Mars Colonization Poll

I saw a comment by Jim Davis over on that made me want to do a poll about real attitudes towards Mars colonization.  Let me give some background thoughts, the questions, then some rules for comments.

First off, Jim’s goal here was to ask people questions that really delve into how likely they actually would be to do something like one-way Mars colonization, especially if the situation isn’t exactly a paradise.  He wanted someone to do a scientific poll, and while I’d like that too, I don’t have the money to do so myself.  But I think if we do this right, we can at least get some relevant data, even without doing truly random sampling.  But more on that after the questions.

Here are the questions:

  1. Would you be willing to make a one way trip to Mars if it meant leaving behind wife and children?
  2. Would you be willing to make a one way trip to Mars if it meant working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week? 12 hours? 8 hours?
  3. Would you be willing to make a one way trip to Mars if the annual mortality rate was 50%? 25%? 10%?
  4. Would you be willing to make a one way trip to Mars if the level of privacy were equivalent to a subway car? A submarine? Antarctic research station?
  5. Would you be willing to make a one way trip to Mars if it was just yourself? 10 other people? 100 other people?
  6. Would you be willing to make a one way trip to Mars if it meant eating food indefinitely equivalent to combat rations? TV dinners? School cafeteria?
  7. Would you be willing to make a one way trip to Mars if there were significantly more people of your own gender than the other? Vice versa?

And here are some “control” questions:

  1. What is the longest period of time you have ever been by yourself? Separated from wife and children? Away from civilization?
  2. What are the longest hours you’ve ever worked? How long did you work these hours? How long would you have been willing to work these hours?
  3. What’s the most dangerous work you’ve ever done? What’s the most dangerous activity you normally engage in?
  4. What’s the lowest level of privacy you’ve ever experienced? For how long?
  5. What’s the most bland diet you’ve ever experienced? For how long?
  6. Have you ever had to work for/with someone you intensely disliked? How long did this go on?
  7. Have you ever had to live with someone you intensely disliked? How long did this go on?

Anyhow, here are the rules.  All comments *must* include an answer to these questions, with the number of the questions (both the original questions and control questions).  You can suggest additional questions, or make other comments as well, but you have to answer the questions first.  Use anonymity if you don’t feel comfortable answering under your own name.  You also should mention where you heard about this poll from.  Any comments that break these rules are likely to get deleted outright.

Also, to make this more valid, the wider this can be passed around, the better.  So, if you think this is a good poll, tell friends about it.  Especially friends/blogs outside the traditional crowd.  I’d be interested in seeing it linked to both by technology blogs as well as right-wing, left-wing, and/or libertarian sites as well.  The more answers we get, the more likely this poll will actually be even remotely useful.  It’s also important to remember that it’s ok if most of the answers are variations on “heck no!”  That shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but it would be interesting to get a wide enough sample to start seeing something closer to at least the opinion of tech-savvy people in general.

If this works out, I’ll do a poll like this on lunar colonization next.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
Jonathan Goff

About Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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62 Responses to Mars Colonization Poll

  1. Jim Gagnon says:

    1. No
    2. 12 hrs.
    3. 25%
    4. Yes to all: subway car, submarine, research station
    5. By myself: no. Minimum team size of 4-6
    6. Yes.
    7. No. Gender balance is important for long term stability

    1. Longest separation: 4 month African safari by myself alone
    2. Have done 14 hr days for a year a few times. Went 7 years without a vacation once.
    3. Safari alone. Use a large backhoe on a regular basis.
    4. Shared one room cabin for six years with three others.
    5. College economy food program. Freshman year was pretty spartan.
    6. Yes. About a year and a half.
    7. Yes. About nine months.

  2. John, know any good Mars terraforming references? I think killing the idea that there might have been life on Mars in the distant past or even currently, will be needed first.. and how can you ever do that? How can you prove a negative?

