#103 March 1997
Section 220.127.116.11.103.of the Artemis Data Book
Mars, as much as many of us dream of going there, even settling there, has always seemed more elusive. It lies more than a hundred times further out into the void, and takes a much longer time to reach it, with launch windows every two years or so, not "open all the time." For those plotting economic development scenarios, Mars for all its scenic appeal and for all its abundance of life-needed elements critically deficient on the Moon, unlike the latter seemed to offer no bill-paying export poten-tial. The economic case for Mars had yet to be made.
Enter Dr. Robert Zubrin, formerly of Martin Marietta, a brilliant and charismatic visionary. He showed us how to put together a Mars mission that did not presuppose a large infrastructure in Earth orbit, nor on the Moon. "Mars Direct" was possible by not taking along the fuel needed for the return to Earth trip - that, would have been processed on Mars itself, using the ingredients of its atmosphere. The process involved has now been demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction and delight.
Zubrin did not rest here. In his recent book "The Case for Mars", he goes on to develop his recent theme that Mars is the ultimate "frontier" in our solar system, and begins to make an economic case by pointing out a number of export possibilities.
Then he goes too far. Trapped, as many of us seem to be, in a "foregone conclusion" that we can afford to do only one or the other,he attacks lunar industrialization straw man plans, calling the Moon "a dead end siren call to nowhere," We utterly reject the 'either-or' presumption, the mainstream belief that only governments can do space. Yes we agree, only governments can do Mars. There are, at best, severely insufficient opportunities to develop or produce early exports on a scale that could pay for the development of the Martian frontier. Mars has nothing to sell Earth but scenery for billionaire tourists, and a safety valve frontier for those so dissident that they'd embrace a world where no life can exist in the open, where it is almost always and everywhere cold beyond bitter.
Mars principal and logical market, alas, is a senior industrial frontier on the Moon, to which it might ship volatiles like methane and ammonia, processed not on the planet itself, but on its moons, Deimos and Phobos. Should Lunar Prospector find more extensive ice deposits than has Clementine, the Moon's need for importing volatiles will be reduced and/or delayed. Mars "might" produce some strategic metals, insufficiently concentrated on the Moon, such (e.g. copper, silver, platinum, gold). But that there are ores on Mars, where hydrotectonic processes working to concentrate elements in veins had much less time to work than on Earth, is still hypothetical.
The Moon's lack of concentrated ores and its deficiency by both terrestrial and Martian standards in life-needed volatiles, would seems to make it an unpromising place to set up a frontier civilization. A similar comparative lack of resources and raw materials did not stop Japan's rise as an industrial supergiant. Japan got what it needed by trade. Just as counter-intuitively, the Moon's critical deficiencies will prove its greatest asset, The Moon will be compelled, to secure both growth and survival, to open the rest of the solar system: asteroids, comets, the moons of Mars, then Mars itself, and so on.
Indeed, it is Mars, not the Moon, that stands to be the dead end siren. It has everything it needs long term to cradle a thriving human exclave of some eventually considerable size. Mars will have no need to open markets among the asteroids and comets nor anywhere else,. If there is anything for sure, it is that Martians will be the ultimate isolationists.
Yes, if we are talking about an initial expedition to Mars only, doing the Moon first is a detour. BUT, if we would open Mars as a frontier for settlement, we must already be developing the lunar frontier. Both will grow together. Eventually, Mars will boast the greater population. But just as Plymouth and Jamestown had to come before Chicago and Los Angeles, so must Luna City come before Mars City.
Let the government(s) choose to go to Mars. Let space activists who see their role only as government gadflies concentrate on Mars too. But first, set the game rules aright, so that international private enterprise can open the Moon. If we don't have both, in this fashion, in this order, we'll only win another tragicomic "flags and footprints" dead end.
-- Peter Kokh
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto