*The Case for Space*

The author is Robert Zubrin and the subtitle is How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility.  I found this book fun, ambitious, and informative, even if I was not entirely convinced.  Zubrin thinks big and bold in an exciting way, here is one bit:

Exploring Mars requires no miraculous new technologies, no orbiting spaceports, and no gigantic interplanetary space cruisers.  We can establish our first small outpost on Mars within a decade.

There is not much talk of the stress space (or for that matter life on Mars) might place on the human body.  Zubrin talks of Mars tours of four or six years or more.

Yet my biggest difference with Zubrin is this: I think of space and planetary exploration as presenting many surprising and difficult problems, ones which cannot be foreseen and fixed in advance by stocking a spacecraft with “just the right materials.”  There are many sentences like this:

Mobile microwave units will be used to extract water from Mars’s abundant permafrost, supporting such agriculture and making possible the manufacture of large amounts of brick and concrete…

But when the problem of missing parts arises, or perhaps missing links between systems, you can’t run to the local hardware store.  Try this one too:

Extracting the He3 from the atmospheres of the giant planets will be difficult, but not impossible.  What is required is a winged transatmospheric vehicle that can use a planet’s atmosphere for propellant, heating it in a nuclear reactor to produce thrust.

My other worry is that if we do not find it profitable to inhabit rural Nevada, Mars might stay empty as well.  Zubrin does make a detailed economic case for the value of space, though to my eye much of it falls on satellites.  Asteroids have valuable minerals, such as uranium, and that might spur mining operations, powered by nuclear fusion.  But is that really the cheapest way to get more uranium, in any case I suspect its price and value would fall rapidly with quantity.

Zubrin puts forward the interesting hypothesis that life in space will encourage a great deal of political freedom:

Historically, the easiest people for a tyrant to oppress are nominally self-sufficient rural peasants, because none of them are individually essential…In a space colony, nearly everyone will be individually essential, and therefore powerful, and all will be capable of being dangerous to those in authority.

Hard to verify, but worth a ponder.

Under another scenario, arks full of large, smart salamanders, genetically programmed to build incubators by instinct, will settle the galaxy at “a speed exceeding 20 percent the speed of light.”

There are many interesting ancillary points, such as using the length of the growing season to estimate global warming, or how pp.284-285 offer an ambitious take on the spin-off benefits from the space program so far, or pp.294-295 on exactly why taking out an asteroid with bombs is so hard.

With plenty of caveats of course, but recommended, the author of this one is never coasting.


Straussian book review?? I'm struggling to remember the last book review that so thoroughly convinced me not to read the book!

Yes we can explore space but why? It is super expensive, returns very little of value to us and seems to only benefit the engineers and others working in the space related industries.

Science fiction is poison.

We should colonize space, and do some other stuff, not because it is profitable, but because it is FUN!

It is not possible to colonize space or Mars or any planet we could reach. It would actually be easier to colonize the sea floor. Terribly expensive and difficult but yet cheaper and easier than colonizing space. So again WHY???

Working under hundreds of atmospheres of pressure and without sunlight is a lot harder than working in vacuum with a roughly 24 hour day.

Plus it's easy to visit the ocean depths without living there, as we do for resource extraction, communication, and defense purposes. Mars is the most scientifically interesting thing in the universe and the likely center of trade over the next few hundred years, but for the moment dropping by for a visit isn't feasible and you pretty much have to relocate there.

Somehow you missed the point. It would cost billions and billions to go to Mars never mind to actually create a colony and stay there. It is likely that there is not enough money and resources anywhere to afford a colony and humans staying there. And what do they get for all that expense??? I can think of nothing that we do not already have or know. So why go???

As for the "hundreds of atmospheres of pressure" ; note that I said sea floor not the greatest depth of the ocean. There is a lot of sea floor that is less than 1 atmospheric pressure below the surface.

In rural Nevada, you can still pick up your phone and talk to anyone on Earth. You can even make it a video conversation, or play online video games with your friends.

Or if you can't, that's merely because it's not (yet) economically viable to provide those services in some particular location. Not because the laws of physics make it impossible.

But on Mars, there are insurmountable speed-of-light issues. You can never have a conversation with someone on Earth, ever. Even on the Moon, which is much closer, every conversation with Earth has an awkward and unnatural two-second pause between responses. And that small delay makes it completely impossible to play Fortnite or World of Warcraft.

So the question is, how much tolerance will would-be settlers have for being cut off from most forms of interaction with the rest of the human race? Our ancestors were willing to live in a little farmhouse on the prairie, on the frontier, with very few options for entertainment or culture or human interaction. But today, most of us are entirely unwilling to live like that, and our descendants will probably be even more fussy. Being cut off from global online gaming will be a dealbreaker.

And pervasive high-speed mobile Internet, with 5G and its successors, will surely create many new services that require permanent connections and instant responses. Maybe every one of us will have our own AI that composes original hit music in real-time that is tailored for an audience of one. Maybe we'll all have a brain prosthesis in the cloud. And our newfound dependence on such things will kill any willingness to venture much farther than low Earth orbit.

That's the real issue that kills Mars colonization. Not the innumerable technical issues like cost and radiation shielding, but rather the fact that Mars is actually a shithole in the middle of nowhere.

But we'll send probes to map every square inch, and then we'll recreate it in virtual reality. Forget Mars: the human colony and say hello to Mars: the video game.

I think you could still find a few thousand to tens of thousands willing to go to Mars, although it's an open question whether that would be enough to build a colony that is 95-ish% self-sustaining (fully self-sufficient is a long way off).

But I agree that the vast majority of people wouldn't go, and I think the romance of Mars will probably wear off when we finally send people there. It's a fascinating but very inhospitable desert with ultra-thin air and soil full of perchlorates.

There are thousands of people willing to go to Mars. The problem is not many of them would pass the mental health and physical fitness evaluations. A mission with a budget in the billions range is not going to send fat people with suicidal tendencies, right?

If you define anyone who wants to go to Mars as crazy because Nevada is right there you have fulfilled your own thesis but not done any interesting work.

People aren't interested in colonizing Nevada. They are interested in colonizing Mars. Are there enough of them? Back-of-the-envelope: there are 250 Million adults in America, and only the richest 1% of them can afford to go. Of those 2.5 Million, only 1% want to go Mars, leaving 25 thousand, and of those only 10% are physically and mentally fit, leaving 2500.

Obviously those numbers can be wrong in either direction, but there's no reason to think we only have 3 or 4 people who can manage this.

People are certainly interested in moving to Nevada. People do it every day. People are much less interested in moving to Baffin Island. Mars is colder, and less hospitable in almost every way, than Baffin Island. So don't be too sure that Mars would receive more colonists than Baffin Island, even if we could send them there.

