September 1, 2009

Why not send people to Mars and just leave them there?

Lawrence M. Krauss, director of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University and author of "The Physics of 'Star Trek'" makes this suggestion in an op-ed in today's NYT:
Much of the cost of a voyage to Mars will be spent on coming home again. If the fuel for the return is carried on the ship, this greatly increases the mass of the ship, which in turn requires even more fuel...

[I]f the radiation problems cannot be adequately resolved then the longevity of astronauts signing up for a Mars round trip would be severely compromised in any case. As cruel as it may sound, the astronauts would probably best use their remaining time living and working on Mars rather than dying at home.

If it sounds unrealistic to suggest that astronauts would be willing to leave home never to return alive, then consider the results of several informal surveys I and several colleagues have conducted recently. One of my peers in Arizona recently accompanied a group of scientists and engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a geological field trip. During the day, he asked how many would be willing to go on a one-way mission into space. Every member of the group raised his hand....

We might want to restrict the voyage to older astronauts, whose longevity is limited in any case. Here again, I have found a significant fraction of scientists older than 65 who would be willing to live out their remaining years on the red planet or elsewhere....
I agree. And I note that I floated the same idea on this blog 4 years ago:
But I must say, when I saw the headline about a 90-year-old "Explorer of Mars," an idea that occurred to me was having a one-way mission, sending some quite old persons to Mars, with no way to bring them back. I was assuming he'd be in favor of sending a man to Mars and imagined him saying I'm 90, send me! I'm going to die pretty soon anyway. I'd like to have a shot at making it to Mars. And you can just leave me there!

Would it be wrong to have a mission like that? Why is it that young people take the most risks with their lives? Shouldn't the oldest people take the most daring risks, since they've lived the greater part of their lives and therefore risk less of it?
***

By the way, the NYT published an offensively ageist illustration with its op-ed.

88 comments:

David said...

I have a few ideas for the list.

Olberman
Bill Maher

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Be said...

Ageist? I'd have said that it was antisemitic, actually. (Well, maybe both ageist and antisemitic.)

jbgust said...

You should read Old Man's War by John Scalzi.

The Drill SGT said...

well, the only way I'm going is if they repeal General Order 1.

The NASA equivalent of the Army's No drinking, no Sex in theater order :)

Revenant said...

There isn't any reason to send people to Mars at all, aside from the fact that it would be neat. There are good reasons NOT to send people -- they'll contaminate the environment and make future Mars science more difficult to conduct. Better to send lots and lots of unmanned probes.

Synova said...

There's no need for a one way trip to be some sort of death sentence. There are certainly young people who would be willing to go and *live*, not die. It would be better to send people who were healthy in any case. The saved payload space not taken up by return-trip fuel could be taken up by the things needed to construct a habitat and manufacture atmosphere.

wv: airco

Quayle said...

This looks like a good candidate idea for Obama's health care program and that little problem of death panels.

Health care cost reduction and space exploration combined!

I love it when a plan comes together.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Now we know what to do with the baby boomers!

Shanna said...

There isn't any reason to send people to Mars at all, aside from the fact that it would be neat.


Aren't we supposed to start colonizing other planets? I thought that was the point, not that it would be "neat". You know, in case we blow ourselves up or get hit by an asteroid or something. A colony would be insurance. Although, in that case, you would need young healthy people so they could populate the place.

Or maybe a mix of old and young. A bunch of old people hanging out on mars and dying sounds pretty damn depressing.

Veeshir said...

If I could make food and stuff, I'd go.
But....
Mars would be cool but that's about it.
If you want to do something useful, it would be better to go to the asteroid field outside Mars' orbit.
There's lots of useful stuff there and it's easier to extract.

Find an asteroid that's mostly some useful metal, carve off chunks and fling them at where Earth will be in a year or two.
They'd be easier to pick up if they coming in slow.

Crimso said...

"Mars would be cool but that's about it."

Well, it ain't the kind of place to raise a kid.

We do very much need to get our eggs in other baskets, but as much as I would love to see people living on Mars (with like cool domes and shit) I'm not sure now is quite the time. Soon, perhaps. But not just yet. Prove you can live on the Moon first.

TW:speck. What we are just in relation to the solar system, much less everything else.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

The Drill Sgt. said

well, the only way I'm going is if they repeal General Order 1.

And the Prime Directive. I mean, think about it. Columbus. Magellan. Lewis & Clark. Would any of them have even bothered to get out of bed in the morning if they had to obey the Prime Freakin' Directive?

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Remember Biosphere 2? If they had actually run that like a scientific experiment instead of a bunch of New Age gobbledygook we might have a workable Mars habitat by now.

I would go on a one-way trip, totally.

Shanna said...

