Bold visions for the human settlement of Mars, and perhaps beyond, would require unprecedented technical management over successive generations. Space settlement can also only succeed with an uninterrupted and sufficient supply of resources, as the unique dangers of space would make food, water, and even breathable air scarce and expensive resources. Gradually building the infrastructure of a permanent space settlement would also be costly, and unlikely to provide any direct financial benefits to investors in a timely manner.
I recently published a chapter titled “Can deep altruism sustain space settlement?” in the book The Human Factor in a Mission to Mars. In this chapter I explore the idea of “deep altruism,” where a donor is concerned not with benefits to themselves or kin but to distant future descendants for whom they may have no direct connection. Similar to a time capsule or other grand construction or big science projects in human history, space settlement may provide benefits to the distant future that are not easily identifiable today. Wealthy individuals, foundations, and corporations interested in the permanent human settlement of space may find the idea of investing in humanity’s long-term future to be valuable and worthwhile, even if the return on investment is not immediately obvious.
Commercial interests will likely be an important factor as space industries expand. But investment in space infrastructure out of deep altruism can complement market forces in establishing a sustainable human presence in space.