Tag Archives: settlement

Zubrin on SpaceX to Mars

Robert Zubrin was quick to post some suggested improvements to Elon Musk’s recently announced Mars plans (quicker than I was to post this follow-up):

The key thing I would change is his plan to send the whole trans Mars propulsion system all the way to Mars and back. Doing that means it can only be used once every four years. Instead he should stage off of it just short of Earth escape. Then it would loop around back to aerobrake into Earth orbit in a week, while the payload habitat craft with just a very small propulsion system for landing would fly on to Mars.

Used this way, the big Earth escape propulsion system could be used 5 times every launch window, instead of once every other launch window, effectively increasing its delivery capacity by a factor of 10. Alternatively, it could deliver the same payload with a system one tenth the size, which is what I would do.

So instead of needing a 500 ton launch capability, he could send the same number of people to Mars every opportunity with a 50 ton launcher, which is what Falcon heavy will be able to do.

The small landing propulsion unit could either be refilled and flown back to LEO, used on Mars for long distance travel, or scrapped and turned into useful parts on Mars using a 3D printer.

Done in this manner, such a transportation system could be implemented much sooner, possibly before the next decade is out, making settlement of Mars a real possibility for our time.


AIAA Panel Discussion on Mars Settlement

Back in May, Carl and I sat on a panel at the AIAA Annual Technical Symposium in Houston. The panel was given a future scenario in advance, describing a number of technological and economic elements fifty years from now, just as Mars settlement is about to begin. During the luncheon, we were asked to consider a half-dozen questions relating to how Mars settlement might play out under the given scenario. In addition, there were 3-4 questions from the audience – regrettably, the camcorder battery ran out in the middle of my response to what I thought was the best question of the bunch.

It’s five clips, about an hour and a half in total.

Seeking Mars Architects

In line with NASA’s recent focus on Humans-to-Mars, the agency announced a new contest to design structures on Mars using existing materials found on the planet.  The In Situ Resource Utilization Challenge  offers a $10,000 first place prize and two $2,500 second place prizes.

Of course, ISRU is a cornerstone of all practical Humans-to-Mars proposals, and it’s nice to see NASA embracing it.  Personally I’d like to see a near-term sample return mission with the return powered by fuel derived form the Martian atmosphere, a much bolder ISRU demonstration than some of the proposals currently under consideration for the Mars 2020 mission.

ISRU is so critical because it significantly lowers the cost and (if done properly) the risk of the mission.  As NASA indicates:

One advantage of using resources from the planet instead of bringing everything from Earth is the potential to save the agency more than $100,000 per 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of cargo each launch.

As for that $100,000, that’s gotta come down quite a bit, regardless of ISRU.  Of course the private sector is making great strides there already.

Icehouses on Mars?

Mars icehouseThe winning design in the first stage of NASA’s 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge competition was a structure made out of water ice.  Apparently the translucence was part of the appeal, although the on-line summary doesn’t detail structural considerations for pressurized applications.

At least future Martians will know where to go to grab a cold one.

A Working Vacation on Mars


4Frontiers Corporation recently launched an initial private placement offering to finance the first phase of INTERSPACE Florida, a space and science themed destination to be located in Florida, eight miles from the Kennedy Space Center.

INTERSPACE will immerse its guests in a dynamic, visceral, hands-on adventure, training with high-tech tools of the space frontier and glimpsing into the future by visiting the largest indoor Mars simulation in the world. Guests themselves will become Explorers and Settlers, bringing visions of our future into current reality.

Space tourists will be able to choose a day pass for a “trip” to Mars, including views of the Mars simulation.  Those willing to be “settlers” could spend multiple days playing key roles in the settlement.  Given the tremendous interest in the Mars One and Inspiration Mars missions, including over 200,000 applicants for a one-way trip to Mars, it’s not hard to conceive of tremendous interest in “trying out” Mars for a few days.

Sign me up!

The Ethics of Martian Babies

Rand Simberg probes the issue over at PJM: The Bioethics of Mars One.