Prove you can live on the Moon first.

Well, yeah that would make sense. Why haven't we done that yet? It's been how many years since we went up there? We could have had whole generations of people hanging out on the moon if we had put our minds to it.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I don't have any problem with a one-way trip, as long as the people are supplied with what they need to live out their lives in a reasonable fashion. I wouldn't be okay with sending people with supplies for a year, knowing that after that they would starve (even if the people being sent were willing to agree to that.)

I'd rather wait a couple of decades until we have the technology to support a permenent colony.

bagoh20 said...

What would be essential other than those things for survival?

I would need 2 things: Internet access and a tree.

rhhardin said...

You'd have to send a dog too.

Synova said...

The moon is closer but it doesn't have the same resources.

Mars actually does have an atmosphere, plenty of CO2 (last I heard), higher gravity, and water.

We could lift resources out of the gravity well on a regular basis and supply a settlement on the Moon, but that wouldn't quite be *living* there.

kynefski said...

I don't get the appeal of interplanetary human space flight. I want to know more about Mars, but I'm pretty sure we can build machines to do that before we can build vehicles to take us there. To establish a colony? Man, if we ever know enough to establish a sustainable colony on another planet, we'll know more than enough to recover from any disaster on this one.

Yet people still regard reluctance to support human space flight as revealing a failure of imagination. Me, I imagine amazing robots.

EDH said...

It seems to me that you'd have to have some planning horizon for the explorers' eventual demise, otherwise you are taking a risk

Just picture when the novelty of being on Mars wears off and the cold hard reality hits a volunteer with a long life expectancy.

Imagine a daily video feed coming in from Mars of someone's face screaming into a web cam demanding "get me the fuck off this goddamn desolate rock!"

Wouldn't be good for the space program.

Penny said...

One way ticket to Mars?

No thanks, I'm planning my trip to that desert island with the one album I'm allowed to take.

Crimso said...

"Man, if we ever know enough to establish a sustainable colony on another planet, we'll know more than enough to recover from any disaster on this one."

There could be time issues that would make this untrue. We could take a lot of time to colonize Mars. If Apophis passes through that keyhole then not even the 7 years we'll have to watch it make its way back around to smashing into us will be enough time to ensure our survival. Bruce Willis and Robert Duvall notwithstanding.

Crimso said...

But I do thoroughly enjoy the unmanned missions they're running now.

traditionalguy said...

Can we suggest who gets to be exiled by the Mars Panel? I suggest sending Bret Farvre, or he will come back for one more season.

John Burgess said...

I'm having trouble distinguishing an effort like this from the voyages of discovery of the 16th-17th C. Those explorers knew that there was an excellent chance that they wouldn't be coming back. There was a significant risk that any venture at sea was going to be one-way.

Rather than out-and-out suicidal, those going on a Mars voyage could expect that there would be a chance >0 that technology would provide a ticket home somehow, though the odds were slim.

Synova said...

Of course, the "problem" with colonists is that the expect to get to own something out of the deal... land... even if it's not worth anything for 100 years.

Crimso said...

"Of course, the "problem" with colonists is that the expect to get to own something out of the deal... land... even if it's not worth anything for 100 years."

Wait long enough and a private venture will do it. Then when a government gets around to deciding they need a presence there, they may find they have to deal with what amounts to an autonomous state.

Revenant said...

Aren't we supposed to start colonizing other planets?

If there was a planet which was either compatible with human life or could conceivably be terraformed to be, trying to colonize it would make a lot of sense. No such planet is known to exist. Mars certainly doesn't qualify. The surface of Mars has an atmosphere and temperature that is only marginally more hospitable than the surface of the Moon.

Surface temperate ranges from 20F to -120F. It is routinely bathed in bursts of deadly radiation by solar flares. It is nitrogen-poor and covered in extremely alkaline soil, not that plants would grow in it anyway. Basically any humans who wanted to live "on" Mars would have to live in heavily shielded bunkers. If we're going to send humans to live in heavily shielded bunkers, stick 'em in orbit where at least the people can visit home. :)

traditionalguy said...

John Burgess... You underestimate the skills of Admiral of the Ocean Sea Columbus. He and his successors not only expected a quick and easy return on the trade winds, they expected honors and riches upon their return. The natives in the "Indies" could not understand why these explorers never asked them about anything except the yellow metal called Gold, but the conquistadors' desire for that item kept the excitement level for their return voyages sky high.

Sofa King said...

You know, the top of Mt. Everest is pretty inhospitable as well. I suppose we were wrong to climb it?

Leaving aside the science, how about the fact that it would be inspiring, in a way that doling out welfare to lazy malcontents is not and won't ever be? I will offer that as sufficient justification on its own.

Methadras said...

