Mars None
November 11, 2014 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Mars One, a private company registered in the Netherlands, is preparing to launch a one-way manned mission to Mars in 2018. With 200,000 applicants for the trip, a minuscule $6 billion dollar budget, and contracts with companies like SpaceX, Paragon, and Lockheed Martin, the company plans to leverage the power of private development and high risk tolerance into a space voyage beyond the means of our current government-based exploration efforts.

If only any of it were real.

Chris Hadfield, beloved hero of space geeks everywhere, lays it bare. “I really counsel every single one of the people who is interested in Mars One, whenever they ask me about it, to start asking the hard questions now. I want to see the technical specifications of the vehicle that is orbiting Earth. I want to know: How does a space suit on Mars work? Show me how it is pressurized, and how it is cooled. What’s the glove design? None of that stuff can be bought off the rack. It does not exist. You can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things."
posted by KathrynT (125 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hasn't this always been the objection? Not to take anything away from Hadfield's much more informed points, but I've always assumed that people who signed up for Mars One were basically participating in an ARG.
posted by figurant at 6:11 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


No self-respecting trip to space is gonna have open applications.
posted by Strass at 6:13 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's not really the future if we don't even have SpaceMarts yet.
posted by rtha at 6:16 PM on November 11, 2014 [19 favorites]


Oh Chris Hadfield is just jealous.
posted by Nevin at 6:19 PM on November 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've always assumed that people who signed up for Mars One were basically participating in an ARG.

They pay an application fee, so it seems more like they're participating in a scam. The specific role they're playing in the scam is that of the "sucker".
posted by mr_roboto at 6:19 PM on November 11, 2014 [35 favorites]


Seriously, 200,000 applicants at ~$50 each is a pretty good payday. Good work, guys. Wish I had thought of it.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:20 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


This reminds me of when everyone in my circle was freaking out about the Ouya and buying a bunch of them and I was the bad guy for saying "So wait an unknown company is launching a console with what games exactly?" Granted, they actually shipped a product, but most of the early adopters have gone curiously silent about their Ouyas.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:27 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


They pay an application fee, so it seems more like they're participating in a scam. The specific role they're playing in the scam is that of the "sucker".

Oh, it's a scam all right. But getting to orbit would have a non-zero chance of killing them. Assuming a Mars craft could actually be assembled in orbit for Mars One by contracting out the work they might survive the trip, but with extremely deleterious medical issues unless miraculous advances are made to solve the obvious problems. I know the plan is that they die on Mars, but they'd have a pretty decent chance of dying during the landing which isn't exactly what they might have envisioned. Assuming they survived they'd have a short, miserable existence on a hostile ball of rock. Can you imagine being the last human alive on Mars, after you've put the corpses of your only companions out the airlock? You'd beat out Michael Collins, out of radio contact on the far side of the Moon in the Apollo 11 orbiter, as the most alone human of all time by quite a significant margin.

Scamming someone out of a small fee to let them entertain the fantasy that they're going to Mars, even for a little while, is a gift in comparison to actually sending them there under this plan.
posted by figurant at 6:34 PM on November 11, 2014 [37 favorites]


"... most of the early adopters have gone curiously silent about their Ouyas."

Because they all died on a frozen wasteland planet with no hope of return to Earth?
posted by mph at 6:34 PM on November 11, 2014 [41 favorites]


The article casts serious doubt on that 200,000 figure. The Mars One CEO wriggles like a wriggly thing when asked to provide details, and only 2,782 applicants can be confirmed.

I don't know where this all sits on the spectrum between "optimistic delusion" and "cynical scam" but I'd suggest being anywhere on that line is fairly reprehensible given what they're ostensibly selling.
posted by sobarel at 6:34 PM on November 11, 2014 [11 favorites]


I have always been surprised to see Mars One taken seriously.

It cost $2.47 billion to send the MSL Curiosity -- a single, unmanned rover the size of a car -- to Mars. The idea that we could pay for even a very small crewed mission with only twice that budget is ridiculous on the face of it.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:37 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]



It's not really the future if we don't even have SpaceMarts yet.

Shop smart! Shop S Mart!
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:37 PM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


Assuming they survived, they'd have a short, miserable existence on a hostile ball of rock. Can you imagine being the last human alive on Mars, after you've put the corpses of your only companions out the airlock?

While, as part of the business plan, being viewed round the clock by a TV audience.
posted by sobarel at 6:37 PM on November 11, 2014 [15 favorites]


The Rocket Of 2018
by CM Kornbluth Jr.
posted by tspae at 6:55 PM on November 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


Can you imagine being the last human alive on Mars, after you've put the corpses of your only companions out the airlock?


Out the airlock? And waste all that protein?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:04 PM on November 11, 2014 [47 favorites]


Oh Chris Hadfield is just jealous.

Or Chris Hadfield, who has spent 166 days on orbit on three missions (two STS, one ISS) understands just how hard space travel is, and that we haven't traveled *nearly* long enough to even guess at what the long Earth-to-Mars leg is going to take to survive. On a perfect Hohmann Transfer Orbit, it's around 680 days to Mars. The longest single mission was flown by Valeri Polyakov, 437 days.

You can go quicker, but that costs ΔV, and the single most expensive thing there is in rocketry is ΔV.

And, when you get to Mars, the stuff you have has to work. Period. If it doesn't, you die very quickly. That's Hadfield's point. You lose Oxygen, you die. You lose cooling in a pressure suit, you die. Your CO2 scrubbers fail? You fix them or die. Giant solar flare? Well, you probably die and there's not a damn thing you can do about it if you're in flight. You lose power? You'll probably die because you need things that need power to work.

How will humans handle 38% gravity over time? We know that microgravity has *very* bad effects over time, and you have to work hard to keep your body fit for Earth gravity. If you're not a fitness nut, you will not get a spaceflight. You have to be willing to work out *every single day* to keep the bone and muscle loss to a minimum.

Space is hard. No, let me phrase that properly.

SPACE IS FUCKING HARD.

So, you're in low gravity. Your bones lose mass, surprisingly quick. Bones are made of calcium. Where does that calcium go? Into the blood stream. What do we call that? Hypercalcemia. What does that do? Well, the mnemonic for the symptoms is "Stones, Bones, Groans, Thrones and Psychiatric Overtones"

Stones: Kidney or bladder stones.
Bones: Bone pain
Groans: Abdominal pain, nausea.
Thrones: Let's just say you spend a lot of time on the toilet and leave it at that.
Psychiatric Overtones: Depression, Anxiety, Insomnia, and if enough, coma.

You keep going with that, and then, well, your heart stops. Note the trap here. Your bones start to waste, serum calcium rises, which makes you hurt and depressed, so you're not exercising as you should, and now your bones are wasting away faster, so there's more calcium, and your on the merry road to fubar.

That's just one of the many ways Not Being On Earth can sneak up and kill you. The neat trick about evolution is that it's great at making it so that you're pretty damn good at surviving in the environment. The bad thing about evolution is that it make you pretty damn good at surviving in one specific environment and when you leave that environment, all bets are off.
posted by eriko at 7:05 PM on November 11, 2014 [104 favorites]


It cost $2.47 billion to send the MSL Curiosity -- a single, unmanned rover the size of a car -- to Mars. The idea that we could pay for even a very small crewed mission with only twice that budget is ridiculous on the face of it.

Not necessarily. The actual cost in fuel (achieving escape velocity and course corrections) was a lot less than that. Depending on how alive you want people to be when they get there -- if they get there -- there are a lot of corners you can cut.

And if the first one doesn't work out, hey, there's probably someone with deep pockets and another 6 billion to blow on what could be the most lucrative startup ever. NASA doesn't have that advantage.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:09 PM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


This one is a scam or idle, sure ... but this is one of the two possible ways people are actually going to get to Mars. One-way trip, significant residual risk to life, mostly or all private-sector funded. The other way is the Chinese just say "we're doing it, because this is the Chinese century."

