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The Curious Case Of Mars Exploration

Curiosity landed on the red planet and a whole new era of Mars exploration waits for us.  Just in case you haven’t heard, this supersized robotic rover comes with all the bells and whistles to make remote controlled exploration as easy as possible from the comfy confines of an air conditioned mission control center roughly 350 million miles away.  The atomic automatons touched down on Mars in the wee hours of Monday morning, about twenty two minutes after midnight CST.  It was a picture perfect landing considering that the space capsule carrying Curiosity hit the Martian atmosphere at a bazillion miles per hour and had about seven minutes to hit its mark.  That’s the equivalent of taking a dart and hitting the bulls-eye of a target on the moon, although it really helps to have a robotic, self propelled dart that can make course corrections along the way.

The two point six billion dollar investment poured into the Curiosity project will have the rover spending the next few years digging through the Martian soil and examining Martian rocks.  We’ve been told that the mission is to discover if there was ever an environment on Mars that could actually support our idea of life at the bacterium level.  That sounds all good and noble and scientific.  But I suspect that there’s a much more practical reason for the investment of a king’s ransom into putting a one ton rover on Mars to sift through rocks.  I think NASA is actually trying to determine if there are minerals of value that will put getting a mining operation on the red planet a priority.

Let’s say that Curiosity finds more water or amino acids or the equivalent of bacteria Twinkies, then what?  Nobody is going to want to go to Mars only to tell people that they have to make an investment in Lysol spray to clean and kill 99.9% of the surface germs and that can thrive there.  Curiosity is there to see up close and personal what piqued the interest of one of the satellites that are constantly circling the planet, probing it for all of its geological secrets.

If Curiosity is lucky enough to find the equivalent of what might be the mother lode of zilliondollarite, that discovery will go a long way towards government funding even more extensive robotic explorations and eventually a manned mission to Mars to figure out the best way we can get our hands on Martian ore that would make today’s precious metals look like, well, rocks.  The days of going out into space just because we can are long gone.  Now, space exploration is more of a business proposition that needs to have some kind of return on such high dollar investments.

Once the nobodycanaffordium is discovered, the investment in all that scientific research will finally start to payoff.  All that money that was paid to corporate America to develop the rockets and space machinery for us to reach Mars will be able to sell their services to other corporations salivating at the mouth for their chance to get their hands on that sweet Martian ore.  Governments will race to lay claim to swaths of the Martian landscape so they can sell exploration permits to the highest bidder.

In the future companies will line up to compete against each other for the chance to mine for red gold.  Other companies will develop the technology to make travel to Mars safer and quicker.  Other companies will hone their business skills to support the companies that will travel to Mars.  There will be legal issues that have to be worked on and worked out.  Other companies will specialize in Martian logistics.  Just about everything that goes into supporting people who work on this planet will go into supporting people who will work on that planet.  The business opportunities will be endless as well as amazing.  And everything that goes into learning how to do interplanetary business with Mars will go into developing other interplanetary ventures.  And just think it all started with a few pretty significant investments in robotic satellites and rovers by the government.

Now I can imagine that one day in the future some Martian politician will stand up and say that the development of the industries and services that have come to exist on Mars didn’t happen because of some entrepreneur.  It actually took a collective investment by the people to make all those businesses happen.  It took somebody investing in education to make the scientist and the business people and the teachers and everybody else that made space exploration and robotic technology and rocket technology get from its infancy on Earth to whatever it becomes.  The technology that made travel back and forth to Mars possible, that made communication with Mars possible, no entrepreneur did that.  And inevitably, you’ll have another politician condemn anyone who has the unmitigated gall to say that entrepreneurs didn’t build the Martian businesses and industries and government needs to get out of the way of the people who had the vision to make their dreams a reality.

People in the future will make the suggestion that government is stifling creativity and rewards stagnation.  If only government would stop the oppression of honest businesses that would never take shortcuts at the risk of the safety and lives of the people who actually work for them.  Businesses would never knowingly put their employees or the environment in harm’s way.  Forget all the history of businesses putting profits before workers that happened as recently as the last oil spill or mine explosion or facking fluid in drinking water or whatever you can point a finger at with suspicion of wrong doing.  Businesses have learned from the mistakes of the past and that’s why they no longer need regulations to keep them from doing wrong.  Business is ready to step up to the plate and do what’s right without regulation.  And if that was true then what’s the harm in having a little regulation there to make sure they do the minimum required?

But we’re talking a few decades into the future.  By then, everybody will forget that the first tepid steps to the red planet started with government funding of research to see what exactly what was there for us that we could dream about.  No corporation would have ever made that venture on its own.  The costs were simply too great without much of anything to actually point to as a return on investment.  It took government spending to make all that happen.  Everything that has gone to Mars to find out what’s there has been funded through tax dollars.  Just imagine what kind of future we would have if we stopped investing in the future so some of us can maximize our short term profits for the here and now.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012 - Posted by | Life, Thoughts

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