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Is Mars Really Worth It?

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Before any space lovers accuse me of solar heresy, let us consider the following scenarios as possible. Martian dust is revealed to be non-fatal towards human flesh and engineers have developed ways to keep the red particles from damaging any machines. Vast water resources are located underneath the Martian ground and science has developed a way to make the red soil fertile for plants.

NASA and other international space agencies have devised ways to reduce the amount of time to terraform a world from an extreme of 10,000 years to within a lifetime of fifty years. Last but not least, education has enlightened humanity to the need to breed amongst the stars, and has encouraged world governments to provide international space agencies with all of the funding they will ever need to accomplish their mission of resettling Mars.

But even if all of these were probable in the near future, Mars is missing a key ingredient to make it a worthy home for terrestrial life. That key ingredient missing from the red planet can be summed up in one word–resources.

Now some may consider this logic trivial or silly, but unless Mars has something to offer the solar system (or more specifically, Earth) then it will not be worth the trillions of dollars necessary to turn this barren wasteland into an Eden. Similar to the California gold rush, valuable resources on Mars would stimulate a desire to travel towards the red planet, which in turn would stimulate businesses and corporations to promote an economy upon its surface.

The moon is a perfect example of this. Until recently, there was little desire to travel back to the lunar surface, as humanity had already established its presence by landing on the white world in 1969. Despite direction from the Commander-in-Chief (i.e. Bush), NASA was still searching for a logical reason to revisit Earth’s nearest neighbor.

They were, that is, until Hubble spotted an element called helium-3 upon the moon’s surface, an element some researchers herald as the perfect non-polluting fuel. Some scientists have analyzed that there is enough of this on the moon’s surface to power the world for thousands of years, which has caught the attention of fuel-hungry nations, such as China.

What Mars lacks is a similar resource that would attract the necessary attention to not only conquer the world environmentally, but also enable a worldwide economy to develop. After all, people are going to need to earn an income while surviving the fierce habitat, especially if Mars is to be home to millions of colonists, let alone billions of future residents.

Once a colony is established on the red planet, it will need to contribute something back to planet Earth, something other than a few scientific curiosities. If the Martian globe is unable to bear any fruit for those who invested in colonizing the world, then its greatest hope is to become a tourist destination hosting miles of desert for the eye to see.

Sources: Science @ NASA, Space.com, Aerospace Scholars NASA

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  • Bennett

    Darnell – You seem to overlook the single greatest benefit from establishing a self sustaining colony on Mars – the doubling of humanity’s chance for long term survival.

    One sizable asteroid could wipe us out, just as the dinosaurs were wiped out. Having a successful and growing colony on Mars IS the point, resources will come not from Mars, but from the technology and experience we gain by making the colony happen.

    All the physical resources earth will ever need are in the NEO asteroids, just waiting for us to reach out and grab them. The push to the Moon, and then to Mars, is how we develop the technology and infrastructure to make mining near-earth space possible.

    Mars is worth it.

  • If our only goal was to double the chances of human survival long term, we could colonize half the worlds within the solar system and watch half of them die from either starvation, freezing tempretures or war due to poverty reasons.

    If we are to expand throughout the solar system then let us pick the right worlds to do that on. I would rather build upon an oasis than in a barren dessert, and resource wise that is exactly what Mars is–for now.

    Mars needs to offer something back for the rest of humanity, because people are not going to care about “longevity of the species” when they can’t advance themselves economically. We need to find ways Mars can benefit the rest of the solar system. Otherwise it may become nothing but a simple red ghetto.

  • Bennett

    “If we are to expand throughout the solar system then let us pick the right worlds to do that on. I would rather build upon an oasis than in a barren dessert.”

    Okay, I’m down with that. Where would you suggest?

    I’ve googled “Planet Oasis” with no items returned…

    You do know of course, that anything outside our solar system is slightly out of reach, right?

    Let’s see. Venus? Nope. Jupiter? Nope. Mercury? Nope. Saturn? Nope. Pluto? Nope. Uranus? Nopety nope.

    The short list is short indeed.

  • gonzo marx

    “is Mars worth it?”


    first, pure Research, and especially the space program has ALWAYS paid back it’s investment with ludicrous Interst payments

    remember, you are typing on a computer…and ask where the tech was worked from before answering

    you raise a decent point…why should those that stay “home” care?…what will they get out of it?

    my Answer…we don’t know….yet

    so, before you fire up the terraforming gizmo, might i suggest we go and poke around a bit first to see what goodies are there?

    could be gold in them thar hills!

    have we EVER really known what the Fruits of Exploration were going to be BEFORE we went?


  • Just a thought, folks. Mars has no magnetic field. That means that the solar wind, just a pretty sight for us in the skies, is a very real phenomenon on Mars. At the surface. All sorts of nasty radiation gets right down there, and there is no real way to “seed” the planet with an atmosphere. Even if we succeeded, the lack of a magnetic fied would destroy it.

  • Bennett

    Very good point Ruvy, plus it’s damn cold on Mars. Humans however, are remarkably adaptable.

    Sub-surface development takes care of the radiation danger, shielding and all that.

    Would it be a garden paradise on the surface? No. But there are always hardy and brave souls willing to take on the challenge of pioneer work. In conditions similar to the scientific bases in Antarctica, humans can and do live.

  • I assume Mars has gold, silver, platinum, copper, iron, and gemstone deposits, just like Earth?

    And uranium? And nickel, and everything else (except for coal and other fossil fuels, of course)?

    So, as long as we are able to get the cost of space travel down, Mars is worth exploring (and exploiting)…

  • Mars is far more likely to have valuable ore deposits, worth the effort of mining, than the moon is. The data we have gathered so far indicate Mars has a history of volcanic and tectonic activity, which are the processes that form ores worth mining. By contrast, the moon shows no evidence of any such activity.

    Rock samples brought back from the moon bear this out. Any useful minerals that may exist in those rocks are tightly bound up in highly oxidized forms, which would require tremendous amounts of energy and effort to refine into usable raw materials.

    As for the helium-3 likely to be found on the moon, there are several huge problems. Only the surface material will have helium-3, because it is deposited by the solar wind. Only tiny amounts will be available, even in the lunar surface material. Extracting any usable amount of helium-3 will require strip-mining vast areas of the lunar surface, transporting all that material vast distances to the refining machinery, and then taking all the material through highly expensive refining processes to separate out the helium-3. On top of those problems, there is the sad fact that we currently have no real use for helium-3. Someday it will probably be a valuable fuel for fusion power reactors, but at the moment, no such reactors exist.

    Mars has the resources to support an independent branch of human civilization, using technologies we have easily within our reach right now. The moon does not.

  • FL Smith

    Mars is a really big deal for all humanity. Recently we discovered water on mars and it would only take about six months just to reach Mars. So why don’t we try Mars.