Re: Econ Ignorance of Space Fans (was: biological changes

David Blenkinsop (
Wed, 08 Dec 1999 17:58:30 -0600

Robin Hanson wrote (in reference to comments about Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars novels and how they are apparently a big influence on some space interest groups, especially the Mars Society):

> Greg Burch responds to Chris Hibbert:
> > > Has anyone pointed out to them how astonishingly ignorant of economics
> > > those books are? ... treat them less as science fiction than as economic
> > > fiction. There's no commerce of any kind ...
> >
> >There are a couple of posters that have a clue about such matters, sort ot.
> >But there's also such a lot of incredible naivete that I've given up
> >contributing, for the most part. It's sad, really.
> What is most striking is that these people pride themselves on their
> technical and scientific expertize. Imagine a group of physicists so
> ignorant of biology that they propose the nation spend billions to
> seek "vital living force" particles by putting bacteria in advanced particle
> detectors. Space advocates ignorant of economics seem just as pathetic.

I've read Robinson's _Red Mars_, then _Green Mars_, then got stuck on the boringness of the third book, _Blue Mars_, which seemingly has no real crisis to hold one's interest. I think it's quite true that these novels approach Mars settlement and terraforming through rose colored glasses, with no fundamentally good rationale behind the economics of the events in the books. The easiest example of this is, in at least one of the books (I think the second book), they talk about how important it will be to export bulk quantities of Mars metals to Earth, with no justification as to why this would be necessary or competitive, compared with the many other options that would be available to a "let's terraform Mars" level of technology! Supposedly, the Mars settlers are themselves using advanced molecular construction of some kind, so why wouldn't the Earthers just build everything out of crystalline carbon, and alumina, and silicates, all using elements very abundant on the Earth itself?

Since the Mars Society people have apparently been inspired by something that is quite silly on the economic side of things, I might as well be a real "pain" at this point, and mention a somewhat related issue, even though my concern here isn't altogether an economic one. If we land actual humans on Mars at any point in the foreseeable future, don't we automatically run the risk of *contaminating* the planet, in effect seeding it with some of our own toughest microbes? Think about it; Mars, along with Jupiter's moon Europa, and maybe a couple of other places, are supposed to be of tremendous science value, because of the chance of finding truly native life forms there. However, if someone's space suit gets ripped open and they die while exploring, or are just barely saved, or whatever, why, at that point, we'll never really know whether anything found thereafter might be contamination from that nasty accident! Presumably, routine waste dump contamination could be guarded against, but even that seems worrisome, if life search integrity is really the best science priority.

Actually, come to think of it, this *does* relate to the money concerns of where to spend space research dollars, since we *don't* want a negative "bang" for our buck, risking the wreck of the best near term science value of Mars, just because it seems neat to send some humans there? I guess I'm spilling over, here, into Mac Tonnies' and Eugene Leitl's "A case for" subject line controversy, the controversy over whether humans ought to settle our own Moon, or Mars, first. Clearly I'm leaning strongly toward Luna, even though it seems that any Lunarites might have to import a bit of carbon from somewhere -- *that's* certainly reasonable from an economic standpoint.

David Blenkinsop <>