Al-Qahira, Ares, Auqakuh, Bahram...
November 27, 2012 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Do you have $500,000 lying around? If you do, Elon Musk might just send you to colonize Mars. This is not the first time that Musk has discussed his desire for a colony on Mars. Interesting as it sounds, not everyone is excited about the idea.
posted by A Bad Catholic (70 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Seriously, it is my hope that I live long enough to see (well, on TV, video or hologram) man/woman set foot on Mars. Be it via commercial, scientific, private or public means, it doesn't matter. Just get humankind onto the surface of another planet, to prove we have the science and the willpower to do.
posted by Wordshore at 6:40 PM on November 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Research station? Sure. Colony? Not until there are 100 billion people on Earth. If I wanted to live in a barren wasteland without any decent sushi restaurants and miles from a warm beach, then I'd move to the Gobi desert. At least there I can breathe the air.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 6:42 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Actually, shipping all the people who happen to have $500,000 just lying around to Mars isn't a bad idea.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:42 PM on November 27, 2012 [33 favorites]


Musk figures the colony program — which he wants to be a collaboration between government and private enterprise — would end up costing about $36 billion.

LOL.

But seriously, I'm totally in.
posted by eugenen at 6:45 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It would make a lot more sense (A LOT more sense) to colonize Antarctica.
posted by Malor at 6:46 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


You know, Wordshore, I've felt pessimistic about the future for a while now. Like, in the big picture sense. Between global warming (which we're committed to for 50 years even if we stop all man-made CO2 emissions completely tomorrow), the global economy (too many dominos wobbling for something not to fall over and take others with it), technology-enabled surveillance and remote weaponry (which are being accepted far too readily and even willingly by the general populace with seemingly very little thought or even knowledge), or any other 50-100-years-down the-line issue which seems to be heading in a bad direction...

...but I'll be damned if what you wrote there hasn't coalesced something which has been in the background of my brain and has been trying to grow into a real green shoot of living optimism in all this looking into the future, and that is our continuing exploration of space, the awesome science our robot friends are doing for us in all kinds of ways, and renewed interest in the space program in the public consciousness.

So, thank you for that. I've decided I hope to live long enough to see that, myself.
posted by hippybear at 6:51 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wasn't Elon Musk one of the aliens in Jabba's desert palace?
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:52 PM on November 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Just watched "The Mars Underground" on utube. Bob Zubrin of the "Mars Society" (who seems to be responsible for the cheap ticket to Mars idea back when he worked at Martin-Marietta) seems just a bad Italian accent shy of achieving the Dr. Emilio Lizardo standard of crackpot scientist... Watch him testify to Congress (just before Bush's 'To The Moon then Mars, Bitches' policy unveiling ) and you can watch a somewhat bemused Sen. Brownback saying "Mr. Zubrin, you seem a little angry (we haven't colonized Mars yet...)"

The point being, these people are super crazy and have political muscle and tons of cash.

fun fact: Bob Zubrin used to be a LaRouchie...
posted by ennui.bz at 6:53 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Musk figures the colony program — which he wants to be a collaboration between government and private enterprise — would end up costing about $36 billion."

Explain to me the super science that allows us to create a permanent, sustainable colony of 80,000 people on Mars, for half the total budget of the ISS. Is this one of those "magic of the free market" things?
posted by justkevin at 6:58 PM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


At least no one on Mars is going to ask for a refund.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:00 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Musk figures the colony program — which he wants to be a collaboration between government and private enterprise — would end up costing about $36 billion.

I'm sure he's right about that estimate. I mean, it's not like he's ever grossly underestimated the amount of money he'd have to borrow from private investors and government loans in connection with any of his other ventures. lol
posted by The World Famous at 7:00 PM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


It would make a lot more sense (A LOT more sense) to colonize Antarctica.

