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C. Gerlicz: Great Projects as Potential Peace Engines

Humanity has always sought to gather around great projects to decrease social tensions or transcend political, ethnic, or religious boundaries. This has been particularly true since second half of the twentieth century.

More than ever, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, faced with recurring problems of wars, pollution, globalization, and energy reserves, people wonder about the medium- and long-term future of our planet as a whole. From an economic, political, legal, and technological points of view, we will consider two great projects of world scope: the construction of a tunnel under the Bering Strait and the conquest of Mars.

The proposal of a tunnel connecting America to Asia through the Bering Strait constitutes a great project that can help bring the American and Asian countries closer together. Already in 1902, a French explorer, Loek de Lobel, approached the Russian Imperial Technical Society with a proposal to explore a future railway line connecting Yakutsk across the Bering Strait to an existing railroad track in Alaska. In October 1906, the Russian Government Commission on the creation of the Great Northern Route held discussions attended by four Americans, a Canadian, and a French representative. It was decided to task Lobel and an American engineer, Waddel, with studying the technical parameters of the project. Construction of a tunnel was to be undertaken by a New Jersey construction company under a 90-year contract.*

Today serious challenges remain to be studied: the harsh climate, the construction of thousands of kilometers of new infrastructures in Siberia and Alaska, the different gauges of the railroad tracks in Asia and America, ecological concerns, and the rights of indigenous people. The budget is estimated to be US$500 billion.

The conquest of our natural satellite, the Moon, by the United States was as much a response to successes of the USSR in space exploration as it was a gigantic technological, industrial, and human adventure. All branches of American enterprise were involved, and the lunar exploit made a global impact through the media. The commitment of US President Kennedy to land a man before the end of the 1960s was met. It was achieved by a state that had completely invested in the project, supported without reserve by its public opinion and industry.

After circumterrestrial and circumlunar space were well explored, the following challenge is the exploration of  Mars. A mission to Mars would require unprecedented mobilization, using many resources, and could not be done by only one nation. Only broad cooperation would make it possible to carry out such a project in the long term. Financing and division of responsibilities would be important issues. The various agencies would need to make difficult choices between the exploration of the Moon and Mars. Already, for example the European Space Agency is developing plans for robotic exploration and then human exploration of Mars as part of its Aurora project.

Such a project would require the establishing of an international agency and coordinating the budgets and activities of Americans, Russians, Chinese, Indians, and Europeans, to name a few. A low estimate by NASA of the cost is US$500 billion.

The economic repercussions of a manned voyage to the red planet, including television rights and development of scientific discoveries, would make it possible to amortize the cost of the program and to accelerate the return on investment. Mars might be a base for exploring the asteroid belt beyond it and the possible recovery of mineral resources. People in most parts of the world have access to radio, televisual, and digital information and would be able to follow such developments.

The conquest of Mars could have several positive benefits. Initially, it would draw humanity towards a common objective, a "new frontier," one might say. The establishment of a colony on Mars could have economic benefits to people on earth and improve our well-being. New paradigms might appear and new life forms that would revolutionize our knowledge and images we have of nature.

* Note: The contract reportedly entitled the company to a strip of land 24 kilometers wide and an area of 150,000 square miles, and plots of land on both sides of the track were to be divided in chessboard pattern between Russia and the contractor. However, in March, 1907, the Russian government terminated the contract agreement having decided its terms were not favorable.