Yesterday I had a mental reframe on the concept of setting up a permanently manned station on Mars. Elon Musk’s life goal is to eventually move to Mars and he’s backed this up with a long term goal for his company SpaceX. For a long time I bought into this idea. In order to become a multi-planetary species we would need to start by putting bases on the Moon and Mars and learning everything we can about sustaining those colonies for long term habitation.
Something Jeff Bezos said changed my mind on that goal. Relocating from one gravity well to another misses out on one of the biggest benefits of having access to space. Resources extracted from Mars would pretty much have to stay on Mars, it wouldn’t support further exploration of the solar system. The far better goal would be to develop the technology to live in zero-G in space and mine the resources from asteroids. Resources mined in zero-g environments are much easier to use to support building further space infrastructure. By removing the huge launch costs associated with transporting things off of a planet the costs of further development could drop and allow for even faster expansion of our solar system.
With that in mind it would be far better to develop the technologies required to build and sustain large space stations, extract resources and process them in space. Planetary Resources is a step in the right direction but the technology we need to develop is largely being ignored. Who will create the technology to harvest water, smelt aluminium, forge steel or manufacture electronics in space? The sooner we can get to a fully self-sufficient space station the sooner we can really take advantage of everything the solar system has to offer us.