Colonizing Mars: Astronaut Bioethics
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Science is full of intrigues. A good example may be the issue of Mars colonization, which has already raised many concerns. The ethical ramifications of colonizing the planet are put into perspective. Long-term space missions geared towards colonizing Mars are already underway. On December 5, 2015, NASA released the Orion spacecraft (Lin and Abney). After the launch, the lead administrator Bolden Charles made a declaration that the Mars era had began. Mars One, Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology are also planning to launch a robotic mission to the planet by 2018. The expedition is to be preceded by the human occupancy in 2025. If there were doubts about the willingness of people to participate, such doubts have been settled, given that a total of 418 men and 288 women are vying for the opportunity to go to Mars (Lin and Abney). Despite the hullaballoo about the mission to conquer Mars, several questions, many of which border on ethics, remain unanswered.
To begin with, the question whether it is ethical to expose human beings to unknown levels of human isolation and potential physical danger is debatable. Secondly, it is not clear whether the pioneers will have an opportunity to maintain their rights to privacy. Other concerns gravitate on the ethics of conceiving in space, and the rights of such offspring (Ali 73). Given the unknown nature of the new place, it remains unclear how humans would be protected. In addition, concerns such as taking care of disabled crew members will be a majorly debated issue. Part of the plan is to transform the planet for it to be fit for human habitation (Muzur 109). In this regard, the morality of the objective remains controversial. Beyond bioethics, the question of property rights and governance on the planet are likely to be contentious issues as well.
One of the most common aspects of life is unpredictability. In this regard, reference is made to the possibility of disasters striking at any time. Whereas people assume to have a high level of control in their day-to-day lives, whenever disasters strike, the effects can be devastating. This happens regardless of the steps taken to ensure preparedness. In the light of the above revelation, it begs belief that organizers of the Mars mission are taking a big risk of attempting to land into the Mars space. First of all, in space exploration, the chances of rockets exploding are high. In August 2015, the blowing up of the SpaceX’s rocket, which was on a flight test, reaffirms the position. However, exploding in space is not the worst outcome of such missions. The possibility of being stranded or suffocated in space is also real. In addition, there is a possibility of a child being born on space, with the dangers associated with deformities due to high levels of microgravity or radiation during the fetal development stage (Petranek 33). In addition, the possibility of a child being raised in isolation would have far-reaching consequences. Social isolation would compromise the normal development of an individual. Thus, exposing an individual to the above issues justify a rethink of the mission.
As the plans for the mission continue, it is important to pose and assess not only the physical dangers but also the legal ramifications of such an engagement. For example, Mars One is in the process of short-listing participants for the project (Lin and Abney). Given that the safety of the participants is not guaranteed, and the mission is viewed as a one-way sojourn, the issue that emerges is the morality of booking the pioneers for death. Eventually, the journey has the hallmarks of a suicide mission. Looking at the issue differently shows that the planners might be exploiting people who have been manipulated heavily to fall into any trap that focuses on adventure. In this, regard, the concern is the ethics of exploiting psychological naivety to the detriment of the victims. However, some would argue that individuals have the freedom to decide what is good for them, and that the decisions of an individual need to be respected regardless of the danger associated with them. Exponents of the latter view would also argue that it is unethical to bar individuals from pursuing their personal interest. In addition, organizers would posit that should the plan succeed, they would have made a significant breakthrough, as other human beings will be able to move out of the Earth into space (Lin and Abney). In essence, the engagement would have contributed to partly addressing the resource scarcity prolem that is currently facing the Earth.
Another ethical dilemma emerges in instances involving an emergency on a spacecraft. For instance, if it occurs that the oxygen supply on the ship is likely to fall short of the volume sufficient for all the crew members to survive, the entire mission is thrown into an ethical dilemma. Members would explore the option of eliminating one or two of them so that the rest can survive. Given that in such a situation, failure to take action would yield a disastrous outcome (all will die), a difficult decision must be reached. Such situations present serious ramifications as they compromise the expeditions greatly in terms of the initial objectives of learning the working of space. In case some members are eliminated, some will arrive, but they might not carry out the entire study conclusively given that each of them was expected to play a specific role. That notwithstanding, it remains to be seen how the decision on who to eliminate will be made. The parameters to use are likely to be divisive and ethically questionable, given the sanctity of human life. In addition, the space circumstances might be too fragile so that decision-makers will not have adequate time to decide. Making haste decisions would also pose ethical problems.
In addition to the above, in space, the access to water and oxygen is an issue that must be addressed, yet no adequate plans are guaranteed in the mission. Apart from being desolate and inhospitable, the temperatures in space might be quite low. In other words, the astronauts may face dust and solar storms, physical injury from meteorites, possible alien contamination and other unknown attacks. Many things can take an unanticipated turn. The severe limitation in resources and the high possibility of danger are likely to conspire to push astronauts into making choices on their lives and those of fellow astronauts. A dilemma shrouds the entire exercise, given the famously known lifeboat decision.