Mars at this point is a waste of time and money and I love anything to do with space and space exploration. I would not sign up for a one way trip. I love my family to much to just leave them for a shot at space/mars trips.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

Philip K. Dick called it in his books, especially 'The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch': colonizing Mars et al will likely be tedious and uncomfortable.

The types of people to undertake it will be like the early American colonizers: a mixture of entrepreneurs, zealots and criminals.

Scott M said...

Why?

For two reasons, one of which I borrowed from two masters.

First, if the humans are to survive, then for all but a short period in our history, "ship" will be understood to mean spaceship.

Second, because I plan for the worst-case scenario. No, no, not nukes, not natural disasters, none of that. Socialism = tyranny. Socialism is directly in conflict with personal property and liberty. If socialism wins the planet, we will stagnate and eventually endure lives that brutal and short.

All of this, of course, fails to mention the inspiration aspect and the boom of scientific and engineering advances for the consumer that would sure to follow.

Scott M said...

Should have read "two reasons, both of which I borrowed from masters".

chuck b. said...

"well, the only way I'm going is if they repeal General Order 1.

The NASA equivalent of the Army's No drinking, no Sex in theater order"


Whaaat? Has no one fucked in space before? That's crazy!

(Has anyone masturbated?)

If there is any point at all in colonizing space to preserve the species, we need to know--as the first order of business--about interplanetary human sexuality.


VW: cared. "It's as if noone cared."

Synova said...

Some things should be done, not because they are a good idea, but just because we can.

Steven said...

Soon, perhaps. But not just yet. Prove you can live on the Moon first.

The Moon is much, much harder than Mars. Biology is CHON chemistry plus traces. The Moon has O in its rocks, and that's it. Mars has CHO in quantity.

Flexo said...

The whole idea is to be able to safely return.

If it is merely a one-way trip, why not a trip to the sun?
Or why not an intersteller flight outside the solar system?

Those would make as much sense as a trip to Mars that does not return home.

Crimso said...

"The Moon is much, much harder than Mars"

Exactly, but it's also much easier to get to and from. Subterranean colonies on the moon could serve as the prototypes for those which will be necessary on Mars.

Scott M said...

How is the moon harder than Mars?

bagoh20 said...

"Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, "Because it is there." Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." ~ JFK

Crimso said...

Do you think the chances are greater that there is currently life on Mars than on the Moon? Or that contamination of Mars would be much easier by Earth organisms than the Moon? I think the answer to both is very much yes. I doubt very, very seriously that there is either life on the Moon or the potential for terrestrial contamination of the moon. I would not be the least bit surprised to find there are currently endogenous microorganisms living on Mars. Mars is more hospitable (not hospitable, but moreso than the moon), but it's a lot more difficult to get to and from as well as up and down off of.

bagoh20 said...

I would imagine many things like construction would be greatly aided by the reduced gravity of the moon. Mars too to a lesser extent.

People would probably grow taller rather quickly. It may become like a hot spring; visit loosen the joints, stretch out a inch or so and come home refreshed.

Ken Mitchell said...

Who would want to take a one-way trip to Mars, to colonize the planet or die trying?

(Emulates Donkey in option menu of Shrek DVD:) "Pick Me! Pick ME! PICK ME!"

Nelson said...

why-not-send-people-to-mars-and-just leave them


Two reasons:
1. The same information can probably be obtained in future with unmanned probes, at much less cost.
2. If the passengers end up suffering horribly and transmit their grief back, entire program and NASA will be discredited.
Nelson, Nampa, ID

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cedarford said...

To go to Mars, you have to have a reason. It would be stupid to just dump a few humans on some plains with ice nearby for water...that orbial and ground robots had already extensively explored, with more time and far better sensors than "human eyes".
Among the very few things that would be worth it is if we found some life, or a substantial deposit of fossilized life once extent...and we cannot get the detail of study we could with a human-operated lab and speciman retrieval capacity.

But if we did thing humans were worthwhile sending one-way, anything past a week or two, then time to eat the cyanide pellets...would be:

1. Technology to site two small nuclear reactors - one running, one backup.

2. Resolving the nitrogen problem. Essential for living and growing food, if one is to avoid the cyanide tablet solution for lack of food, adequate fuel for energy.

3. The soil is abrasive, perchlorate oxidizer rich, highly salty, and corrosive. There is a reason why man does not live on Earth in the midst of salt-alkalie dry lakebeds. Let alone site delicate high tech labs there.

