Martian Misery: Is a Ghost Town for You?

Written by Dr Klaus L E Kaiser

As the Daily Mail reports: “SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, wants to send a MILLION people to live in glass domes on Mars within ’40 to 100 years’.” I hope Elon lives long enough to partake of his dreams himself. What better way to get into the (future) history books than “leading the charge” oneself.

Of course, if the current projections as the size of world’s population by the year 2050 are even vaguely realistic, then there will already be close to 5,000 million people in Africa alone. That could then be approximately one third of the world’s population of, perhaps, 15,000 million. From that perspective, a million (more or less) inhabitants on Earth are not going to make a significant difference to the total of the human population on this planet.


But Mr. Musk has even bigger dreams: his plans are for “making humans a ‘multiplanetary species” traveling through the interplanetary space on his (SpaceX) company’s proposed “Interplanetary Transport System”passenger modules. According to the same source, Musk also said “The responsibility of the first settlers on Mars would be to ‘build out and troubleshoot the propellant plant” and they would also be responsible for creating the power system for ‘Mars Base Alpha’.

Too bad for me, I missed the deadline for applications to start this new life of riley (??) on planet Mars though I’m a bit uncertain about the statement as to “SpaceX’s [SX] Dragon spacecraft would initially scout out the ‘best way’ to extract water for fuel reactions.” How does SX propose to convert water (that doesn’t exist there) by which means, via undefined “fuel reactions” to a powerful rocket propellant?

Never mind, I’m getting lost in details. The question simply is: Do such futuristic projections instill confidence in you? By my strictly earthen experience, they do not.

Learn from Experience

There are numerous examples of high-flying outfits that have bamboozled thousands of hopeful believers straight into financial ruin. Just to name a few of such occasions:  remember Enron, or WorldCom, or Nortel, or Bre-X?  These companies all appeared to be invincible at the time with entire generations of stock market enthusiasts spending their last penny to ride the seemingly never-ending bandwagon. Alas, the good times ended quite abruptly and these companies’ shares crashed, apparently for no reason, from one day to another. Well, experienced traders were not surprised as there were vastly overblown expectations, false accounting, cheating, lies, and outright frauds built-in those valuations.

Irrespective of the type of enterprises and their financial reports with caveats commonly known as “forward looking statements,” or other extrapolations into the future, whenever one sees claims of exponentially increasing levels of (anticipated, future, hoped-for) success by any entrepreneur on any subject, then it’s high time for prudent investors to pull the rip cord of that high-flying balloon to bring them safely down to the hard reality on Earth (if it’s still possible at that time).

Nothing, anywhere, ever, rises in an exponential fashion without running into unexpected headwinds and coming to a “hard landing,” or suddenly disappearing entirely into thin air. Sort of like the soap bubbles my grandchildren blow, the bubbles are most beautiful the moment before they collapse.

There are always winners and losers in any market, anywhere and anytime. And riding exhilarating “bandwagons” of novel ideas and products can be fun and financially rewarding. However, in the long run, houses built on slippery slopes or fortunes made on futuristic expectations alone are rarely of a lasting nature.

I’m not denying that it may (with extreme efforts and sacrifice) be possible to visit (as opposed to settle on) planet Mars, the important question must still be: To what avail and at what cost?

To what Avail and at what Cost?

When President Kennedy  gave his famous speech in September 1962 to have the U.S. endeavour  to landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth, it was not out of his (or the country’s) interest to settle mankind there. Rather, it was to demonstrate the country’s ability to develop sophisticated materials and technology in a hurry and to decisively demonstrate America’s technological prowess. That was a roaring success but the benefits of that project were strictly here on Earth and settling humans on the Moon was never part of the equation.

Undoubtedly, there were useful “by-products” of that race to the Moon, like novel materials that have since found their way into consumer products. The current interest in “landing a man on Mars” may very well result in new technologies and materials that could become desirable and common items at a future time. However, in comparison, landing a man on Mars is more difficult by orders of magnitude compared to landing on the Moon and the idea of humans settling that planet is rather idiotic. What, if anything, could possibly be gained from it, other than more bragging rights?

If space exploration is such a hot thing, why would we not have “colonies” on the Moon by now? Would they not be a logical “first step” to more distant places to visit and conquer? The last time mankind went to the Moon was over 40 years ago and there does not appear to be any great interest in following it up anytime soon and for good reason. The few rock samples brought back to Earth were nothing special and are “collecting dust” in museums around the world, certainly not worth the cost of collecting them.

Landing mankind on Mars would be an expensive technological feat of astounding proportions. It could well benefit our understanding of the universe, result in novel materials and technologies useful for our advancement on Earth.  However, creating a “colony” on Mars and an interplanetary human transport system is total nonsense.  There are already many ghost towns one can visit quite easily on planet Earth.  Do we need to create some on Mars as well, and:

Do you want to move to a ghost town on planet Mars?


Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser

After receiving his doctorate in chemistry from the Technical University Munich, he joined Environment Canada’s National Water Research Institute where he served as research scientist and project manager for several research groups. He represented the institute at a variety of national and international committees, gave numerous presentations at scientific conferences, was editorial board member and peer reviewer for serveral journals, adjunct professor and external reviewer of university theses, and was the Editor-in- Chief of the the Water Quality Research Journal of Canada for nearly ten years.
Dr. Kaiser is an author of nearly 300 publications in scientific journals, government and national and international agency reports, books, trade magazines, and newspapers. He has been president of the Intl. Association for Great Lakes Research, and is a recipient of the Intl. QSAR Award. He is currently Director of Research of TerraBase Inc., and is a Fellow of the Chemical Institute of Canada.

Dr. Kaiser is widely recognized for his expertise in environmental chemistry and his “no-nonsense” approach to issues. You can visit Dr. Kaiser’s website and reach him