Will the investment in the Curiosity rover pay off?

Scientists from the Curiosity Rover mission team raise their arms at a press conference after the Mars Rover Curiosity successfully landed on the surface of the Red Planet on August 5, 2012 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Jeff Horwich: You can't get more international than Mars -- where the Curiosity rover has landed. Scientists say they're primarily searching for signs of life. But this is Marketplace, and of course we see dollar signs. And we're not the only ones: companies are springing up with the goal of extracting non-Earthly resources.

Chris Carberry is the director of Explore Mars. It's a nonprofit that promotes Mars missions, and education about the Red Planet. Great to have you here.

Chris Carberry: Well, thank you for having me on.

Horwich: Going to Mars with rovers, later with people, this all feel good, Star-Trekky kind of stuff. Is there an economic reason to be there?

Carberry: Actually, there are many economic reasons to be there. For instances, it could really be a great boost for national moral and when you get the nation excited it that could have a direct impact on the economy – where the market goes in general. But this goes well beyond that as well, during the Apollo landings millions of students were inspired to go into science and technology fields because they were inspired by those moon landings. If we had spent the money on education I don’t know if it would have had the same impact as that inspirational value of landing on the moon.

Horwich: But let’s get a little bit cynical but maybe more realistic here, as I understand it, there's good evidence that Mars has lots of Magnesium, Chromium -- other metals even more rare. They might just be sitting on the surface. How far off is Mars mining?

Carberry: Mars mining is a long ways off. Probably the thing of most value on Mars initially is the water, which they’ve found. But maybe, you know 50 or 100 years off, depending how well we build up our infrastructure – that’s all key — we may be able to mine minerals there. But that is still a long ways off.

Horwich: If we look far out into the future, however long it takes to let’s say start mining Mars, are you worried about the implications that we would pillage that place?

Carberry: I would hope, as we go forward, we would take the lessons we’ve learned here and put them to use more effectively on Mars. But there is always the prospect that we might actually ruin the planet – we might not be controlling that process, it might be other nations. But if we had to guess on this, I would say we would do it in a responsible manner.  

Horwich: Chris Carberry with Explore Mars. Congratulations on the landing and thanks for your time.

Carberry: Well, thank you very much. 

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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