“A starship captain’s most solemn oath is that he will give his life, even his entire crew, rather than violate the Prime Directive.” – James T. Kirk
Though it is held sacred and the world of Star Trek, NASA may not adhere to the Prime Directive concerning human activity on Mars.
On a panel titled Journey to Mars at this past weekend’s Silicon Valley Comic-Con, a NASA terraforming expert explained that their mission on the planet would be in opposition to the Prime Directive, according to a recap of the event on Outer Places.
According to Memory Alpha‘s definition, the Prime Directive is “embodiment of one of Starfleet’s most important ethical principles: noninterference with other cultures and civilizations. At its core was the philosophical concept that covered personnel should refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted, development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned.”
“We should try to make [Mars] a planet that is rich and diverse in life,” the NASA representative stated. When asked by an attendee about the Prime Directive, he continued, saying that in order to accomplish this, life would need to be brought to the planet, regardless of the fact whether or not it already exists there.
Any life there, according to the expert, would only be in a microbial state, if it exists at all.
The panel explored other aspects of a potential Mars colonization effort, including the difficulties of communicating with astronauts on the planet.
“The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy… and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.“ – Jean-Luc Picard
According to the panelists, there would be a roughly 22 minute communication delay both ways. This would be even after signal strength issues caused by Earth’s and Mars’ orbital movement are addressed. In lieu of a faster communication method, which they aren’t entirely ruling out, NASA would have to give colonists more a greater amount of freedom to act on their own accord than current astronauts are afforded.
They later explored parts of the recent SpaceX plan to colonize Mars. While they admitted that last year’s announcement by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk “has moved us closer to Mars psychologically than anything in the past 20 years,” they advised against one aspect of his plan, which involves nuking the planet as a way to heat the it’s surface to a more habitable temperature. By NASA’s estimation, the heat of the combined arsenals of various nuclear powers, including the U.S. and Russia, would only amount to about four hours of Martian sunlight.
Though any colonization effort on Mars would be a long ways away, it’s important to start brainstorming now, so that fewer hurdles remain when that time comes.
What do you think? Should we adhere to a “Prime Directive” similar to Starfleet when exploring other planets? Tell us in the comments below.
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Andrew Cardinale is from a Boston suburb where he works in IT. When he’s not doing something Star Trek related, he writes, follows local sports and listens to far too many podcasts.
You can follow Andrew on Twitter @acardi.