But our usual enthusiasm for terrestrial adventure does not automatically translate to a martian expedition.
Conditions on Mars are far more hostile than anything humans face on Earth: there is no air on the surface, for example. But if establishing a human society on Mars is not a likely reality in the near term (it is not), we should at least have an outpost, says Nye, just like we do in Antartica. Having a home base for scientific research is essential for another kind of human progress: the advancement of knowledge.
Were humans to discover life on Mars — there is evidence of liquid water flows beneath the martian surface each years, and every place water is present on Earth supports life — it would change our basic understanding of the universe, rivaling the discoveries of Galileo and Copernicus. We would no longer be a lonely planet, and discovering life beyond Earth would reorient our ethical concerns outward toward the cosmos.
The final reason why Nye believes people are so fascinated with exploring Mars, and indeed why it is a worthwhile endeavor, is that no individual like Galileo or Copernicus would make a discovery. Any scientific findings would be a true societal achievement, and evidence that a large group of people can come together to make truly revolutionary change.