Of course it would. It's freaking Mars! Some people want to be a part of history. Moving to Baffin island doesn't move the needle.

The best example of survivor bias among explorers. We remember Columbus because he returned alive. Who are the guys who arrived after Admunsen to the South pole and died? I have to read the wiki to remember.

You do? It's in the freakin' name of the facility at the South Pole -- Admunsen-Scott Station.

Scott failed miserably and is remembered. Shackleton failed but kept everyone alive and is remembered.

This may come as a shock to you, but people don't act according to the models you've built in your head. And when they don't, it's not because the people are broken.

People have a hard time imagining that other people might think differently or have different preferences.

So "I really like suburban New Jersey" becomes "No one would want to go to Mars!"

Agreed. It's not enough to want to go - you need a skillset that will let you survive there, plus the ability to tolerate spending most of the rest of your life indoors in a shielded habitat (most likely a cylinder covered with Martian dirt).

Jamestown, Virginia is a pretty good example of what happens when you bring enthusiasm and not much else to a colony project. Most of the colonists sent there in the first 10-20 years just died, and died quickly (often in the first year).

I'm not sure whether video games are the deal breaker. It is hard to imagine, though, that even Uighurs, or women software developers for that matter, would be willing to go to Mars to escape their oppression on Earth. I suppose people that truly believed that catastrophic climate change was going to destroy the Earth within the next 12 years would be willing to go asap. What development stage did America need to reach before non-persecuted peoples were willing to settle it?

Of course, there are many people that would be more than willing to inhabit rural Nevada. Nevada remains uninhabited for regulatory, rather than economic, reasons.

Even apart from foreigners, suppose one were to offer that inhabitants of rural Nevada were exempt from US income taxes, corporate taxes, and old-age entitlements --- same as current residents of Mars. I think rural Nevada would quickly become a thriving economic powerhouse.

Now, suppose instead rural Nevada implemented its own Medicare-for-All system, outlawed all plastic bags and straws, banned guns, guaranteed a right to abortion into the first trimester *after* birth, guaranteed income for everyone unable and unwilling to work, and paid for all of it with a highly progressive tax system where only the top x% paid a tax rate of 70% (0% for everyone else), x chosen to be large enough to raise sufficient revenue. It's unclear to me that many people would actually move there.

"Nevada remains uninhabited for regulatory, rather than economic, reasons."

Do you have any evidence to support that? In 2 seconds of Googling, I found tons of land for sale in rural Nevada for $500-$1000 per acre. I don't think there are significant zoning hurdles to building on such land.

Having spent time travelling through the American west, it is vast and empty. There are lots of areas that simply there is not a lot of demand to live in. Canada, Russia, Australia, and many other places also have vast swaths of habitable land that is empty. The earth is simply not full.

I think Tyler's sentence is a very good point.

I meant immigration restrictions, e.g., would a Uighur rather live in a Chinese concentration camp or in rural Nevada (or on Mars)? I guess subtlety does not work well over the internet.

So why not say what you mean in the first place?

As I said, subtlety doesn't work well over the internet. Let me explain my cryptic comments. Tyler claims that the economic case for settling Mars is difficult to make, and I agree. The earliest American colonists (Pilgrims and Puritains) endured the hardship and remoteness of America to escape persecution. Hence, my reference to Uighurs as an example of today's persecuted, who would probably be unwilling to endure the hardship of Mars colonization. I think they, and many other oppressed peoples, would be willing to relocate to rural Nevada. (I had not considered the water issues.) Thus, I disagreed with Tyler's claim that rural Nevada was uninhabited because "we do not find it profitable". We don't allow it to be inhabited by people that might find it profitable, where escaping persecution is the "profit". It's easy to forget how anti-market immigration policy is, so easy apparently, that even after priming readers to think about persecuted peoples settling America, it's not obvious to readers that the ensuing reference to "many people that would be more than willing to inhabit rural Nevada" refers to would-be immigrants denied such access. It was obvious to me probably because I read a lot of Bryan Caplan. The subsequent reference to "regulatory reasons" was intentional understatement to highlight the onerous nature of immigration restrictions by referring to those restrictions as mere "regulatory reasons", which often connotes less harsh restrictions.

The reference to "women software developers" was an admittedly snide dig at "first world oppression", in this case the "oppression" of belonging to a demographic group (women) that happens to achieve different statistical outcomes along one dimension (Silicon Valley tech employment) than that of some other demographic group (Asian and white males). As in, Uighurs wouldn't want to colonize Mars and neither would similarly oppressed [\sarcasm] women software developers.

My next set of comments was flipping the question around. Instead of asking who is oppressed enough to want to settle rural Nevada, we can ask what would it take to get people to settle rural Nevada? This thought experiment lets us know what we truly consider to be oppression, i.e., what people would vote-with-their-feet to leave if given the chance. My claim is that creating a tax haven in rural Nevada would lead to a boom. For example, consider the Seastead movement. Rural Nevada would seem far more economically attractive as a tax haven than trying to build seasteads 200-mi offshore. On the other hand, turning rural Nevada into social justice nirvana would be unlikely to create a boom. In fact, a high minimum wage would pretty much choke off any potential boom before it started, for example. Apparently, people find the heavy hand of government to be far more oppressive than any purportedly "too powerful" corporations.

Again, all of these thought experiments ignored the water issues.

I'm all for building a spaceship for those who truly believe that catastrophic climate change was going to destroy the Earth within the next 12 years. Nicely appointed and comfortable. They can go first. The rest of us will follow.

I don't know anyone who thinks catastrophic climate change will destroy the world in the next 12 years and I haven't read about anyone who does. Got any links?

In this video [https://twitter.com/tomselliott/status/1087550417653940224] AOC claims that the world will end in 12 years if we don't address climate change. She later claims that she was just joking but, since it's video, you can judge for yourself.

AOC: "I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then are going to try to come back today and say we need to find a middle-of-the-road approach to *save our lives* (emphasis added)". [https://www.npr.org/2019/05/14/723298209/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-decries-biden-middle-of-the-road-approach-on-climate-ch]

So, maybe that doesn't say 12 years, but she is claiming that climate change will kill her. Then, presumably, she would be willing to travel to Mars to escape climate-caused death on Earth.

Are you some sort of denier?

That's one person who said the world will end in 12 years but they took it back. And, to me at least, it seem pretty clearly hyperbole from the get go. I was curious because because other people commenting on this blog have said that other people believe the world will end in 12 years and I was wondering where it came from.

I think I can safely conclude it came from pretty much nowhere.

I spent four years working out in that area--the Mojave Desert, including California, Nevada, Arizona, and a few others states.

Yeah, there are vast stretches of empty land. They are not, however, UNOWNED land. The Bureau of Land Management operates and effectively or in fact owns that land, and the BLM views any development as antithetical to their mission. This came from the mouth of a BLM rep on one jobsite.