4. Going from a week or so down, then take the suicide capsules you might get a expedition requiring the throw weight of 20 Ares III rockets. Go to "sustainable" for years of living out remaining lifespan, and you up to trillions of bucks for 220-240 Ares launches, two reactors, power plant, b/u power plant, greenhouses, lab gear, water-mining, water distillation equipment, medical gear, material to make radiation-proof bunkers, oxygen scrubing, reprocessing plant, and 5-6 dozen vital substances we are unable to make from scratch on Mars given lack of ability to tap ore bodies, refine materials, etc. Just those irreplacables would add another 12-18 tons to payload, without even factoring in nitrogen.

5. Knowledge. We have zero experience growing crops in low gravity, high radiation. Or maintaining beneficial microbes in the same environment.Zero experience of men outside the magnetosphere and facing normal solar radiation for more than 6 days. No lighweight nuke plants other than some Russian military radar satellite ones that used thermocouples to make about 4,000 watts, peak. No real recycling knowledge obtained in almost 50 years in space other than the recent "urine recycling machine".

=================
On the other hand, we have two Rovers, one limping and stuck, one still alive and thriving on Mars surface for 6 years. Each were under a ton of payload, require no support gear, only a few hundred watts of solar to keep alive for those -120 DEG nights, and only cost 200 million.

bagoh20 said...

Talk about unmanned all you want; certainly easier, but it is also senseless unless colonization is the end game. I guess pure curiosity can be satisfied, maybe, but we all know going there is the holy grail. That's what we do, we're imperialists and we will need guards.

John Lynch said...

I bet a lot of people would go one way to Mars. You'd have to screen them pretty thoroughly.

Hell, people went to Roanoke.

Might end up the same, too.

Steven said...

How is the moon harder than Mars?

In somewhat more detail:

1) Mars, unlike the Moon, has a carbon dioxide atmosphere which can be pumped into greenhouses to feed plants (producing oxygen that humans can breathe). The Moon would require air shipped from Earth and recycling gear, plus resupply to replace inevitable losses.

2) Mars, unlike the Moon, has water. The Moon would require water shipped from Earth and recycling gear, plus resupply to replace inevitable losses.

3) Mars, unlike the Moon has a day-night cycle very similar to Earth's, which plants are already adapted to. A Mars colony would be able to recycle its own waste into food with plants using natural sunlight, while the Moon would require importation of huge amounts of artificial lighting.

4) Mars, with its atmosphere and with being half-again further from the Sun than the Moon, has less than half the amount of dangerous radiation hitting its surface than the Moon. This makes radiation shielding an easier problem.

5) Mars, with its atmosphere, has much, much milder temperature swings than the Moon. This makes insulation an easier problem.

6) For purposes of sending unmanned supply packages one-way via minimum-energy orbits, it takes about the same energy (and thus the same cost) to send supplies to Mars as to the Moon. It takes longer to get to Mars, but you only need the same amount of rocket fuel.

The difficult parts about Mars are making the trip quickly, and returning from Mars to Earth. That makes the Moon much more inviting for a just-visiting trip.

But a Mars colony would require much less in the way of Earth-made infrastructure and supplies than a Moon colony. If you're sending humans one-way to colonize and sending them bulk supplies on unmanned vehicles, Mars is much easier and cheaper to colonize than the Moon.

Revenant said...

Mars, unlike the Moon, has a carbon dioxide atmosphere which can be pumped into greenhouses to feed plants (producing oxygen that humans can breathe).

Plants require nitrogen, which Mars lacks. Yes, the moon lacks nitrogen too, but it is closer to Earth and requires less energy to send supplies to it.

The Moon would require air shipped from Earth and recycling gear, plus resupply to replace inevitable losses.

The moon would require carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen to be shipped, but with less dV than Mars. Mars would require nitrogen, plus more (see below).

2) Mars, unlike the Moon, has water. The Moon would require water shipped from Earth and recycling gear, plus resupply to replace inevitable losses.

The same problem arises with Mars, because you need to send a substantial enough water supply (with recycling gear) to keep the colony ship's crew alive and offset losses during the journey. Ditto for oxygen, food, etc.

Mars, unlike the Moon has a day-night cycle very similar to Earth's, which plants are already adapted to. A Mars colony would be able to recycle its own waste into food with plants using natural sunlight, while the Moon would require importation of huge amounts of artificial lighting.

Setting aside the fact that Mars is regularly bombarded with ionizing radiation that would kill the plants in question, you're forgetting that the parts of Mars with an accessible source of water ice are the polar caps, which receives little or no sunlight for months at a time -- the Martian winter is 171 days long. To have reliable, year-round sunlight you need to build closer to the equator, thousands of miles from your source of water.

4) Mars, with its atmosphere and with being half-again further from the Sun than the Moon, has less than half the amount of dangerous radiation hitting its surface than the Moon. This makes radiation shielding an easier problem.

Not really. Either way you either live underground or die really young. Furthermore, the Moon colony would (as you noted above) have no solar radiation at all hitting it half the time.

