As an avowed science nerd and techie, I just wanted to weigh in strongly against any notion of sending a manned mission to Mars. I agree with Tim over at Balloon Juice:

[W]e won’t send men to Mars. The concept is far outside our technological ability, it adds precisely zero mission capabilities that robots can’t or won’t soon be able to do and the next president will almost certainly cut off the project. This Mars mission exists to keep NASA scientists away from politically incorrect studies about global warming, climate and the evolution of the universe.

The government’s ability to understand and predict hurricanes, drought and climate changes of all kinds is in danger because of deep cuts facing many Earth satellite programs and major delays in launching some of its most important new instruments, a panel of experts has concluded.

The two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, determined that NASA’s earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000. It stands to fall further as funding shifts to plans for a manned mission to the moon and Mars.

More at the NYT.

As a result, the panel said, the United States will not have the scientific information it needs in the years ahead to analyze severe storms and changes in Earth’s climate unless programs are restored and funding made available.

“NASA’s budget has taken a major hit at the same time that NOAA’s program has fallen off the rails,” said panel co-chairman Berrien Moore III of the University of New Hampshire. “This combination is very, very disturbing, and it’s coming at the very time that we need the information most.”

Someone could argue that this disappearance of research funds at the same time that studies are finally nailing down the problem of global warming is purely a coincidence, if someone wanted to be wrong. This administration systematically disappears any information that might cause political discomfort. It’s so much easier to simply deny problems, and thereby punt them along to some other administration, than do the right thing and deal with them. More.

Doug had some further thoughts on the cost:

[T]he best way to study Mars is with robots. Those Mars rover missions cost about $250 million a pop. An optimistic estimate puts the price of sending humans to Mars at $160 billion (and others think it could cost as much as a trillion dollars). That’s 640 Mars rover missions.

I really hope that Obama kills this mission to bars Mars and the space shuttle program, both of which are titanic wastes of money. Just because Gregg Easterbrook agrees doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Maybe Tim F will write a post saying I’m an idiot for not realizing the genius of sending men to Mars, but I just don’t see how it makes sense to talk about a trillion dollar vanity project when a trillion dollars is apparently too much to spend to give everyone health insurance. And when the trillion dollar vanity project has no more scientific merit than radically cheaper robotic missions.

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  1. schu says:

    And so we write off exploration and send the bots where we fear to go. The health care issue is totally separate from this discussion as that argument is over whether we control health care of if the insurance companies control it. The people fighting health care reform also supported a failed oil war that cost well over three times what health care cost. Yes we need to build a better shuttle system, one that is more cost efficient and not as dangerous and not worn out. But if you think that we cannot afford a Mars manned mission because of health care you are conceding the health care argument to the opposition.

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