The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Saturday, February 08, 2003

No one mines Antarctica

Gregg Easterbrook and Nathan Myhrvold have been debating the future of the space program on Slate. Easterbrook claimed that there was little practical benefit to lunar or Mars missions and made the following point:

And please don't tell me we would mine the Moon's resources. Almost all primary commodities are already in oversupply on Earth, while no one mines Antarctica, possible at a minute fraction of the cost of Moon mining.

This point can be extended to settlement as well. After the Columbia disaster someone, maybe Instapundit, made the stirring point that it was important to continue with space exploration so that his daughter could see a Martian sunset before she went to bed. I doubt this will really happen; Mars is airless, waterless, devoid of higher life, and cold.

Antarctica is more hospitable than Mars in that its air is breathable and at normal pressure, and water is easily generated. Antarctica is a wild frontier. But no one wants to live there. There are no pioneers who want to carve out a new world, no political idealists seeking to start a new society.

Or if Antarctica is too extreme, what about Svarlbard? This sizable island contains the northernmost inhabited settlements (at 78 degrees latitude). The island is warmed by the tail end of the jetstream and reaches 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, comparable to the best Martian weather. Yet Svalbard contains a few thousand people, most of whom are there to mine coal.



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