5) Mars, with its atmosphere, has much, much milder temperature swings than the Moon. This makes insulation an easier problem.

Solved by building the habitats underground, which you'd have to do on Mars anyway.

Now, a few other advantages to the Moon:

(1): It is closer. If something critical breaks on Mars, the colony dies unless they can hold out for months or years. We can reach the moon in a couple of days. And things will break, regularly.

(2): It has actual potential benefits to Earth. For example, it would be an excellent place to base power stations.

(3): Its closeness allows for the possibility of being a temporary evacuation point in the event of Earth-bound disaster. Neither the Moon nor Mars are or will ever be (barring the invention of magic technology like Star Trek replicators) self-sustaining; either will rely on regular supplies from Earth. So in the event of disaster striking Earth (the whole reason for colonies in the first place) we'll need a way to quickly recolonize. We can do that from the Moon, but not Mars.

Actually, though, space habitats in Earth orbit would be the best solution of all. :)

Revenant said...

Talk about unmanned all you want; certainly easier, but it is also senseless unless colonization is the end game.

That's like saying there's no point in studying a place unless you plan to live there. It obviously isn't true. :)

Largo said...

Steven,

Ignoring radiation issues for the moment, the ambient air pressure on Mars would facilitate tent living, would it not? As long as the fabric was sealed at the seams, and strong enough to withstand a modest pressure difference?

As for radiation affecting plant growth, I am ignorant. Plants bred for resistance to radiation? Large area farms to compensate for poor yield per square meter? Here, tents would come into their own.

What Revenant says about lack of Nitrogen makes me pause. How formidable an obstacle would you take that to be?

(Nitrogen in the life cycle would remain non-gaseous I presume, so recycling what one is able to bring should not be too difficult -- and there would be no worried of it diffusing through the tent wall.)

Mars might never be a pleasant place to live, but I can imagine it being much more pleasant than the moon. I wonder how cramped underground lunar life would be. What would the total cost be of blasting out a new room to make a nursery for the new twins? To be able to set up a tent for a basketball court is a comfort that the Moon could hardly afford, much less the ability to occasionally take a walk outside the tent without a sealed, pressurized suit. (I really am guessing here. Would a tank of oxygen, tight spandex, and goretex be suffecient for a brief walk outdoors during the warm months?)


wv: VASTDA
anagram: STAVA-

"A locality situated in Österåker Municipality, Stockholm County, Sweden with 264 inhabitants in 2005." (I had to google to test if this guess was a word, but the Internet did not help me with my guess, I promise!)

Crimso said...

"you're forgetting that the parts of Mars with an accessible source of water ice are the polar caps"

Didn't one of the probes recently literally scratch the surface and find ice just under the "dirt?" Working from memory, need to get in the shower (and how!), and recall some question as to whether H2O or CO2, and don't recall if that question was yet resolved. I love these types of discussions, BTW.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Largo: Nitrogen in the life cycle would remain non-gaseous I presume

There are bacteria on earth which convert fixed nitrogen into gaseous nitrogen (active in waterlogged soil). These bacteria might make their way to Mars and be a problem, or not. There are other bacteria which fix nitrogen, so if you could find solid deposits of nitrogen you could conceivably set up nitrogen cycle.

Shanna said...

It seems many of the problems have to do with growing plants. Are we thinking to grow these for food, or for atmospheric reasons? Humans can live off meat, fish, etc...exclusively. I suppose some plants would be needed to feed the animals.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Revenant,

To add to your argument:

The light level on Mars is lower than that on the Moon. On the Moon you might need filters for the sunlight, but on Mars you'd probably need extra equipment to concentrate it.

On the Moon you have high temperatures in sunlight and low temperatures in shade. You don't even need solar panels, you should be able to set up some sort of turbines to generate power.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Shanna,

I think food is the big problem. If you had a nuclear power station and water you'd probably be set. Electricity can make oxygen for you and be used to regenerate carbon dioxide scrubbers (presumably dumping excess carbon dioxide into the Martian atmosphere). If your environment was sealed to prevent nitrogen loss, you should be able to live indefinitely if food were available.

I'm assuming we'd want nitrogen to prevent fires and such.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry J said...

Ignoring radiation issues for the moment, the ambient air pressure on Mars would facilitate tent living, would it not?

No, the atmospheric pressure on Mars is roughly equivalent to being at 100,000 feet altitude here on Earth. You'd still need a pressure suit to survive.

If you attempt to land on Mars with all of the propellant needed to return to Mars orbit, you're lander is going to be large and heavy. Another approach is to produce the propellant for the return trip from resources on Mars. It's fairly simple to produce liquid methane and liquid oxygen on Mars.