  3. MARSH says:

    First a base must be established on Mars with professionals who wil return to earth periodically , including types like Astronauts,Scientists,Engineers and Medical Doctors etc. and some who have expertise in mutiple fields.
    Then after many unforseen problems are ironed out and there is a group of 60 on the Mars Base and they have constructed more comfortable facilities than just the simple habitats that they brought with them , permanent colonists may begin to arrive FOR SOME PURPOSE but they will have signed a required contract stipulating that they will stay at least , say 10 years or so. If you require these first colonists to commit to a one way trip before terraforming and the living conditions have been made much more comfortable , you will only get volunteers of a certain type personality i.e. those having masochistic and suicidal tendencies. We must assume that they are colonizing for a purpose , like maybe a promise of lucrative jobs in Mining or something or maybe as a mandate to save the human species from extinction , in which case some of the above questions asked will be a moot point. After Mars is terraformed , colonists might come for land or many types of lucrative jobs with high salaries and bonuses.
    The fact that Mars has a rather hostile environmment and .13 % O2 and 95% CO2 in the environment is a fact which can not be sweeped under the rug.
    In the 16 and 17 century most colonists coming to America committed themselves to a one way trip because they were coming to a Paradise compared to where they were coming from. You can’t really compare the reasons for Earth colonizing with colonizing Mars because the expected gain factors differ. In the extremes, the Expected Value of a venture like gaining access to Paradise is worth much more than the Expected Value of gaining access to a living Hell unless you are mentally insane. Colonist will only go if they think they have a large expected value
    Its like the question of whether some scientists should risk starting up some really really powerful Collider and take the chance of mini black holes forming and becoming HUGE BLACK HOLES .
    The Expected Value = Probability of Losing x Amount of the Loss + Probability of Winning x Amount to be Gained. If the loss is the End of the Earth , and the Gain is Knowledge and finite wealth , then :
    Expected Value =
    Negative infinity x (a tiny probability that a Huge Black Hole forms and gobbles up the Earth) +
    (Huge Finite Gain in Knowledge like finding the Higgs or proving String Theory) x Probability of finding the Higgs Particle and Proving String Theory). Some scientists think there is a chance a Large Black Hole could form . One could argue logically ,that since we NEED to build colliders in order to find out these unknown questions in Physics , we are admitting we don’t know the entire bedrock of the Physics of the underlying Universe so how can they be so sure a mini black hole can not possibly turn into a Huge Blacck Hole ?
    You can’t expect sane people to volunteer to colonize Mars and never return to Earth unless the Expected Value of doing were immensly large unless they were insane. In the case of a Mass Extinction event the Expected value of colonizing Mars and volounteering for a one way trip would be Huge Positive Value i.e. , if you think that saving Homo Sapiens is worthwhile.
    As far as the remaining scenario , you must therfore calculate the Expected Value of the (Huge amount of Fame and/or Fortune) x (Probability of that) + (Negative Huge amount of Pain and Discomfort) x (Probabilty of that Suffering) and weigh the outcome.
    The really brave and tough people were those who came across the Bering straits from Siberia to Alaska without knowing that they were about to find Paradise. Unless you argue that some individuals in a first group may have made it all the way and returned to report that a Paradise existed and then everyone signed up on the idea . If they were not sure whether or not they were running out of the frying pan and into the fire that takes a real reason and so maybe things were really bad in Siberia. On the other hand, Eskimos live in the Arctic and people live in very harsh conditions in various bad deserts in the world.

  4. Poll


    1a,2 years
    1b,no wife or children
    1c, never
    2a,80 hours/week
    3a,contracting in a war zone
    4a,shared a trailer with 10 guys
    4b,3 months
    5a,packet ramen
    5b,2 months
    6b,2 years–ongoing,

  5. To summarize my answers. I don’t want to be an astronaut, and I certainly don’t want to trade one planet for another. I want to settle space. That doesn’t mean enduring the trying circumstances the poll relates, but it certainly means I’m bearing it with the expectation of building a better quality of life as time goes by. A habitat with a gender-lopsided handful of people on a poor substitute for Earth is not a settlement, it’s an uber-expensive Apollo mission.

