Will Wright on life on Mars, 2047


Air & Space Smithsonian invited Sims creator Will Wright to imagine the first communities on Mars. Here's an excerpt from his vision of Marstown, population 8,000, in 2047:

Like most colonists, Sasha had made the decision to move to Mars for the sake of her descendants. Seeing only limited opportunities on Earth and having a strong sense of adventure and duty, she had been captivated by the ratification of the Mars Development Treaty of 2032. Dwindling natural resources and massive environmental disruption had encouraged politicians on Earth to look to Mars as a long-term lifeboat, another foothold for humanity in the face of an uncertain future.

The Mars Treaty essentially privatized about half of the Martian surface, rewarding those willing to relocate there with huge plots of land. While that land was nearly worthless today, the hope they all carried was that one day it would be a valuable legacy to pass on to their children and grandchildren.

Sasha was in the third wave of colonists; the first group of 500 had been transported to Mars eight years earlier. The colony now numbered about 8,000, the primary limits to the population being the cost of transportation from Earth—which was covered by the Mars Development Corporation (MDC)—and the extent of the hydroponic gardens within the tube complex. The MDC represented a consortium of investors from national governments and international funds (vying for long-term territorial and mineral rights) and individual billionaires (with more idealistic motives).

"First Neighborhood on Mars"


    1. It seems like you are the expert! Have you traveled into the future to find out?

      [Edit: for the record, I would say it’s _unlikely_ but not altogether _impossible_]

  1. If we learned anything from Spore, it’s that Will Wright is clearly an expert about life on other planets.

  2. I’m all for manned space exploration, but realistically the idea of sending people to Mars for the planet’s resources just isn’t gonna be viable for many generations to come. Even if the whole planet was made out of highly valuable rare-earth minerals it woudn’t be cost-effective to ship them back here until we made several quantum leaps in aerospace technology.

  3. The culture of the colony was, on the surface, one of fierce independence. The unspoken truth was that the residents were still dependent on Earth, and far from self-sufficient.

    I’m glad he has this in there, because it’s the truth about any so-called “escape” to Mars.  I can’t wait to find out how much it is going to cost me to subsidise another fucking whiney, self-entitled Tea Party in space.

    That aside, has anyone bothered to do a basic mass inventory of critical life elements/molecules on Mars?  Oxygen, nitrogen, water?  Surely we’ve already figured out how much of those exist per acre for, say, a farm in Kansas: with the totals from Mars (barring the, I’m sure inevitable, discovery of an ancient underground alien frozen atmosphere vault) we can then plot out exactly how much surface area we possibly colonize under absolutely idealized conditions, revise downwards from there, and then decide how exciting this all is.

    Or maybe they’ll bioengineer themselves to not require respiration and eat perchlorate and sulfur.

  4. After years of consideration, I find myself not approving of or interested in human exploration of Mars. I feel we should send robots to Mars, and start a moon colony instead.  A colony on the Moon could have endless benefits for all of mankind, while sending a few visitors to Mars (I don’t think a colony of any size is even possible in the foreseeable future) would just be a feather in various people’s caps.

    1. I don’t think we should rule Mars out forever but I agree it makes a lot of sense to try the moon base first. Gotta learn to space-walk before you can space-run.

    2.  While I’m not sure what good colonizing the moon would do, I’d love to see it happen. I’d love to see humans make a trip to Mars but can not see why we would even think about spending the money until a robot finds something Very Interesting Indeed up there.

        1. There are tons of potential benefits like power generation, earth observation, astronomy, low-g material and pharmacological science, etc. on top of being a much easier place to launch other space exploration efforts from.

          1. I’m somewhat of a space cheerleader, and would really like to live to see these wonderful things. But, really?

            Power generation. Solar cells? Won’t they be in the dark 14 days a month? How do you get the energy back to Earth? (edit: I suppose there are polar regions that get more sun)

            Astronomy. Sure, that’s a good one. I’ve long thought that it would be great to have an array of radio telescopes on the far side of the moon. Not much money in that pursuit, however. ROI is knowledge not currency. Hard sell.

            Low-g materials and pharma. I don’t know much about that. Haven’t heard of too much of that happening on the ISS making headlines down here, either.

            Launching other space explorations. Sure, but you have to get it there first. I think it’s about $10,000 per pound to get stuff in to low Earth orbit – how much to get to the Moon?

            I’d love to see it, though.

      1. The main advantage of colonizing the moon would be the same as the main advantage of being any kind of two-planet species: a dramatic reduction in existential risk. We humans have the power to destroy ourselves in any numbers of ways, intentionally or by accident, on a global scale, and nowhere near enough wisdom and foresight to prevent it. To the extent that you value the long-term future of civilization and Earth-originating intelligent life, then you should value have some kind of permanent human presence, somewhere, that isn’t dependent on Earth’s biosphere. The moon would be a good start.

        If all you’re looking for is something Very Interesting then you’re not going to justify sending humans when you find it, because it will still be cheaper to send a bunch of robots. Even if you want a return mission, you can send robots to pick it up. I’d expect hiring the engineers and computers scientists to create such a robot would be much cheaper than creating a sufficiently robust human deep space travel program.

        1.  My idea of something Very Interesting Indeed is along the lines of evidence of an intelligent ancient civilization. I’m certainly not expecting to find that on Mars but I bet we would send people to investigate that. Might have to save up for it.

        2. The main advantage of colonizing the moon would be the same as the main advantage of being any kind of two-planet species: a dramatic reduction in existential risk.

          In the very long-term, sure. But that won’t be much of an advantage for the foreseeable future since it would be much easier to build a fortified survival dome here on Earth than to build a self-sufficient lunar base.

          1. Easier and less reliable, yes. Your solution depends on what you’re looking to defend against. Global warming and disease outbreaks (including biowarfare)? Sure. Nuclear war? Possibly, but unclear. AGI or grey goo? Not so much. We should certainly learn how to build a survival dome on Earth first (today, I doubt we could really do that). 

  5. The bellwether for the colonization of Mars for its resources is Antarctica. Antarctica is vastly more inhabitable than Mars — there’s breathable air! You can get drinkable water right outside the door! — as well as vastly easier to get to. So we’re going to see the colonization and exploration of our seventh continent long before we’ll see it happening up there.

    And I say this is as someone who’s fascinated by manned space exploration to the point of having a blog about the “might-have-beens” of the world’s various space programs, 1941-2012.

    1. You might as well link it. Sounds interesting and you made a very good substantive point. Also, my google is broken.

      1. …Oh alright, twist my arm ;)


        The only extra-planetary mission I’ve discussed there to date is the post-Apollo Manned Venus Flyby proposal, but Mars’ll get its day soon enough.

        (Though as a Canadian, I do feel compelled to apologize about the advertising.)

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