Okay, 50 years from now is hard to predict. We might have fusion power and nanotechnology. If so then things are so radically altered it's hard to even imagine what our priorities would be. All our climate problems on Earth should be easy to fix if we have that technology - no need to create CO2, and easy to remove it from the atmosphere using nanotechnology and unlimited power - though probably with many new problems of their own.
Also 50 years from now is enough time so there's a chance we will have found life on Mars already - either present day or past life - after all that's the thing that the scientists are most interested in finding - so - what if we do find it - what happens after that? So - that's a big if, and for instance - some say that we should keep Mars off limit for humans if interesting life is found there. Because the benefits of a planet with interestingly different life could be so
50 years from now is far enough into the future so that we might possibly have had a chance to do a biological exploration of Mars that's reasonably thorough if we go all out to do it properly - send hundreds of rovers there and explore all parts of Mars - especially if we do it from orbit via telerobotics.
On the other hand 40 years ago they thought that by now we'd have had the chance to do a thorough biological exploration of Mars - but we have yet to send our first biological expedition to Mars after Viking (Curiosity can't detect life, unless very obvious, just organics).
Also 40 years ago they thought we'd have nuclear fusion by now.
IS IT GOOD TO COLONIZE ANYWAY?
When you say "do we colonize X or Y" - the underlying assumption behind your question is that we should colonize space. But shoudl we.
Though I like the idea, I'm not entirely sure it is.
First we have to be much more peaceful than we are today. Make interplanetary spaceflight easy and cheap - and that means that every country has technology better than the US has today - military technology also - and - it only takes one crazy person with a spaceship to destroy an entire colony - they are tremendously vulnerable with the 10 tons per square meter outwads pressure on the thing skins of the spaceships and habitats - or to cause massive destruction on the Earth. Can we survive that sort of a future?
Do you want N. Korea to be able to colonize Mars and the asteroids? Do you want Afghanistan to do it? Or whoever it is you think is currently a threat to world peace? If not, what's going to stop them? Why the US and not N. Korea? Will you make it an international law that only citizens of "good" countries can go to space?
If you are uncomfortable about them doing it, you should be uncomfortable about the US doing it also - because whoever you send there may not stay aligned to the beliefs and ideas they had when they first set off to explore, there may be immigrants from other cultures. There may be children born who never saw Earth may have different ideas and so on. Then as spaceships get as easy to build as airlnes are now, any country will be able to send astronauts anywhere in the solar system. I woudn't be surprised if that's the situation already 50 years from now.
We've made a good start on peaceful exploration - with the Outer Space Treaty which prohibits weapons of mass destruction in space or claiming territories in space. But it's not too clear how that would transition to peaceful settlement in space.
As for colonizing the galaxy - we worry that there might be ETs out there who want to destroy the Earth. Well I think that's extremely unlikely because it woud be a big coincidence that they happen to arise at just the same time we do, they should have been here for millions of years already. So if they wanted to destroy or take over the Earth they should have done that millions of years ago.
Whether that's right or not, I think there's a risk that humans could become nuisancy ETs for the rest of the galaxy - that if we expand into it, without destroying ourselves - but still keep our current basic attitudes - that we could destroy other planets with ETs on them - which might be far advanced on us, but without technology and without any way to fight back, or to protect themselves from our machines or from our microbes.
I think there might be a way forward to avoid that, but have asked the question many times and not yet heard a good answer. Do you know of a way we can colonize the galaxy peacefully without causing problems to other ETs? Not us - but our descendants a thousand times removed?
And without causing problems to ourselves also as our descendants return to Earth maybe with warlike tendencies - or worse than humans, self replicating machines, or biological entities or hybrids that they created? How likely is that? Might it be that other galaxies in our universe have already fallen prey to such things? Or can it never happen, if so why not?
If we start colonizing the solar system not sure there is much to stop us colonizing the galaxy - even just step by step via Ooort clouds, in a few tens or hundreds of million years. If so what will restrain us and make sure we are peaceful and a good influence on the galaxy rather than barbarians that will destroy civilizations and the more peaceful of our own human fellow colonizers?
And that could happen on Earth and in our solar system first, if it's going to happen.
I think colonization and exploration could be a good thing - but needs to be done carefully and well, with foresight. After all we've made so many mistakes on the Earth - how can we stop ourselves from making worse mistakes in Space?
So far we have proceeded with some care and respect with Mars, and I hope that continues, even more so. With the right attitude we can find the right way ahead, but I don't think it is an easy and obvious one. The only thought I have to offer is - that though it seems frustrating, we should go reasonably slowly.
And the Moon is the best slow first step I think - that or space colonies, and not to rush things. We aren't going to go extinct in the next few hundred million years through natural causes, highly unlikely. Only through our own action. And one way we might destroy ourselves is through warfare in space and colonists destroying each other and the Earth.
So - though it's great to imagine it, I don't think we need to rush forward into that future of the solar system full of colonists until we begin to have some good answers to those questions.
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