The Case for Mars


By Robert ZUBRIN


The question of taking on Mars as an interplanetary goal is not simply one of
aerospace accomplishment, but one of reaffirming the pioneering character of
our society. Unique among the extraterrestrial bodies of our solar system,
Mars is endowed with all the resources needed to support not only life but the
actual development of a technological civilization. In contrast to the
comparative desert of the Earth’s moon, Mars possesses veritable oceans of
water frozen into its soil as permafrost, as well as vast quantities of carbon,
nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen, all in forms readily accessible to those
inventive enough to use them. These four elements are not only the basis of
food and water, but of plastics, wood, paper, clothing, and—most importantly
—rocket fuel. Additionally, Mars has experienced the same sorts of volcanic
and hydrologic processes that produced a multitude of mineral ores on Earth.
Virtually every element of significant interest to industry is known to exist on
the Red Planet. While no liquid water exists on the surface, below ground is a
different matter, and there is every reason to believe that geothermal heat
sources could be maintaining hot liquid reservoirs beneath the Martian
surface today. Such hydrothermal reservoirs may be refuges in which
microbial survivors of ancient Martian life continue to persist; they would
also represent oases providing abundant water supplies and geothermal power
to future human pioneers. With its twenty-four-hour day-night cycle and an
atmosphere thick enough to shield its surface against solar flares, Mars is the
only extraterrestrial planet that will accommodate large-scale greenhouses lit
by natural sunlight. Even at this early date in its exploration, Mars is already
known to possess a vital resource that could someday represent a commercial
export. Deuterium, the heavy isotope of hydrogen currently valued at $10,000
per kilogram, is five times more common on Mars than it is on Earth.
Mars can be settled. For our generation and many that will follow, Mars is
the New World.


Twenty to thirty billion dollars is not cheap, but it’s roughly in the same
range as a single major military procurement for a new weapons system; it’s
in the same range as the money the United States government gave to Mexico
in one afternoon in the summer of 1995. Spread over twenty years, with the
first ten years developing hardware and the next ten years flying missions, it
would represent between 8 percent and 12 percent of the existing NASA
budget. For the sake of opening a new world to human civilization, it’s a sum
that this country can easily afford.
Exploring Mars requires no miraculous new technologies, no orbiting
spaceports, no anti-matter propulsion systems or gigantic interplanetary
cruisers. We can establish our first outpost on Mars within a decade, using
well-demonstrated techniques of brass-tacks engineering backed up by our
pioneer forebears’ common sense.
How we can do it, and why we should do it, is the dual subject of this

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