Antarctica has had a permanent human population for decades now. The deep interior is never going to be a particularly pleasant place to live, but as the world warms, the Peninsula is starting to get almost kind of comfortable. So yeah, we've already colonized Antarctica and even gotten a pretty good terraforming process going there - seems to me we're about ready to tackle an even bigger challenge.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:08 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


The money would be much better spent on fixing environmental problems here, rather than sending people to Mars. The environmental problems to overcome on Mars are significantly greater. Sending people there would be pretty counterproductive.

Robots, on the other hand? Much easier. I suspect some of the interest in Mars is because of the possibility that the wind there has sorted certain very rare elements out into phenomenally rich layers. Count on the public funding the costs and the private sector reaping the benefits.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:11 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I finally figured out why every time I hear the name "Elon Musk" I start to giggle. It's because it reminds me of "Barbara Musk", which is the name of Elaine May's air-headed actress character opposite Mike Nichols' Jack Ego in their Disk Jockey skit. Skip to 6:40 to hear the way Nichols pronounces "Musk" and you too will giggle every time you hear it.

How about that? Rilly. Seriously.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:14 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


In that case, we better hope a NASA syndicate wins the big lottery jackpot.
posted by arcticseal at 7:15 PM on November 27, 2012


Can I get a bulk price to send up the writing staff of The Awl?

Once there, they could always work off the balance of their debt by laboring in the cheap snark mines of Phobos.
posted by R. Schlock at 7:18 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It would make a lot more sense (A LOT more sense) to colonize Antarctica.

Well, until until we get hit with a planet-killing asteroid or the Yellowstone supervolcano blows or any number of other inevitable extinction-level events. Then that half-a-mil will seem like quite the bargain.
posted by signalnine at 7:18 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wasn't Elon Musk one of the aliens in Jabba's desert palace?

I'm pretty sure Elon Musk was in the men's fragrance counter, right next to the Aramis.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:19 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh, yeah, sure, I'll go to Mars, because I've totally got an Xbox controller cable that's like, a billion miles long. That sounds great.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 7:28 PM on November 27, 2012


It would make a lot more sense (A LOT more sense) to colonize Antarctica.

Or maybe some of those mostly empty blue states.
posted by srboisvert at 7:33 PM on November 27, 2012


I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man in Wyoming and returning him safely to Earth.
posted by dr_dank at 7:41 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


We can't even build a high speed train from Los Angeles to San Francisco for $36 billion. For fuck's sake this isn't a serious proposition.
posted by Justinian at 7:48 PM on November 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man in Wyoming and returning him safely to Earth.

First, Wyoming would have to actually exist.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:56 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would love to read an article like this where it sounds like the person proposing the Crazy Space Idea has actually thought through any of the details. I mean, I don't know much about Musk personally, but all the answers quoted or paraphrased in this article sound awfully mushy.

How can be be talking about a potential per-person price tag when he hasn't even figured out the precise nature of the vehicle that will get them there? Like, in-situ resource utilization on Mars would be fantastic, and lots of proposals mention it, but when does he plan to set it up? Before the colonists arrive? How is he going to pay to design and construct all of that equipment, let alone launch it out of Earth's gravity well? How many people does he plan to send at one time? Would they be expected to cover the costs of the development, testing and fabrication of the systems that would carry them from Earth and keep them alive? They'd be launching not only themselves and their ship, but at least six months of food and water and other consumables -- that's a huge amount of mass, which would only get larger the more people you add. And that's assuming you'd already launched and landed what they'd need once they arrived on the surface.

This all adds up to a hell of a lot more than $500,000 a person.

I mean, I am A GIGANTIC FAN of the idea of manned Mars exploration. I'm going to a NASA meetup next week so I can hassle Joe Acaba and other NASA staff about life on the ISS because it's the closest thing we currently have to what a manned Mars mission would be like. But this kind of lazy off-the-cuff hand-waving doesn't make me excited for the future -- it makes me wish that real scientists and engineers had more money to spend on programs that might actually go somewhere.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:56 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


on the total price bit, the key quote is

He arrived at that number by estimating that a colony that costs 0.25 percent or 0.5 percent of a nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) would be considered acceptable.