  6. Josh says:

    1. Hard question. I’m going to go with “no”- though I have neither, so this is of questionable accuracy.
    2. Obviously it depends on the type of work, but based on my studies of what work will probably be like in an early colony, I would say no to 16 hours, but yes to 12 and 8 hours.
    3. 10%, yes.
    4. Yes to all. I do assume that these are averages, though, for example farm work, which will probably be distributed evenly as a certain number of hours per week per person, will actually probably be more private than this because of the low yield per area of crops, even the GM variety.
    5. Yes to all.
    6. TV dinners yes, Cafeteria food yes, combat rations probably not. I’d have to eat them to see, though.
    7. Yes.

    1. By myself: Not very long. I would say a few hours. Have no wife or children. Away from civilization for a couple of weeks.
    2. 4 hours per day in an actual job; 7:15 per day in school plus 3 hours per day of sports. The first for two summers, the second for the last 3 years. I quit the actual job because of low pay and distance, but I have no problem with my school schedule so let’s say on the order of several years.
    3. Negligible danger. Driving on the highway I suppose, or gymnastics which isn’t actually very dangerous.
    4. Sleepaway camp, 2 weeks.
    5. Sleepaway camp, fairly good, 2 weeks.
    6. Campers at my day camp were annoying, but not bad. 2 summers.
    7. Yes, 2 weeks.

    Heard from someone on IRC.

  7. anonymous says:

    1. Not married. If I was: perhaps, but probably no.
    2. 12 hours maybe, 8 hours definitely.
    3. 50% mortality rate would probably mean a failure. 10% might be acceptable initially.
    4. Antarctic research station level privacy would be very ok. Even a submarine could be bearable, if it’s one of the large ones.
    5. Alone, no. 10 people one way with nobody else coming later, no. (Yes, if more coming later.) 100 others, yes.
    6. Yes.
    7. Maybe not. Vice versa, sure.

    1. By myself for few weeks. No family of my own. Away from civilization: never.
    2. 9 hours, for a couple days. For a week maybe.
    3. Physical factory work with power tools, or farmwork with heavy machinery. Normally: Cycling without any protective gear.
    4. In the armed services, living with 5-6 others in a room or a crowded tent, for six months. A couple days off on most (not all) weekends though.
    5. The blandest student diet you can imagine, for weeks on end.
    6. Not closely, no. I could manage several months when no direct contact was required.
    7. Not really.

    Found this just by revisiting the site.

    Mars is not the most interesting place I’d move to. An orbital space habitat in the Earth-Moon system or a NEO would be much more attractive and I’d move to one in a heartbeat: nice neighbourhood, services close by, visits and vacations theoretically possible.

  8. Richard Hauser says:

    1. Yes, once my daughter is older. I could not take my children as that would be deciding too much for them.
    2. 12 hours or brief periods of 16. Best to keep busy.
    3. 10%
    4. As long as I have a bunk to my own, as a tiny bit of controlled space aids my sanity.
    5. Yes, but the more the merrier.
    6. Yes, though I think the options would be worse than all the above and I’d still say yes.
    7. A mix would be best, but correct personality filters are crucial.
    Control Questions:
    1. 6 weeks
    2. 40 hours straight or 16×6 for 2 years
    3. Not very (mountain climbing?) and driving to work
    4. Dating and marriage, 7 years.
    5. Growing up with a health nut mom without cooking skills, 17 years
    6. 9 months, complete loon
    7. 2 week vacation at the end of failing relationship

  9. Mike Lorrey says:

    there’s 300 millibars of CO2 locked in the martian poles and in the regolith. Warming mars an average of 5 degrees, or increasing the atmospheric density by 5 millibars of CO2, or 0.01 millibars of CFC’s, or 1 millibar of methane, would cause all this latent CO2 to vaporize and provide an atmosphere something akin to the peak of Mount Everest in density, with low or no O2 available.
    See Terraforming: Engineering Terrestrial Environments, by Martyn Fogg. It’s on Amazon, and he’s got a website with a nice java martian terraforming simulator app you can try out.

    Figuring out how much mass constitutes 0.01 millibar of CFC is an exercise left for the reader.

