Ethics concerning colonization of Moon and Mars

Anamol Mittal (Anmol)
Master of Space Studies (ISU),
Aerospace Engineer and International Business Developer
President, Nepalese Space Research Association (NESRA),
Living among the stars has always been a fantasy of the curious minds. With the ground breaking discovery of water ice on the Lunar South Poles and on Mars, a new space race has been kicked off. Major countries like the USA, UAE, India, China, etc are racing towards dominating the space industry by sending out exploration missions to the Moon and Mars. Private companies like SpaceX and Blue origin, which are backed by billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos respectively, see an immense opportunity in the space sector and are investing billions of dollars in their companies every year to make fully reusable rockets to cut the cost of access to space by a factor of two digits. Elon Musk envisions that we can build a city of a million people living on Mars before the end of this century.

We live in an exciting period of time, it is the first time in human history that humans have reached this far away from their home planet. With so much excitement and so many advances happening in space exploration every single day, we should carefully direct our path of exploration so as to include everyone in this journey and be ethically right while we are exploring new worlds.

What are the consequences of exploring other worlds? What if we affect the development of pre-existing life forms in these places? Should we preserve the environment and resources on other celestial bodies the way we preserve history? If so, who governs the rules? Are we allowed to reproduce while in space? How will it affect the development of the child? Will a religion dominate our next colony in space? What if we found a second genesis, should we preserve it or change its course of evolution? Do all countries benefit from space exploration, or only the rich ones? Given that the Moon is a common heritage to all humankind, who is allowed to exploit resources present on the Moon? As we can see, there are several uncertainties surrounding us at this moment of time, and we need to give them a thought if we are to ensure a democratic and ethical access to space. Let’s make an attempt to explore the nature of these questions and their possible answers.

What are the probable consequences of exploring other worlds? We, humans, are a curious species. We tend to explore unexplored places and it is our very nature of exploration that first drove us across the seas to find new continents and now is driving us to explore other worlds like the Moon and the Mars. With 7.8 billion humans living on Earth, we have explored the entire surface of our home planet to a certain scale and to our bad news, we are affecting the climate balance on a planetary scale now. Global warming is on the rise, sea levels are increasing, coastal cities are at the risk of being flooded or drowned; at this very moment, we are facing an existential crisis and if we don’t change the course of our way of living, we will certainly face huge consequences in the future. Keeping this in mind, we can imply that not all exploration is good. Unsustainable exploitation and exploration leads to disasters. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to develop a set of rules for exploitation and exploration and reiterate them with time to make sure that we are not affecting the balance of any planet in an adverse way and our exploration and exploitation efforts are sustainable.

Life may or may not exist on other planets. Until now, researchers around the world have found no clues of intelligent life in the close proximity of Earth. However, there are promising signs that life exists beyond Earth, but probably in microbial life form. For example the recent discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus (1), an underground ocean on Europa, a moon of Jupiter (2). If so, this will be a groundbreaking discovery and it will change the way we see ourselves. Life won’t be unique to Earth anymore. Reproduction in space is also a very important aspect to consider if we are to ensure sustained presence on distant destinations and to fulfill our vision of settling a million people on Mars. But it will also require careful consideration in terms of the way low gravity and high radiation affects the development of the fetus. There are several considerations to take in account for, but given the scope of this article we won’t go in the details.

It will cost us millions of dollars or perhaps billions to build a colony in space. The shifting of budget from other important issues to a mission dedicated to build a colony in space might seem unreasonable to some people. People are dying from hunger, living in drought struck areas, recovering from the aftermath of a disaster. Hundreds of thousand people die every year due to miserable living conditions or lack of funds for survival, therefore justifying people about the benefits of settling in space will be extremely important. Earth has been around for more than 4.5 billion years, and it has only been a matter of some thousand years that intelligent life has flourished on Earth and it is only now in the known history that humans have reached out so far from their home planet. Life has existed and has gone extinct many times in the past, for instance the dinosaurs, due to natural disasters like climate change, rise of sea level or events like the asteroid collision. Given the probability of these natural disasters wiping out life from Earth or eruption of a nuclear war given the fragile situation of global politics, it is extremely important for us to venture out and colonize other planets if we are to save our species from extinction. Evolution is necessary and is inevitable for survival.

Lastly, I want to briefly talk about the importance of democratizing access to space and the importance of having an inclusive dialogue among the developed and the developing nations. The Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967 says that “the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind” and “ the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes” (3). Given the ambitious plans of mining on the Moon by countries like the USA and Luxembourg, there exists some uncertainties on how other countries will be benefited by such exploration activities. With this note, I would like to present a note about the importance of democratizing access to space.

“Despite being separated by international boundaries defined by ourselves, we share a common sky above us. The socio-economic condition of a country depends on various criteria upon which an individual from the country doesn’t have any control over. To democratize access to space, it is essential to have an inclusive dialogue among the citizens of the world, not just from the countries who are doing better than others economically.”


Source: Mittal, A. (2021). Ethics concerning Colonization of Moon and Mars. Industrial Vision 2021, 53-54.

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