Which is basically the same as how he picked the 0.5 million for the ticket. He's picking these numbers based on what he would like it to be, and then presenting that as a reasonable estimate of costs. Which is pretty silly.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 7:57 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Also, is it just me or is the pagination of this article wonky? There were six buttons for me to click, but it seemed like only two actual pages? I think? :|
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:00 PM on November 27, 2012


So yeah, we've already colonized Antarctica and even gotten a pretty good terraforming process going there - seems to me we're about ready to tackle an even bigger challenge.

As far as I know, we have some research stations there, not a functioning economy. When Antarctica's population is actually running an economic surplus, and attracting new immigrants down for jobs, as opposed to just having some people there in Quonset huts on the government's dime, THEN it will be colonized. Maybe that could happen via oil or coal; resource extraction seems far and away the most likely method to bootstrap an economy there.

It's a hugely difficult problem, and it's right here on Earth. It will take a great deal of time and money. But it will take probably six less orders of magnitude of real wealth to get their economy functioning than it would to get something up and running on Mars.

Remember, we're talking colonization, not just people squatting on the surface. Given Earth's deep gravity well, Mars will have to be a completely separate, boostrapped economy, importing as little as possible from home. Everything they need, everything, they will have to make locally. From furniture (no wood!), to the myriad of chemicals in a modern economy(no petroleum!), to the energy production, to the creation and maintenance of the environment, will all have to be done locally. And the amount of equipment it would take to completely build an economy from scratch, not to mention the sheer number of different technical skills required, would boggle your mind; the more you studied it, the scarier it would be.

19th-century tech will not be an option; we can't just drop them with some horses and cows and grass and expect them to be able to lift themselves up with locally-produced goods. Rather, they will require 21st-century tech, with its incredible complexity and supply chains, just to survive. Airlocks, superb dust filters, oxygen generation, protection from Marsquakes, you could probably write several books on all the different specialties and engineering disciplines, and all the different resources that would be required.

And we might find that there's a bottleneck; just to pull a random element out of the air, let's say there's no palladium on Mars. We might find that many supply chains would be disrupted or outright impossible without palladium, and sourcing it from Earth will be impossibly expensive. The whole colonization process could be completely derailed if Mars is missing just one crucial element.

Colonization might be possible, but it will make every human endeavor, undertaken in all of recorded history, look like playing with Legos in front of the Christmas tree. This is not something we can just wave our hands and do. The entire world could bankrupt itself investing in this project, and still not have enough economic power and scientific knowledge to make it work. Humanity could, very literally, go all-in on this, with every person in the world, either directly or indirectly, reorienting their lives and careers to support the Mars Colonization Project, and it still might not be enough. That's how big an undertaking it would be.
posted by Malor at 8:12 PM on November 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


Laughable. Haven't landed a single living being on Mars. This clown wants to send thousands per year to live there.

Dude should really be looking up Apollo budget figures for sending 12 humans to the Moon. We don't even have a colony there.

What has he ever actually turned a profit on or made feasible? Everyone handed him truckloads of cash for half-done ideas and he walked away.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:28 PM on November 27, 2012


Everyone handed him truckloads of cash for half-done ideas and he walked away.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Is this where I say "hamburger?"
posted by spacewrench at 8:38 PM on November 27, 2012


then presenting that as a reasonable estimate of costs.

He's not making a reasonable estimate of costs. He's stated his ambition, which is to establish a Mars colony, and now - like an engineer - he's working out what the limits are that define the shape of the problem he has to solve. Read his quotes carefully: "The ticket price needs to be low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip." He's not claiming that he has figured out a reasonable way to offer Mars trips for $500k: he's simply observing that $500k is what the trip will ultimately have to cost if his colony project is going to work, since that's what the potential colonists are likely to be able to afford. That gives him a concrete goal for his space program: get to the point that he can ship people to Mars for $500k.

