The prospects of colonizing Mars

  • Once in a while H-G has a sense of humor, so that rules out his being a bot. :) That said, he could be more constructive than he is. To his credit, he does contribute something of interest on occasion.


    No joke:


    Reality based pessimism can be a constructive counterweight to unrealistic optimism.


    Example:


    We can never be prosperous and happy on Mars. Let us take care of our one and only Earth instead.

  • Reality based pessimism can be a constructive counterweight to unrealistic optimism.


    Example:


    We can never be prosperous and happy on Mars.


    That is not reality based. That is opinionated speculation with no technical basis. There is no reason to think people can never be prosperous and happy on Mars. That is like saying airplanes will never carry more than 20 passengers or fly faster than 200 mph, which is what some people said well into the 1920s. It is not unrealistic optimism to think that 100 or 200 years from now, millions of people might be living happily on Mars, and there is no doubt whatever that there is abundant wealth on Mars. There is abundant wealth anywhere in the solar system for people capable of colonizing Mars. People who can master that technology could, for example, convert the Sahara desert into forest, farmlands and gardens.

  • Jed, as you know, there is little water and no air on Mars. There is reduced atmospheric pressure, and high radiation levels. What resources are worth that? Sure with enough money and technology you might be able to eke out survival in 100+ years from now. Any idea where the energy for it would come from? Suppose LENR isn't proven practical by then, how do you take materials for a fission power plant to Mars? The sun's light is much reduced from Earth's levels so photoelectricity is low yield. Anything is possible but this seems unlikely. The Earth's worst desert is infinitely more hospitable. Also this is OTC-- maybe move this to Playground thread?

  • Jed, as you know, there is little water and no air on Mars.


    That's like saying there is no air on the moon. (The crust of the moon is 42% SiO2 and 14% Al2O3.) You will note, there is more water orbiting Saturn than there is in all the oceans of earth. I don't suppose people would want to transfer all of that to Mars. It would be a shame to destroy the rings. But there is plenty more water elsewhere in the solar system. Comets are mainly water and their total mass is ~2% of solar mass, which is to say ~6,700 times more than the mass of the earth. So, we are not running out of water anytime soon, are we?



    What resources are worth that?


    Every planet is loaded with millions of times more resources than the human race will consume before the sun goes out. It is just a matter of extracting it. A cubic kilometer of ordinary rock or ocean water has enough of many elements to supply the human race for hundreds of years. A 318-year supply of Mg, for example. Resources are not "worth" some fixed amount of money. The cost of any resource is purely a function of human intelligence and technology.



    Sure with enough money and technology you might be able to eke out survival in 100+ years from now.


    With enough money and technology you could provide every person on Mars and Earth ten times more material resources than they now have, or a hundred times, with practically no pollution. The material resources of the solar system are millions of times greater than those of earth, and many of them are easier to extract without causing pollution or taking up land.



    Any idea where the energy for it would come from?


    Fission, fusion, cold fusion or solar energy. The sun produces 2.8 * 10^26 W, enough energy to provide every person now alive with 4,000 times more energy than the entire human race consumes. As Arthur Clarke put it, energy is the most abundant resource in the universe.


    Getting back to my earlier comment, my point was that the kind of people who are willing to uproot themselves, face the challenge and go to Mars will prosper because they will have guts and they will face challenges. They will develop the technology to extract resources more readily than the soft-living, stay-at-home people on earth. They will be better at space-faring, meaning they will have cheaper access to the comets and asteroids, giving them millions of times more resources than people on earth can mine or extract from sea water. So in a few hundred years, they will be the best educated, wealthiest people with the best technology. This is what happened to Europeans who came to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries.

  • @Jed Rothwell


    Your argument about resources is that they are there and all that matters is the total mass? How diffusely the resource is distributed and how difficult it is to extract, purify or prepare for use doesn't matter? OK. So I know this little planet in Alpha Centauri only 4 light years from here. Not only does it have tons of frozen Helium-3 laying around all over (the natives will pay you to truck it away because it gums up the treads on their ice tractors) but they also have a charming Star Wars-style cantina where all the miners go to relax (supply your own weapons). All you have to do is rocket over to get the stuff and bring it here and you will be rich beyond your dreams.


    As to when we can travel to Mars with enough resources for even a short stay on surface and a reasonable chance of returning, that is not too far. Thing is, the Human Race may not make it even to that because of all the bickering over land and government and religion. And everyone, good or bad, is getting better and better weapons with fewer and fewer safeguards, That is what to worry about right now, not terraforming a planet and moving it to a lower orbit where it can get adequate sunlight. Sure, maybe some day, but not "soon". That ever evasive "soon."

