16 July 2009



BUZZ ALDRIN: Time to go to Mars. We could have a colony on Mars for what the “stimulus” package cost. And it would have provided more stimulus, too . . .
We could have had a 40 foot tall gold statue of Chernobog doing the tango with Mammon for what the "stimulus" package cost too, and it would be about as useful as a colony on Mars.

No, really. What good does a colony on Mars do us? Three possibilities:

(1) We learn something, either once we get there or as we figure out how to get there. Okay, sure. But why is this particular bit of acquired scientific knowledge better value than any of the other million things we could be studying? We already have all the funding we need for studying cancer, genetics, energy, computation, ...? Going to Mars is going to maximize new knowledge per dollar spent?

(2) We set up some kind of economically viable activity like mining. It's going to cost, at best, a hundred thousand dollars per pound to send things to Mars, and a hundred thousand more per pound to bring them back. Is there any commodity worth that price? If so, does Alcoa or BHP Billiton know about it, because they ought to hop on that wagon. Have we already exploited all the easier-to-reach mineral deposits on or under Earth (including those under oceans)? On this I cast my lot with Bruce Sterling:
I'll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people setting 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.

On the other hand, there might really be some way to make living in the Gobi Desert pay. And if that were the case, and you really had communities making a nice cheerful go of daily life on arid, freezing, barren rock and sand, then a cultural transfer to Mars might make a certain sense.
If we can't live under the Bay of Bengal or on the North Sea or in the Gobi why would we bother with the orders-of-magnitude-harder conditions on Mars?

(3) We want to show off. This is the real reason people want to go to Mars: to plant a flag there and show the rest of the world that we have deep pockets and a Big Swinging D. It's a crass "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair," lacking any practical application. I prefer the days when we used to carve the sneering visages of our fearless leaders into mountain sides for this purpose.

(Via TJIC)


  1. The best reason to go to Mars is for insurance. A backup for humanity should the worst happen, here.

    I can justify using my tax money for this. I can't come up with a reason why I should use yours.

  2. Good point, and I obviously appreciate your restraint re taxes.

    I guess I'd say that we could probably be just as safe for half the money building defenses against various existential threats to Earth -- detection and protection against asteroids, anti-viral research for dealing with epidemics, etc.

    If we really did want to build another basket to put our eggs in, why Mars and not something easier to get to like the Moon or something at a Lagrange point? I just have a fear that any output is going to end up being more vulnerable than Earth will, and will probably end up turning into another Darien Scheme at best.