At The Space Review Eric R. Hedman is making a case for a manned mission to Mars in his essay The best reason to go to Mars. He presents two argument to implement a Mars program:
- The scientific and technological research involved will generate a positive spill over effect to boost the economy;
- International cooperation will reduce tension among nations, in particularly between the US on one side and China and Russia on the other.
Assuming these assertions to be true, Hedman, however, fails in my opinion to argue why we should go to Mars. There several alternatives, one comments mentions the possibility of creating of permanent Moon base, which would have the same sociological effects. The far side of the Moon is an excellent side for a Radio Observatory.
But there are numerous other alternatives. We could implement a program to build Solar Power Satellites from Lunar or Asteroid material or to use those same resources to build orbital space settlements. Or if you are really into big programs: helium 3 mining on Uranus for fusion power plants.
Anyway, these alternative might have higher returns in scientific, economic or political terms, than a human expedition to the Red planet. Only by ignoring the alternatives a manned mission to Mars seems attractive, but policy decisions should be made after considering all available alternatives.
Hedman does not convince me we should go to Mars at all. On the contrary he appears to be yet another person blindly focused on Mars, while completely ignoring alternatives.