The prospects of colonizing Mars

  • Which is why we should whack Mars with monster spacebergs (at full speed) before it gets populated. To heck with slowing them down.

    I wasn't planning to slow them down. Not sure where that came from. But as I said, I see no economic or technological advantage to one block of ice of 30,000 tons versus 30,000 chunks of 1 ton each. The latter would be inherently safe so I would go with that.

    If these things were being produced with human labor or with machines made by people, there would be a big advantage to big chunks. I get that. Fewer launches. 30,000 times less work. Perhaps you are looking at it from the point of view of the 21st century in which people still do manual labor. Think about how it would be when the robots, all of the work, all materials and machine tools are products of self-replicating technology. Why would anyone care if the robots do 30,000 times more steps than they would otherwise?

    Suppose you run a program once a day. It is poorly written (as many programs are today), so it takes an extra 10 seconds to run. You are polishing your glasses or stirring your coffee, so you don't even notice. The computer has done 30 billion operations more than it needed to. Well, so what? Do you care? In the 22nd century, if a bunch of robots in the Oort cloud -- robots that no human has ever set eyes on, or ever will see -- do 30,000 times more work than they would have otherwise, why will anyone care? As long as they get it done. They will cost virtually nothing, just as the extra 30 billion operations cost you nothing.

  • Which is why we should whack Mars with monster spacebergs (at full speed) before it gets populated.

    The big problem with this is: Who's gunna pay for it?! It is like trying to build the Erie canal before anyone settles in upstate New York. You have to have taxpayers on Mars who are willing to foot the bill. People on earth sure won't want to pay for it.

    I hope that taxpayers on earth will be willing to pay for the initial stages of the colonization of Mars. I mean sending a few hundred people, and giving them the tools to survive. Heavy equipment, buildings, food factories, hospital equipment, etc. Give them 5 or 10 years of help. After that, I would say they are on their own. They will have to extract resources and build whatever they need themselves. Anyone who wants to join them should pay his or her own way. I sure would not want to pay for a major infrastructure project such as bringing millions of tons of water from the Oort cloud!

    Suppose you run a program once a day. It is poorly written (as many programs are today), so it takes an extra 10 seconds to run.

    That's an actual example. I do that. I know for a fact the program is poorly written because I wrote it myself. Years ago I thought: "I should optimize this. It is wasting a lot of time." Then I thought, "why bother?" That was me thinking of it as 1970s programmer, when computers were slow & expensive and optimization was important. When you think that it might be a good idea to reduce the Mars project workload by a factor of 30,000, you are looking at it from the perspective of the 21st century. Not as things will be with self-replicating robots and fabrication machines.

  • Jed,

    Our DNA based life is heavily dependent on our biosphere and is not apt for space travel.

    On the other hand, your self-replicating, space tolerant robots of the near future could be regarded as mechanical life. Mechanical life could travel dormant over the distances that separate solar systems eventually colonizing our entire galaxy. No old fashioned DNA life needed.

    Newer exoplanet research seems to corroborate reasonable guesses that there are plenty of planets suitable for development of organic life that eventually will be able to create mechanical life made for space travel. Why haven't we seen any trace of that?

    Yes, I know, this is not a new question, but anyhow. Part of the answer could be that it is not as easy to make mechanical life as you want us to believe.

  • About resistance to space radiation, Ramsar may gives (no surprising) lessons…h-Studies-Ramsar-2013.pdf

    there are previous similar results,

    not only there…und-radiation-levels.html

    Humanity is quite resilient, at least physically.

    I'm more concerned about problem with confined environment, and small communities, especially when the confinement and social context is not cultural (installing a texan cowboy into a crowded rural Chinese family household may not be wise).

  • Our DNA based life is heavily dependent on our biosphere and is not apt for space travel.

    As I mentioned, there are biologists at NASA whose job it is to keep our Mars explorers from contaminating Mars with bacteria from Earth. I read an interview with the woman in charge. She says they have gone to great lengths to do that, but she is pessimistic. She thinks many bacteria probably did survive and are now alive on Mars. She subjected bacteria to the conditions of deep space for long periods, and then the Martian atmosphere. It survived.