Same thing with the line about "80,000 people": that's his guess, based on the population of the earth, of the total number of people who might possibly be willing to move to a Mars colony. It's another limit: he has to figure out how to make a working colony with no more than 80,000 people. If he can figure out how to make his colony work with only 800 people, well, great - but he knows he has no more than 80,000 to work with, so that's the upper bound.

Same thing with the $36 billion: he's not saying that the colony is going to cost $36 billion. Rather, he thinks that perhaps the US might be willing to spend somewhere between 0.25% and 0.5% of its GDP on a Mars colony. 0.25% of the current US GDP is $36 billion. So that's his target: as he plans this project, he wants to figure out how to do it spending no more than $36 billion a year.

Yes, he's ambitious. Maybe he'll succeed, maybe he won't, but a handwavey dreamer he certainly is not.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:44 PM on November 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


Curse, you, ennui(.bz)! Donna you know what you'rea saying?!
posted by adamdschneider at 9:04 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as I know, we have some research stations there, not a functioning economy.

Well, yes, of course you're right; that was just a setup for the joke about "terraforming" our own planet.

Though I did once get into one of those late-night whiskey-fuelled arguments with someone who claimed that Antarctica's economy was just as functional as that of the USA, if somewhat less diverse - it is wholly dependent on imported fuel, after all, and its primary exports are movies and scientific discoveries...
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:04 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Newt Gingrich?
posted by buzzman at 9:05 PM on November 27, 2012


I just don't see the logic of setting up a colony on Mars. That would put it at the bottom of a deep gravity well. Our whole problem with space exploration right now is that we're at the bottom of a gravity well. It stinks.

Asteroids and moons are where it's at. At least thick enough to provide shielding from cosmic rays but with a low enough escape velocity that a cheap electric linear accelerator can send payloads back into space.

The killer app might be a retirement home. Low gravity means mobility for the bedridden and less stress on the cardiovascular system. How much would an aged multi-billionaire be willing to pay for an extra year of active life? It's a way of making the first habitat pay for the first extraterrestrial factory, and once that's running everything else gets much easier.

How about Eros? Do you think it would be hard to recruit colonists for an Erotic colony?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:12 PM on November 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


I think manned missions to Mars (and an eventual colony) are a great idea, but I don't care for Musk's half million dollar voyage of the damned approach. Exiling people to Mars, even if they pay to go, is a bad way to build something that's supposed to last.

The fact is, Earth-Mars cyclers are possible, and Buzz Aldrin has already got this figured out. What we need to do is build a couple of these babies and then have continuous Mars missions, with Astronauts both coming and going as they build a proper colony.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:29 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you have $500,000 lying around?

No, but I'm willing to be an indentured servant for any Martian Aristocrats.

(If anyone wants to join the rebellion, let me know)
posted by FJT at 9:32 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Next seen on the tabloid stand at the checkout counter:

Disaffected Red State populations affect a sort of secession by voting with their feet, and plant their new flag--where else?--on the Red Planet. For a mere 500k marbucks they can afford to bring the hired help with them.

Bradbury would have written this story, you know.
posted by mule98J at 9:36 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Put a man on mars? How about you put a woman on the moon first?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:27 PM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


by estimating that a colony that costs 0.25 percent or 0.5 percent of a nation’s gross domestic product

He should relocate to Burundi or Somalia, that simple act would reduce the costs by three orders of magnitude! Shit, if it is only going to cost $500 per head Matt could award Mars colonist papers for the best post contests!
posted by Meatbomb at 10:30 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


>Abandon the fortress?; (y/n)
>>Y
>>YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY
>>
>>
>>
>The Fortress of Kol Terra has been adandoned!

>Start new adventure (y/n)?
posted by Slackermagee at 10:33 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just by way of comparison, the atmospheric pressure on Mars is about 600 pascals. Remember when Joseph Kittinger rode the balloon to 125,000 feet and then jumped from that altitude? Remember how he had to gain hundreds of MPH in velocity and lose many thousands of feet of altitude before there was even enough atmospheric pressure to allow him to get out of the uncontrollable spin?

