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Witnessing the dawning of a new era of colonialism

Never mind that Michel de Nostredame (1503-1566), a French chemist and seer whose name is Latinised as Nostradamus, did not even mention the end of the world or the year 2012 in his book "Les Propheties". We earthlings have been spooked by awful turns of events that could lead to the end of the human race.

There exist nuclear weapons capable of destroying the world so many times over. Currently there are eight countries in the so-called Nuclear Club under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), at least four non-NRT states, four that are known as "formerly possessing nuclear weapons", and one, Israel, that is in the "none of the above" category but believed to have nuclear weapons.

Then there are increasingly severe natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and storms that can drastically change the landscape or shape of a country. Global warming is progressing at a more rapid rate than anybody anticipated. The thinning of ice in the Arctic and Antarctica not only threatens seasonal climatic cycles and freshwater resources but, more alarmingly, represents a clear and present danger of unleashing the potent methane gas that is abundant beneath the ice caps. This extremely flammable gas that can form an explosive mix with air can also hasten the degradation of the ozone layer. In 2010 methane levels in the Arctic were twice as high as at any time in the 40,000 years prior to the Industrial Revolution. There is also a large amount of methane clathrates in the ocean floors.

All of these factors have arisen amid

the alarming acceleration of global warming.

To make matters worse, scientists have been warning of a global pandemic, possibly as the result of some bio-engineered disease, or an asteroid or comet strike that could wipe out the majority, if not the entirety, of the human race.

That led the world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking to repeat his assertion recently that humanity must colonise space in order to ensure its long-term survival.

And indeed, the project of colonisation has begun, and is gaining momentum.

Initially it was thought that the moon, certain asteroids or the rings of Saturn would be the first stepping stones for the human race's expansion into the solar system. But the recent success of Curiosity, Nasa's latest Mars rover, has put the red planet at the top of the queue in our galactic colonisation.

Already Nasa scientists have compared the Martian landscape to "portions of the Southwest United States".

Currently there are several Mars-settlement advocate groups that are planning and seriously taking action to make the colonisation a reality. They are Mars Society, Mars Drive, Mars to Stay and the newest addition - joining in June - Mars One, a private Dutch space-flight project that aims at landing humans on Mars for permanent settlement in 2023.

Not to be outsmarted, British billionaire and founder of the Virgin Group Richard Branson has set up Virgin Galactic - a space-tourism firm. He told a US TV network that in his lifetime, starting a population on Mars is "absolutely realistic. It will happen."

A joint project called Virgle - a mix of Virgin Group and Google - started as an April Fool's Day joke in 2008 but is now a real effort by an increasing number of people to put man on Mars. According to plans, Virgle City could be populated by 2018 and become the capital city of Mars, while the terraforming - the warming of the super-subzero Mars surface - could be 89 per cent complete by 2108.

In many ways Mars is similar to Earth. A solar day on Mars is 24 hours and 39 minutes. Mars has an atmosphere, albeit extremely thin, at about 0.7 per cent of Earth's atmosphere. It has an axle tilt similar to Earth and therefore has seasons much like Earth's. A Martian year is about 1.88 Earth years. Mars has a surface area that is slightly less than Earth's dry-land area and it appears to have significant quantities of all the elements necessary to support life.

Most importantly, and not unlike the old days of colonialism, many see Mars as a possible attractive economic venture. There has been talk about Mars-Earth trade via the construction of a "space elevator" to transport minerals and other natural resources extracted from the red planet. And man could export manure (no, that's not a typing error), to Mars to kick-start the process of its "civilisation" or "greening" so it can support the growing of vegetation.

The idea of terraforming Mars - transforming its frozen, thin-aired surface into something friendlier to humans - is quite far-fetched to some. Sceptics do not believe civilisation can thrive on Mars without limitless expansion. Some say humans could only live on Mars the way we live now in Antarctica. "There are no elementary schools in Antarctica," said Dr Christopher McKay, a Nasa scientist who has also raised ethical issues over the idea of terraforming Mars.

However, none of that has dampened the craze for Mars colonisation. Robert Zubrin, in his book "The Case for Mars", envisions the planet as a second branch of human civilisation.

With his general theory of relativity, Einstein accurately calculated the speed at which the universe in which we all live is expanding, driven by "dark energy". Galaxies are receding from the Earth, and they are not moving through space but with space, as space itself expands. And one day, nothing will matter anymore.

But today, we want to "green" the red planet because the grass is always greener on the other side. And we are almost done destroying our lawn here on Earth.




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