While it's good to see the public support, it would be a huge mistake. Their budget is just a tiny part of the overall budget, but they have the ability to waste it on a scale no private company could tolerate. A much better use of the money would be X prizes, which many others have pointed out. That guarantees the money only gets spent with an actual accomplishment and at a cost determined by proper business profit and cost incentives.
Poll respondents said they believe money or political barriers, not motivational or technological shortfalls, will be the biggest barrier to a future Mars mission.The public gets this exactly right, suggesting that if presented properly, private investment could get the job done.
People like to get things done...As opposed to the way government goes about it. They don't mind if it takes the time it must. They just get fed up with the wasted time. What could we really do with just one year of NASA's current undoubled ($18B) budget?
Launch system development: $ZERO. SpaceX will have the Falcon Heavy flying this year at zero cost to the taxpayers (NASA will spend $40b on the SLS.) FH will put 13 tons in mars orbit.
Although SpaceX is working on a BFR that will send more for less, again on their own dime, 13 ton is all that is required (costing less than $125m per launch to deliver 2500 kg to the surface of mars.)
125m into 18b is 144 launches.
ONE HUNDRED FORTY FOUR!!!
Any morons out there think we could NOT put a settlement on mars with that?
One FH every 26 months fully supplies 3 mars colonists. The interest on $18b would fully supply a small colony indefinitely and that's if they can't grow any food on mars. In all the solar system, mars is the second best farming location there is, after earth!
Did you do the math? Assume a billion per year interest on $18b... that's 16 FH launches fully supporting 4 dozen colonists forever.
4 dozen just happens to be how many you need for a full industrial ecology capable of producing anything the earth can design (not as fast at first, but potentially just as diverse.) This is the bootstrap for humanities second great industrial world. This is much more exciting than any exoplanet discovery which is many orders of magnitude more difficult to exploit.