The nonprofit Mars Society is getting set to take the next giant leap in its mission to support Red Planet exploration and settlement, by establishing a Mars Technology Institute to develop the tools and processes those settlers will need.
Robert Zubrin, the Mars Society’s founder and president, outlined the plan today during the advocacy group’s Red Planet Live podcast.
Many of the details in that plan still have to be fleshed out — including sources of funding, the precise structure of the organization, and where the institute will be headquartered. But the Pacific Northwest is one of the top prospects for the institute’s center, along with Colorado, the longtime home of the Mars Society.
During the podcast, Zubrin touted the Seattle area’s array of biotech and AI ventures. “The Pacific Northwest is perhaps at the top of the list,” he said. “Colorado’s an alternative.”
Zubrin said the Mars Technology Institute will complement the efforts of NASA and other space agencies, and follow through on SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s vision to make humanity a multiplanet species.
“SpaceX and other entrepreneurial launch companies are already moving rapidly to develop the transportation systems that can get us to the planet Mars,” Zubrin said in a statement issued in conjunction with today’s podcast. “What is needed is an institution devoted to developing the technologies that will allow us to live once we are there.”
The Mars Technology Institute would focus on three tech frontiers:
- Biotech innovations that could maximize the prospects for producing food, pharmaceuticals and other supplies using Martian resources.
- Innovations in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence that would enable small communities of settlers to make Mars more habitable and build the infrastructure that they require.
- Advanced nuclear technologies, starting with small-scale fission reactors and potentially moving on to fusion facilities, in order to provide the power needed for growing human settlements.
The institute would be structured as a nonprofit organization, funded by tax-deductible contributions. There would also be a taxable C-Corp entity known as the Mars Technology Lab, which would be fully owned by the institute. Such a structure is designed to provide investment opportunities for backers, and generate revenue through intellectual property licensing, spin-offs and contracts for research and development.
The plan calls for the institute to conduct research on its own central campus — and also outsource some research work to companies and universities as well as to volunteers who propose relevant projects.
NASA’s current schedule for deep-space exploration envisions sending astronauts to the moon on a series of missions starting in the mid-2020s, and applying the lessons learned during those lunar missions to trips to Mars starting in the 2030s. Musk and SpaceX intend to transport settlers to Mars on a shorter time frame, using SpaceX’s Starship super-rocket.
The Mars Society already operates research stations in Utah and the Canadian Arctic, both of which focus on trying out the technologies and processes that could come into play during real missions to Mars.
Can the Mars Society turn its latest vision into reality as well? In his statement, Zubrin acknowledged that the business case for investing in the Mars Technology Institute might not be as obvious as it would be for, say, a new launch company.
“The initial funders will have to be motivated by a long-term vision rather than short-term gain,” he said. “It is hope, rather than greed, that will get us to Mars.”
For more details about the Mars Society and plans for developing the Mars Technology Institute, contact Michael Stoltz, the Mars Society’s director of media and public relations. Phone: 847-560-1275, Email email@example.com.
GeekWire’s Alan Boyle participated in the Red Planet Live podcast announcing the campaign to create the Mars Technology Institute.
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