It's unlikely that there's anything on the planet that is worth the cost of shipping it back
- In the second season of National Geographic Channel's MARS (premiering tonight, 11/12/18,) privatized miners on the red planet clash with a colony of international scientists
- Privatized mining on both Mars and the Moon is likely to occur in the next century
- The cost of returning mined materials from Space to the Earth will probably be too high to create a self-sustaining industry, but the resources may have other uses at their origin points
Want to go to Mars? It will cost you. In 2016, SpaceX founder Elon Musk estimated that manned missions to the planet may cost approximately $10 billion per person. As with any expensive endeavor, it is inevitable that sufficient returns on investment will be needed in order to sustain human presence on Mars. So, what's underneath all that red dust?
Mining Technology reported in 2017 that "there are areas [on Mars], especially large igneous provinces, volcanoes and impact craters that hold significant potential for nickel, copper, iron, titanium, platinum group elements and more."
Were a SpaceX-like company to establish a commercial mining presence on the planet, digging up these materials will be sure to provoke a fraught debate over environmental preservation in space, Martian land rights, and the slew of microbial unknowns which Martian soil may bring.
In National Geographic Channel's genre-bending narrative-docuseries, MARS, (the second season premieres tonight, November 12th, 9 pm ET / 8 pm CT) this dynamic is explored as astronauts from an international scientific coalition go head-to-head with industrial miners looking to exploit the planet's resources.
Given the rate of consumption of minerals on Earth, there is plenty of reason to believe that there will be demand for such an operation.
"Almost all of the easily mined gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, and phosphorus we can mine on Earth may be gone within one hundred years" writes Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars, which Nat Geo's MARS is based on. That grim scenario will require either a massive rethinking of how we consume metals on earth, or supplementation from another source.
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, told Petranek that even if all of Earth's metals were exhausted, it is unlikely that Martian materials could become an economically feasible supplement due to the high cost of fuel required to return the materials to Earth. "Anything transported with atoms would have to be incredibly valuable on a weight basis."
Actually, we've already done some of this kind of resource extraction. During NASA's Apollo missions to the Moon, astronauts used simple steel tools to collect about 842 pounds of moon rocks over six missions. Due to the high cost of those missions, the Moon rocks are now highly valuable on Earth.
Moon rock on display at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL (Big Think/Matt Carlstrom)In 1973, NASA valuated moon rocks at $50,800 per gram –– or over $300,000 today when adjusted for inflation. That figure doesn't reflect the value of the natural resources within the rock, but rather the cost of their extraction.
Assuming that Martian mining would be done with the purpose of bringing materials back to Earth, the cost of any materials mined from Mars would need to include both the cost of the extraction and the value of the materials themselves. Factoring in the price of fuel and the difficulties of returning a Martian lander to Earth, this figure may be entirely cost prohibitive.
What seems more likely, says Musk, is for the Martian resources to stay on the Red Planet to be used for construction and manufacturing within manned colonies, or to be used to support further mining missions of the mineral-rich asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
At the very least, mining on Mars has already produced great entertainment value on Earth: tune into Season 2 of MARS on National Geographic Channel.
You can watch the Cosmos marathon right now, for free!
Beloved author and astronomer Dr. Carl Sagan hosted a 13-part PBS mini-series in 1980 called Cosmos, that today many in science, the media, and regular science-minded citizens remember fondly. Sagan, often sporting a turtle neck or a corduroy jacket, amazed viewers by unraveling some of the biggest mysteries of the solar system, how stars work, the search for intelligent life beyond our planet, and other expansive topics, in ways both spellbinding and accessible.
Sagan today still holds an illustrious cult status the world over and has been an inspiration to such people as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Family Guy’s Seth McFarlane, and British physicists Brian Cox and Maggie Aderin-Pocock. Science journalists in particular hold the show in high reverence, even referring to Sagan’s monologues as “poetry.” As such, a website called Twitch is allowing you to consume the entire mini-series for free in marathon form on its website. To celebrate such a tremendous event, here are seven things you need to know about Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.
1. Several episodes show a famous photo of Earth with Africa in the upper left. That’s the “Blue Marble” photo Apollo 7 astronauts snapped off in 1972. They shot it while traveling toward the moon. For nearly three decades, it stood as one of the only sunlit pictures of our planet.
Viking Landing model. Credit: NASA/JPL.