  • Which is why we should whack Mars with monster spacebergs (at full speed) before it gets populated.

    If you are talking about dropping a few million tons of ice in places where towns will be built, I agree. Perhaps there are no readily accessible sources of water on Mars, so this would be cheaper than building pipelines from the north pole. They need some water for agriculture, industry, drinking water etc.

    I do not know what would happen to the ice on the ground. Perhaps they would need to cover it with a giant tarp?

    That would be fine for water for human use. But if you are talking about filling in an ancient ocean with water, and changing the entire biosphere with terraforming, then I think it needs to be done with methods which can cause no harm. I do not know what the maximum weight of an ice chunk would be. I guessed 1 ton but it might be a lot more than that. It might work better if the ice is honeycombed so that it heats up quickly with wind resistance, and melts quickly. Perhaps it could be made as a giant snowball that falls to pieces as soon as it hits the air. Even if many flakes or small ice cubes survived the heat, they would drift out of the sky and cause no harm. It might be possible to drop a 30,000 ton snowball that is sure to disintegrate into flakes even if it does not all melt. I wouldn't know.

    If Mars has high altitude aircraft, or satellites, or a space elevator, that might complicate matters.

    The main point I am trying to make here is that the project is not impossibly large, or ambitious. Just looking at the mass of equipment needed, we have far more pumps and filters in our drinking water systems, and we carry far more cargo with our trucks. Granted, trucks cannot carry equipment to the Oort cloud. But, dispatching 383 truckloads of equipment per day from something like a complex of 5 large automobile factories is an industrial project on a scale that we could manage. People 100 years from now will be able to manage it far better and more cheaply. Even today, if it were technically possible, it would not take a large fraction of our GDP. WWII weapons production, Liberty ship production, and warship production was far larger than this.

  • Part of the answer could be that it is not as easy to make mechanical life as you want us to believe.

    Robots today are nearly self replicating. Almost all of the work in manufacturing a robot is done by a robot. Chinese factories that make iPhones and the like will soon be populated with robots and few people. The YKK zipper factory in Georgia that makes a large fraction of U.S. zippers has many robots and a handful of people. Robots are better at assembly than fabrication, but 3D fabrication machines will soon mechanize this. Mining and processing raw materials is also mostly done with robots.

    I do not mean that one robot is self-replicating from start to finish, like a person having a baby. I mean that the entire process from mine to finished product is mostly automated and done with machines, and those machines (in turn) are mostly made by other machines. Humans play a smaller and smaller role in the industrial production of physical goods. A century or two from now we will play no role. There will be no manual labor, other than hobbies and perhaps surgery.

    Even though today's robots are mostly self-replicating, I would not call them "mechanical life." They are many, many orders of magnitude simpler than even simple forms of life such as bees. I do not see why industrial robots 200 years from now will need much AI. Most of their work will be rote. Probably no harder than manufacturing millions of zippers, which are precision objects with demanding specifications. Today's robots can do that. They could probably mine a comet for water. If the future robots are roughly as intelligent as bees, that will surely be enough. Look at a bees nest and I think you will see that the intelligence capable of building that structure could manage to do the work in a project like bombarding Mars with trillions of tons of water. The drone robots that do the work would need guidance from smarter robots and people, but I doubt they they would be any smarter than bees. Why make them smarter than they need to be?

    I guess you could call a mechanical bee that is only capable of constructing a nest "mechanical life" but to me, it barely qualifies. Bees can do way more than that! They have hundreds of behaviors, such as flying, or finding pollen and informing the other bees. The comet-mining robots need only do one task, and it is simpler than finding pollen and communicating the location. Robots will have one dimension of intelligence, where any living creature has many dimensions and many capabilities.

  • Okay, here is my Plan B!

    You make a gigantic bag out of thin photodegradable plastic. Fill a bag with 30,000 tons of ski lift snow, loosely packed. Attach a small course correction rocket to the bag and launch it toward Mars. When the bag approaches Mars, the rocket detaches and goes into orbit. The bag whacks into the atmosphere and bursts. A rain of water, snow and plastic shards fall to the ground. I suppose in the worst case this would do no more harm than a hailstorm. After some years the plastic degrades into harmless carbon dust.