  • Before asking if we should colonize Mars we had better ask if it is at all possible. Mars colonization comes in two distinct flavors: Earth-sustained and Mars-sustained.


    There is little doubt that a Mars colony continuously supported from Earth is possible. The cost of this support will be very high though, thereby severely limiting the size of the colony. But this is not the type of colony that people are most interested in; the Mars colony should be self-sustaining. Elon Musk, the most outspoken proponent for a self-sustaining Mars colony estimates that it would take at least a million humans to realize this goal. Let us assume that this is correct. So when the Mars population is only half a million, what will be the cost of keeping them alive with supplies from earth and what entities are willing to pay for them?


    An even bigger problem is how to make ends meet for the Mars economy. In order to produce resources you need other resources. Here on Earth most of the basic resources are free and easily accessible, on Mars they are not. The resources needed on Mars to just stay alive come from the top of our technological food chain. Just imagine the network of industries, machinery and skills it takes to produce a space suit. Now, try to imagine that to be constructed on Mars. How many space suits will be worn out in the process?


    Besides, the best reason for a Mars colony seems to be to have a backup for humanity. At first sight it may seem logical to extrapolate the personal survival instinct to the whole of humanity. But on second thought, if humanity succumbs who is there to be sorry?

  • Your argument about resources is that they are there and all that matters is the total mass? How diffusely the resource is distributed and how difficult it is to extract, purify or prepare for use doesn't matter?

    It would not matter with space based industry and solar power. As I said, the sun produces 2.8 * 10^26 W. You could vaporize the entire Earth in about a day with that. However diffuse the resources are, they could be mined and concentrated with that kind of energy source. However, in fact, ores and other resources in asteroids are more concentrated and easier to get to than on earth. The oxygen and aluminum on the surface of the moon is right there in the crust. There is probably helium-3 as well, in enough abundance to supply reactors on Earth, Mars and elsewhere for centuries. So even if cold fusion does not work, your earlier comment about having to supply uranium from earth is wrong. I do not know whether there is uranium on Mars, but helium-3 from the moon might be a better choice. It is even possible the plasma fusion program will make progress in the next 200 years, although I would not bet on it.


    Let me list a few technologies that would make this easier and more likely to happen.


    With a space elevator, improved robots and improved interplanetary rockets, we could send goods to Mars cheaper than we now send them from Beijing to New York, in about the same amount of time: a few weeks. Ed Storms and others at LANL made progress on a fission rocket that could do that. That may not be practical but one with cold fusion or helium-3 might be. We could also bring back asteroids with a 100-year supply of gold, platinum, nickel and -- of course -- iron, and sell it far cheaper than any mine on earth. We could bring it to Earth or Mars or anywhere else.


    Self-replicating robots are essential to any planetary scale project, such as terraforming Mars to allow millions of people to live there comfortably. These were described by von Neumann in Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata. Suppose you manufactured self-replicating robots in space, in a place with unlimited raw materials and energy. (Solar or nuclear energy.) One robot makes 2, 2 make 4, and in a short time you have billions or trillions of them. As many as you need. Such robots could spread out over Mars and terraform it in about the same time it took rabbits to spread out over Australia. This not an analogy; it is close comparison. Rabbits are self-replicating robots that reproduce and sustain themselves from resources taken from the surroundings. The robots might construct space ships which go to comets, break them into small pieces, and send them on an orbit to intercept Mars. After a few years they would begin to enter the thin Martian atmosphere, and melt or vaporize. It would begin to rain. After billions of them impact, there would be lakes and eventually oceans. Some of the water could be fractured and the hydrogen disposed of (perhaps dumped into the sun) to produce an oxygen atmosphere.


    There is no reason why this could not be done with self-replicating robots. After you develop and program the robots, the cost would be zero. It would not use resources from Earth. There are lots of resources elsewhere. For example, suppose you wanted to make them out of plastic hydrocarbons. I do not know where the carbon might come from -- perhaps the atmosphere of Mars, which is mostly CO2 -- but there is quite a lot of hydrogen in various places such as Jupiter. About 310 times the mass of the Earth. That is enough to make many, many robots. As I said, we are not running out of resources.


    To extract the C from CO2 on Mars you might need a few trillion self-replicating robots with built-in chemical separation equipment. That is also how you would remove excess C from Earth's atmosphere. We already have such self-replicating robots: they are called plants. We might need a non-living version. The cost, as I said, would be zero. You plant some "seeds" (organic or robotic), wait a few generations and the whole planet is covered with them.


    After self-replicating robots are developed for several thousand years, you could build a structure on any scale with them. Even a Dyson sphere.


