The value of Mars
by Frank Stratford
|As a project, or “megaproject,” as it is often described, sending humans to Mars has been said to have benefits for humanity in many areas.|
One of those ideas on the fringes of government priorities is a project to send humans to explore Mars. Before I go into why a government or the private sector should fund a project like this, I’d like to state why I came to promote this cause. I am by nature a person who likes to help others and I don’t like seeing the suffering of my fellow man. So I have a choice: I can try to fix each of the millions of problems that exist every day for humanity one by one, or I can try to find and support ideas that can get to the root of our problems and completely and radically change things from the foundations up.
As a project, or “megaproject,” as it is often described, sending humans to Mars has been said to have benefits for humanity in many areas. Yes, those benefits can be pursued without a Mars program as we are doing now, but in the form of a single and ongoing program we can reach those benefits much faster and with better focus than our current system, where governments are constantly cutting funds to brilliant and progressive programs across a wide range of areas. Every time the issue of sending humans to Mars comes up, I hear the critics claiming we should “spend the money here on Earth” or, more specifically, “how can we afford the luxury of space missions when people are starving to death and the planet is being damaged by human industry,” to name a few.
But what these critics ignore is that if we do send humans to Mars, every dollar will be spent here on Earth. Governments do already spend money on all of these other projects and ideas, and, in fact, public welfare is the highest cost for most governments. Worldwide, the money spent on space accounts for less than 0.5% of world GDP. And that includes from the private sector as well. So the idea that space projects are too expensive and hurt other priorities is completely false.
In fact, it is military spending that has dwarfed all other areas for many years. How about instead of building bombs and bullets to kill each other, our governments spend that on creating technologies that can help to ease the suffering of the peoples of the world? The reality is, when governments spend money on space exploration, it does actually benefit the people, starting with education and inspiration. For example, take a class of 100 kids. Show them a mission to Mars or building a road. See what inspires them more to become an engineer or scientist.
|All of the ideas we come up with there will have direct benefits for those of us here on Earth that, if left in the current priority mix, would otherwise continue to receive sporadic funds and focus at best.|
Governments have many priorities these days and always will. While they are frantically trying to bail out banks at a cost that dwarfs even military spending, the banks continue to struggle and people continue to lose their homes and jobs. The reason for all this is because governments are applying band-aids but not treating the cause of the problem. The cause of our financial woes may seem complex, but in reality if we subtract the “growth” option, if we take out the priority of progress, we are simply trying to put out giant fires with leaky buckets.
Our nations need such giant projects. From bridges that span continents to maglev trains and new medical frontiers, our governments should be thinking about the benefits of these projects. Sending humans to Mars ranks higher than all other megaprojects in what it could do for humanity if launched and funded as an ongoing project. It’s that simple.
What project do you know of that has benefits in areas of medicine, education, employment, green energy development, transportation, water, and agriculture or food supplies, to name only a few? Sending humans to Mars is going to require a sustained and consistent focus in all of these areas and more, from advances in communications to robotics to new materials development. No other project on Earth can come close to advancing all of these areas.
Why will going to Mars advance these areas? Mars lies in deep space, and is a frozen and toxic planet with no fossil fuels or resources that can be easily tapped into. If we go there we are going to have to develop technologies and solutions for energy production, for water production, for food production, for waste management, and for more robust machines and systems. All of the ideas we come up with there will have direct benefits for those of us here on Earth that, if left in the current priority mix, would otherwise continue to receive sporadic funds and focus at best. A Mars program will bring all of these areas together and will require consistent funding over several years.
Right now today, no government is spending money on sending humans to Mars. Yet look at how screwed up our priorities are. Yes, when a government or group of government begins to spend in this area they will be accused of ignoring other more needy areas, but this is simply not the case. And when they do start spending money on this project all of the above “needy” areas will receive new injections of funding they never had before. Nothing else compares to it. This is why I support this cause. And this is why governments and the private sector should support it as well.
Now some might say, “So we go to Mars just to provide an excuse to spend more money on areas we should already be spending more on?” I say yes. Right now it is clear governments are paralysed in regards to their spending priorities. If they were going to spend more money on all of these areas individually they would have by now. But the reality is that even if and when they do increase spending on some of these areas, it will be too little, too late.
|The key is to provide a government funding source but hold the private sector accountable to achieve the tasks set for it.|
So that’s our choice: we can start this megaproject for all of the benefits it will give us and for the answers it will lead us to—for the search to find life, for stretching our technology to the limits and for the challenge of history that it is—or we can continue with more of the same, more infighting, more “austerity” measures, more bank bailouts, and more unemployment and lost hope. We can start this megaproject in a time when we can least afford it because really there is no better time. We need a project like this more than ever right now.
Every dollar spent on a Mars project will benefit us all here on Earth. And every technology developed, every medicine and machine made, and every step we take into that void will advance our society and advance all of the issues we care about. Is that not worth your support? And in a world where new private space companies are lowering the costs of space access, Mars is now more affordable than ever. If governments want to be responsible with a project like this they should get together and pool their funds into a “Mars X Prize” of sorts: say, $40 billion spread over 10 years. The first organization to achieve various milestones is awarded funds after their achievements, so governments cannot lose financially, and results are guaranteed.
The key is to provide a government funding source but hold the private sector accountable to achieve the tasks set for it. I have been a big advocate of private-sector Mars missions, but for a project of this size, there will still need to be some government involvement at this time, despite what some amateurs might claim. So if you support this project, please support the groups that are advocating it like The Mars Society, MarsDrive, The Mars Foundation, and Explore Mars. We exist to see that project become a reality in our time. We know what it can mean for humanity, and with your support and your voice, our politicians can know this too. Going to Mars is about growth for our world and a focus on solutions we desperately need.