The First Mars Startup Company
Andrew Mayne News

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The First Mars Startup Company

Here's the introduction to my book How to Make Money on Mars: A Guide to Martian Economics In 1894 construction workers cleared the top of a mountain outside Flagstaff, Arizona territory and began what could arguably be called the first major Mars-focused project that would lead to a long line of other investments into the exploration and hopeful development of the red planet. Financed by a globe-trotting businessman who’d written extensively about his time in the Orient, his imagination had been captured by the works of astronomer and science fiction writer Camille Flammarion and the rather unfortunate mis-translation of Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli discoveries of Martian surface features during the “Great Opposition” in 1877, when Mars was at its most visible for decades. Through his telescope, Schiaparelli observed gouges in the surface of Mars that he described as channels, like the natural formations created by flowing water. The English version of the account described them as “canals”, man-made conduits for guiding water; implying they were made by intelligent life. The American businessman and astronomer, Perceval Lowell, was captivated by this idea and set about building a world-class observatory and the first to be constructed on top of a mountain for increased visibility. The canals he would observe were only visible to his imagination, but other researchers at the observatory went on to make incredible discoveries including Pluto, the recessional velocities of other galaxies (leading to the realization our universe is expanding) and more recently, possibly detecting the atmosphere of an extra-solar planet. The construction workers, staff and telescope manufacturer, Alvan Clark & Sons, were all participants in the early Martian economy. Jobs were created, profits were made. For Lowell himself, while falling short of finding intelligent life on Mars, in over a century of operation, his endeavor has employed thousands of people, made world-changing discoveries and improved the technology of astronomy. Although it was never intended as a for-profit-business, it’s been a successful enterprise, attracting grants, donations and recently expanded to a new dark sky location in Coconino National Forest, and with funding from the Discovery Channel, they’ve built a new $53 million-dollar telescope. This initial investment in Mars continues to pay back to the institution and its mission. Beyond looking at the red planet from Earth, starting in 1960, every decade would see at least two or more robotic missions as the Russians and the Americans began a series of flybys, impacts and eventual landings on Mars. Each of these growing in scale and involving thousands of people and hundreds of companies as we explored the red planet with whatever tools we had available. We’ve never sent a single person there or returned so much as a gram of Martian dust, but for over a hundred years we’ve been participating in the Martian economy. That’s not including the entertainment properties from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds to Ridley Scott’s production of Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian, that grossed over $600 million at the box office. Although I don’t dwell too much on Mars-related entertainment media in this book because they’re not a strong case for direct Martian investment (fictional properties have lower risk and better intellectual property ownership), the exploration of Mars will certainly benefit the entertainment industry. From Lowell’s telescope to SpaceX’s venture capital fundraising, the Martian economy has grown in size from thousands of dollars and a handful of people to billions of dollars and tens of thousands of technicians, scientists, engineers and the support staff that goes into making rockets, designing probes and asking questions about Mars. Ever since Alvan Clark & Sons received a purchase order for their rather expensive piece of scientific apparatus to be delivered to a remote mountain top in Arizona territory, investment in Mars has been a profitable enterprise for some. For others, like Lowell Observatory, it’s created immeasurable value in service of its mission of exploration. At the cusp of the private-public exploration of Mars and space with reusable rockets and regular transportation schedules, the Martian economy is on the verge of an age of unprecedented growth that will touch upon every aspect of industry, science and human endeavor. If the past is any predictor of the future, money will be invested, losses will be suffered, profits will be taken and the Martian economy will keep getting larger. The intent of this book is to illustrate how that growth is about to change from a smooth line gradually going up, to exponential growth resulting in a vertical line going straight upwards. The ceiling is impossible to imagine, because with that growth comes the economic development of our entire Solar System and an economy at such a scale contemporary numbers aren’t even relevant. We can debate how many years or decades it will take, but to say “never” is at odds with the past. In the 1980s there were still people saying that personal computers were never going to take off – while Apple and Microsoft were already profitable. In the 1990s sober-sounding analysts (and quite a number of technologists familiar with computers) were cynical about the Internet, calling it snake oil and declaring that it would never be more than a fad. A century before then, there were doubts about the commercial application of the telephone and the utility of electricity. Obviously, the availability of examples of the experts being wrong doesn’t meant that every high concept enterprise is guaranteed of success. It just means that there will always be those quick to judge, eager to say “no” and shut down the conversation. You can either choose to accept that the trend line is about to go vertical or not, but it has undeniably been heading upwards for over a hundred years.
How to Make Money on Mars: A Guide to Martian Economics is available for pre-order.

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