That's why it's one of the primary targets for future space colonization efforts, because it could potentially be used as a "home away from home" that is based in outer space. It would be great to occupy it in such a capacity for a number of reasons, but Elon Musk has revealed that he can think of one specific reason why it's necessary for humans to colonize Mars.
According to Musk, who currently serves as the CEO of the private space company SpaceX, humans need to colonize Mars for the simple reason that it could preserve the human species in case a world-breaking war finally occurs. In his words, it is a very likely occurrence, and it's important for humans to be as prepared as possible in terms of facing the long-term consequences.
Musk shared his thoughts on the subject through a question-and-answer session at the most recent South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference in Austin. He made it clear that he wasn't predicting that humanity was about to enter the dark ages, but that there's some probability that it will. He even specifically utters the words, "third world war." (Related: MUSK: Humans must become cyborgs to survive in dystopian future.)
According to Musk, it's imperative to make sure that there's enough of a seed of human civilization somewhere else besides Earth, and that is for the simple reason that it might be needed to bring civilization back, in effect shortening the length of the forthcoming dark ages. "It's important to get a self-sustaining base ideally on Mars, because Mars is far enough away from that [if there's a war on Earth] the Mars base is more likely to survive than a moon base," he explained. "But I think a moon base and a Mars base that could perhaps regenerate life back here on Earth would be really important."
It's quite clear from his statement that he hasn't completely ruled out the possibility of just relying on a moon base instead of a Mars base, which would be easier to establish on paper. After all, the Moon is closer to Earth and setting up an artificial environment there would be a lot easier to do compared to Mars due to their relative distances from the planet.
"Space hype!" commented Mike Adams, publisher of Science.news and director of CWC Labs. "It's interesting how Musk fails to mention that his suggestion of fleeing Earth to colonize other celestial bodies would, of course, require billions of dollars in new government subsidies to his corporations," Adams said. "The idea that any humans will be living on Mars or the moon anytime soon is pure hogwash. Without at least two orders of magnitude of improvements in the cost efficiency of Earth-to-orbit thrusting technology, launching human colonies toward other planets is a pipe dream."
Regardless, it appears that Musk has a disturbing vision of what lies ahead for humans as a species. He even commented on the fact that some people might be skeptical of his planning, and who might be thinking that his plans only involve those who can afford to pay top dollar for the privilege of going to Mars or wherever else it may be. "The moon and Mars are often thought of as some escape hatch for rich people, but it won't be that at all," he began. "Really it kind of reads like Shackleton's ad for Antarctic explorers … difficult, dangerous, good chance you'll die, excitement for those who should survive."
Only time will tell whether he's wrong or right. But regardless of what he thinks, once humans do turn into a space-faring civilization, there will surely be more exciting times ahead.
Read more about current efforts to reach other planets in Space.news.