I'd give the odds to China, because the private sector version has no economic viability without the Space Treaty's abrogation to provide that successful colonists can confer surface and mining rights to their investors. Won't be easy to persuade the state-parties to the Space Treaties to do that.
posted by MattD at 7:10 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


It'd be awfully nice if our nearest planet was more like New Zealand.
posted by Flashman at 7:10 PM on November 11, 2014 [25 favorites]


I think what is so annoying about this is not just the sheer hubris, it's--if we're being charitable and granting the benefit of the doubt that these people aren't just scamtastic assheads--not even realizing that extending this very same project to the moon would be just as hubristic but actually feasible, and would position their company perfectly to be the mastermind for an eventual Mars coloniziation initiative.

I mean.. lifting people into space is tricky, yes, but it's more more less established how (but still dangerous). Landing them on the Moon has already been done, with no loss of life. Rescue is relatively close by if the colony goes pear-shaped. Communication isn't instantaneous, but better than a 20-minute lag time. Supplies can be hurled at the moon from Earth orbit--so can living modules. For $6bn? Maybe not, but when it takes a third of that to land a souped-up golf cart on Mars, $6bn is just an absurd dollar value, especially given the current state of their funding. (And let me digress: they think they'll be able to sell the TV rights for the same as the Olympics? Puh. Leeze.)

On preview as eriko points out there are serious medical concerns--which can be more realistically alleviated when you're not two years away from Earth. If for no other reason than you can put more than four people on the moon and work on group dynamics to ensure appropriate levels of physical activity.

The other benefit to the moon is psychological; first of all you can put more people there easily, and you could theoretically give them a return date--or at least return-to-ISS date.

I mean, I get it: aim high. But this is what puts me with you guys in the 'scam' camp; they could be aiming for the Moon and actually plausibly make it, subject to funding.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:13 PM on November 11, 2014 [11 favorites]


It'd be awfully nice if our nearest planet was more like New Zealand.

Beware the fearsome Space Maoris.
posted by sobarel at 7:13 PM on November 11, 2014 [10 favorites]


You lose Oxygen, you die. You lose cooling in a pressure suit, you die. Your CO2 scrubbers fail? You fix them or die. Giant solar flare? Well, you probably die and there's not a damn thing you can do about it if you're in flight. You lose power? You'll probably die because you need things that need power to work.

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful not planned. Honour and recognition in event of success."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:14 PM on November 11, 2014 [12 favorites]


Oh, and also re: the reality show thing.

1) Nobody but nobody is going to watch that shit for ten years
2) None, as in not one, of even the most amoral shitbag TV producers on the planet will sign up to create a show where they have no control of the footage coming in, and where shortly after landing (if not before) the footage is going to be of people dying in novel and gruesome ways.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:16 PM on November 11, 2014 [4 favorites]


Why wouldn't they have control of the footage coming in? Presumably it would be encrypted.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:19 PM on November 11, 2014


Out the airlock? And waste all that protein?

A basically anaerobic environment with mostly sub-zero temperatures? You can't buy a chest freezer that good.
posted by figurant at 7:20 PM on November 11, 2014 [21 favorites]


I don't know. People dying on TV has been a dream of shitbags for years but the opportunities to do it in a legitimized way are very very few.
posted by chaz at 7:20 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


Control as in being able to go "Hey, they're having a fight, get a camera up in their faces" kinda thing, prompting the participants to reshoot a bit of dialogue, etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:21 PM on November 11, 2014


Er... I should have been more clear: they might have that control during some phases of the putative training process, but the moment the ship has liftoff, it's gone.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:22 PM on November 11, 2014


Heck, the marstronauts could cut the feed themselves if they decided they wanted a bit more privacy on their lonely one-way tin can.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:28 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


At some point, won't the applicants sue to get their app fee back? Sooner or later it's going to be obvious this is some manner of fraud.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 7:30 PM on November 11, 2014


"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful not planned. Honour and recognition in event of success."

Not a bad job description. And, why not? People have set out into the unknown under equivalent or worse circumstances, hoping only for honor and recognition in the event of failure.

