A Case for Mars: Social Welfare vs. A New Apollo

I wrote this editorial in response to one printed yesterday in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  I hesitate to post the link here, as they chose to reject my response because it was “too long,” presumably, and contained hyperlinks.  But it might provide a context, if needed: Original Article

My Response …

A Case for Mars:  Social Welfare vs. A New Apollo

Typical arguments against a manned mission to Mars center around the idea that such a mission would be too expensive and would result only in vague, minimal economic benefits.  An argument focusing on expense alone misses the point.  Numbers alone don’t tell a complete story, especially with government expenditures.  The annual budget of the federal government (~$3.5 trillion) includes other massive outlay for social programs with equally “vague” and some would say, minimal, economic benefits. 

On the political left, the figure of $212 billion is quoted; while on the right, up to $1 trillion spent on social welfare.  These figures, too, are annual expenditures.  The usual, quoted price for a manned trip to Mars (a similar $200 billion to $1 trillion) would be a total figure—spread out over many years.  Regardless of which figures you believe, a manned mission to Mars would cost orders of magnitude less than many of the federal government’s other outlays.  And the social benefits would be substantial.

An entire generation of Americans (and many throughout the world) were inspired deeply by the Apollo program, which yes, was expensive.  But it also culminated in what many people would argue is the greatest achievement of not just our country, but of our species.  Inspiration of this sort is impossible to quantify but leads a country’s citizens toward distinct, economically viable activities—it motivates them to innovate, to build, to work hard, to learn, to engineer and to create.  Massive welfare expenditures keep people mired in poverty, dependent on government assistance.  A manned mission to Mars would be of an inspirational magnitude equal to and perhaps greater than Apollo.  Using the $200 billion to $1 trillion estimate and assuming, roughly, that a mission to Mars would take 10 years to plan and complete, $20 billion to $100 billion a year would be spent on it (or ~10% of that spent on social welfare in the United States).  This is money well spent—an investment toward a positive future, rather than a mopping up of the social failures of the past.

The comparison with Apollo is apt.  John F. Kennedy (the donor of the political will behind Apollo) once said:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  A mission to Mars would be a worthwhile, inspirational effort by Americans, a gift given to their country rather than a handout received from it.

Will Burcher is a former police officer and current author of “The GAIAD,” a story of ancient secrets not quite forgotten and the positive power of global perspective. He lives and works in Colorado, USA.

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