Sadly, if Mars was made of nothing but
oil & gold, it still would not be economical to get it and bring it back.
Here's what I mean:
Let's suppose the oil is not on Mars, but much closer - orbiting the Earth just a few hundred kilometers up
(orbital speed at that altitude is ~27,500 kph, so no, you cannot use balloons to reach orbit).
No need to drill - let's just imagine that it is just orbiting up there, waiting for us to come and get it. All we have to do is launch an empty oil
barrel, fill it up, bring it down to Earth to sell.
An empty oil barrel masses ~20 kilograms.
The cost of launching 1 kilogram to orbit is ~$20,000.
Thus it would cost ~$400,000 to launch that empty oil barrel into space.
If we then fill it up and bring it back to Earth, we can then sell that barrel of oil for the current market value, which is ~$100.
$400,000 spent for a $100 return.
So you see, the problem with all schemes for mining space (whether its the Moon or mars or asteroids, or maybe just manufacturing things in free-fall)
is that the cost of getting the equipment up there is way too high. In the above example, even if we could reduce the launch cost by a factor of
1,000 it still
would be too expensive to make the effort pay.
Don't get me wrong - I want
space colonies. I want orbital factories. I want to have my 100th birthday party on the Moon (you're invited,
Raj) - But the high cost of payload-to-orbit is a huge problem. There are good proposals out there for systems that would be very cheap to operate
compared to present-day rocket technology (Maglifter
), but the front-end cost (what it takes to build & setup these things) would be
in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and would take 10+ years to develop. It takes resources, foresight and determination to invest in the future
like this, and the financial rewards would literally be beyond imagination.
Sadly, neither the governments nor the corporate consortia that have the resources possess the foresight & determination to make this bright future a
reality. I don't know how to wake them up. Ironically, shouting something like, "Oil & gold on Mars!" is the sort of thing to do it - but we need
something that is real and attainable - not just motivational.
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for
the endless immensity of the sea.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry