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  • Writer's pictureCarter Gaffney

What Kind of People Will be the First to Move to Mars?

I am a creature of my experiences - as we all are - so it should come as no surprise that I use my past experiences to form my current thoughts about Mars, who will go and what life will be like there. In trying to answer that question I have also thought about a phrase I often hear from Matthew McConaughey, “Defining ourselves by what we are not is the first step that leads us to really knowing who we are.” If there is one thing that I am certain that Martians cannot, and, therefore will not be, are specialists.

One of the most indelible lessons from my time in the Navy, both as a SEAL and as a Surface Warfare Officer, is that although Sailors in the Navy may have a specialty, there are no specialists in the Navy. On a Navy ship, everyone on board, from the Captain to the newest deck seaman is first and foremost a Sailor and a member of the ship’s crew. Their particular job, be it an electrician or gunners mate or Chief Engineer, is a distant second to their primary job of being ship’s crew. The reason for this is self-evident to anyone who has ever served on a ship at sea: if a ship ever goes down at sea, the ocean doesn’t care if you are the Captain or the person mopping the deck…you are all going to Davy Jones locker. This is reflected in every operation the ship conducts. If there is ever a fire on a Navy ship, it isn’t just the Damage Controlman who fights it. Every member of the crew reports to the damage control stations and does everything to stop the fire, because if you don’t do that nothing else matters.

In a SEAL platoon, there are only two corpsmen - one per squad. So what happens if the corpsman is shot? Do the rest of the SEALs shake their fist at the sky and curse God, asking “Why? Why God? Why was Rick shot and not anyone else? For now we are helpless.” Or, does one of the other SEALs (whom Rick himself has previously trained on the basics of combat medicine) going to check for airway, breathing and circulation, stop the bleeding, apply a tourniquet etc?

Well it’s actually a trick question because neither answer is correct. The SEALs are first going to win the fight. If you are in a gunfight, and you lose, nothing else matters - it’s a hot and sandy version of Davy Jones locker for everyone. Makes sense, “But what about the other Corpsman,” you ask. Well let’s suppose the other Corpsman is also a sniper, we’ll call him J.T. Is J.T. going to put down his sniper rifle when he may be the only one who can find the enemy sniper who shot Rick in the first place? No, because he is a SEAL first and foremost and a SEALs job is always to win the fight…only then does his “specialty” as a corpsman take over.

There are obvious exceptions to this rule…sort of…because the Navy does have doctors and lawyers and supply officers etc, but they are what are called restricted line officers. This is no less honorable a way to serve because the Navy needs good specialists like doctors (and hats off to them cause they certainly take a pay cut) but you cannot be a restricted line officer and become a SEAL. And although there are restricted line officers on ships, their restricted line job is always their job. The doctor on a large Navy ship doesn’t fight the fires, they don’t drive the ship - they are the doctor - period, because if something happens to them, we are out of doctors.

On Mars, humans will be the scarcest resource and every Martian will be asked to bear a tremendous load; mentally, physically, morally, spiritually, in almost every way imaginable. We will need some very specialized humans, no doubt - but everyone will need to be able to accomplish the Martian equivalent of “fight the fire at sea” or “win the gunfight.” It is our responsibility on Earth to make sure that every early Martian has the skills needed to do that. But more importantly, we need to design a system and society that does not artificially inflate the number of specials required for it to exist. More on that later...


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