The other issue is water. When the USA was looking for a place to store nuclear waste, they did a study of some of the intermountain valleys in the Basin and Range Province. It'd be easy to store waste out there, because there are three MILES of sand between you and groundwater. If there was a leak, it wouldn't matter; the groundwater is in those pockets on scales much, much larger than the decay rate of the waste. Yucca Mountain was chosen for political, not practical, reasons. In terms of development, this means that you need to import water to allow people to live there. It may be practical at a certain scale, but it does constrain development. The other option is to use surface water, but that gets into international treaties--you DO NOT want to pull water from the Colorado River!

The BLM land ownership map is pretty much the inversion of a water availability map. If it had water, it would have been granted to homesteaders in the 19th century(*). There were no environmentalists holding them back.

* - when I was a kid you could see "homestead" shacks out in the desert southwest. Someone went and sat there for a year or whatever to claim the land, but then it was never used for another hundred years, because water.

Still, compared to the moon or Mars, paradise.

"The BLM land ownership map is pretty much the inversion of a water availability map."

The thing to remember is that that's only the start. I forget the concept off the top of my head, but: If your work crosses BLM land, the entire project is subject to BLM rules, even those parts that are not on BLM land. This means that the BLM's influence (and regulatory burden) can extend a surprisingly long way from any obvious BLM lands.

"Still, compared to the moon or Mars, paradise."

1) Only from a very narrow viewpoint. 2) Why should we differ to YOUR preferences instead of our own? So long as no one is strapping you into the rocket and firing you off to Mars, why should your opinion overrule those who DO want to be strapped into rockets and fired off to Mars?

"Why should we differ to YOUR preferences instead of our own?"

That's a very odd switch for you to make. A Moon(*) or Mars mission, let alone settlement, is one of the largest societal investments you can make. Certainly "per passenger" the highest in the history of the world.

* - I guess it should be capitalized because it's our Moon rather than a moon.

"1) Only from a very narrow viewpoint. 2) Why should we differ to YOUR preferences instead of our own? So long as no one is strapping you into the rocket and firing you off to Mars, why should your opinion overrule those who DO want to be strapped into rockets and fired off to Mars?"

Because we don't want to pay for it. If you're self-financing go ahead.

The two major humans-to-space efforts, those of Bezos and Musk, are self-financing. And yet there's still such anger. Just look throughout this thread. People don't want to avoid paying for it: They're angry that other people might think it's worthwhile, that they might use resources that could be seized for the angry-guy's priorities, and they throw around pseudoscience and ignorance to suggest it's impossible when it's borderline trivial.

The psychology of this is weird.

A: Go to Mars if you want, do whatever, just don't make me pay for it.

B: Okay, I'm going to Mars on my own dime, bye.

A: Wait a minute, who gave you permission to do that?!

The original comment, verbatim: "If you're self-financing go ahead."

Your replies: "I can't believe those angry, angry people want to prevent a self-financed mission to Mars!"

Have you looked around the thread? It's full of said angry people.

Dylan raised the objection as if the objection was relevant, which it isn't, which suggests he's merely misinformed.

To be fair, it's possible Dylan's comment was FUD rather than ignorance.

To be fair, you guys have been at this a long time, for decades, long before a private space industry existed. Back when NASA was the only game in town, you were indeed insisting that public funds should be used to go to Mars.

Coming clean, while I'm usually pretty savage on the topic of government spending, Mars colonization strikes me as exactly the sort of thing (necessarily large scale, long-term, nationally important, hard to do privately) that government ought to be doing. A rational, well-run government would fund it as a priority. But I personally haven't thought the government capable of it since I was a child. I think it's pretty clear that this is something that NASA and the US government just can't do. The existing space program is designed to shift money to Congressional districts, not to accomplish anything serious. That's not going to change until they burn the whole thing down, and that's still a ways in the future.

Anyway, the probability of serious state money being spent on Mars colonization has been zero for a long time. And it will stay zero until it's proven cost-effective and safe by private dollars. Look at how much trouble is being had by the much less ambitious and expensive Artemis moon program.

"when I was a kid you could see "homestead" shacks" you still can around 29 Palms, quite a lot of them. Occasionally an artist from LA buys one for some reason.

"Being cut off from global online gaming will be a dealbreaker"

Nah, they will just have very high pings. Earthlings will flame them for creating lag but the type of person who would go to Mars would be the type who would enjoy trolling with their 16 minute pings. Sort of the like futuristic Brazilians.

So your argument against interplanetary exploration is that doing so requires us to give up what were, prior to ten years ago, unheard-of luxuries.

If THAT is the reason why we refuse to explore our planetary neighborhood, our species deserves to go extinct.

I maintain that if you want the species to persevere you tackle the biological problems of space first, on earth, rather than grandstanding with missions to nothing.

You better have a good answer on ionizing radiation, or just don't go.

I see. So your "reasoning" boils down to "But it's hard!" and "You're not focusing on what *I* want you to do!"

Again: If THAT is the reason why we refuse to explore our planetary neighborhood, our species deserves to go extinct.

lolz, no.

It's hard, so look for opportunity costs. I mean, what would it cost to build splendid underground cities in North Dakota? If you want human survival, why wouldn't that be both easier and better?

Also you missed my point. If *you* want humans to live in space, *you* should demand that the biology questions are addressed, because they, not more rockets, are the hard problem.

Repeating an argument=/=countering an argument.

But thank you for reminding me of the level of discourse on this site. I sometimes forget, and it's good to be reminded that it's not worth my time.

So you refuse to read?

If you want space exploration, start with the biological problems, not wasteful space missions that do not solve them.

The reality is that the problems can't be solved without a significant number of people in space for a long time.

That's not really the way you build a comprehensive project management schedule. When A should come before B, you don't try to do B first and hope for the best.

From NASA:

"The sheer volume of material surrounding a structure would absorb the energetic particles and their associated secondary particle radiation before they could reach the astronauts. However, using sheer bulk to protect astronauts would be prohibitively expensive, since more mass means more fuel required to launch.

Using materials that shield more efficiently would cut down on weight and cost, but finding the right material takes research and ingenuity. NASA is currently investigating a handful of possibilities that could be used in anything from the spacecraft to the Martian habitat to space suits."

What I'm saying, is get that answer first. Before you spend any more on the mission itself. Either it is prohibitively expensive, or you find the magic material.


What nonsense. Yes, it's NASA, but it's still nonsense. You can protect people from radiation on Mars with dirt.

Of course, NASA can't get funding for "dirt" but can (try to) get funding for "investigating a handful of possibilities that could be used in anything from the spacecraft to the Martian habitat to space suits."

You don't have to believe Zubrin or think he's realistic to know that NASA is selling their own book.