The atmospheric pressure at 125,000 feet on Earth is very close to what it is on Mars at ground level. Pressure at 100,000 feet altitude on Earth is much higher than Mars at ground level.

It would probably be about a million times* easier, more practical, and more economic to establish a human colony of 80,000 people at 125,000 feet altitude on Earth than to establish a similar colony on Mars . . .

Meanwhile, the average temperature on Mars is about -55C (-67F) while the interior of Antarctica averages -57C (-70F)--so almost exactly the same. Despite the similarity in temperature, the interior of Antarctica has numerous easily exploitable resources--even economically lucrative resources--far in excess of what Mars has, and in additional has the advantage of very close and easy transportation, so I'm going to put the difficulty of establishing an 80,000 person colony there as a billion times* easier than Mars.

Honestly, I was more excited about living on Mars until I realized it would be exactly like Joseph Kittinger standing on the doorstep of that balloon, except worse in every way and you wouldn't be staying there for just a few minutes but permanently.

And how many people do you know who would pay $500K to spend a year in the Antarctic? And would the number of willing people be smaller or larger if it were not a year, but the rest of their lives with absolutely no possibility of return?

Keep in mind that a visit to Antarctica is going to be like a pleasant resort vacation in comparison to living on Mars . . .

* Where am I getting these figures, you ask? Well, I'm getting them the same place Elon Musk is, namely, I'm pulling them out of my ass. Nevertheless I'll guarantee they are accurate to within a few orders of magnitude at worst.
posted by flug at 11:57 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Put a man on mars? How about you put a woman on the moon first?

Great news! No-one in any of the linked articles used the phrase "man on mars", or any gender specific terms to describe the people going.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:20 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love the idea of getting people to Mars, but I don't see how a colony is practical using current launch tech. Big rockets are all well and good, but every kilo you life to orbit needs fuel to lift it - and some fuel to lift that fuel, and some fuel to lift the fuel that's lifting the fuel... Bulk transit to orbit is incredibly expensive, and even with the re-usable launch vehicles and supply vehicles we already have or nearly have, that's not going to change.

What we need to build first is a space elevator. But for that, we need to solve two problems - robots capable of capturing and shifting into geostationatory orbit an asteroid to act as counterweight, and the material of the cable. Carbon nanotubes show some promise at solving the latter problem, but we're still some way off from being abe to actually make one. Plus you have to deal with 'dodging' orbital debris - though putting the earth point on a sea platform so you can shift it around a bit might solve that.

What we *could* start on building right now though is a space tower; something 15-20km high which doesn't get you into orbit, but does get you into the stratosphere and gives you a launch point that's much closer to LEO (300km or so) energetically speaking, and you don't have to deal with anywhere as much atmospheric drag as launching from the ground. You could build it either as a compressive structure, i.e. Burj Khalifa on steroids, or the Canadian idea of one made up of inflatable segments.

Such a tower would be really useful as a stepping stone to building a proper space elevator, as well as launch platform in its own right.

If we're really serious about manned space flight*, including any serious presence on Mars, then we need to do better than rockets first.

* Robotic space flight is essential, and better autonomous systems are going to be crucial for any type of colonization - setting up remote autonomous factories for example, to mine for water. And robotic exploration can go much further and into much more hostile environments than we can ever send people in the solar system, and is totally worthwhile for scientific research. But even for pure science, a scientist 'on the ground' with a lab can do a lot more a lot faster than a small robot remote-operated by 10 - 60 minute round trip delay.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:24 AM on November 28, 2012


You don't need a space tower, with its legal problems-we could probably do a Mars program if we had a robust laser launch system. Of course we're a ways away from that as well.
posted by happyroach at 12:28 AM on November 28, 2012


Let me rephrase what I said earlier:

We need to make sure the planet we're already living on doesn't turn into Mars before we try to make Mars habitable.