This company almost certainly can't do it, but NASA absolutely should be doing it - sending people to Mars. NASA should be like the patrons of explorers of earlier centuries, paying for them to take risky trips to unknown parts hoping for a reward of at last honor and glory, and at best resources and strategic advantage if all goes well.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 7:37 PM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Going to Mars is a fool's errand even for NASA. Establishing a colony on the moon is the springboard to Mars and the holy grail: mining the asteroid belt. Being closer lets you iron out all of the difficulties (sustainable food production, e.g., or radiation shielding) with far less "whoops, guess they're all dead, we'll try again in ten years."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:41 PM on November 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


It'd be awfully nice if our nearest planet was more like New Zealand.

With the new majority in Congress on its way, I may well be willing to volunteer for a one-way ticket to New Zealand.

posted by Celsius1414 at 7:43 PM on November 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


From the article:
“Another reason is that the space agencies have become too much risk-averse, which is extremely expensive. It’s not at all allowed for anything to go wrong, which takes a lot of paperwork to ensure. While we think having a little bit higher risk with the mission is very acceptable and is something that will reduce costs significantly.”
Oh god, they're so stupid they don't know how stupid they are. You can't just toss people into a completely hostile environment and decide that accepting a little more risk will keep people alive.

Not that this has chance in hell of actually happening, but it wold be nice if they could at least speak intelligently.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:43 PM on November 11, 2014 [12 favorites]


Get your ass to Mars!*

*The rest of you...well, good luck...
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:47 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


Control as in being able to go "Hey, they're having a fight, get a camera up in their faces" kinda thing, prompting the participants to reshoot a bit of dialogue, etc.

Okay, new plan. We send a crew entirely comprised of reality tv producers.

Suddenly doesn't seem like such a bad deal, does it?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:51 PM on November 11, 2014 [21 favorites]




Okay, new plan. We send a crew entirely comprised of reality tv producers.

Yeah but then we'd have to call it Ark B and there's all sorts of copyright issues.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:54 PM on November 11, 2014 [29 favorites]


I can't believe it took nearly two hours to get to a Golgafrinchan reference!
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:01 PM on November 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


It cost $2.47 billion to send the MSL Curiosity -- a single, unmanned rover the size of a car -- to Mars. The idea that we could pay for even a very small crewed mission with only twice that budget is ridiculous on the face of it.Narrative Priorities

Yet it only cost $74 million for India to send a satellite to Mars. Still, this is a dream. And when companies are selling unrealistic dreams, there's usually a scam underneath, or a reality television show.

I'd be curious about a realistic approach. Send the living unit to Mars with some robots. See how long the air/water/plants/food supplies last. If you can get something working, you could even have something waiting for the astronauts when they get there. Or, as mentioned, try it on the moon first.

The only difference between going to the moon and going to Mars is time, because in both cases, most of the time you are just drifting. Going to Mars just involves a longer drift time than going to the moon. We made it to the moon, so we could make it to Mars. The hard part isn't getting there, it is astronauts surviving the longer time to get there. And actually going to the moon and back took a large amount of the US resources.
posted by eye of newt at 8:17 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


And let me digress: they think they'll be able to sell the TV rights for the same as the Olympics? Puh. Leeze.

Yeah that doesn't pass the sniff test. The Olympics generate billions in TV rights not because they are intrinsically worth that much, but rather because the networks have a pretty good idea by now how many people are going to watch and how much money there is to be made by selling ads against them. There were 1,539 hours of Olympic programming for Sochi, though I assume a fairly large proportion of the ad revenue comes from the primetime broadcasts. The math (approximately) is pretty simple: about $1 billion in ad revenue less ~$100 million in production costs (the IOC does a lot of its own production now, which makes this cheaper) less $750 million for the rights equals ~$150 million in profit, giving you an ROI of 17.6%, a fairly reasonable value given that NBC pays up front and carries most of the risk in the arrangement, especially as NBC has most probably lost money on the Olympics in other years.

With Mars One, there's absolutely no benchmark to compare the show to. How many people would watch it? Are top-tier advertisers willing to have their name attached to such a venture, what with the risk everyone dies? How often will the show be on? Not 1,539 hours in two weeks certainly. But let's just assume a TV network seriously thought they could sell more than six billion dollars worth of ads against this thing (ok, if you sell the rights per-country you don't need all six billion from the US market, but the Olympics tell us that the US will be at least 50% of the total, and the Mars One show is going to be a harder sell in non-English speaking countries since you can't just use local commentators like for the Olympics). Even then, you'd want a substantial discount on the rights because Mars One is a new untrusted entity with no proven ability to deliver a pizza let alone a manned mission to Mars.