Furthermore, you don't need to send everything in one trip. You could send the equipment to Mars on an unmanned vehicle and have it start producing the propellant long before the people arrive in a different vehicle. You'd need precision landing capability to ensure arriving close to the equipment.

As to why send humans to Mars instead of sending more robotic vehicles, it isn't an either-or proposition. The robotic vehicles have returned a lot of good science from Mars, especially over the past 3 years since Spirit and Opportunity arrived. A human geologist could've returned the same amount of scientific data in a few days at most. All robots - no matter how sophisticated - are limited by their sensors and their programming. A trained human can work quickly but can also make chance discoveries (e.g. the "Genesis rock" and "orange soil" from the Apollo astronauts).

As for sending people on a one-way trip, I'm sure there would be no shortage of volunteers. At the same time, if you give them the capability to survive for an indefinite period on Mars, there's always the possibility of return at a later time. It doesn't have to be a death sentence.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Actually, though, space habitats in Earth orbit would be the best solution of all. :)

Niven rings for all!

Jason (the commenter) said...

Theo Boehm: The last time I checked, the United States was broke.

We're in debt up to our eyeballs, and it's not at all clear the Chinese would let us pull a stunt like this.

It's something the Chinese can do to show they are a world power. Go themselves I mean.

Aaron said...

Mmm, i heard this is how they are going to save money on Obamacare. They will trick the elderly into getting into a "free ride to florida" and opps, send them to Mars. Going very slowly. with the signal left on.

more seriously, i certainly think that if everyone is a volunteer, its cool with me. and yes, maybe even leave it open to people with diseases they are unlikely to surive. say, "look, how would you like to see a thing that no one on earth has seen, before you die?" if i was dying, i think that might sound very appealing to me (but then, maybe i would want to be with family instead).

Largo said...

Revenant,

Suppose a minimalist mission of establishing a quasi-self-sustaining colony (ie: modest ongoing provisions from earth; ie: "don't expect anything heavy from us soon, guys".) Let N be the mass of the crew as a percentage of the total payload mass. What would you expect N to be? Under .01? Under .001? A precise estimate is unnecessary. An accurate estimate would be helpful. Neither is essential -- I am mostly just setting up the next question, which is:

What limit would N approach as the number of the crew increases? How fast is this limit approached?

I guess the answer to -that- could depend largely on how much cannot-yet-be-recycled provisions each crew-member would need for survival during the start-up phase.

If N is low and remains low, then I suggest the HARDASS approach to Mars colonization. As far as launch mass goes, humans are cheap, but are the most vital equipment for the success of the mission. So we launch as many human units as we can (as long as N remains low). This increases the expandability of individual human units. Since much of the infrastructure costs is predicated on these units not dying, costs can be reduces drastically while keeping the likelyhood of mission success high. Can you imagine the technical progress reports?

"""We have not yet finished our actuarial model relating infrastructure costs to the probability of mission success as a function of crew size. In particular, the expected mean number of deaths has not yet been ascertained, but we have established that the variance is quite low. Once we determine the expected number of deaths in a mission scenario, any crew undertaking that mission can rest assured that the likelyhood of deaths occuring beyond what is forcast will be very, very low."""

***

Now suppose that the numbers for one scenario are very robust, but food supply for all crew for more than six months in that scenario is prohibitively expensive. The expected mean time to first harvest is five months, but the estimated variance is high. With eight month supply of food, the chances that none will starve before the first harvest is over 0.98 -- but with only six months of food provided, the chances that at least two will starve are 0.20. One variation on this scenario has us send an extra crew member with skills that will highly increase the mission success, but the extra burden this places on rations means the chances that at least will starve increases to 0.60.

We have two crew members whose unique abilities are required in only the first two months. After that date, their functions can be performed by other crew; of all crew members, their death would have least effect on the likelihood of mission success. (The technical report went further, to note that in most computer simulations of this scenario, the death of either of these two crew members (but not both) actually increased the likelihood of mission success.

This, my friends, is the ULTRA-HARDASS approach to mars colonization :)

wv: WANESS
anagram: SWANS_

[I still can't get the last letter].

Largo said...

EXTRA-CREDIT QUESTION FOR THE ACCOUNTANTS:

Human payload can be considered both an economic sink and an economic source once on Martian soil. In evaluating the break-even launch costs for a given scenario, what accounting principles might you apply when itemizing the cost of launching the human payload? Is there a tax advantage in listing any portion of these costs as a food expense? Can this be done ethically?

Largo said...

AND THE LAWYERS!:

Assume "SpaceLunch2Go" was contracted as sole supplier of meals to the mission, up to first harvest. Assume food shortages and acts of Cannibalism. Assume a hardship defense would prevail against any suit SpaceLunch2Go might bring against any party, provided that the act committed by the party in furtherance of this cannabilism was committed in the context of the food shortage emergency.