You could still carry on a correspondence, much like commenting on internet forums. In some cases one might wait an entire day between responses so 40 minutes would be no big deal.

I could do 99% of my job from Mars with relatively straightforward infrastructure. 100% if my firm was allowed a small satellite (haha) office in NYC.

Now THAT'S offshoring!

But on Mars, there are insurmountable speed-of-light issues. You can never have a conversation with someone on Earth, ever.

Right, exactly, precisely. What Mars has that nowhere on Earth has or can have is the ability to be insurmountably separated from real-time communication on Earth. That isn't a problem, that's the value proposition.

Before the telegraph people living on the frontier were also cut off from "most of the human race" in terms of easy commuication. It took days for letters to reach the east coast, weeks to Europe. Yet people tolerated it. Some even regarded the isolation as a feature not a bug. And of course for social interactions they had neighbors, as would Mars colonists.

It's more or less an update of his earlier Entering Space book from back in 2000, and there are some parts that don't seem to have changed much in the interim. He does offer some interesting technical details about SpaceX and Starship flights.

There is not much talk of the stress space (or for that matter life on Mars) might place on the human body.

There are huge gaps in our knowledge about how partial gravity might affect human beings. There doesn't seem to be much research done by NASA on how it might affect humans, either - even research on mice is rather sparse. It'd be a good thing to know before we start sending people there.

In general, Zubrin is rather optimistic on the technological situation vis a vis going to Mars. A lot of the tech we need for a human Mars mission doesn't exist yet, like the capability to land multi-ton vehicles on Mars, the small nuclear reactor needed for the fuel production, etc.

My other worry is that if we do not find it profitable to inhabit rural Nevada, Mars might stay empty as well.

It's the old Catch-22 when it comes to developing a major space presence: we need to get launch and operating costs way down to better facilitate a bunch of space commercial activities, but it takes pretty costly investments and an as-yet-unknown business to pay for those reductions in cost. As Zubrin himself points out, just launching satellites and the existing launch market won't be enough to get launch costs way down - Musk and others need thousands of launches a year.

Meanwhile, the launch market seems to be headed in the opposite direction. The medium- and heavy-lift launch companies are fighting over a shrinking share of commercial launches plus government launch contracts, while all the space venture capital is going into small satellites and small launchers.

If the entire planet Earth becomes literally uninhabitable, Mars might start to look good, until then I'm not booking a ticket.

An "uninhabitable" Earth might still have more resources for an underground city than the Moon or Mars.

I remember joking about that when Interstellar came out. Even if literally all the plant life died and the air became unbreathable, Earth would still be way more habitable than the alternatives in the solar system (and it would be much easier to build self-contained habitats on Earth than in space).

There are huge gaps in our knowledge about how partial gravity might affect human beings.

It's almost criminal how little we know here. Every time we have a proposal to learn something about partial gravity, it gets shot down.

if you have humans lining up to be lab mice, you don't want to scare them away. Besides, budgets is tight

I think they're finally doing some mice research on ISS in centrifuges to test gravity, although they've focused on supergravity so far (probably hoping that temporary exposure to supergravity will offset spending most of the rest of the time in microgravity for astronauts).

But we could have been doing that years ago. Same thing for cosmic ray health research - put mice in a returnable capsule capable of keeping them alive for months, send them up beyond the magnetosphere, then bring them back to Earth alive and study them to see what the health effects are. It's not even remotely a perfect guide to the effects on humans, but at least we'd get some idea of what the possible impact might be (we have an idea of what the cancer risk would be, but not the other health risks).

There are huge gaps in our knowledge about how partial gravity might affect human beings. There doesn't seem to be much research done by NASA on how it might affect humans, either - even research on mice is rather sparse. It'd be a good thing to know before we start sending people there.

The problem is, how would you research it? It's not like we have contragravity. There are only two ways to test the effects of 38% gravity on humans:

1) Build a massive, expensive, rotating space station for the sole purpose of having people live in it to see what effect a simulated gravity of 0.38 g has.

2) Go ahead and send people to Mars.

The second is more expensive, but you can do a lot more scientific work than just gravitational-effect research at the same time.

You don't need a "massive" space station to investigate gravity. You can do it with two masses spinning around a tether. I wouldn't want to be the first person on this, but send up a half-dozen unmanned and to destructive testing on them, then we can start sending up mice and pigs and dogs.

Tethers are fine until you try to figure out how to resupply the station; then "a docking point that isn't being swung around on the end of a tether" becomes a big deal. And then there's the trouble of keeping solar panels in sunlight to power it.

So, in order to test Martian gravity in Earth orbit, you need a larger, more complicated, and more expensive space station than has ever been built in human history. For a facility that really can't do anything with except test the effects of Martian gravity; no microgravity manufacturing experiments or the like. Funded without any of the romance of being the first expedition to Mars.

Why "resupply"? If we don't have a massive space station, we just launch it what it needs. When it's time to stop, detach the tether (you need a way of handling this in emergency circumstances anyway) and spin down, then return to Earf.

The issue is resolving this issue removes a gate on funding real space exploration, and there are a lot of people in Congress who really, really don't want that gate removed.

Why "resupply"?

Ah, so instead of an expensive space station that remains in service for years, you want an expensive, but slightly-less-so, space station that remains in service for six months. That's just so much easier to fund.

The design I gave downthread involves something like Crew Dragon, swinging off what would otherwise be a piece of launch trash (of course, SpaceX is getting really good at retrieving things that were previously discarded). So you lose the upper-stage and tether but retrieve the Dragon and can re-use it.

The idea of building up giant international-space-station things over a series of launches gets really expensive. When you say "but how do we do these things that are necessary for maintaining a giant international-space-station" the answer is "stop doing that."

Hey, your way might be the better way of doing it, but experience is that this is going to be way more expensive that just doing them in single launches.

But while we are at it, if SpaceX is good at orbital refueling, which they have on their critical technology path already, they could probably go up to the Crew Dragon that has abandoned its tether-plus-counterweight, resupply it, and then give it a new tether-plus-counterweight so it spins back up. That involves some new technology development. So you lose gravity every time you resupply, which might mess up some experiments, but the whole design is really a lot cleaner and doesn't require construction of a massive structure.

We don't need a large, expensive, rotating space station for testing partial gravity. Dock two modules together so that the combined system has a radius of 25 meters (for comparison, the Atlas V was capable of carrying launching payloads that long), and then spin it up to whatever artificial gravity you need after boarding the crew with supplies to last them 3-6 months. 6 RPM gets you Earth gravity, 4 RPM gets you Martian gravity, and between 2 and 3 RPM gets you lunar gravity.

That should give you an idea of whether partial gravity arrests the health issues of microgravity, or whether it's on a sliding scale and folks still suffer health issues from prolonged exposure to it.

