Could SpaceX Land the First Humans on Mars?

Original Post: 13 June 2012
Posted Here: 4 December 2017

MarsDoes it really matter?

On 1 June 2012 James Gunn sent out an email with a link to an article at the science and science fiction blog, io9, with the title which I have appropriated for this post. As you may recall, SpaceX is the company that recently made the first commercial delivery to the International Space Station. The question being asked in the article, as in the title, is whether or not the future of space travel is in the hands of private industry.

That question is not, however, my primary interest in the article. I’m not so much interested in who will go to Mars (NASA vs. private corporations) but why private corporations would go. One reason suggested was the mining of Mars’ natural resources:

It’s possible that Mars will turn out to have valuable minerals or radioactive elements, that are worth going there to mine, says Zurbuchen. On the other hand, Turnage points out that to make this a return on someone’s investment, you have to spend the money to ship that stuff back to Earth, “to do something with it here.” We don’t know enough about the resources available on Mars yet, to know whether there’s anything worth shipping back to Earth, but if it’s valuable enough, then someone will find a way.

The real question is, could you find any resources on Mars that you couldn’t also find on an asteroid?, says futurist Jamais Cascio with Open the Future. There are probably enough gold and other rare minerals on one big “iron” asteroid to crash global markets forever — but what can you find on Mars that you can’t find on asteroids, which don’t have their own gravity wells? At least for now, Mars isn’t known to have anything particularly useful — or unique.

If bringing natural resources from Mars to Earth is such an iffy question, what about transporting them between stars? One of the themes found in science fiction  is the notion of interstellar war. I presume that interstellar wars would be for the same reason that we have wars between nations on Earth: the desire to control natural resources. You may point out that many wars are ideological wars. However, whether you are discussing conflicts between political ideologies (Capitalism vs. Communism) or between religious ideologies (take your pick of any two warring religions), it still boils down—whether they want to admit it or not—to kill them and we get their resources. But when it is too costly to haul a ton of diamonds across 40 light years, who’s going to care how the people of Waxon are governed or how many gods the people of Taupoi believe in? Who will go to the expense of a war to bring them around to our way of thinking?

On my web page for The Stellar Economic Community, I said,

In most cases, carrying natural resources interstellar distances is not economically practical, so the types of things traded are cultural items unique to a civilization alien to your own: art and artifacts, information, stories, music, crafts, etc.

This still leaves the SEC with plenty of room for greed, larceny, murder, piracy or just plain grifting. But if hauling resources back to Earth from Mars is hardly likely to be worthwhile, then interstellar war seems hardly worthwhile either.

Keep reading/keep writing – Jack