Why Colonizing Outer Space Is a Bad Idea: 9 Lessons From Pop Culture


Here’s the ultimate good-bad idea: the Dutch aerospace project is planning to send four humans to Mars in 2023 … and keep them there. Permanently. As of yesterday, 20,000 people had applied for a spot on the mission, and 24 to 40 of the applicants will duke it out on reality TV to be among the first humans to colonize a planet. Clearly, they haven’t seen enough space movies to realize that this is a horrible idea. If these applicants just took the time to watch the following movies and TV shows, they’d surely think twice about hopping into a spaceship.

Dark Star

In this John Carpenter black comedy, a crew is assembled to destroy possible enemy planets that could threaten future colonization. Except the crew members become so bored on the ship that they start to lose their minds and subsequently mess things up (they accidentally blow up all their remaining toilet paper, for instance). Which brings up a good point: with only four people living on Mars, won’t socializing get painfully boring after the initial shock of being in space wears off?


As this German film about humans flocking to space after Earth becomes uninhabitable points out, Mars will undoubtedly get just as cramped as Earth once people realize they can just dump the planet that’s not working out for them and move elsewhere. Give it 30 years and Mars will be the new Williamsburg, with endless lines at the local Trader Joe’s/ artisan café/ laundromat, so what’s the point of even going?


Aside from introducing the possibility that humans risk repeating history if there somehow happens to be life on Mars that we haven’t noticed yet, Avatar reminds us that if we’re going to use another planet for its resources because we’ve depleted our own, it’s only a matter of time before we suck every natural resource dry and have to move to another planet. When will we learn?

Battlestar Galactica

Take it from this TV series in which colonized humans fight a 1,000-year war with warrior robots created by ancient reptilian races: we still don’t know what’s out there. Suddenly, staying on Earth to deal with mundane problems like rush-hour traffic and expired yogurt sounds much more appealing.

Total Recall

The scene in which Douglas Quaid ventures to Venusville, the red-light district populated by people who have mutated due to poor protection from radiation, says it all: we have no idea how living on a different planet will affect our long-term health, and we might start to look like the lady above. Who wants that?

Firefly and Serenity

In Joss Whedon’s short-lived TV series, Firefly, and its feature-film sequel, Serenity, a totalitarian government called The Alliance rules a solar system’s worth of planets with an iron fist. Founding a new colony always brings up questions of governance; who will lead those four Mars colonists, and what will his or her agenda be?

Conquest of Space

If there’s anything to be gained from this 1950s George Pal sci-fi flick, it’s the realization that the weather may be just as crappy out there in space as it is here on Earth (in the movie, the travelers are hit with a sudden snowstorm). Better to save that Mars audition money for a trip to Hawaii instead.

Lost in Space

The colonists encounter “bubbles” that warp time and space. Can you imagine dealing with that inconvenience on a daily basis?


Sam Bell just wants to return home, but it takes the whole movie for him to get there, and it’s one hell of a struggle. In other words, the permanence of this Mars voyage is thoroughly unsettling, because surely everyone will eventually miss something or someone from where they came from.