The Apollo program was motivated by politics; no matter that the Apollo program was conceived before Kennedy's speech, the commitment to make it happen was driven by the need to demonstrate an American lead over the then Soviet Union in the space race.

Before, during, and after Apollo, there was also talk about sending people to Mars. Apollo 11 achieved Kennedy's goal and asserted a U.S. lead in space. So what would have been the motivation at that time to send people to Mars rather than perform robotic exploration?

Was Mars "the next high ground" in case Apollo failed? Were there ideas of commercial development (resource extraction) driving the interest in going there? Is the absence of a political motive (such as drove Apollo) the reason human missions to Mars were not pursued at the time? What was the motive fueling the development of all the Mars mission concepts which were floated at the time?

  • $\begingroup$ I have a very hard time imagining that anything like Apollo would have had the payload capacity to do anything even resembling "resource extraction" on Mars. Sample return, yes, quite possibly (you'd have to solve a host of issues like exposure to the spacecraft's oxygen-rich environment for a long period of time, but surely that could be solved given the will to do so), but to me, resource extraction implies bringing back far larger amounts of material. (Without bringing it back, it's just in-situ resource utilization; useful, but not the same thing.) $\endgroup$ – a CVn Dec 18 '16 at 13:52
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Obviously, an initial Mars mission could really only do analysis and sample return, but as part of a larger goal, being what? Apollo did useful science, but it wasn't funded for scientific goals; the funding needed to make it happen was to fulfill Kennedy's goal; science just hitched a ride. $\endgroup$ – Anthony X Dec 18 '16 at 16:05

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