I should add that this would be very useful for testing artificial gravity for a crewed mission in transit to Mars. They can make the 6-9 months in microgravity, but then they have to spend a significant amount of time recovering at the destination before they can do useful work (and it also limits how aggressively you can aerocapture in Mars' atmosphere).

I proposed docking two modules together, but Starship's upper stage is long enough that a modified version of a Starship upper stage could do the rotational gravity tests as well (it's 55 meters long).

By now it seems fairly clear that the first long-term tests of partial gravity on people will occur with SpaceX's Mars exploration over the next decade or so. Events have moved ahead of the plan and there's no longer time to have NASA do something like you propose.

It also seems clear that the risk is fairly low. We've managed to mitigate the problems with zero-g on ISS, admittedly with more exercise time than we'd like, and partial-g should be easier.

You could almost get there now with an off-the-shelf Crew Dragon, a tether in its trunk, attached to the last fairing/stage (which will be thrown away). CD is maybe too small to have humans for 6 months, but mice or cats wouldn't complain.

It's not just Mars, or even any planetary surface. Jerry Pournelle used to gripe that for the amount spent on the Iraq war, we could have orbited solar power satellites capable of beaming down enough energy to make the US an energy exporter.
About space, he used to write, "It's raining soup up there. We just need to put out bowls."

Jerry Pournelle obviously did not understand the reason for the Iraq war. It was not to get oil, and we didn't get any oil. It was to liberate the Iraqi people and to install a friendly regime in what was an aggressively unfriendly country and thereby convert an enemy to a friend or at least a neutral power. It didn't work well but it was a nice try. There is more to life on earth than economics.

Did Jerry Pournelle say it was about oil? Because he didn't in the apocryphal comment above.

Any way, next time the "global community" says we need to depose a Sunni dictator in order to install a populist Shia Muslim regime, I hope we say we have better things to do and go ask the British and French instead. it's their mess, after all.

Apologies for being OT. Actually, it is on-topic, in the category of "this is why we can't have nice things."

Whether it was about oil or not is irrelevant. Dr. Pournelle was 100% correct that investing Trillions on solar power satellites (and associated infrastructure) would have been a far better investment than pissing it all away in the deserts of the Middle-east. I thought straight from the beginning the war in Iraq (and by extension the entire interventionist foreign policy as a whole) was an utterly colossal waste of money.

Pournell wrote in 2015: "We invaded Iraq in retaliation for the 911 attacks; I have never been sure why. Osama bin Laden was not an Iraqi, nor was he an ally of Saddam Hussein. It made no sense to me at the time, and it makes none now; we killed a lot of Iraqis in retaliation for bin Laden, but not to much effect."

Pournelle's a smart guy, but that quote seems unbelievably dumb. Tinfoil hat levels of dumb.

We shouldn't really say "nice try" for ill-conceived things, neither the Iraq War then, or the anti-intellectual populism now.

(The anti-intellectual populism is for Mars missions, because of course they are.)

"The anti-intellectual populism is for Mars missions, because of course they are."

You're saying that because you disagree with it, I guess? I mean, only intellectuals support it, but to you it's anti-intellectual because you consider yourself an intellectual and you don't like it?

It's especially galling because it is stupid, but what you are hearing here are the frustrations of a former engineering project manager.

The Iraq war was Wilsonian foreign policy for the 21st century. It was 100% an intellectual policy. And an awful and terrible one.
The architect was the President with a PhD. It’s even named after him. Hint: it’s Wilson.

The assumption that “a country gets the government it deserves” is de Maistre, which is about as foreign to current intellectuals as one can be. It also happens to be true, which was anathema to both liberals and their hawkish but still universalist descendants, neocons.

Sometimes the Democrat Party, as any group, assumes its opposition is a monolith. Neo-Conservatives are a very specific group of former Democrats that became dominant in the Republican party in the mid 90s.

It is an intellectual project, in the Wilsonian tradition of assuming every human is an American on the inside, waiting to be freed.

And the hilarious thing is, Wilsonian foreign policy went from “literally Hitler” to “Responsibility to Protect” in November 2008.

But hey, this is about scoring political points. After all, the usual cast of characters running for Democrat Party candidate supported the Iraq war.

And what made Iraq a relevant enemy? Oil.

If oil was worthless, nobody would have cared about Hussein invading Kuwait and being in a position to conquer the rest of the Arabian Peninsula. Nor would we have left US troops in Saudi Arabia for a decade, inspiring Al Qaeda's war against us (Khobar Towers, African embassy bombings, USS Cole attack, 9/11 attack). Nor would have there been any issue with simply leaving Saudi Arabia undefended after 9/11.

The reason we invaded Iraq was to make it possible for us to remove our troops from Saudi Arabia, without the result being Saddam Hussein controlling the cheaper half of the world's oil reserves. Wee weren't trying to get it for ourselves, but that doesn't change that the motive was who would have control of oil.

And it worked just fine except for one thing -- we couldn't plausibly declare victory until Hussein was captured or dead. If we'd killed him at the same time we got his sons, we'd have left Iraq that summer, and when the insurgency broke out in the fall, we'd have just said, "Oh, too bad, so sad." But he managed to hide out long enough that the insurgency got off the ground, eliminating our ability to declare victory and go home.

Control of oil is also why we disbanded the Iraqi Army; so nobody could step into Hussein's shoes as the new dictator of Iraq and threat to seize control of half the world's oil. People during the insurgency regretted that we didn't have the Iraqi Army around to impose order, but when we disbanded it the whole idea was that disorder after we left would neutralize Iraq as a threat.

'But when the problem of missing parts arises, or perhaps missing links between systems, you can’t run to the local hardware store.'

Human ingenuity dismissed by tenured economist who has probably never machined an unavailable part in their life - film at 11.

'My other worry is that if we do not find it profitable to inhabit rural Nevada ... '

Well, this article from today describes somewhere close enough to rural Nevada to be relevant as an example - 'Rusty tin shacks are all that remain of the gold miners who once prowled this desert hillside about an hour’s drive southwest of Las Vegas. Almost a century later, their modern-day descendants are prospecting for the more exotic materials that have become the latest flash point in the U.S.-China trade war.

This is Mountain Pass, the only mine in the United States that harvests rare-earth elements, the raw ingredients used to produce high-tech products such as smartphones, wind turbines, electric vehicles and fighter jets.'

'such as using the length of the growing season to estimate global warming'

In which case, those quite detailed British gardening societies records show that climate science modelling is still flawed - the extension is quite noticeable in written records, much like Arctic sea ice melting, which is running ahead of all of the comforting predictions showing decades of time before needing to deal with the results.