It’s funny to see Rand and the commenters on his article echoing the sentiments we present in In the Shadow of Ares regarding Amber’s parents having a child on Mars and the continued reluctance of other settlers to have children. One criticism we received from several early readers of the manuscript was that it was unlikely that in a dozen years of settlement activity, nobody else would have had a child but Aaron and Lindsay.

Well…here’s an indication that it’s not so unlikely.

Those Suicidal Pilgrims

Fox News recently ran a piece on plans by Mars One to launch one-way missions to Mars, with the first arrival in 2023:  Mars One Plans Suicide Mission to Red Planet for 2023.

The idea is that the astronauts are emigres, and not just visitors.  This removes the need for return spacecraft and the associated fuel, tremendously reducing the cost and complexity of the missions.  It also eases the concern that the early Mars missions, like Apollo, might eventually lose support and result in another dead end. 

Hyperbolic headlines aside, I agree with Brian Enke that “extended stay mission” is a more appropriate name.  The early settlers in North America arguably faced tougher physical and psychological hurdles, yet I doubt many would refer to their journey as a suicide mission.

A major theme of In the Shadow of Ares is the role of private enterprise in Martian development and settlement, though we initially expected government-led missions to open the frontier before “getting out of the way”.  Mars One proposes to conduct their missions completely independently, though it remains to be seen if they can obtain the required funding, estimated at $6 billion for the first mission.  I, for one, would love to see them pull it off.

I look forward to learning more, though an initial perusal led me to a few concerns, not least of which is Mars One’s stated intent to rely entirely on solar power on the Martian surface.  I believe their concerns regarding nuclear power are severely overstated, and smack of politics trumping science.  Readers of In the Shadow of Ares may recall politically-motivated power choices having deadly consequences for a group of settlers at Tharsis Station.

To Mars and Back…Sorta

The crew of the Mars500 simulation emerged today in Moscow from 520 days of isolation that began June 3, 2010.

Shortly after ‘landing’

The primary purpose of this simulation was to evaluate a variety of physical and mental impacts of a long-duration space exploration mission, such as the 500+ day journey that a crew would have to withstand for a round-trip mission to Mars.  Study elements included issues related to an actual mission, such as communication delays and a simulated schedule:

During the isolation period, the candidates have been simulating all elements of the Mars mission, traveling to Mars, orbiting the planet, landing and return to Earth.

Of course, not all elements; some things are difficult or impossible to simulate, such as weightlessness or cosmic radiation.  But it is interesting to note ESA chose to exclude one obvious factor that we included in the early exploration missions of In the Shadow of Ares.  Apparently ESA doesn’t believe that women should be included in a mission to Mars.

Still a Jerk

Over the last couple of weeks a video of a marriage proposal at the Chicago Comic Con got a lot of hits.  That’s because the couple was blessed by none other than Patrick Stewart, the actor who made quite a career out of playing USS Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard.  A cute (if nerdy) moment, and good for them:

However, for me the video brought to mind something less pleasant.  Back in 2004 the same actor took the time to poo-poo human space exploration in a BBC Interview:

I would like to see us get this place right first before we have the arrogance to put significantly flawed civilisations out on to other planets.

Stewart repeats one of the oldest and most flawed arguments against human spaceflight.  Exploration, and especially exploration that challenges us as a trip to the Moon did (or as a trip to Mars would), provides tremendous benefits here at home.  At the same time, it is ridiculous to expect a time when there won’t be problems on Earth.  Who will be the judge as to when we are good enough that we can go out and play?

Seven years later I’m still irritated when I see him.  Maybe I need to get over it, but in this case it’s not just what was said, but who said it.

Islands in the sky?

Billionaire Pay Pal co-founder Peter Thiel has apparently donated $1.25 million to the Seasteading Institute, an organization seeking to build floating nation-states that would be able to experiment with innovative political and social systems.  Specifically libertarian political systems.

Floating City

Of course, that’s part of the rationale for going to Mars.  Not specifically to set up a libertarian society, although there’s certainly an element of that in the independent settlements depicted in In the Shadow of Ares.  The basic idea is to start from scratch, choosing from what you know works best and leaving behind what doesn’t.