    Arthur Clarke described this in Profiles of the Future, chapter 12 "Ages of Plenty." Regarding energy, he wrote:


    "For terrestrial projects, it does not greatly matter whether or not the universe contains unknown and un­tapped energy sources. The heavy hydrogen in the seas can drive all our machines, heat all our cities, for as far ahead as we can imagine. If, as is perfectly pos­sible, we are short of energy two generations from now, it will be through our own incompetence. We will be like Stone age men freezing to death on top of a coal bed."


    He concluded the chapter:


    "This survey should be enough to indicate—though not to prove—that there need never be any permanent shortage of raw materials. Yet Sir George Darwin's prediction (page 85) that ours would be a golden age compared with the aeons of poverty to follow, may well be perfectly correct. In this inconceivably enormous uni­verse, we can never run out of energy or matter. But we can all too easily run out of brains."


    http://www.lenr-canr.org/acrobat/RothwellJreviewofpr.pdf



    But this is not the type of colony that people are most interested in; the Mars colony should be self-sustaining.


    Why would it not be self sustaining? I do not understand this comment. Why would it be any different from people sustaining themselves on earth? Of course they would have to extract air and build much stronger houses and cities, but there is no question it can be done. With enough robots it would not cost much. There are enough resources on Mars and in asteroids to sustain billions of people for the remaining lifetime of the sun. As I said, these people would be good at space-faring and extracting resources from asteroids.


    That is what to worry about right now, not terraforming a planet and moving it to a lower orbit where it can get adequate sunlight.

    If the sunlight is not adequate, it could be augmented with large mirrors made of Mylar or PET. This would be easier than moving the planet to a lower orbit. See:


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…rs#Use_of_orbital_mirrors


    Please do not ask "where would the materials come from?" We have been over that. PET is made from C, O and H. There is enough of those materials on Mars to make as many mirrors as you need. You could bring the material off the planet with a space elevator, and yes, you could build one even though it would extend beyond Phobos.


    This is science fiction, but I have not listed a single thing which is impossible. Intelligent, self replicating robots in particular are not only possible, they are common. Everywhere! Look in the mirror and you will see one. It will not be long before an AI machine based version becomes possible.

  • Quote

    With a space elevator

    OK, that's where I stop discussing this with you. That is a completely insane idea, at least for centuries to come if not permanently.


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    Rabbits are self-replicating robots that reproduce and sustain themselves from resources taken from the surroundings. The robots might construct space ships which go to comets, break them into small pieces, and send them on an orbit to intercept Mars.

    But I do like the idea of bunnies taking over. Beware of Evil Bunnies though.

  • OK, that's where I stop discussing this with you. That [space elevator] is a completely insane idea, at least for centuries to come if not permanently.

    Again, you have dismissed an idea without first learning about it. NASA and the IAA are making good progress in space elevators. Rapid progress is being made in mono-filament materials. Material strong enough for an elevator might be made within 10 years. That would be the key breakthrough. The other parts of the technology are already possible. The IAA hopes to make an elevator by 2035. See:


    https://www.extremetech.com/ex…lt-by-2035-says-new-study


    https://sservi.nasa.gov/articles/the-space-elevator-concept/


    http://www.niac.usra.edu/files…nal_report/472Edwards.pdf


    You should not dismiss serious proposals made by experts as "insane." This is the kind willful ignorance that makes people dismiss cold fusion. If you have not read the literature carefully, you don't know, and you cannot judge.

  • OK. So I know this little planet in Alpha Centauri only 4 light years from here.

    There is probably abundant helium-3 on the Moon and even more on Jupiter. The Moon is 1.3 light seconds away, 97,000,000 times closer than Alpha Centauri. (As long as we are being flippant.)


    You do not seem to understand that abundant resources are available all over the solar system. Just because it would be difficult to live on the Moon or Mars, that does not mean it would be a hardscrabble existence, or that people living there would be poor. It would not mean they need help from Earth a generation after they settle in and build factories and chemical plants. It would resemble living in Saudi Arabia. The climate is fierce but they would be sitting on top of tremendous mineral wealth, completely untapped, with no restrictions for mining, property owners or ecology to worry about, and with enough energy (from the sun plus large mirrors) to slowly vaporize the planet if they wanted to.


    With unlimited amounts of zero cost energy, you can "extract, purify or prepare for use" material no matter how diffuse it is. The concept of "pay dirt" becomes meaningless. You could extract gold from your back yard at a profit. Ore at 1 PPM is is just as valuable as 1 PPT. It just means the furnaces or mirrors are bigger and use more energy, and the robots produce a thousand times more slag, which you leave in orbit where you found it, or you dump into the sun, or use for ballast in a space elevator. With enough energy, the hardest granite can be crushed or vaporized at no cost. Granite contains lots of gold, uranium and so on. Enough uranium to produce all the energy you need to crush it.


