Newt Gingrich thinks Americans need
a new frontier to explore. He also believes in paying bounties
to promote public objectives. Hence the proposal prepared at his
invitation by space entrepreneur Robert Zubrin for a federal bounty
of $20 billion payable to the first private organization that
puts someone on Mars and brings that man or woman back to earth
alive. The proposal is detailed in Zubrin's book,
The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why
We Must (Free Press), and at
the "Headquarters for the
Mars Direct Manned Mars Mission" on the Web site, www.magick.net/mars/.
I don't wish to disparage the idea
of settling another planet; in fact, we all know a few people
who might fit in better on Mars, and this would at least be a
first step toward giving them the chance to relocate. But $20
billion is a steep price to pay, and members of Congress may be
hesitating to set aside that much money in the federal budget
for fear of being brought back to earth by the voters first.
So let me modestly suggest a few other
incentives for Martian exploration that are more fiscally prudent
and all highly consistent with Republican philosophy.
First, any company that sends someone
to Mars could be given the right to rename the planet. We now
have sports stadiums renamed after corporations, and some enthusiasts
of commercial sponsorship have proposed giving national parks
the names of firms that invest in them. The opportunity to rename
the Red Planet would be the biggest sponsorship opportunity of
alla perpetual advertisement in the night sky and the human imagination.
Children would henceforth be taught, "First comes Mercury,
next is Venus, then Earth, then . . . Forbes," or "Trump,"
or "Disneyplanet." (Tough policy question: Would we
rename Mars after Phillip Morris?)
Another possibility would be to offer
space entrepreneurs the opportunity to claim ownership of Mars.
Of course, we wouldn't want to give away all of Mars at once,
maybe just a few million square miles at a time. Still, this would
be the ultimate privatization opportunity, probably the biggest
land deal since the Louisiana Purchase. Think of the gold mines,
the potential to resell land for retirement homes, the exclusive
rights to Martian life forms.
Third, companies could be offered the
opportunity to establish tax-free "off-planet" banks
and casinos on Mars. These wouldn't even require people, since
they could be operated in "outercyberspace" by computers
and be accessible via the Internet. But once computers established
a tax-free haven, libertarians and other extraterrestrials fed
up with high taxes would be sure to follow.
In the future, our descendants may
speak of "planetary preferences" the way we talk about
"sexual preferences." Your grandparents didn't know
they had a sexual preference; you may be equally unaware of your
earth-centric bias. So don't laugh about life on Mars. You may be offending a future minority group.
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