The Moon or Mars?
Of late there has been much discussion over whether we should focus our space exploration on returning to the Moon or going to Mars. Well, here’s my two cents.
The Moon, hands down. Don’t get me wrong, I like Mars and can’t wait until we go there, but this is what I think will be on Mars 200 years from now: a few thousand people. There will probably be a main spaceport, and numerous bases around the planet, think Antarctica on a far larger scale. The main research will be if there was/is life there. If it is found, you can pretty much scrap those giant domed cities you find so often in scifi. Martians will trump urban sprawl. But if life isn’t found, then we’ll just keep looking, and the possibilities of Martians will trump urban sprawl.
Now, does the Moon get my vote just because of these problems on Mars? No. The Moon is far better than Mars in evolving humanity into a space faring species. While there is interesting selenology (lunar geology), the lunar outposts will soon grow into lunar factories. There will be factories on Mars, but most of their products will just be for Mars. Why ship a sledgehammer all the way from Earth when you could just make one here? But with a lower gravity and no atmosphere to deal with, the products from the lunar factories will probably go into lunar orbit and from there out to the asteroids.
From Earth we could launch a mission to the Near Earth Asteroids using the same equipment we go to the moon with, but throwing in the resources of the Moon means we could do so much more. And among the asteroids is where we will truly become a space faring species. Learning to live on Mars lets you live on Mars. In that sense, focusing on Mars is like going down a dead end street, it may be interesting, but you don’t really go anywhere. In contrast, learning to live on the Moon and the asteroids lets you live everywhere else in the solar system except the Gas Giants and Venus. We need to learn to live in space because there is far more space than there are planets. I said that I expect a few thousand people to be living on Mars 200 years from now. 200 years from now there may be just as many people living on asteroids, but I bet their population growth will be ten times greater than that of Mars.
So, Mars is interesting, but we will be able to do so much more going to the Moon and the asteroids.