And besides that, would it even be interesting? Would it be interesting night after night when not that much actually happens? I enjoy watching random curling matches once every four years. I doubt I'd enjoy watching Astronaut Candidate Mike Gets A Lengthy Ultrasound Of His Heart While Flight Surgeons Argue About His Fitness To Fly. Even parabolic training flights would make for pretty awful television, what with the puking and all.
posted by zachlipton at 8:21 PM on November 11, 2014


They will not go to space today.
posted by heisenberg at 8:22 PM on November 11, 2014


Can you imagine being the last human alive on Mars, after you've put the corpses of your only companions out the airlock?

Oooh! Oooh! I have specialized knowledge about this! Tossing the corpses on Mars — so I have heard — is not actually allowed, because that would be littering.

The reason I know about this is because I once spent a lovely evening enjoying dinner with a Mars One applicant and his friend. My dining companions shared colorful, fun beliefs. The applicant's friend, who dressed in a jaunty, 1970s-ish, captain-of-an-adults-only-leisure-cruise kind of way, denied that global warming was real and claimed that the modern era's increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases was attributable to forest fires. The Mars One applicant spoke eloquently of ancient moon battles and occultism at JPL. He also showed a PowerPoint slide of a moon rock that looked like C3PO's head. I will call them Mars Man and Pleasure Cruise.

Anyway, Mars Man is ... not young. On a mission whose future funding may be in doubt, he is in some ways an ideal candidate for a one-way trip to Mars. So I asked him: When you die up there, what happens to your body? Do they just toss it? Or what?

Oh no. No, no, no. Boy, did I feel dumb. Here I am, Mr. Environmentalist, suggesting that we litter a virgin planet with human corpses. No, of course we don't do that. We would cremate the bodies.

"So, what, they're flying a crematorium module to Mars? Or a gigantic magnifying glass that sits between you and the sun?"

I received no satisfactory answer. Later, Pleasure Cruise spoke happily of their appearance on Coast to Coast AM.
posted by compartment at 8:38 PM on November 11, 2014 [56 favorites]


Christ. Some honch in a cushy office on Earth says go look at a grid reference in the middle of nowhere, we look. They don't say why, and I don't ask. I don't ask because it takes two weeks to get an answer out here, and the answer's always 'don't ask.'
posted by phaedon at 8:42 PM on November 11, 2014 [8 favorites]


Shouldn't libertarians master the art of sending people to Chile before they attempt Mars?
posted by zompist at 8:53 PM on November 11, 2014 [11 favorites]


Whoa, slow down there, chief. They're still trying to figure out cause and effect.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:56 PM on November 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


I was under the impression that all you need to survive on Mars was a supply of your favorite energy bar. Evghenia said.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:04 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


It'd be awfully nice if our nearest planet was more like New Zealand.

That's Moas, not Mars.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:07 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


What happens on Barsoom stays on Barsoom.
posted by Chitownfats at 9:16 PM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


We would cremate the bodies.

That seems bizarrely wasteful. Why wouldn't they be muched? Run through a woodchipper to make nutrient slurry for the algae tubes?

They're going to be starved for biomass. It seems incredible that they would waste dozens of kilos of good soil.
posted by bonehead at 9:21 PM on November 11, 2014 [7 favorites]


The Brian de Palma movie is free on YouTube I think. It's not bad, really.

Although I suspect Outland is more realistic.
posted by Nevin at 9:24 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


After reading this article I've got a good sense where my next half-dozen panic attacks are coming from.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:35 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


It cost $2.47 billion to send the MSL Curiosity -- a single, unmanned rover the size of a car -- to Mars. The idea that we could pay for even a very small crewed mission with only twice that budget is ridiculous on the face of it.

