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Fun things to do with Six Trillion Dollars No. 2. Colonise Mars.

January 13, 2015

This is a hard one to cost with any precision, I grant you.  But by way of juxtaposition, I read that the entire Apollo lunar exploration programme cost just under 200 billion – at today’s prices.

This means that if rule of law applied to very rich people, the world could afford 30 Apollo programmes.   Or, put it re another way – if the offshore untaxed 24 trillion were fairly levied to yield 6 trillion on humanity’s behalf – humanity could afford 510 Apollo missions.

I’m thinking that 510 Apollo missions could get us quite a way to settling Mars. I know little of such things, but I’m imagining a succession of preliminary missions full of robots who would construct progressively larger biospheres – making things progressively easier for teams of subsequent humans who would be able to stay for longer and longer periods of time. Over time, we’d be able to construct a biosphere of sufficient size for photosynthesis to take place and a form of enclosed self perpetuating agriculture to develop. The term “colonise Mars” is rather elastic – ranging from a minimal definition of having people visit on a regular basis to an optimal definition of a permanent self-sustaining presence with the ambition of full scale terraforming.

Ultimately of course, human beings have to become space-faring or face annihilation in 5 billion years, along with our sun. 5 billions years is, needless to say, a “sod of a long time” as Rowan Atkinson’s Satan used to say – but I see no excuse for dilly-dallying.

The main reason for spending our 6 trillion dollars (and yes, it is ours) colonising Mars, is because to do so would be really cool. It’s my view, that we shouldn’t be doing the cool fancy stuff to solve practical problems – we should be solving practical problems to do the cool fancy stuff. When Philae landed on that comet last year I felt not only proud to be European, but sort of proud to be human as well. We all of us walk a bit taller and feel a sense of collective well being when such cool stuff proves to be possible.

The fact is, that humans seem to invest far more in fantasising about space exploration than they do – doing it. We have a sadly voyeuristic, almost masturbatory set of priorities when it comes to venturing out into the great unknown. It’s been 42 years since anyone set foot on the moon. Shame. Perhaps governments are waiting for private enterprise to step in and put up the cash for such initiatives. Despite Branson’s touristy initiatives, there seems very little sign that world’s billionaires seem to want to co-operate to really push the boat out (as it were). They seem more interested in carrying their dosh to the Cayman Islands, digging a big hole, and burying it.

Pirates are not natural explorers.

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