SpaceLunch2Go files suit anyway, claiming breach of contract [or whatever. I'm not the lawyer, I just make the questions!] During discovery, a final mission budget is revealed (prepared by above ACCOUNTANT) that took a non-zero likelihood of cannibalism in projecting food costs. This budget was prepared prior to the food shortage, and provides an element that SpaceLunch2Go argues is relevant and is not subject to the hardship defense.

Filling in the missing information where appropriate (eg who is the defendant), does plaintiff have a case?

* * *

Cue Deep Purple: ... yeah, yeah, yeah, SPACE LAWYERS! ...

Largo said...

OK, I'm done now.

Fred4Pres said...

They said the same for the moon. No that is not an option.

Mars is a doable trip now. All we need is the will and monetary commitment. We can make fuel for the return on Mars from water. It may take a while to do it once we get there, but it can be done (especially if we send several robotic fuel cell plants ahead of the astronauts). Shielding is not easy, but that can be done too.

Largo said...

Cedarford,

The last post I addressed to revenant was meant for you.

Larry J,

Enlightening comments. I may have not explained what I meant by 'tent living'. I meant working or living in sealed, pressurized tents. If feasible, this would be much cheaper than alternatives mentioned. I am assuming the tents could withstand the pressure differential across the tent membrane (unlike on the moon where the inside pressure would rip a comparable tent apart.)

But I confess, this assumption is little more than a guess.

wv:
lutleple
obNewman:
They got little hands
Little eyes
They walk around
Tellin' great big lies

Shanna said...

Now suppose that the numbers for one scenario are very robust, but food supply for all crew for more than six months in that scenario is prohibitively expensive. The expected mean time to first harvest is five months

I think relying on something like a harvest is too dicey, but how hard would it be to bring animals for food? Pigs in space!!!!

No need for canabilism.

Largo said...

I think a link is definitely called for.

wv: inkin. How can that possibly not represent oinkin'?

Jeremy said...

Didn't you people watch, I don't know, Red Planet or Mission to Mars? Or read Stranger in a Strange Land or ANY SCI-FI EVER? These things do not end well! NEVER!

-The Other Jeremy

Sofa King said...

More to the point, where else are we going to be able to get our precious, precious turbinium?

Steven said...

The moon would require carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen to be shipped, but with less dV than Mars.

Assuming a Hohmann transfer orbit, the dV is very slightly lower for a trip to the lunar surface than the Martian surface . . . but you can aerobrake for Mars landing. The result is that you actually need less fuel to go from Earth to Mars than Earth to the Moon.

Joe said...

A more obvious approach is to preposition material. I've also suggested using astronauts with terminal cancer; a suggestion that is mocked, but why not?

Of course if you asked for volunteers for a one way trip, you'd end up with plenty of qualified applicants.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I don't think harvests are the way to go. I think, for a colony to be feasable, the food will need to be manufactured. Start with a nuclear reactor, and use either the heat or generated electricity to create some chemical, likely a hydrocarbon, that stores some energy. Then feed that to a genetically modified bacteria which uses that energy to create human consumable carbohydrates, proteins, etc.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

And, as an added bonus, if all of your food is manufactured, you can save more weight because you don't have to ship the organic-only bread slicer.

MikeR said...

Registry for lunar colony, no right to return:
http://www.jerrypournelle.com/view/2009/Q3/view580.html#Eagle

Cedarford said...

Larry J - " Another approach is to produce the propellant for the return trip from resources on Mars. It's fairly simple to produce liquid methane and liquid oxygen on Mars."

Except it is not "fairly simple". Making fuel from non-fuel sufficient to boost a multi-ton cargo into orbit requires an immense amount of energy. Breaking water or CO2 bonds 1st, then huge enegry, pressures, catalysts, compression, cooling, refining equipment to make fuel from scratch. Plus any mining equipment you would use to break up rock-hard ice if you use that. And further equipment to remove and dispose of heavy salt contamination of ice. Then heavy insulated tanks to store it. And computers to operate it all, mostly autonomously.
Solar panels adequate to light 1 100KW lightbulb 2 hours a day don't cut it.
Your "simple fuel factory" becomes a 140-150 ton plant that has to be assembled mostly autonomously, operate autonomously, collect tons of material autonomously. Likely with a full functioning reactor and electric power plant that also has to operate mostly autonomously in real time for safety reasons, with the nuke power plant computer executing commands relayed in with a minute and a half time delay from Earth.

Cedarford said...