It bugs me that we can so quickly dismiss an extra $3.53 billion as if that was a minuscule amount hardly worth bothering over. I know you are correct, but that is a huge sum of money.
posted by humanfont at 9:45 PM on November 11, 2014


Anyway, Mars Man is ... not young. On a mission whose future funding may be in doubt, he is in some ways an ideal candidate for a one-way trip to Mars. So I asked him: When you die up there, what happens to your body? Do they just toss it? Or what?

If you have been on a space mission for a while, and you still don’t know who was only sent to serve as emergency rations, you’re the emergency rations.
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:51 PM on November 11, 2014 [21 favorites]


We would cremate the bodies.

Where are they going to get the oxygen to burn the bodies with?
posted by monotreme at 9:51 PM on November 11, 2014 [6 favorites]


Where are they going to get the oxygen to burn the bodies with?

Space. Do you have any idea how big space is?
posted by bh at 9:54 PM on November 11, 2014 [9 favorites]


it's like the beyond part of bed bath and beyond
posted by poffin boffin at 9:58 PM on November 11, 2014 [25 favorites]


"To Bed, Bath...and Beyond!!"
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:20 PM on November 11, 2014 [12 favorites]


Bed, Bath and Beyond
posted by phaedon at 10:43 PM on November 11, 2014 [15 favorites]


Sigh. This bubble-burst is what I expected all along, but I admit I'm still a little disappointed. Too much Heinlein at a formative age.
posted by gingerest at 11:09 PM on November 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


You can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things.

Maybe they should consider changing their name, because that's just misleading. What am I even doing in a SpaceMart if I can't get a Mars space suit?

Man, Mars One sounds so terrible I wouldn't be surprised if everyone who has applied winds up dead eventually. Also, everyone who hasn't.
posted by ODiV at 11:27 PM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


If only they had a ship that would do a brachistochrone trajectory, it might be feasible. If they have to do an Hohmann orbit, well… Despite all the hazards, it is estimated 90% of people travelling the Oregon Trail survived the trip. I'm not sure the MarsOne pioneers will be so lucky.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:03 AM on November 12, 2014


Nevin: "Oh Chris Hadfield is just jealous."

eriko: "Or Chris Hadfield, who has spent 166 days on orbit on three missions (two STS, one ISS) understands just how hard space travel is, and that we haven't traveled *nearly* long enough to even guess at what the long Earth-to-Mars leg is going to take to survive."

I am certainly no Chris Hadfield, but something tells me that there's a slight possibility that maybe Nevin was joking.
posted by koeselitz at 12:14 AM on November 12, 2014 [17 favorites]


If you are ever standing in the very narrow path of the shadow of a total solar eclipse, when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun in a configuration known as syzygy, you will see the stunning effect of the corona of the sun flaring from behind the moon in broad daylight, as the circumference of the moon fits precisely inside the circumference of the sun from our terrestrial perspective.

This happens only because the sun’s distance from Earth is roughly 400 times the moon’s distance, and the sun’s diameter is likewise 400 times the diameter of the moon: an almost exact ratio.

The odds of this configuration occurring anywhere in the universe, least of all at a place and time in which intelligent, self-aware life is present to observe it, are so minuscule as to be incalculable.


It's not incalculable! You're not allowed to throw out exact figures like you just did, and then appeal to unknown quantities (most of which occur in the Drake equation) to say that your purported end-result is incalculable!

The article was doing OK up to here but hey, popular science journalism: fuck the fuck off.
posted by 7segment at 12:18 AM on November 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


Questions that went unanswered in their AMA reddit thread a while ago:
Hello Mr. Bas,
I was wondering how you planned on keeping the astronauts alive during transit. My senior design project in aerospace engineering at UIUC, along with 5 others, was to design a transit vehicle to Mars to orbit and return to Earth for 6 astronauts in 15 months.
There were multiple issues that came up such as the need for 8-9 launches for the necessary equipment and structures to go into space, the effects of microgravity on the human body and of course radiation. I have a ton of questions for you, if you do not mind. My specialty was ECLSS and so I will be focusing on that primarily.

