The Case For Galactic Parks on Mars

Can I interest you in a mountain that’s two and a half times taller than Everest, with a base the size of Arizona? Or how about a canyon that’s four times longer and deeper, and 20 times wider than the Grand Canyon? I’m referring to Olympus Mons and Valles Marineris, respectively. They’re two of the most jaw-droppingly spectacular geographic features in our solar system, and prime candidates to become the first ever Galactic Parks on Mars.

Human colonization and space tourism of the Red Planet is not a matter of if, but when. And when it’s finally upon us, Earth’s brightest minds will have the chance at a blank(ish) red slate with which to start an entirely new society. The possibilities are endless, but what we as adventurers and nature lovers of the 21st century must ensure is that the colonists bring with them America’s Best Idea: The National Park System.

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Of course, parks on Mars may seem inevitable, but it’s never too early to start thinking about conservation and access to the most wonderous places. Governments of today must treat this as a colonization priority, not an afterthought. Where to land, where to build, and where to extract resources from will be some of the first and most important questions to answer, and we owe it to future generations to ensure that the brightest gems aren’t strip mined, but fostered and protected from the get-go.

But the benefits of planning today don’t end at conservation. Tourism will be a huge early driver for the Martian economy, and galactic parks might be one of its greatest boons. I reckon that a very high percent of colonists and space tourists would spend loads extra in order to see the largest mountain and canyon in the galaxy. I know I would! But if you’re skeptical of these economic benefits, just look at America today; the outdoor recreation industry is estimated to be worth hundreds of billion annually, larger than gas, oil and mining.

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Now imagine, if you will, a trip to Valles Marineris Galactic Park in the year 2150. To set the scene, Mars has not been terraformed, and surface conditions are just as inhospitable to life as we know them to be today. But colonies now pepper the planet and there are even a few budding cities built around galactic transit hubs. Months have passed and your ship finally arrives on the Red Planet, docking at a city near the equator. From there, you take a short connecting shuttle to the Valles Marineris Galactic Visitor Center on the canyon’s rim. Shortly after landing, you get your first look into the canyon and gasp in utter amazement. It’s sort of like the feeling you got the first time you gazed into the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but even grander still. Inside the visitor center, you’ll find not only food and lodging, but an interpretive museum with everything you need to know about the natural history of Valles Marineris. By the way, scientists think it formed as a tectonic crack when the planet cooled. How sweet is that?

The next day of your adventure is the big tour. You and your family take a high speed tram for miles along the rim, stopping at all the best viewpoints. But the real excitement begins as the track descends sharply down, tracing a near vertical path to the canyon floor. Once at the bottom, the tour group eats lunch, then suits up for a planetary walk in space suits. A guide leads you on an interpretive trail, while a nearby group of galactic backpackers depart in a rover on a multi-day adventure trip.


The tour concludes as you ride the tram back up at sunset, watching colorful light hit the opposite side of the canyon as you return to the visitor center, amazed and contented. This scenario is only the beginning of galactic park tourism! It can, will, and must be so much more to so many people.

If you want to help make this wonderful dream a reality, for now, just stay educated about Martian colony efforts, and be vocale about standing up for conservation and accessibility everywhere. It’s imperative that these special places are apolitical and not attainable by only the wealthy. I cherish the day when comes a blossoming of nonprofits dedicated to protecting galactic parks and ensuring access for all. Keep an eye out and help fund them in their infancy by donating! This reality is coming in the not too distant future and it’s our responsibility to ensure it’s done correctly for the sake of future generations. As Captain Jean Luc Picard would say, let’s make it so.

Header image concept art by Ben Hastie. Galactic Park logo by Jake Burke. Rover and aerial photography courtesy of NASA.