Nothing can beat the deal we've got right now. We need to put our scientific efforts into not fucking it up, not playing Zapp Brannigan. Life on a planet where you can't even breathe the air is a dead end.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:38 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rockoons, man. And I'm totally not kidding. Why build a 20km tower when a balloon can lift you that high instead? There's some work to be done on guidance systems, but this is a real technology that could be developed to make launches to orbit much cheaper.

The way I'd do it if I was king of the world:

* Build a new, industrial size space station.

* Assemble all the big spacecraft (like the Aldrin Cycler) in orbit close to the station.

* Send missions to the Moon and Mars from space station. Maybe an asteroid capture mission too.

* Eventually build permanent stations on both the Moon and Mars. Use both as footholds to explore/utilize the Solar System. Missions from the Moon for everything from the asteroids to the Sun. Missions from Mars for the outer system.
posted by Kevin Street at 12:43 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think we're at all close to a laser powerful enough to provide lift to orbit or even partially yet via a pulsed plasma in atmosphere. While it's certainly possible as a future tech, there's an awful lot of work to do before we could even theoretically build one, let alone power it. I suspect it could well be a future lift system for the carriages on a space elevator though.

The really interesting part of laser propulsion for the moment is tphotonic laser thrusters, which would be great for micro adjustments of satellites in orbit - a giant space telescope made up of separated dishes, or even a potential future solar microwave orbital power system would be made possible, for example.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:44 AM on November 28, 2012


Mars has no magnetosphere, and doesn't have enough mass to retain a thick atmosphere. Terraforming or colonization is kind of pointless if you can't work those problems out. There's no solution to either problem. Even if you crashed both of Mars' moons and the entire mass of the asteroid belt into Mars (and you couldn't), it still wouldn't have anywhere near Earth-standard gravity. And unlike Total Recall and its ilk, there's no magic button you could press (or hole you could drill and stuff full of fusion bombs) to remelt Mars' core.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:57 AM on November 28, 2012


We need to put our scientific efforts into not fucking it up, not playing Zapp Brannigan

The problems on earth are not scientific ones, they are economic and political, and maybe engineering. We know what we need to do - stop building goddamn fossil fuel plants. We need to stop building more coal and gas fired power stations, and we need to do it right now.

We need to put that money into building solar and wind plants, using the tech we have now, not wait for some future super-efficient solar panel. The efficiencies aren't great, so it costs more - but carbon power is only cheap because we're not pricing in the massive costs of carbon-caused climate change. Personally, I think a massive build of modern nuclear plants is also going to have to be part of the strategy to get us through the next 30-40 years, but above all else we're going to have stop building new coal plants, right now. Cutting down on oil use is going to be necessary too, but in some sense the rising cost of extraction and diminishing supply will take care of that on its own. Greater energy efficiency is also important, as well as cutting back on use, but we're already making some good steps in that direction, though we're going to need more.

We're not even pricing in the risk of catastrophic ecology collapse which we're guaranteeing on our current course.

But the problem is not one we can solve with science, or massive geo-engineering schemes. It's one we need to solve by getting our damn politicians to stop screwing around, ignore the vocal but small anti-science crowd, and get their bloody finger out. And bluntly, while european countries are weak, and the chinese need to adapt, the biggest holdup by far is the USA.

Of course, any practical future human space exploration will require we don't destroy earth's carrying capacity as well - a few thousand people on Mars are going to be royally screwed if the 'mothership' is reduced to half a billion people in 100 years time through famine, drought and resource wars - which is where we're headed. But there's no point having us all sit around and stopping doing science while we wait.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:02 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Mars has no magnetosphere, and doesn't have enough mass to retain a thick atmosphere. Terraforming or colonization is kind of pointless if you can't work those problems out."

The first permanent base could be built inside a lava tube. There'd be meters of rock to protect against radiation, and the tube would itself be an interesting place to do geological research. A small portion could be sealed with marscrete and then pressurized.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:16 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


We need to make sure the planet we're already living on doesn't turn into Mars before we try to make Mars habitable.

