Team:UCopenhagen/Why Colonize Mars

Why colonize Mars?

On this page you can read about our collaboration with the other Danish iGEM team from the technical university of Denmark, Hyphae hackers, and the iGEM team from the University of Exeter, Project perchlorate. We have had an extensive collaboration from early in the process, resulting in a cross disciplinary report on Mars colonization in which we together examine the motivations for Mars colonization, and the bioethical concerns of bringing humans to Mars. We have furthermore collaborated with the DTU iGEM team Hyphae hackers on an event held in the Tycho Brahe Planetarium in Copenhagen.

Our collaboration with Hyphae Hackers and Project Perchlorate is substantial because:

  • We have been working closely together on making a report on Mars colonization
  • We have used the conclusions from the report in our dialogues with laymen on a major culture event in Copenhagen

The process

We noticed our common interests with the other Danish team DTU (The technical university of Denmark) quite early. Our universities are tightly bound together and we have had extensive dialogue from the very beginning. We met the DTU team early in the process both at the Biobrick seminar held by DTU and at the Nordic iGEM conference held by iGEM team Lund. Since we had both chosen to work with projects related to Mars and since we were both interested in exploring the subject, we decided to collaborate on it.

Soon after the decision of collaborating with DTU was made, The iGEM team from the university of Exeter contacted us to ask if we wanted to collaborate with them on exploring Mars related Human Practice issues. We asked Exeter if they would like to collaborate with us and DTU making it a three-teams collaborations, and they said yes.

Extensive brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming was a big part of our first Skype meetings, and because of our early start, our discussions managed to shape parts of each others Human Practice projects. We especially discussed how unusual it was for space related igem teams to question space travel ethically, even though there are lots of obvious questions to ask. We decided that we would like to explore the questions further and found especially the history of colonization and the moon landing, the arguments for and against Mars colonization and the ethics of colonization interesting and worthy of further exploration. We continuously met online and discussed what we had found for most of the summer months, and then began writing by the end of August.

The report

Our report on Mars colonization focuses on the reasons for colonization and the bioethics of humans potentially contaminating Mars. It analysis the reasons for colonization from a historical and a rhetorical perspective, and discusses the potential risk of contamination from a bioethical perspective. While the historical analysis is focused on analyzing reasons for the first moon landing and motivations for colonization of land on earth, the rhetorical analysis is focused upon analysing main arguments for and against Mars colonization in the public debate. The Bioethical discussion is concerned with the potential risk of contamination of Mars.

In the historical analysis of comparable events it is concluded that:

  • The major historical reasons for exploration of space and colonization of land on earth has been demonstration of power and eagerness to explore new land
  • Support from the public seems to play an important role in motivating such decisions

In the rhetorical analysis of argumentation in the public debate it is concluded that:

  • There are major arguments against colonizing Mars right now, that the average world citizen is likely to take into consideration. Therefore we find it unlikely that the wish to colonize Mars will gain significant public support right now
  • In the future, as technology improves and the realisation of colonizing Mars moves closer, and the current mayor problems for humanity hopefully takes an end the topic might gain more public interest and awake stronger opinions and more engagement from the public

In the bioethical discussion of potential risk of contamination it is concluded that:

  • The risk is rather small due to extensive sterilization procedures and that it is considered unlikely that any bacteria coming from humans would be able to survive in a martian environment and thereby contaminate Mars

You can read our report here..

The historical part is written by Melissa McGrail from the DTU iGEM team, Hyphae Hackers, The rhetorical part is written by Frida Kampp from our team and the bioethical part is written by Matthew Romang from the University of Exeter iGEM team, Project perchlorate.

Event at the Tycho Brahe Planetarium in Copenhagen

Together with The DTU team we have been participating in the “Culture night” in Copenhagen at an event held by the Tycho Brahe Planetarium.

The Culture Night

The Culture Night in copenhagen is an annual event taking place on the night when the schools begin their autumn break. On the culture night all the museums, governmental buildings, institutions, stores and much more is open for the public until midnight offering different events, talks, concerts etc. You can read more about the culture night here.

The Tycho Brahe Planetarium

The Tycho Brahe Planetarium is Denmark’s most advanced center for popularizing astronomy and space research and promoting knowledge on natural science. On the Culture Night, the planetarium is open until midnight and has 4000-6000 visitors in total. You can read more about the Tycho Brahe Planetarium here.

Our stand on the culture night

We participated in the culture night at the Tycho brahe Planetarium by having a stand on the museum together with DTU. The aim of our participation in the event was to talk with “normal” people and get their input, as well as telling about our projects and inspire people to consider the question of Colonizing Mars or not.

In order to facilitate quality conversation about the role of biotech in Mars colonization and the question of colonizing or not, we brought some different materials for activities.

Our activities:

  • Since we work mostly with GMO bacteria, we decided to bring some bacterial cultures in petri dishes coming from different places at our University. The petri dishes with bacteria facilitated conversations with both children and adults about how bacteria like to live, and why they’re not always dangerous and how the can be used for different purposes.
  • We also brought some tobacco plants grown at the university, and showed people how we could inject agrobacterium into the leaves and thereby change the plants DNA. We did of course only inject water at the event, but it lead to many interesting conversations about DNA and how bacteria acts.
  • Besides from the Petri dishes with bacteria and the tobacco plants, we also brought petri dishes only with agar so the kids could try and spread a liquid on them, and we also brought a lot of clay for building Mars colonies on round tables with orange background. While the petri dishes with agar helped facilitate conversation about how we work in the laboratorium, the clay helped inspire to a more general conversation about how to build a sustainable society.

Survey about predicting Mars colonization and voting for and against Mars colonization

As we were quite curious about people's expectations of the future in terms of colonization, we decided to make a survey with five questions. The survey was meant to make people talk about the questions together and thereby inspire them to think about the future. 36 persons answered the questions, you can see the results here:


We also made a vote on colonizing Mars or not, where people simply put a pasta in a glass if they thought humans should colonize Mars and a pasta in another glass if they thought we shouldn’t. The poll was also made with the purpose of making people think and talk about whether colonization of Mars is a good idea. 114 participated in this poll.

Colonize Mars?


Our conversations with people at the Tycho Brahe Planetarium helped us understand different ways of thinking about colonization. Though most of the people we spoke with had a positive attitude towards Colonization, many of them were hesitant to jump to conclusions immediately. We consider that finding very positive as it shows that people (at least the ones we spoke with) want to take their position on informed basis.

Another observation from the event was that a lot of people were concerned with sustainability both on earth and on Mars, questions like “How can we make sure that we will take better care of Mars than we have taken care of the earth” and “shouldn’t we be more concerned with sustaining our own planet instead of focusing on a new one?” were asked a lot of times during the night. The questions are related to some of the arguments analysed in the report, and it was very interesting for us to discuss these considerations with people. Through the conversations we gained a better understanding of people’s considerations about sustainability.

Integration of findings

Our process of writing the report and interaction with the visitors at the Tycho Brahe planetarium has made us think more nuanced about the reasons for colonizing Mars and which considerations we need to make before taking such a decision as a society. We have become more aware of thinking about sustainability and seeing the potential colonization of Mars as a democratic decision.

Due to our conversations with people at the Tycho Brahe Planetarium, we have decided that we want to make sure that our product is as sustainable as possible by considering our choice of design and material for the chamber. We do not want to jump to conclusions, and therefore this is an issue we plan to investigate thoroughly in the future.