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A Privately-Financed Manned Mars Mission-“Yes We Can!”
Over my many years in the Mars manned flight advocacy community I have been frustrated with all of the false starts that we have had with the US government and funding for actual manned Mars missions. We have heard all sorts of promises and then plans change and priorities change. It appears that we are treading water and going nowhere.
My late father had some words of wisdom for me as follows:
“Son, if you want something done right, do it yourself!”
These are my sentiments with respect to getting a true manned mission to Mars organized, planned, funded, and launched.
I do not work in the technical, research, or commercial side of the aerospace industry. I stay up from 2:00 AM until 10:00 AM each workday doing macroeconomic research for clients in Europe, Sao Paul, and Africa. When I worked these hours with the New Orleans Police Department as a young Tulane student we said: “I’m working the grave yard shift.” By the way, there are some virtues to working these hours including no interruptions and the ability to bring to bear incredible powers of concentration.
I discovered an amazing fact during my research. On any given day there is some $15 trillion dollars in circulation in various hedge funds, investment trusts, etc. around the world. In this time of high unemployment and awful economic suffering, there is still a lot of wealth in this world. Of equal surprise to all of us is that most of this wealth is in the US, Europe, and Canada. Asia is a super growth story but they do not control that much of the wealth yet.
A figure of $15 trillion dollars is almost impossible to comprehend. Let us work with a smaller figure of $1 trillion dollars. Here is a good representation as follows:
(The object of this exercise is to show there is more than enough private money in
the world economy to finance a manned mission to Mars and to start a complete program to establish human settlements on Mars.)
In any private investment scheme, one needs to offer the investor a good return with a degree of safety to attract funds. So far we know of nothing on Mars that we could bring back to earth and make a huge sum of money for our investors.
So how do we attract the funding that we need? Step one is to have a solid and creditable plan of action. This has to be a detailed plan covering everything from rockets carrying payload to low earth orbit, astronaut transport vehicles, propulsion systems to carry our manned vehicle to Mars, and the hardware to take astronauts to the surface, the habitation modules for them to live in, surface transport vehicles, etc. This plan would be long and detailed. It would have the blessing of the finest engineering minds in the Mars community including our own Dr. Robert Zubrin. Under no circumstances would this flight be “a record breaking event” or “a cheap stunt.” Rather it would be the start of viable human settlements on Mars. There would also be a tentative cost estimate on the project. For this article I will set a figure of $15 billion dollars.
Step two in the process would be to find the actual investors. In my humble opinion you are going to find two groups of investors. The first group will be giant companies like Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, and Facebook who appreciate technology and want to do something that advances mankind and enhances their image. (Of course they will make a large profit on advertising revenues, etc. Their motives will not be completely altruistic.)
The second group of investors will be those that true manned Mars advocates would see as more crass and interested in immediate profits. Such an investor might be CNN, the Turner Cable Network, or Fox News that might pay several billion dollars just for the right to have an embedded reporter fly on the first mission manned Mars mission. Promoters of mega sporting events would be another group of investors who would pay large amounts of money to have their names associated with the project. Let your imagination run wild and you can imagine any more. The advertising revenues from such a project could run into the tens of billions of dollars on a worldwide basis. Likewise merchandising agreements and book deals would generate billions of more dollars in profits.
Step three will be setting up all of the commercial agreements and actual schedules. The good news is that one will not need $15 billion dollars “upfront.” Over the ten year life of the project smaller sums would be needed each year. Please bear in mind that the Dutch and the British used private companies like The Hudson Bay Company and Dutch East India company to settle the New World and parts of Asia.
Step four will be to pick the prime contractor to build it all and make it happen. All of can think of people like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE, and the RSC Energia, and Orbital Technologies companies in Russia come to mind. We also have Space X here in the US that has superb capabilities to carry out this project. Out of these excellent companies and others that appear later a prime contractor will be chosen.
Step five would be to realize that ten years is a long time to keep the attention of the public and investors. Smaller projects at intervals including a manned trip to an asteroid could be undertaken to maintain interest and sharpen technology.
Step six would be to accept as inevitable that technical and human challenges will arise that will increase the price of such an under taking. Cost over-runs are going to be inevitable. Those who oppose a privately-financed manned mission to Mars argue that technical challenges will arise that literally are too expensive for private investors to pay for. I honestly do not agree with this.
Step seven will be the realization that once governments see a viable project going forward, they will want to be involved. They will come with money in hand.
All of this will lead to one of the most exciting moments in human history.