The process of settling Mars is a process of creating tools to help humans, human culture, and worlds.

Tools such as creating an approachable sense of time that includes goals and threats in the far future beyond your own lifespan.

Tools such the technology to geoengineer or bioengineer with the goal of changing the climate of an entire planet.

Or organizational or behavioral tools to help people maintain themselves in close quarters for long periods of time while remaining happy, productive, and stable.
posted by tychotesla at 1:38 AM on November 28, 2012


Step one: Space elevator.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:06 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I should probably have slept more last night; I misread these lines as:

>> So yeah, we've already colonized America
> As far as I know, we have some research stations there, not a functioning economy.
posted by martinrebas at 4:01 AM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Rockoons, man.

Those things making terrible noises inside my garbage can at 3:00 AM?
posted by thewalrus at 5:07 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll support a Mars colonization program only if the first person on Mars says: "Well, here we are...".
posted by thewalrus at 5:08 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


~Meanwhile, the average temperature on Mars is about -55C (-67F) while the interior of Antarctica averages -57C (-70F)--so almost exactly the same.
~Mars has no magnetosphere, and doesn't have enough mass to retain a thick atmosphere.


So, what you folks are saying is Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it's cold as hell?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:09 AM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Step one: Space elevator.

Very useful, but in the first Mars war, will be prone to sabotage leading to widespread destruction.
posted by Wordshore at 5:40 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mars has no magnetosphere, and doesn't have enough mass to retain a thick atmosphere. Terraforming or colonization is kind of pointless if you can't work those problems out. There's no solution to either problem

There's no problem rational self-interest can't solve...
posted by ennui.bz at 5:48 AM on November 28, 2012


Yeah yeah okay, all this Mars stuff is cool - what I want to know is how a guy actually got to be named "Elon Musk".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:28 AM on November 28, 2012


Mars Saxman: "Same thing with the $36 billion: he's not saying that the colony is going to cost $36 billion. Rather, he thinks that perhaps the US might be willing to spend somewhere between 0.25% and 0.5% of its GDP on a Mars colony. 0.25% of the current US GDP is $36 billion. So that's his target: as he plans this project, he wants to figure out how to do it spending no more than $36 billion a year.

Yes, he's ambitious. Maybe he'll succeed, maybe he won't, but a handwavey dreamer he certainly is not.
"

The article states the $36B as a total cost, not annual:

Musk figures the colony program — which he wants to be a collaboration between government and private enterprise — would end up costing about $36 billion.

This is most certainly fantasy, just looking at the transport costs and ignoring the enormously expensive equipment:
80K people at 70Kg = 5.6e6Kg
Say, extremely generously, that the ship/equipment/lifesupport etc weighs the same again, that gives us a total of 1e7Kg
From LEO to Mars orbit requires around 7 units of fuel per unit of payload, for a total LEO payload of 7e7Kg
The posited Falcon Heavy lifter estimates a cost of >$2k/kg to LEO. Hell, let's say $1k for volume discount.
So the cost, under some very generous assumptions, just to shift to Mars all of this stuff that we haven't paid for is 7e7*1e3=7e10 or $70B.
Another very generous assumption would be to say that development and materials would be approximately the same again on top of transport. By my reckoning, that puts the project cost about an order of magnitude higher than Musk's claim even when you assume you're always going downhill with the wind behind you. That sounds pretty handwavey to me.

If the article is wrong, and he's talking about $36B a year for a decade or more, then I think you're starting to reach the realms of expenditure that would be required to fund such an endeavour. Sounds like a fantastic stimulous plan to me, and if it means that we spend more time playing Captain Kirk than Rambo, all the better.
posted by Jakey at 6:47 AM on November 28, 2012


At this point a space elevator is a fantasy due to technical, safety and legal issues. I don't see one being built for a century, if ever. Hell we'll probably see a functioning spaceplane well before then.
posted by happyroach at 7:36 AM on November 28, 2012


Al-Qahira, Ares, Auqakuh, Bahram...

