Red Planet Profits

New polls show that at a time of record deficits, the public is against spending billions on a Mars mission while cutting domestic priorities. Nonetheless, there is one company that has supported a Mars mission for years: Halliburton. The company, which was headed by Vice President Dick Cheney and is a major financial backer of the Administration, has long supported funding a Mars plan because it is good for its drilling technology business (it was also Cheney who spearheaded the Mars plan inside the White House).

In fact, Kiplinger’s reported back in 2001, “several companies and university labs will stand to benefit from new projects” in a Mars mission—including Halliburton. And the payoff could be big: Citizens Against Government Waste notes that, despite the White House’s initial lowballing, legitimate “cost estimates for the new program range from $550 billion to $1 trillion.”

Four years ago, writing in the Oil & Gas Journal, Halliburton scientist Steve Streich pointed out why a Mars program would be so lucrative for Halliburton. He says a “Mars exploration program presents an unprecedented opportunity” for the industry and that it “warrants the support of both government and industry leaders.” He says “one area of great importance is finding out of what the inside of Mars consists. That’s where the petroleum industry comes in.” Specifically, benefits for “the oil and gas industry may lie in technology that NASA will use for drilling into the surface of Mars.” He says there is “great potential for a happy synergy between space researchers” on a Mars project and “the oil and gas industry.”

The same Oil and Gas Journal issue reported that Halliburton is already involved in a preliminary consortium of industry and academia “organized to support the development of new technology required for the Mars mission.” Petroleum News confirmed that “NASA has been working with Halliburton and others to identify drilling technologies that might work on Mars.”

President Bush seemed to innocently pitch the Mars mission as an opportunity to develop new space technologies. He said, “Along this journey we’ll make many technological breakthroughs. We don’t know yet what those breakthroughs will be, but we can be certain they’ll come, and that our efforts will be repaid many times over.” But for what will those technological advances be used? According to Halliburton, more oil drilling on Earth. As Streich wrote, “Drilling technology for Mars research will be useful for the oil and gas industries.” He says “the oil industry is in need of a revolutionary drilling technique that allows quicker and more economical access to oil reserves.” A Mars mission “presents an unprecedented opportunity” to develop that drilling technique and “improve our abilities to support oil and gas demands on Earth.”

On top of the Halliburton factor, USA Today reports that Cheney “persuaded Bush that there could be military benefits, such as space-based defense systems.” This motivation was echoed by Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL) who said last week on “Scarborough Country” that: “Somebody is going to dominate space. When they do, just like when the British dominated the naval part of our globe, established their empire, just like the United States has dominated the air superiority, ultimately, whoever is able to dominate space will be able to control the destiny of the entire Earth.”

Ed. Note: This originally appeared in the Center for American Progress’ Daily Progress.
See also: US Eyes Space As Possible Battleground