'on exactly why taking out an asteroid with bombs is so hard'

Um, Hollywood aside, the major reason to use (nuclear) explosions is related to deflecting an asteriod, not 'taking it out.' The idea is quite old, actually - 'The idea of rocket propulsion by combustion of explosive substance was first proposed by Russian explosives expert Nikolai Kibalchich in 1881, and in 1891 similar ideas were developed independently by German engineer Hermann Ganswindt. General proposals of nuclear propulsion were first made by Stanislaw Ulam in 1946, and preliminary calculations were made by F. Reines and Ulam in a Los Alamos memorandum dated 1947. The actual project, initiated in 1958, was led by Ted Taylor at General Atomics and physicist Freeman Dyson, who at Taylor's request took a year away from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton to work on the project.

The Orion concept offered high thrust and high specific impulse, or propellant efficiency, at the same time. The unprecedented extreme power requirements for doing so would be met by nuclear explosions, of such power relative to the vehicle's mass as to be survived only by using external detonations without attempting to contain them in internal structures.' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_%28nuclear_propulsion%29

The political freedom hypothesis is unconvincing. In a space colony, no one will be individually essential. Or if that's actually the case, then you're in big trouble every time someone drops dead unexpectedly. Does the whole colony die off because the only plumber or electrician had an aneurysm?

In a robust and sustainable colony, no one is indispensable. Everyone will have to be a jack of all trades, trained to step in and fill multiple roles. And the life support machinery will surely be very sophisticated. Both of those things mean that repairs and maintenance will be limited to simply removing and replacing defective modules, rather than individual MacGyver ingenuity with a wrench and elbow grease. Think of what's required to repair today's cars versus vintage cars.

So you will probably have a classical rice culture vs. wheat culture in China scenario. A Mars colony will be a rice culture. Extreme interdependence fosters collectivism and conformity at the expense of individualism.

Individualism is mostly a feature of wealthy societies. But in an important sense, any Mars colony will be afflicted with poverty in its early decades. If your daily activity mostly revolves around doing what's necessary just to stay alive, then you are the modern-day equivalent of a subsistence farmer, no matter how sophisticated you or your technology might be.

In the short term, there will be tremendous collectivism, as everyone needs to work together or else die.

In the longer term, though, colonies will start to spread and be independent, at least of each other. A lot of political and social experiments will occur.

see; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_trilogy
The Mars trilogy is a series of science fiction novels by Kim Stanley Robinson that chronicles the settlement and terraforming of the planet Mars through the personal and detailed viewpoints of a wide variety of characters spanning almost two centuries.

I think we all know it, but how does it relate, in your opinion, to what Captain Slime and David Weber were discussing above? Individualism or conformity? Because I wouldn't want to be stuck in some incest ridden commune under the Poles with a batty New Age crone.

An ark full of salamanders is ridiculous. Sending organic life through interstellar space simply makes no sense, unless it's super-hardy panspermia spores. Certainly not macroscopic multi-cellular organisms.

Consider the mosquito. For a good deal of its life cycle it's aquatic. When it's time to leave the water, the larva becomes a pupa and then hatches as the buzzing winged insect we all know and love.

That is, it alters its form drastically to suit the new environment. Consider the utterly absurd alternative of untransformed mosquito larvae flying through the air in giant fishtank drone copters. But that's what a spacefaring ark full of organic life would be like.

The right way to make extremely long space trips is in the form of inorganic machines. Galactic life has a planetary stage and an interstellar stage, and they are as different as caterpillars and butterflies. When a machine finds a suitable planet, the AI wakes up and "lays eggs" and the cycle begins anew.

"An ark full of salamanders is ridiculous. "

Did you miss the part where they're large and engineered for intelligence? They'll be able to solve a lot of problems you mentioned on their own, just like human engineers could, so I'd say it's pretty plausible. Lizard men in spaceships has been a sci-fi trope since forever. Let's make it happen.

I see some holes in this theory. Honestly, Im a bit skeptical that salamanders could be engineered to be large enough to successfully undertake an interstellar colonization mission.

Sentient salamanders? What comes next? Talking toads?

Note that the value of Uranium would fall rapidly if its mining could be sustained by nuclear fusion, as stated.

What, exactly, do you use Uranium for again?

And let us not forget that Uranium is actually very common on Earth so it would only make economical sense to mine it in space for use in space...

From the World Nuclear Association website: "Uranium is a relatively common element in the crust of the Earth (very much more than in the mantle). It is a metal approximately as common as tin or zinc ... Economic concentrations of it are not uncommon. ... Quantities of mineral resources are greater than commonly perceived, and are relative to both market prices and cost of extraction."

Same web site: 7 million tonnes uranium are recoverable at less than USD130/kgU. Now consider this: https://xkcd.com/1162/.

The fuel density of Uranium is 76 M MJ/kg, so proved recoverable reserves at that price point is 5 x 10^23 J. To be compared with a total worldwide primary energy consumption of around 6 x 10^20 J.

tl;dr: space-mined uranium does not make a case for space exploration.

Funny thing is, we foreigners are convinced the United States is exploring mars right at this moment while many American citizens appear convinced they aren't. We're in awe of the technology involved in the Curiosity and other mars rovers but in the US many people seem to think they don't count.

We're hanging out for the James Webb space telescope to show us things never been seen, but it seems many Americans would prefer the money be spent on having human boots replicate something that's already being done.

Bingo! Even if we do want to send humans there, send robots to do the early work. Communication lag may make it a pain, but many of the issues of sending people will go away.

"We're in awe of the technology involved in the Curiosity and other mars rovers but in the US many people seem to think they don't count."

They're a good first step, but they DON'T count. Put me--or any geologist--on Mars for five minutes and we'll do as much work as those probes have in their entire lifespans. Probes cannot--CANNOT--perform the work of a field geologist.

If you're going to say "But technology can advance to the point where we can replace human geologists!" I want to see the details. For full disclosure: I'm a field geologist with more than a decade of experience doing more or less what these probes are doing (looking for the same chemicals using the analytical methods the probes are attempting to copy). I would LOVE to be put out of a job--field work sucks, it's always too hot or too cold, it's a long way from my wife and kids, you're always working 10 to 16 hour days. Believe me, if you can replace a field geologist you will be a multi-billionaire whether you go to Mars or not!

No probe needs to be as good as a human being. It's a cost benefit issue. The cost of sending one human to mars, keeping them alive, and then bringing them back pays for a fleet of robotic missions.

While a human geologist could be on mars for a long time depending on the mission parameters, they are going to have their productivity cramped by working in spacesuits and excursion rovers. EVAs will be of limited duration and the only sense a geologist could effectively use on one for investigation would be sight. One design for a mars suit has a hatch in the back for the wearer to climb in and out which makes it like a miniature space ship. To improve productivity a geologist might remain in a mars rover and instruct robots to take samples. Obviously this limits the value of having a geologist there in the first place.

