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Mars Colonization Poll

Having just spent three weeks in close quarters in a Mars-like environment, this survey on attitudes towards Mars settlement conditions from Jon Goff (who I may actually meet in person this week) seems well-timed.

My answers to the primary questions:

  1. Would you be willing to make a one way trip to Mars if it meant leaving behind wife and children?
    Doubtful, unless there was a strong expectation that they (or at least she, if the kids were grown or nearly so) could join me at some later date. I don’t see how a super-long-distance relationship like that could be made to work out if the separation were permanent.
  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?
    I think it depends on the nature of the work. Continual 8hr days are not that difficult to envision for most types of work I could see myself doing. For 12hr shifts, it would only be sustainable over the long term if there was some variety to the tasks, some mixture of hand work and mind work versus fully one or the other type. While I would be willing to do occasional or even frequent 16hr shifts, I can’t imagine any mixture of tasks making such long shifts sustainable for me over long periods of time. However, breaking a shift into shorter blocks separated by breaks would make the longer overall shifts a bit more workable, by helping to forestall fatigue, boredom, and inattentiveness.
    It also depends on how long the 7-day schedule is maintained. If I was expected to work every day, a longer shift would make it far less appealing and less sustainable. Even with the 8hr shift, the expectation of working every day of the week indefinitely would be unpalatable. What could help make these hours more palatable is an overtime premium on pay, some sort of tangible/financial reward earned for working longer shifts.
    Based on experience, I know that I can work regular nine-hour weekdays, plus a weekday or two of up to 12 hours, and twelve-hour weekend days with straight overtime, for about two months before I start getting burned out.
  3. Would you be willing to make a one way trip to Mars if the annual mortality rate was 50%? 25%? 10%?
    No. Perhaps, if the pay was in keeping with the risk. Yes. Here again, it depends somewhat on the particulars. Are the stated mortality rates for all settlers, including in the pool the life-shortening effects of particularly high-risk activities that my occupation wouldn’t entail? 50% is pretty high under any interpretation, but for the lower percentages such particulars would matter a great deal in making a decision.
  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?
    I’m going to interpret these three conditions in the following way:
    Subway car = a group of settlers sharing a common space, with no real privacy and little or no recognition of a property claim to any particular portion of the accommodations beyond one’s own personal gear.
    Submarine = a group of settlers share a common space in which a small degree of privacy such as a curtain exists and some element of private property is recognized (my bunk, my locker).
    Antarctic research center = like in a college dormitory, a group of settlers shares some defined common spaces (galley, work room) while having a higher degree of privacy in and more exclusive property rights over other spaces which they share with a small subset of the group.
    In the past three weeks, I’ve experienced all three of these environments – the first in the form of airplane travel and mountain hut accommodations, the second in the form of tent camping and hostels, and the third in the form of a guesthouse-style hotel. In the short term (obviously) I could live with any of the three, but over the long term, I could live with the arctic option pretty easily, the submarine option with a great deal of reluctance, and the subway option not at all. My threshold between short and long term would probably be the time it would take to get to Mars, and as long as there were some significant “rest” periods separating them, I could probably accommodate myself to routinely doing short term stints in lower privacy.
  5. Would you be willing to make a one way trip to Mars if it was just yourself? 10 other people? 100 other people?
    Assuming this means being the sole occupants of one settlement among many: possibly, yes, and yes.
    If it means I/we would be the sole occupants of Mars, no, yes, yes. 
    If the question literally applies to the outward trip to Mars: yes, yes, yes.
  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?
    Possibly on all three accounts. How happy I would be depends on how much variety exists (assuming the point of the question is about the excitement of the food) – even bland food can be palatable for long periods of time if there is some variety (ie: bland freeze-dried lasagna every night is far less tolerable than a random schedule of equally-bland dinners of freeze-dried lasagna, freeze-dried turkey and stuffing, and freeze-dried meatloaf). I would not, however, allow this to be the sole discriminator on whether or not I went if the other conditions were acceptable.
  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?
     The supply and demand implications of being a man on a planet of women are certainly more pleasant to contemplate than a Martian sausage-fest, so trivially I would say “reluctantly and hell yeah!”, although I wouldn’t let either case decide for me if offered the opportunity. As with the other questions, though, “it depends” applies. How big is the group, and what is the ratio? Two women and one man is not the same as four women and two men, for example, or three women and one man, or two hundred women and one hundred men. Also, how long the initial demographics could be expected to apply would also have to be figured in – would the ratio favor men or women indefinitely, or just for a short period before balance was established (or the pendulum swung for a while to the other extreme)?

My answers to the “control” questions:

  1. What is the longest period of time you have ever been by yourself? Separated from wife and children? Away from civilization?
    Literally without contact, 4-5 days; cut off from friends and family and direct sources of support and assistance, three months. Not applicable. About two weeks.
  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?
    See #2 above.
  3. What’s the most dangerous work you’ve ever done? What’s the most dangerous activity you normally engage in?
    I’ve never done any truly dangerous work. Hiking “fourteeners” in the Rockies.
  4. What’s the lowest level of privacy you’ve ever experienced? For how long?
    Probably living in university dorms for two years.
  5. What’s the most bland diet you’ve ever experienced? For how long?
    Probably three months in Germany living mainly on dried quattro formaggi and vollkornbrot. Somewhere between bland and monotonous.
  6. Have you ever had to work for/with someone you intensely disliked? How long did this go on?
    Oh hell yes, every job I’ve ever had there’s been at least one in the crew.
  7. Have you ever had to live with someone you intensely disliked? How long did this go on?
    A few times, but one particular three-month period living with a pair of man-hating feminists far and away outshines all the others (don’t ask).

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