Mortimore: Will Earth export climate refugees?

I think about Mars as I view Kelowna and snowy mountains from seven miles up, and squeeze comfortably into an economy-sized space.

Space travellers may feel like this on a flight to Mars.

The Mars-colony dream floats into mind as I ride in a Westjet Boeing 737 from Victoria to Toronto and back.

The dream recently became a real engineering project with a calculated takeoff date of Sept 14, 2022 and touchdown in April, 2023 – a plan recorded in the believable sector of the Internet.

I think about Mars as I view Kelowna and snowy mountains from seven miles up, and squeeze comfortably into an economy-sized space.

A Dutchman with solid scientific and commercial credentials is pushing a scheme to send humans to live on the red planet.

His name – Bas Lansdorp – sticks in the left side of my mind while I exercise the right side observing two flight-attendant women selling food and drink. (No free lunch on this shrewdly-managed, profitable airline).

Lansdorp is the leader of the Mars One project. Another Netherlander, Dr. Gerard t’Hooft, a Nobel-prizewinning physicist, speaks in support. Mars adventurers may have more leg-room than I have now, but they must live at close quarters for seven months en route, with no blue-scarfed hostesses to sell them beer and sandwiches.

I have been away for a long time from Toronto, my other home-town, so I am now on a journey of years and miles combined. Each way it’s a four-hour, 40-year flight. The Mars colonists will also enter a realm in which time and space are strangely blended.

Last time I travelled (to England and Turkey in 2005 with different airlines) I caught flu, perhaps from breathing germ-laden recirculated air. So I am wearing a gauze mask. I feel at ease staying in my seat for the whole journey.

Lansdorp’s Mars-dwellers will live in prefabricated airtight cabins, stocked with long-shelf-life food and supplied with water melted from Martian ice. They may grow greenhouse vegetables. The four startup colonists will be joined by batches of four more every two years. Outdoors in the bone-chilling cold of that desert planet, where the thin atmosphere exerts one per cent of the sea-level pressure on Earth, they must put on inflated space-suits.

A TV interviewer asked whether Lansdorp would be among the first four Martians. No, a short list of resourceful, inventive, calm, genius-level people will be chosen from among millions of applicants, and winnowed down to four in trials and rehearsals. Lansdorp is not so presumptious as to rate himself among them. He will stay on Earth.

He is an MSc. graduate who proved his organizing skill as co-founder of Ampyx Energy, which generates low-cost electrical power with wind-generators that fly like kites. For the Mars One project he has lined up a full list of aerospace companies that are interested in supplying components. Broadcasting a real-life interplanetary melodrama will finance the $6 billion cost.

What will motivate Mars colonists? The joy of scientific adventure in a dangerous new world. The transplanted earthlings might move toward applied science and tune in to the idea of “terraforming” Mars to make it more like Earth.

Visionaries think giant mirrors might be held in stationary orbit and greenhouse gases belched out to warm the Martian surface and make it a haven for climate refugees, in a benign version of the process that is ”Marsforming” or “Venusforming” Earth and making life here more difficult and perilous. I find this thought comforting on my nostalgia journey.

G.E Mortimore is a longtime columnist with the Goldstream Gazette