A geologist has been to the moon and while he did useful work, I don't know of any discoveries he made that modern robots guided by geologists could not have made.

Space mining isn't near. Plenty of goodies still available and cheap enuf on Earth, probably for a century. The only possibility would be a super rare element with practically magical and amazing properties, and even then only of its found in great abundance and easy to extract.

Helium-3 is Harrison Schmidtt's magic isotope to justify going to the moon. Why we would do that when we could breed it in reactors on Earth is beyond me. That space proponents have to reach for things this fanciful is telling.

Exactly. It's not even that common on the lunar surface - you'd have to sift through huge quantities of lunar regolith to gather it, then launch it back to Earth.

And of course, that's putting aside the issue of needing to make a Helium-3 burning fusion reactor that produces net positive power (especially with the hefty Brehmsstrahlung losses, a big problem for any fusion reactor not running Deuterium-Tritium reactions).

I still find the idea of asteroid mining as far more likely than self-sustaining Mars colonies. Once you leave a big gravity well why go back down into another one that is so inhospitable?
That said, self-replicating machines are so much better-suited for this sort of thing than humans. And although the solar system does have raw materials in abundance, it's so expensive to get to that we'll need to pretty much mine out the Earth before it becomes economically reasonable.

Asteroids are undifferentiated. On earth hydrothermal activity (water & heat) resulted in most ore deposits. This hasn't occurred on asteroids so there are no ore bodies. If you want nickel steel there's plenty of that but if you want other elements you are going to have to extract them at very low concentration from what is basically a big chunk of stainless steel. This can be done but is obviously more difficult than using ores.

Smaller asteroids are frequently the equivalent of loosely bound rubble piles. You could grab off chunks of them piece by piece, super-heat them inside your foundry, then separate them into different materials with a centrifuge.

That undifferentiated nickel-steel is much richer in platinum-group metals than the richest ores on Earth's surface. Those, not uranium, are the logical bring-back-to-Earth ores.

Wow. I'm going to heist that big metal meteorite that is sitting in the lobby of the local museum.

The best argument for Mars colonies is that it has all the chemical elements necessary for growing plants readily available, in a place where sunlight is available in quantities and a schedule suitable for growing plants, in a gravity well substantially shallower than that of Earth.

So, if you set up a colony on Mars, they can potentially grow food in greenhouses and ship it to even Earth orbit cheaper than food grown on Earth can be shipped up its gravity well.

Now, you can gather all the necessary elements from carbonaceous asteroids, and set up O'Neil cylinders close enough to the Sun, with the right day/night cycle for plants. But it probably is harder/more expensive to get that all started than set up a colony on Mars.

So, if you want to feed humans mining asteroids and on the Moon and the like, it may well be best to have a Mars colony up-and-running first in order to feed them. Zubrin's model, at least back in Entering Space, was a triangle trade where Mars sent food (and some basic manufactures, etc.) to the asteroids, the asteroids sent metal to Earth, and Earth sent advanced manufactures to Mars.

Flying cars and spaceships to Mars. Both require suspension of disbelief. Both have the same advantage: they detract from actual, soluble problems here at home, like building modern transit to move people on planet earth. Of course, tech prefers to focus on other-worldly endeavors because tech is incapable of producing real goods like modern transit.

A reminder: Steve Jobs envisioned a Silicon Valley modeled after the mid-west, with industrial facilities to produce the hardware made possible by the software created by the boy wonders. What Jobs discovered, to his dismay, is that the boy wonders in Silicon Valley can't produce hardware. So when Jobs returned to Apple, he hired Tim Cook to build production facilities and a supply chain in China. And the rest is history.

Both flying cars and space colonies fulfill boyish fantasies, which is what drives most of this. How weird would it be if a large and intelligent fraction of grown women advocated spending billions of dollars on a bioengineering project to create a true-breeding stock of unicorns?

Don't they advocate spending billions of dollars to close various gaps? Unicorns right there.

Sometimes SF is not that optimistic, the future is the same humans with a bit more technology. Can a Mars colony survive without a livable Earth? A lyrical exploration of what would happen in a Mars settlement after another large war on Earth:

'No friends in my house on Mars,
No foes in my house on Mars,
I was born in my house on Mars,
I will die in my house on Mars'


Accessible space is a shithole compared to Earth.

Mars is OUT, kids.

We'll pull off one stupendous feat if we can ever permanently colonize the Moon, which will prove challenge enough once the terrestrial disruptions and dislocations from Technogenic Climate Change begin to arrive with greater force, wreaking greater havoc worldwide.

Mars is far too distant to be permanently colonized by humans in the present century.

--and remember: humans have not yet permanently colonized our own Moon, THE most inviting target (and the only likely one in this century) for billions and trillions of miles around.

There is no reason to believe there will any Technogenic Climate Change disruption.

The Moon is harder to colonize than Mars, the same way Greenland was harder to colonize than the eastern seaboard.

The Moon? The Moon is a worse target for colonization than plain old empty space.

Anything in space is valuable because it's so expensive to get anything into space. Describing the earth as being at the bottom of a gravity well is illuminating.

Robert Zubrin seems to have been at this for awhile ("Entering space : creating a spacefaring civilization" (1999), "The case for Mars : the plan to settle the red planet and why we must" (1996), "How to live on Mars : a trusty guidebook to surviving and thriving on the Red Planet" (2008)). Is there something new here?

There's certainly miliary and commercial value in near-Earth space, but the case for crewed exploration and exploitation of space beyond near-Earth seems far weaker.

Unless something dramatically reduces the cost of space travel, of course.

You may not have noticed that the cost of space launch has been plummeting and looks to plummet further in the near future. That's why this is getting so much attention of late.

Human fantasy. Robots rule space, and always will.

Right. So we can't manage to run fission reactors here on Earth with unlimited access to personnel, parts, and supporting infrastructure without triggering a globally catastrophic accident every decade or so, but we're going to combine fission reactors with the complexity and scarcity of a space mission -- to Mars, no less! -- and we're not going to have any catastrophic mishaps?

I like my science fiction to be a little more plausible, like Return of the Jedi or Barbarella.

"triggering a globally catastrophic accident"

Can something be considered a globally catastrophic accident if it doesn't kill anyone? What technology has a better safety record?

As cool as the idea is, I just don't think there's any justification for Washington to concern itself with going to Mars, or anywhere in space. Heck, I wish Washington would just stay within US borders. Better yet, within the borders of the DC. But that's just my libertarianism sticking out.

I'm reading Charles Mann's 1493. Reading about The Virginia Company, I got to thinking about if ventures to space will work out the same way. Maybe that's what companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin already are.

But will early settlers be willing to take the same personal risks? If there's a promise of wealth, probably. Will Washington DC even allow it? If it looks like China is going to get there first, maybe so.

