I write SF for a living. Possibly because of this, folks seem to think I ought to be an enthusiastic proponent of space exploration and space colonization. Space exploration? Yep, that's a fair cop — I'm all in favour of advancing the scientific enterprise. But actual space colonisation is another matter entirely, and those of a sensitive (or optimistic) disposition might want to stop reading right now ...
When we look at the rest of the solar system, the picture is even bleaker. Mars
is ... well, the phrase "tourist resort" springs to mind, and is promptly filed in the same corner as "Gobi desert". As Bruce Sterling has puts it
: "I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people settling the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach. Nobody ever writes "Gobi Desert Opera" because, well, it's just kind of plonkingly obvious that there's no good reason to go there and live. It's ugly, it's inhospitable and there's no way to make it pay. Mars is just the same, really. We just romanticize it because it's so hard to reach." In other words, going there to explore is fine and dandy — our robots are all over it already. But as a desirable residential neighbourhood it has some shortcomings, starting with the slight lack of breathable air and the sub-Antarctic nighttime temperatures and the Mach 0.5 dust storms, and working down from there.