Motives to sell the colonization of Mars

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There are a number of ways of classifying human motivation. Here we consider direct self interest, altruism, submission to authority, service of an abstract good and financial motivation; and their relation to colonizing Mars.

The Motivations

A person could be motivated to be a colonist on Mars if he or she could find more secure employment, more congenial colleagues, a healthier environment or more satisfying work. For these motivations the prospects of emigrating must be realizable within a small fraction of a person's lifetime, which is not possible today.

A person could be motivated to establish a colony on Mars so that others might have the benefit of living and working there. Mars could provide materials that would allow others to live in space habitats or allow the construction of orbiting power stations for Earth. For these motivations a person today needs to be satisfied with the idea that these benefits only accrue to subsequent generations. No one alive today will be young enough to qualify as a colonist when a colonizing effort has become possible.

People do a great many things just because the law requires it. If they must see a portion of their taxes support an effort to colonize Mars, people would generally submit. Governments would enforce such support only with the agreement of substantial portions of their populations.

Devotion to the abstract good of a Martian colony is partially a sort of altruism in that good comes to those who survive when humanity avoids extinction by space faring. Partially it is appreciation of the difficulty of the task, the grandeur of the accomplishment and the love of ingenious technical solutions for their own sake. It is like collecting stamps or climbing mountains. Some people just like to do it.

Profit might be made in colonizing Mars. The high capital cost, the risk and the long time before first financial returns remove colonizing Mars from the category of things usually considered to be investments. Still any colony envisioned for Mars must be profitable at some future time. When altruistic motives have caused all of the effort that these motives will bring forth, the colony must pay for its own survival or finally fail and die out.

The danger of overselling

The group of Mars colonization enthusiasts has a larger share of people with engineering expertise than the average group foisting some scheme upon the public as worthy of their altruistic support. Engineers and aerospace engineers in particular have had a sorry record of selling projects to the public. It is famous that any project recommended to the military takes longer, costs more, and does less than the boosters claim when they propose it; and not by any small margin. The people who sold the space station and the space shuttle are included. That is the reputation we have. It will not change this year or the next. Engineers as a group have a disinclination to tell the boss that his or her pet project will not perform as advertised. When it is clear that a part of a project he or she is responsible for will cause problems, the engineer says so, but there have been times when something could have been said but it was not. We have had astronauts trained as fighter pilots even when it was clear that the best pilot for a rocket to orbit is a computer. Worse, a pilot was designed into the space shuttle system. The Soviet's Buran was not an economic vehicle, but it did prove that a pilot was not needed for a shuttle type vehicle. A robot pilot and lack of a front window might not have been enough to save the space shuttle from economic ruin, but it would have helped. The requirement for astronauts to be pilots was a matter of policy from Dwight D. Eisenhower, and it is proper for engineers that are hired to implement a policy to do that instead of suggesting an alternate policy. With all due respect to the memory of Eisenhower, having fighter pilots aboard a rocket does not help the rocket reach orbit. The man-rating feature of giving the pilot control of abort modes never saved any lives. The man-rating system had requirements that only the Space Shuttle could fulfill, guaranteeing that the project would continue until it killed astronauts. Now that the space shuttle is destined to retire, the up-dating of the man-rating system can be considered too.

Putting make work projects on the space shuttle or on the space station did not enhance the prestige of astronauts in the long run. People learned that sending up astronauts increases the expense of a project that could be done with robots, but it was the price that was paid to get funding from the NASA bureaucracy. If the purpose of a space program is to have astronauts as a demonstration of national technical prowess, this almost makes sense. If the purpose of a space program is to make progress toward eventual space colonization, make work projects for astronauts in orbit make no sense.

If we sell people on colonizing Mars, then deliver a few astronauts who waltz around on Mars a while and then come back and report that there is no reason to ever go back to that magnificent desolation that is Mars; there will be some unhappy people. Of course there is water on Mars, as ice, frost and hydrated minerals. There is every element needed to build factories and cities on Mars, but if the industrial infrastructure is not put into place to extract these things, they will not help a bit. Let us see the plan that will result in cities on Mars before we sell them. Mars will kill an unprotected human being about as quickly as Luna will. Let us not sell paradise and deliver a wasteland.