Until the book, I was completely unaware of how high the death rate was of those early English settlements. Yikes!

Until the book, I was completely unaware of how high the death rate was of those early English settlements. Yikes!

Only reason the colony wasn't abandoned was because tobacco was insanely lucrative as a cash crop (think 1000% profit margins). That's the big issue with a Mars colony: there's nothing really to underwrite all the risk and expense necessary for it.

Mars is actually a shithole in the middle of nowhere.

And because of the tremendous amounts of energy required to escape the earth's gravity, it will always be expensive to get to.

Going to Mars is like raising the school leaving age to 22.

we need to get launch and operating costs way down to better facilitate a bunch of space commercial activities

The problem is that unless a cheap anti-gravity is invented, we can never get those costs "way down". The earth's gravity is just too powerful. You need lots and lots of usable energy to overcome it. And that energy is never, never, never going to become cheap enough--not even close.

It takes less energy to fly me into orbit than it does to fly me to Europe. Mind you, the capital cost of getting me into orbit is a heck of a lot more.

If we were serious about space, we'd build a Biosphere III, this time with controlled mass and energy exchange. Build it is a salt mine. Then prove you can do 5 years sealed and good health.

Your non-ideological posts are often insightful.

This is the obvious answer. Prove it in Antártica before Mars.

The robot mayor is there to shake your hand
Cause he ain't never seen himself no earth man
Heard a funny word he just don't understand
But he hope that it don't mean you need a piece of land
And it seems like such a long long way to come
To end up right back where you coming from

---- Gil Scott-Heron, "1980"

If the profit motive is the only motive we have, we will never colonize space for the reasons Tyler hints at. If we have higher motives...

Does he discuss the problem of perchlorates in the soil? https://www.space.com/21554-mars-toxic-perchlorate-chemicals.html

I find it interesting that the proponents or Mars colonization routinely dismiss most of the major challenges facing humanity as minor details. A sustainable Mars colony will require a 100% fossil fuel free industrial society in conditions where solar power, wind power, hydro power, and fissile material are less accessible or less intense than Earth. They will need to have near perfect recycling of water. They will need their food production to use no existing soils and be carbon negative. If you can do all that then you've basically solved every major environmental issue we face on Earth. These are not minor implementation details which are trivial to solve once we've got the rockets working.

+1, and those technologies also work on a "dead earth" so you've got your human survival.

Only if we've already perfected the technology by colonizing Mars while we had a chance and a functioning society

Do we have serious environmental problems here on Earth? Clearly we could be carbon neutral if we wanted to be that poor. Yes on Mars everyone would be desperately poor compared to on Earth.

Or we could be carbon neutral and not be poor. Most of my countries net CO2 emissions come from burning coal and oil. New renewable energy now out competes new coal generation on price and the running costs of electric vehicles are closing in on gasoline and diesel ones without taking into account the savings from cleaner air in urban areas.

They will need to have near perfect recycling of water.

Where did you get this idea? The big advantage of Mars over the other possible extraterrestrial locations is precisely the availability of water in large quantities.

In polar ice caps thousands of miles from where you'd want to colonize to grow food and generate solar power. Most of Mars is a cold desert. You'd certainly have less water available than any inhabited location on Earth.

No, it's all over the place. It's certainly abundant at the poles, but it's likely usable in many other locations.


From a pole to the equator on mars is about 5,000 km. We have a solar car race in Australia ever 2 years and its 3,000 km. It can be done in 4 days. No roads and weaker sunshine on mars, but 38% earth gravity and basically no air resistance. So if you did want to pick up some ice from the poles a robot could do it for you and walk or roll back. Flying is also an option. Not sure how well that will work.

My other worry is that if we do not find it profitable to inhabit rural Nevada

Well we do inhabit rural Nevada, just not the way we inhabit LA or NJ. If in our lifetimes we see a few thousand people living on Mars that would be an amazing thing, even though Antarctica would enjoy a larger density of humans than the red planet!

"But when the problem of missing parts arises, or perhaps missing links between systems, you can’t run to the local hardware store."

Indeed, not too long ago there was an article about the ISS being filled with bacteria. We don't really know what it is like for humans to live in contained ecosystems forever. Even submarines swap out their air with the larger atmosphere from time to time.

Is there anything in here about searching in the next 20 years for habitable exoplanets?

The James Webb space telescope will be able to determine the atmospheric composition of some exoplanets. It should be launched in two years time if it's not delayed again. If oxygen shows up on a rocky world it will be strong evidence of life elsewhere in the universe.

"My other worry is that if we do not find it profitable to inhabit rural Nevada, Mars might stay empty as well. Zubrin does make a detailed economic case for the value of space, though to my eye much of it falls on satellites. Asteroids have valuable minerals, such as uranium, and that might spur mining operations, powered by nuclear fusion. But is that really the cheapest way to get more uranium, in any case I suspect its price and value would fall rapidly with quantity."

You may be underestimating the value of being outside earth's biosphere and existing political structures. Consider the moon, which is a more realistic medium term target:

To understand why the moon might be inviting, it is helpful to consider what the moon lacks. It has no pollutable atmosphere, waterways or oceans, no conservable wildlife or disenfranchiseable natives, no taxes, no regulation, no lawyers and not a single activist of any kind.

More on colonizing the moon: https://medium.com/@deepishthinker/a-modest-proposal-4b294b9294e9

I can drive a few hours and get everything you say the moon hasn't, and no one will ever find me. Oddly enough, setting up my own version of the fictional city of Rapture in an abandoned mine doesn't appeal as much as living in Adelaide.

But if I lived in Sydney I would totally do that.

I think humans will live on mars in the not that distant future. They will do it because humans are weird and advances in robotics will enable them to do it in luxury. There will either be no material economic incentive. The colonists will just be seeking status or it may be a type of entertainment for the people back on earth. Robots will make a nice habitat with working, redundant life support, well before humans arrive. The idea of housing people on mars in sparse pressure huts and having them do the work of building a colony belongs back in the 1950s.

This is great.


Project Eagle is an interactive model of a Mars colony in Gale Crater at the base of Mount Sharp, near the original landing site of the Mars Curiosity Rover. The project came to fruition after Blackbird Interactive Inc. was contacted by members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to create a demo of a possible base on Mars.

Eagle isn't a game, but a tool to allow users to explore and learn about a potential future Mars colony. Eagle base is grounded in real possibilities, informed by real science with direct guidance and feedback from NASA and JPL scientists about the technological and material constraints for building human habitation on the red planet. Project Eagle is built in Unity using terrain data from the HiRise camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and is accurate to one meter.

The project was initially demonstrated live onstage at the 2017 D.I.C.E. Summit by NASA’s Dr. Jeff Norris, and BBI’s CEO Rob Cunningham and CCO Aaron Kambeitz.

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