  10. AshleyZ says:

    1 – I don’t have a wife or children, but there are other things on Earth I wouldn’t want to leave behind. So, no.
    2 – I could do 12hrs x 7 days/wk indefinitely, but going to Mars isn’t worth that. I would work that hard to put my hypothetical children through school, or keep a roof over my own head.
    3 – Even if the mortality rate was only 10%, I wouldn’t go unless I was already intending to die. And if I was going to die anyway, I would prefer to do it in deep space rather than on Mars.
    4 – I love privacy, and would prefer an Antarctic-research-station level. I can deal with shared toilet, living space, etc, if I have my own berth.
    5 – I would prefer a solo trip to Mars. 10 people would be okay, 100 people would be okay if there was some degree of privacy/independence.
    6 – I consider frozen dinners to be the high-quality element of my cuisine. My other meals are not as nice. So that would not be an impediment.
    7 – I wouldn’t want to hang out with a lot of other men. Women would be preferable.

    Control questions:
    1 – I haven’t spent more than a couple weeks truly alone, but I’ve spent about 11 months away from all friends and family. Away from civilization – about a week.
    2 – I worked about 70 hrs/wk for about 5 years.
    3 – My most dangerous job was farm labor, but only for a couple months. My current dangerous activities include mountain biking and bushcraft.
    4 – I lived in a barracks at a 3-week summer camp, and only had a few minutes of semi-privacy a day, in the washroom. I hated it, though.
    5 – I’ve lived on macaroni and cheese, bread, potatoes, steamed vegetables and fresh fruit for a few months. It didn’t really bother me.
    6 – All my co-workers have been at either tolerable, or avoidable.
    7- Yes, probably the worst 2 years of my life.

    It occurs to me that going to Mars would be a little like prison – no way out, confined space, hard labor, risk of death, bad food, surrounded by males, and no privacy – except you pay an astronomical fortune for the privilege. Your chance of being raped on Mars might be lower than in prison, but at least in prison you can talk on the phone and occasionally have visitors. On Mars, it’s e-mail only.

    I agree with Jim Davis, I wouldn’t go to Mars unless it was better than my life on Earth, and in the foreseeable future, it’s not even close.

  11. LR says:


    1. No. What’s the point in that?

    2. 16 h, no. 12 h, not sure but probably no. 8 hrs, yes. I

    ‘ve found that my ability to do work drops significantly around 8-9 hours, so pushing beyond that would be be taking unnecessary risks in a spaceship.

    3. No at 50% and 25%, yes at 10%.

    4. Subway car, that’s just mean. Submarine, yes. Antarctic station, yes.

    5. Yes at 100; again, what’s the point in me colonizing alone (or even with 9 others)?

    6. I’m not sure what level of sophistication school cafeteria entails, but I want access to fresh fruits and vegetables, grown on Mars. During the journey I can eat combat rations, but at the destination there had better be a farm.

    7. No for my gender (being male and all). That’s no way to found a colony. Yes for going with extra females (reasons being hopefully obvious).


    1. Must have been during the university. I could hole up in my apartment for over a week, given enough supplies. Wife and children, about three days. Civilization, if army camps count, again three days.

    2. The longest hours I’ve worked have been around 10 hrs. And I’ve never done and hopefully will never do consecutive long days, because I’d be totally useless. See question 2.

    3. I would have to say the half year stint in the army was the most dangerous. Normally it’s working with industrial machinery (not very dangerous if you remember to keep the emergency stop reachable at all times)

    4. That would have to be the half-a-year of army again, sleeping with 10 other guys in the same room.

    5. My student diet, mostly TV dinners. Occasionally I splurged and went for a pizza in a real restaurant. If you don’t count those, I did that for months on end. Otherwise it’s just a week at a time or so 🙂

    6. I’ve worked with people I haven’t liked that much, but I can’t say I have intensely disliked anyone. So no.

    7. Not really, no.

  12. Peter says:

    This is a somewhat leading poll.
    There would be no problem finding a thousand quality volunteers from a population of 6 billion. Of course if your scale were that great some of the above problems would go away.
    Smaller than that and we are probably not talking about a colony but you could certainly find a hundred scientists who thought it was worthwhile.

    I know a lot of people on internet forums would proclaim they would ‘go to mars’ in an instant. But that mere phrase leaves so much undefined. Are we going to mars to be cremated as we enter its atmosphere or are we going with a reasonable expectation of an open ended future, not just for ourselves but our great great great grandchildren?

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