The potential benefits of using martian resources for propellants, building materials, and life support consumables were so compelling, however, that some planners chose to incorporate them into their mission designs anyway. Chief among these benefits was a dramatic reduction in mission mass if the raw materials for rocket propellants could be found at Mars.
The Working Group on Extraterrestrial Resources (WGER) formed in early 1962. Besides NASA, the group included representatives from the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army, the Bureau of Mines, aerospace corporations, and academe. The group, which met throughout the 1960s, focused mainly on lunar resources. A few researchers, however, treated the WGER as a forum for discussing eventual exploitation of Mars resources.
One of these forward-thinkers was Ernst Steinhoff, representing the RAND Corporation, a think tank created in 1946 to provide advice to the U.S. military services. RAND had performed Mars studies for the Air Force as early as 1960. Steinhoff, whose specialty was rocket guidance, came to the U.S. in 1945 with Wernher von Braun, Ernst Stuhlinger, Krafft Ehricke, and the other members of the Peenemünde rocket team. After working to launch captured, modified V-2 missiles for the U.S. Army – the image at the top of this post shows the Bumper 8 launch (July 24, 1950), the first Cape Canaveral rocket launch ever – Steinhoff went to work for U.S. industry in 1956. He joined RAND in 1961, and was instrumental in the formation of the WGER the following year. He became the WGER’s first chairman.