    However, as I said, metals are more concentrated in asteroids than they are in mines on Earth. Not less. I don't know about the concentration of ore on Mars, but any group of people with the skills to colonize Mars will have no difficulty gathering and processing asteroids. They will sell gold, nickel, platinum, and steel to the Earth at prices far below Earth mines. They will be the wealthiest people with the best technology and the most advanced universities. Not despite the fact they live in an unforgiving place that calls for vigilance and the best skills they can muster to survive, but because of that.

  • Sticking to Mars for a moment because it's "easy:"


    Quote

    Mars’ Atmosphere:

    Mars has a very thin atmosphere which is composed of 96% carbon dioxide, 1.93% argon and 1.89% nitrogen, along with traces of oxygen and water. The atmosphere is quite dusty, containing particulates that measure 1.5 micrometers in diameter, which is what gives the Martian sky its tawny color when seen from the surface. Mars’ atmospheric pressure ranges from 0.4 to 0.87 kPa, which is the equivalent of about 1% of Earth’s at sea level.


    More depressing details at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_Mars And that is before we get to radiation, solar flares, and more.

    When you go to settle down there, Jed, be sure to save me some fish.

  • More depressing details at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_Mars And that is before we get to radiation, solar flares, and more.

    Obviously people will have to build well-shielded structures and caves, and live indoors at first. Probably for decades or hundreds of years. Perhaps it can be terraformed centuries from now enough that people can go outside. I wouldn't know about that.


    It is only depressing if you don't live there. Most people who live in the arctic are not depressed by the extreme cold, even though it will kill you in a half hour if you are exposed to it without protective clothing. People who live in noisy, crowded, polluted cities take it in stride, and many would not live anywhere else. As they say in Japanese, "if you live there, it's a palace." (Sumeba miyako da.)

  • I believe NASA and others overestimate the hurdles of living in space or, for instance, Mars. Elon Musk's Tesla went to space and was filmed there for several days and, after that, looked pretty OK. If one would consider what NASA and others say, they would think that the Tesla would be completely destroyed by the heat when exposed to the Sun or by the cold when in darkness. And I even not mentioned the vacuum of space.

    I believe humans would do just fine in Mars with current technology and resources.

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    As for ores on Mars, I have no idea except to say that the first astronauts to arrive will feel the need to find some.

    Right. Just as soon as they get done finding air (oxygen), water, radiation shielding, energy and food. And I bet it will be difficult to find good household help, good TV repair people, and In and Out burgers for quite some time.





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    Elon Musk's Tesla went to space and was filmed there for several days and, after that, looked pretty OK.

    I believe humans would do just fine in Mars with current technology and resources.


    Sure. As long as people can be made of metal and glass and can run on rechargeable lithium ion batteries! :-)

  • I think we are missing something here. Allowing myself a slight deviation from the subject of this thread I would like to ask: What would be the purpose of colonizing Mars apart from having an (unnecessary) backup for humankind?


    Why would we want to live on Mars? The key word here is "live". Then why do we want to live? In order to die and go to heaven living happily there forever? No, that is just superstition.


    We want to live because it is programmed into our genes from the very beginning when the first cell embarked on a billion years time trip. Along the road its descendants have terraformed Earth and branched into the wonderful web of life that surrounds our unique spaceship. The purpose of life is life itself and an integral part of living is being part of this web.


    The idea to try to bring a part of the web of life to a dead, inhospitable (to say the very least) heavenly body is totally pointless, not to say bizarre. Living there will be a lifelong depression where the final decomposition in the LENR-driven atomic recycler will come as a liberation. When we finally have cured death you will have to take resort to the Black Pill in order to escape the hell on Mars or whatever hell you are stuck in. (Unless you can afford a return ticket to Earth on one of Elons BFR:s, of course.)


    If somebody needs a reminder of what you would leave behind I recommend enjoying the BBC series BLUE PLANET II:

    http://www.bbcearth.com/blueplanet2/

    Don't forget to bring it on a USB stick when you go to Mars!


    If this won't make you homesick bring these too:

    Blue Planet: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0296310/

    https://shop.bbc.com/planet-ea…ft-set-blu-ray-21017.html


    Oh, and this is a must too:



    Since bird spotting on Mars will be a frustrating undertaking do not forget this one:

    The Best Moments from Earthflight (Winged Planet)



  • In the unlikely event of my being offered passage to Mars I would go, even if I never came back. It would certainly save my family the cost of a funeral. However, time-lag on data communication would make moderation difficult.