2009-10-06

The Folly of Near Term Manned Mars Exploration

The Mars Underground (torrent) (imdb) is a well made documentary film featuring director of the Mars Society Robert Zubrin. Zubrin was instrumental in shaping the current direction of NASA towards a Manned Mission to the Red Planet. Despite any romanticism, this is a complete waste of time, effort, and resources.

Long term, of course people will need to inhabit Mars and establish presence elsewhere beyond the Earth if we are to guarantee human existence. However, in the short term, governments would be better off developing artificial intelligence and robotics, and sending their best and most robust machines to explore and one day terraform Mars. The public investment in such useful technology pays off for everyone. The Mars Underground film does not even address this possibility. It unquestioningly assumes that the pinnacle of Humanity's existence would be to make physical contact with the Mars then expediently return to the Earth. Ultimately, the film amounts to a piece of cultist propaganda.

Make no mistake, the Apollo Moon programme was a waste of resources, but it did produce some political, scientific and economic dividends that offset some of the costs. At the time, computers were primitive although robotic probes were nonetheless useful. The Moon is also significantly closer to the Earth.

Regarding Mars, there is a third way which would waste far fewer resources, and do something to satisfy the Monkeys on Mars Cultists. The answer of course is to send people on a one way trip to establish a permanent Mars colony. Put in this context, the cultists are forced to ask themselves why they are so obsessed with returning people to Earth if Mars is worth visiting. Is this nothing more than a sexually frustrated egotistical fantasy of trillion dollar tourism, or is there some sensible purpose? If Mars is worth visiting, it should be worth staying. This is the argument of Lawrence Krauss who fundamentally advocates robotic explortation of Mars. Audio of his NPR Science Friday Interview. Crazy though it may be, plenty of sexually frustrated scientists who would jump at the chance for a one way ticket to Mars.

Robots are expendable, cheaper, and far more effective as a tool of scientific exploration and human colony construction than people will ever be. Let the private sector send people into space if it is economical and put public funds back where they belong: in scientific and technological research and development.

1 comment:

Nomad said...

I don't have any links, but I do recall hearing something about a review either being planned or already underway about NASA's projects. Bush pushed for a greater NASA "vision", dominated by manned flight, but like with so many other things he was largely making these plans with billions of fictitious budget dollars. Now that the dark fiscal reality is creeping closer, perhaps some of the more grandiose plans will face the axe...

...Of course, if the PRC would like to send humans to Mars, then let them go ahead and spend their fiscal and trade surpluses on that I guess.