Psychology is a major attribute in the attempts to understand human kind. To ensure people are protected, it is important to pay attention to their mental health as well as the resiliency of individuals involved in long-term missions. Assuming that the exercise succeeds but an astronaut suffers immensely upon encountering a psychotic breakdown or depressive episode while stuck in Mars, the outcome is likely to be dire. The situation is worsened by the fact that medical care will be highly limited in the mission.
Whereas missions on earth can be prepared for, those into space require top-notch preparations that are difficult to anticipate (Ravitsky, Fiester and Caplan 34). It is difficult, for instance, to prepare for social isolation. Given that real time interactions with friends and families will be compromised, the manner in which the astronauts will cope remains unpredictable.
The plan to limit the interaction to be among the settlers becomes contentious. Given the small number of the astronauts, a big socialization problem is likely to emerge. Related to the above concern is the issue of confinement. Whereas a number of pioneers on earth would accept to be isolated for some time, the same cannot be said about Mars. Primate studies have shown that being brought up in captivity exposes victims to abnormal levels of fear as well as a reduction in the desire to explore (Singer and Viens 57). Such traits are contradictory to the objectives of the mission. In this regard, a long-term survival of the anticipated colony will be in jeopardy. It is also evident that for the rest of their lives, the astronauts will forfeit the right to privacy, living within tiny colonies on Mars (Lin and Abney). Besides, the ‘reality TV’ perspective would compromise the exercise.
In order to overcome some of the persistent concerns, the planners of the mission are carrying out screening exercises to assess the psychological stability of the astronauts (Lin and Abney). However, it is recognized that in many jurisdictions, it remains illegal to deny job applicants the opportunity to work just because of a disability or predispositions to certain health conditions. Although it is possible to understand the reasons, paraplegic persons cannot be accepted. In addition, having full knowledge about the illnesses in one’s family history, such as depression or cancer, might not be justifiable for declining applicants. One of the Mars One missions based in the Netherlands must to comply with anti-discrimination laws of the country (Linn and Abney). The laws are similar to those of the US (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act), which reject such discrimination (Lin and Abney). However, there is a leeway given that countries with such laws include bona fide occupational prerequisites which can be applied to justify discrimination.
In addition, the sensitive nature of reproduction matters is likely to complicate the impending journey to Mars. The astronautic selection of individuals would be contested on both moral and legal grounds. For instance, in some countries, labor laws restrict the recruitment of only old married heterosexual couples, given that discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender, age and other differences is not allowed (Lin and Abney). A counterargument would posit that such programs build a group of volunteers or unpaid adventurers. As a result, the planners are not employers in the literal sense, hence labor laws do not apply. The argument might not stand given that labor laws also protect the unemployed. In the latter category, there are interns or volunteers (Lin and Abney). In essence, even volunteer astronauts would be covered by the law. Based on the above revelation, it is further investigation is needed to find out the interplay between the two. The observation might be objected based on the view that labor laws apply to operations on earth, as opposed to events taking place in space. In essence, the laws are binding for individuals operating within the geographical scope of the Earth. The ratification of the Moon Agreement and Outer Space Treaty is an indication that for the labor laws to apply, additional commitments are necessary (Lin and Abney). Besides, the fact that NASA has its safety principles might also be used to negate the argument of the abuse of labor standards for individuals operating within space.
Why Ethical Dilemma Is Unresolved and What Is the Potential Solution
Taking into consideration the ethical dilemmas presented above, resolving the matter is far from over. The primary reason is that many issues are yet to be settled. It is clear that the mission has not taken off, and many aspects of the engagement cannot be known until the expedition is launched. For instance, the ethics surrounding lifeboat cannot be resolved at this early stage, since the issue is speculative. Similarly, a host of other concerns are largely of a similar nature. It is also evident that even reproductive matters and issues involving human subjects are difficult to resolve completely due to the high number of standpoints that exist on such matters. It is also apparent that even if the mission would have taken off, ethical contestations regarding the significance of taking such risks would persist.
Resolving the ethical dilemmas is no doubt a daunting task. To address the issues raised one would need to appeal to a number of ethical dispositions. Such orientations as teleological and deontological ethics come into consideration. Whereas teleological ethics bases its arguments on the outcome, deontological ethics focuses on the duty to do what is right. In my assessment, the question of what is right is highly divisive and lacks consensus. Thus, I would propose the adoption of the teleological approach which focuses on the outcome of an action. In this regard, each act should be judged based on its consequences. For instance, when lifeboat ethics come into consideration, I propose taking a decision that leads to the most beneficial outcome. In the example given above, I would advocate for the termination of the lives of one or two astronauts for the sake of the success of the expedition. Overall, I would argue that carrying out the mission is necessary because if it succeeded, the world would have made a major breakthrough in colonizing space.
The above bioethical issues are a part of the puzzle involving the impending space mission. Historically, space agencies have assessed the health and safety of astronauts taking part in lengthy engagements. The nature of long missions implies that social dynamics as well as future generations assume relevancy. It is also apparent that each colony would want independence. In the light of the potential dilemmas, the planners need to exercise outmost caution to protect the participant astronauts. Whether the mission will be ethical or not is controversial. Based on bioethics, the mission is ill-informed, given the dangers it poses to the participating astronauts.