    I do not know enough about Mars or rockets to judge, but I suppose this could be made fail-safe. That is to say, 100% certain to burst into harmless hail in the worst case.

    If the rocket fails to detach, it falls on Mars, but it is not likely to cause harm. As I mentioned, hundreds of tons of material fall on earth every day, including large objects from time to time. I suppose the rocket would be the size of a suitcase, plus a large container of liquid water propellant, that is kept liquid with a cold fusion heater.

    The bag can be very thin and weak because it only needs to keep all of the snow in one snowball during course corrections. Perhaps you could just launch a gigantic snowball without a plastic bag, but I do not see how that could be nudged back to the correct trajectory. The course correction rocket has very low thrust, so it would not break the bag. The initial launch would be done with a large rocket with something like a gigantic basket to hold the bag and keep it from bursting.

    Perhaps the bag could hold even more than 30,000 tons. I wouldn't know. The bigger the better, as long as it is fail-safe. The advantages of large packages are: They reduce the number of launches. There would be fewer launch sites (comets with equipment on them). Perhaps you could launch one ever 10 minutes, staggering them to keep them from drifting together. The target, Mars, moves enough in 10 minutes that the trajectories would be different and well separated, I think. That would be 3,000 tons per minute per launch site, a much higher rate than with my previous plan. There would be fewer incoming packages and course correction rockets to keep track of. The rockets would be attached to the ice they monitor, so they would not have to move up and down the train. They would use very little propellant, and if they needed more, they could melt some of the snow in the gigantic bag.

    The course correction rockets would send regular reports of their position and conditions, maybe once a week, or immediately if a problem crops up. I assume there would be something like a solar-system wide GPS system so these rockets and all others could measure their positions with minimal electronics.

  • You would need a helluva snow machine to make 18,000 tons of snow an hour. I think you should just crash the comets, after all the chances of anyone being hurt are pretty minimal.

    Ski resort snow machines consume 107 gallons per minute. So, 18,000 tons would be 750 times that. It is not an unthinkable amount of equipment. More to the point, you have to filter and distill the water anyway. I think comets have a lot of toxic stuff in them that you do not want to drop on Mars. It forms gas and blows out when comets approach the sun.

    One comet dropped on Mars with some toxic gases and elements would cause no harm. If you needed this for a starting water supply, it would probably be no worse than Martian polar ice. Millions of comets, enough to fill one-tenth of an ancient ocean (3% of the planet surface), would cause harm. It is a matter of scale.

    This project would continue for about a century, with dozens or hundreds of small comets dropping every day. * If they were large chunks of ice that reached the ground in one piece, I am sure that over the course of a century many of them would cause harm and kill people. If the method required robot action to avoid harm, such as breaking up the ice before it reaches Mars, or going into orbit, I expect it would fail often enough to threaten harm. It has to be fail-safe.

    (You need 14 million tons per day, which I suppose would be 14 small comets. Most are a lot bigger. The average is reportedly ~1 km and 4*10^14 g = 4.2 billion tons. (Right?) I do not think you want to drop 4 billion ton objects on Mars. There are roughly a trillion comets in all.)…e=SCREEN_VIEW&classic=YES

  • I really like the maintenance free solution we have here on Earth. [Photos of clouds]

    That's what you end up with, after a century or two. That's the whole point! Bring in enough water to cover 3% of the planet surface, heat up the atmosphere with giant mirrors, develop plants that survive the conditions, and eventually you have oxygen and a closed system with clouds and rain.

    No doubt it would take many other steps I am unaware of. I do not know much about terraforming. No one does. It hasn't been done yet. Mostly we have been un-terraforming earth, making it unlivable, for example, by paving over 6.3 million square kilometers (an area the size of Delaware).

    The planetary-scale damage we are causing now on Earth is on a far greater scale than the project to bring water to Mars, or the other terraforming projects that have been suggested.