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Zubrin Talks Mars With SpaceDaily

Robert Zubrin shortly before heading north to Devon Island in July 2001.
Los Angeles - Dec 9, 2001
What could you do with six billion dollars? Robert Zubrin thinks you could go to Mars with it. Unless you are the U.S. government, that is: then it would take closer to twenty billion dollars.

Dr. Zubrin is the founder and president of Pioneer Astronautics, and a founder of The Mars Society, a group dedicated to expanding the knowledge of Mars and establishing a permanent human presence there.

He knows something about space exploration, having been part of it for over sixteen years. He advocates harnessing the pent-up dreams of average citizens to finance Mars exploration. As he puts it, "a hundred million people times a hundred dollars is ten billion dollars."

Founded in 1998, The Mars Society is currently funding, from entirely private sources, the Flashline Arctic Research Station, the Utah Desert Research Station, a Pressurized Rover project, and has begun the TransLife project.

The latter, a series of experiments using a rotating habitat to simulate gravity, was started for about three hundred dollars in a lab in Colorado, serving as a reminder to the great national laboratories of the world that great science does not always have to cost megabucks.

This is not to say that Dr. Zubrin and the would-be Mars explorers of the world intend to abandon the public sector in their quest to make humanity a multi-planet species.

The Mars Society also begun what they are calling 'Operation Congress', which at a conference at Stanford University was able to collect over 400 signed letters to Congress in favor of developing the technologies for manned Mars exploration within NASA's Human Exploration and Development of Space (HEDS) organization.

Those professionals working in the field recognize that despite any flaws or weaknesses governmental space agencies have, they are a source of vital technology required for space development.

Like every other grass-roots movement, the citizen's movement for space exploration and development can trace its roots to the early pioneers in its field. It was these pioneers, working initially outside the public sector that made the initial developments in astronautics, rocketry, and the other sciences.

Nor have private efforts to reach beyond this planet ceased. Space exploration is a hard field to break into, however, especially in light of the large influence the national space administrations have. Beal Aerospace and the Rotary Rocket Company are two examples of companies that tried to sidestep NASA in an effort to find a niche for themselves. But both have since closed their doors.

Kistler Aerospace is another fledgling rocket company that chose to mine the public sector rather than ignore it, and while they are not quite a Fortune 500 company, they have survived (so far).

Nor are all space rivalries between the private and public sector. There are now many many private space exploration societies competing for the space enthusiast's hard earned money. When asked about the potential for consolidation of effort, however, even a die-hard Mars enthusiast such as Dr. Zubrin concedes that there are different societies for different focuses.

While holding a leading position in The Planetary Society Dr. Zubrin decided to focus his own efforts on Mars, however, instead of trying to steer the larger organization in that direction he decided to form The Mars Society.

"If you can't focus, you can't accomplish things," he said in a recent interview, and pointed to The Mars Society's list of accomplishments as proof that their greater focus is yielding greater results.

It is precisely a lack of these accomplishments from NASA recently that is driving these private organizations. After spending as much money between 1989 and today as from 1961 to 1973, NASA has produced less than a fourth as many planetary missions.

While some might argue that significant progress in space exploration is still occurring in the public sector, the growth of organizations such as The Mars Society stands as proof that many people are starting to look elsewhere to fulfill their dreams of opening new frontiers. As these people put their money where their hearts are, we can expect to hear more from The Mars Society in the years to come.

To read the full transcipt of Jim Owens' interview with Robert Zurbin click here.

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