Larry J - " All robots - no matter how sophisticated - are limited by their sensors and their programming. A trained human can work quickly but can also make chance discoveries (e.g. the "Genesis rock" and "orange soil" from the Apollo astronauts)."

That is a perspective from 40 years ago. Robotic sensors are far more sophisticated and can look at multiple electromagnetic spectrums the human eye can't, can use ground penetrating radar, give exact physical measurements. And just as importantly, relay that info far faster and far more accurately than a person can to thousands of scientists and other experts on Earth. Most if not all are better in their respective fields than any person sent to Mars, or the Moon for that matter. And have a better chance of the odd discovery from teams looking at one aspect of data than some person walking around with a fogged visor in a pressure suit.

Honestly, the problem is that the basic problems of manned space known since the late 60s still exist. Few have been solved. There is no likely prospect of economic returns, no military value - so the best minds are not working on most of these problems. (Apollo was built on the Cold War militaries of the US and Soviet Union investing up to 10% of their budgets and putting their best minds on making ICBMs capable of orbiting then precisely dropping a multi-ton thermonuclear weapon on target).

We have not solved the radiation problem, the fact that Soviet rocket engines from the 60s have not been substantially improved upon - launch costs per pound have actually increased in real dollars, or soon, real Euros. You still can't profitably retrieve a pile of gold bars on the moon if you saw them just lying there from a telescope.

America has gone from a prosperous nation in Apollo days to a debtor nation thanks to Ruling Elites that sold us out and deindustrialized us to make their own big bucks...Now they see the writing on the wall and many are taking a big interest in "large secluded ranches in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska".

And many of us, fallen into "miracle high technology will enable anything" traps...see the Apollo mission as proof that anything can be done in 10 years "if the all-wise voters want it so".
Cure for cancer. Fusion power. Miracle solar satellites beaming energy too cheap to measure. Super high tech wizbangs wielded by super high tech hero soldiers that will make war "so surgically easy". Ever lower health care costs from wondrous new technologies.

And of course, the easy, vital, inspiring manned exploration of Mars!

Nope. Some technologies advance. Others do not no matter what "voters want!". And what is profitable for some things(explorers and conquistadors and colonists exploiting New World Resources) or politically imperative ("Beat the Russians to the Moon") - just isn't the case now - for manned space exploration rationales..

I love space exploration! I look at the Hubble feeds, check in weekly to see what the Mars Rovers, Orbiters, Cassini are doing. I follow the special probes like to comets or the Mars Phoenix.

But I'm realistic.

I also don't follow ISS much because there is no real science or discovery happening there. Maybe the Japanese and Euro research modules will change that.

Synova said...

Someone or other mentioned that the US is broke.

1) While outrageously expensive, even a space program of this scope is a fraction of our budget.

2) All the money *goes* somewhere. It might not solve all the short comings of the concept of "stimulous" spending, but would at least support education and training in the most advanced areas of science, engineering and technology.

3) Psychologically speaking... if we can send people to Mars to *live*... we can do *anything*. All the reiterations of "lets solve this chronic problem on Earth first" are pronunciations of pre-emptive defeat.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Synova said...

2) All the money *goes* somewhere.

That's true, but the same can be said for spending to replace a broken window. I'm not saying spending on a space program is entirely wasted, but the fact that money is going somewhere does not mean that it is a good use of that money.

Elliott A said...

Investment in the space program is directly responsible for virtually all of the technology we have today. Learning how to keep people healthy and alive, (necessary to any lenghthy space trip) while manufacturing all their own food and energy would certainly make the latter part of this century an age of wonder.

We need to go into deep space to mine asteroids, since they contain many of the trace elements which will be gone before long.

We need to find a way to get there quickly, weeks not months, and how to protect properly against radiation. Then we go to Mars and beyond. Without frontiers, we will stagnate and die.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rorschach said...

Cedarford, I mught direct you to peruse Zubrin's "Mars Direct" proposal where he worked it all out in detail. The power would come from a small pebble bed nuclear reactor cooled with either helium or nitrogen, like those proposed by Adams Atomic Engines.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Direct
http://www.atomicengines.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor

Michael McNeil said...

There's plenty of nitrogen on Mars, at least for a colony's requirements: 2.7% of the Martian atmosphere is molecular nitrogen (a vastly higher percentage than carbon dioxide for instance makes up in Earth's atmosphere: 0.04%), where the N2 could be extracted anywhere you are. It is also not unlikely that much more nitrogen is locked up in rocks in the form of nitrates and ammonium salts, though those have not been found as yet.

Max Dean said...

What is the meaning of life? Biologically it is to perpetuate the species. Therefore ensuring our survival, by populating other planets, should be a goal of humanity. This sounds like a great idea.

I don't know about sending old people there to die though, where do you come up with something like that?