One of the nagging questions surrounding Elon Musk’s plan to start a Mars colony is what economic purpose would such a settlement serve? The original American colonies exported tobacco and furs to Europe, with the West India colonies producing sugar. But, at first glance, #Mars does not seem to have any unique products that would justify sending as many as a million human beings 100 million miles away to settle an inhospitable planet. But a recent article in Fortune seeks to answer that question. As it turns out, Mars has the advantage of proximity to a source of vast wealth.

Asteroid mining has, thus far, focused on Earth-approaching rocks that could be easily reached from Earth or perhaps settlements on or close to the moon.

But Mars is closer than Earth to the Asteroid Belt, a region comprised of rocks ranging from small boulders to the dwarf planet Ceres that consist of material left over from the formation of the solar system. The idea is that Mars, besides serving as a second branch of human civilization, would be a base of operations for miners setting out to the Asteroid Belt to access its vast mineral wealth. Minerals mined from the Belt might be exported to Mars where they could be fabricated into various products that could be used by the colony or, conceivably, shipped to Earth.

To be sure, a base for asteroid mining is just one idea for an economic basis of a Mars colony. Robert Zubrin, one of the planet’s leading experts and advocates for settling Mars, suggests another idea, that of a “Silicon Valley” in the heavens.

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The notion is that the first Mars settlers are likely going to be risk takers and experts in science and engineering. If the Mars colony is also governed by laws that encourage business and engineering development, it could become a center of innovation and invention.

While some people trash the idea of settling Mars as immoral or illegal and others wonder about its financial and technical feasibility, Elon Musk’s announcement of his plans to settle the Red Planet has sparked considerable discussion of a subject once consigned to science fiction. But, as some have been quick to point out, this is the 21st Century.   #asteroidmining #Space