Let's just ship Kim Stanley Robinson there and consider the project finished. Lord, that "Science in the Capitol" series was awful.
posted by malocchio at 8:18 AM on November 28, 2012


Colonize the Empty Quarter in Arabia. If you can keep people cool and hydrated enough there without outside supply, you've come about a third of the way there for a lot less money. Let people telecommute with a fourteen minute signal lag and you've got an idea of how plugged in people could be and maybe make a couple of bucks to support the colony.

Rockoons, man.

I've wondred why people haven't tried that with, say, three weather balloons like the kind high schools and colleges have been lofting cameras up to 60000 feet. Three balloons creating a gauntlet with a monster model rocket in their embrace, fired at altitude.
posted by codswallop at 8:42 AM on November 28, 2012


Jakey, he is not talking about sending the people to mars with the Falcon Heavy lifter, but with a rapidly re-usable rocket SpaceX is working on currently.

It might be best if everyone watched the video where he lays out the points instead of the articles.

A better article is on space.com

Also in his twitter:
"Millions of people needed for Mars colony, so 80k+ would just be the number moving to Mars per year"
"And, yes, I do in fact know that this sounds crazy. That is not lost on me. Nor I do think SpaceX will do this alone."
"But if humanity wishes to become a multi-planet species, then we must figure out how to move millions of people to Mars."

posted by ts;dr at 9:18 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Colonizing Mars won't be like colonizing North America or Australia, the distances and danger involved are just too great. And we don't even know if we can keep millions of people alive in enclosed environments. (That's a question well worth answering, because it has positive implications for life on Earth as well as space, but at the moment it's probably beyond our technological reach.)

Any real Mars colony is going to start very small, and grow slowly (if at all) until we know more about how to survive outside of Earth's atmosphere. At that point growth may increase (although probably never to the rate Musk envisions), but transportation systems between Earth and Mars will also have to improve.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:41 AM on November 28, 2012


ts;dr, I understand that he's not using the Falcon Heavy to go to Mars. The cost calculations I laid out only consider getting everything from Earth's surface into LEO. The LEO to Mars stuff is not counted as a cost in itself, only as an Earth to LEO payload. As I understand it, the best estimate for the MCT/Raptor/whatever replaces Falcon Heavy is in the $500-1000/kg range, so I think the numbers are still valid.
posted by Jakey at 10:11 AM on November 28, 2012


The article states the $36B as a total cost, not annual:

The article does say that, and it's too bad there's no actual quote of whatever it was Musk actually said; all the discussions of numbers in the article are a bit weird, and I think the author generally misunderstood the point of the talk.

He arrived at that number by estimating that a colony that costs 0.25 percent or 0.5 percent of a nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) would be considered acceptable.

Consider that the NASA budget is 0.48% of the US GDP, and this comment makes a lot more sense if you assume that he means $36 billion per year.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:16 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


So yeah, we've already colonized Antarctica

No we haven't, the supply needs for McMurdo in terms of diesel fuel and other supplies amount to tens of thousands of tonnes per year. Every year.
posted by thewalrus at 1:57 PM on November 28, 2012


> Rockoons, man.

Problem is that gravitational potential energy at 300km is E/kg=gh=9.8 m/s^2 * 3e+5 m = 3e+6 J/kg (mgh approximation is valid since 300 km is much less than the radius of the Earth), while kinetic energy at orbital velocity (7700 m/s at 300 km) is E/kg = v^2/2 = 3e+7 J/kg. So even if you could lift your load all the way to LEO altitude, you only save about 10% of the energy budget, the remainder being required to accelerate up to orbital velocity so you don't just fall straight back down when support is removed. Aerodynamic drag in the troposhere also increases the cost of ground launches a bit, but only by a few more percent for a properly designed vehicle - the great majority of delta-V budget is the fixed cost of reaching orbital velocity.
posted by overyield at 5:18 PM on November 28, 2012


A "not insignificant" defense of gleeful scientists
posted by homunculus at 1:17 PM on November 29, 2012


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