2. Though mostly known for his work on Cosmos, Dr. Sagan had lots of scientific chops of his own. He worked on several NASA missions including the Viking missions, which explored Mars. He was even a strong supporter of the SETI institute, a global initiative on the forefront of the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.
3. In the 'Cosmic Calendar' episode, the entirety of the world’s existence is outlined using calendar dates. The Big Bang occurs on January 1, life on Earth arrives on September 25, trees and reptiles come on the scene on December 23, and finally in the last few minutes, humans pop up. The written record only comes along in the last 10 seconds of the calendar. Talk about putting our species and place in the universe into perspective.
Bill Nye speaks at “A Celebration of Carl Sagan,” November 12, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Getty Images.
4. The series is known for some great quotes including:
“Up there in the immensity of the cosmos, an inescapable perception awaits us. National boundaries are not evident when we view the Earth from space. Fanatical ethnic, religious, or national chauvinisms are a little difficult to maintain when we see our planet as a fragile blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.”
The golden record and its cover for the Voyager I mission. Credit: NASA/Caltech.
5. Sagan oversaw the creation of the famous gold records which adorned the Voyager I and II missions. These are currently hurtling through space, complete with welcome messages in many languages, different musical compositions, and even whale song. They were created in case one of the Voyagers bump into intelligent, spacefaring life.
Voyager spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL.
6. The filming of the series took a year. It had some of the most impressive special effects for any documentary series before or since. The production team traveled to many different locations in countries such as Egypt, Mexico, India, Cambodia, Italy, and France. Many of the studio segments were shot at Renssalear Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York. There, the students made several of the items used in the show, including a model of a Mars rover.
SETI radio telescopes searching the stars. Credit: YouTube.
7. Another of Sagan’s incredible quotes:
There are some hundred billion galaxies, each with, on the average, a hundred billion stars, 1011 x 1011 = 1022, ten billion trillion. In the face of such overpowering numbers, what is the likelihood that only one ordinary star, the Sun, is accompanied by an inhabited planet? Why should we, tucked away in some forgotten corner of the Cosmos, be so fortunate? To me, it seems far more likely that the universe is brimming over with life. But we humans do not yet know. We are just beginning our explorations. From eight billion light-years away we are hard pressed to find even the cluster in which our Milky Way Galaxy is embedded, much less the Sun or the Earth. The only planet we are sure is inhabited is a tiny speck of rock and metal, shining feebly by reflected sunlight, and at this distance utterly lost.
Watch the Cosmos marathon here.
To hear Mr. Sagan speak for himself, click here:
Scientology is the true religion of America's capitalist soul. "To me," says Louis Theroux, "Scientology is selling spiritual hamburgers."
What is the most quintessentially American religion? It would need to have celebrities, a Hollywood setting, big money, and a confusing swirl of innocence and the macabre. That's Scientology defined, says documentarian Louis Theroux. The church was founded by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard around the same time that the first McDonald's opened, and there are enormous parallels in the business models of these two operations. Scientology is the embodiment of America's capitalist soul, with two seemingly at-odd goals: to spread the good word of Dianetics (Scientology's sacred text) as far as possible, but to only give its wisdom to those who are willing to pay for it. The top level of Scientology's ideology ladder is called the "Bridge to Total Freedom" — however it's anything but free, costing an individual a minimum of $250,000 to access. It begs the question: Do you want salvation with that? Louis Theroux's latest documentary is My Scientology Movie.
If gay people could unite America enough to win the right to marry, surely an entire society can borrow from that playbook to get the US back on track.
For four decades, gay rights activists and couples who appealed to the courts for the right to marry their partners were fighting against a legal system. The real battle, however, was against public perception. Evan Wolfson, founder of the national bipartisan organization Freedom to Marry, outlines the strategy that transformed public understanding and led to a triumph in the Supreme Court in June 2015. It wasn’t the legal appeals or height of the headlines that brought marriage equality to gay people, Wolfson says, rather it was millions of quieter, more personal conversations "around coffee tables and living rooms and water coolers in offices" that became the necessary engine of change. It’s much more difficult to deny a person a basic human right one on one, face to face. Wolfson opens his strategic playbook to Americans in a time of cavernous political division. "The elements of success [of Freedom to Marry] are very applicable and adaptable... for other causes, other organizations, other countries, other ways of moving our society forward, getting our country back on track, and making a better world," he says. Wolfson and the marriage equality story are the subject of the new documentary The Freedom to Marry, in cinemas now.