  • In-situ resource gathering is obviously different but what are the plans for the transit vehicle? It states on your website that you will be using ISS technologies for the majority of the ECLSS system. However, the WRS is only about 94-95% efficient and the reports I found stated that about 900 kg of water a year is required to support it. A human in space requires about 30 kg/day for daily needs according to Dr. Hanford. Wouldn't it be better to utilize the VPCAR system instead? Also the WRS requires a mechanical compressor in space in order to separate air and the waste water. My question is what decision was to utilize the WRS as opposed to newer technology especially that of a TRL of 6 or higher.
  • The plan is to send 2500 kg of food in the year 2014. Would the food last for 8 years? Would that amount of food be enough for four astronauts for an extended period of time? Assuming that plants survived this would not be too large of an issue, however, it is not clear if plants could survive in the martian atmosphere. Would it be better to include a biomass production facility instead? How many refrigeration units would be required and how would they be powered?
  • The Falcon Heavy is not yet manrated or has even flown. If there was a delay in production of the Falcon Heavy would the Atlas or the Delta line of rockets have a large enough fairing diameter to house your payload?
  • I'm not sure how large the modules are, but would they allow at least 20 m3 of habitable volume for each human? This is the optimal case for such a long duration mission according to Human Spaceflight: Mission Analysis and Design.
  • How would waste be handled in transit and on Mars? In transit would it be jettisoned or stored as fertilizer? On Mars would the same occur? Which leads to:
  • If plants were grown would they be grown hydroponically or through soil? What plants would be brought and if grown hydroponically would the Hoagland's solution be stored or produced?
  • Would it be possible the shift the mission if a launch would fail? If a launch were to fail would there be a delay in the timeline?
  • On the website you state that it would be funded like a Truman Show type method. Would this be beneficial for the astronauts’ psyche? They are are going to be stuck for 7 months with each other and then on Mars. This was a major issue during the NASA programs.
  • What type of suit would be utilized? An EMU based or Orlan based suit?
  • Would spacewalks be necessary for the ships? Who would perform them? With only four people during transit how would they be divided? How many suits would be required?
  • The biggest limitation to the project seemed to be the human limits of radiation and microgravity. On the website it is stated that we are constantly bombarded by cosmic rays, however, the Earth's magnetic field protects us from this background radiation. Radiation was not my specialty in this project so forgive me if I make mistakes.
  • What methods would be used to protect against SPE? How much radiation would they incur over the 7 months in the current ships design? How much on Mars itself? It is still unclear if 2023 will be within a solar maximum until 2016. If it were to change could the mission be rescheduled.

  • On microgravity:
  • Osteoporosis is not the only problem and while exercise and training can help mitigate the loss it is definitely not possible to stop it at all. What about the loss of blood and muscle that occurs from deep space travel? Most astronauts lose 2-3% of bone mass a month and regain it at a very slow rate through rigorous therapy on Earth. At 0.3 g it does not seem likely the astronauts will be able to regain it. There's also no indication that any fraction of Earth’s gravity is beneficial to humans.
  • Thank you for your time. It seemed that throughout the course of this project it was not very feasible to get to Mars in a decade and I was wondering how the Mars-One team was planning on addressing this along with many other problems that may arise.
    posted by Blasdelb at 1:02 AM on November 12, 2014 [13 favorites]


    occultism at JPL.

    That actually was kinda a thing.
    It certainly was! Possibly.

    [Advisory: NSFW; found footage; unreliable narration; alternative history; aeronautical sex magick; $cientology; amateur theatrics; insane; Craig Baldwin movie. Also, no sound. Sorry.]
    posted by Sonny Jim at 1:10 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


    So they're clicking their heels together and wishing, and lots of people are buying into it? Sounds about right for this century.
    posted by Ragini at 1:24 AM on November 12, 2014


    I am mostly not impressed with either the moon or Mars as a jumping point for space travel.
    The key point is gravity. So, yeah, both have less than Earth, but what we need in space is a ready supply of volatiles outside of a gravity well. The answer to how you do that is happening right now!.

    Planets are for chumps.
    Get a bunch of asteroids, or other space rocks, mine out all the metals and ice and other good stuff, spin them up and live inside them. Perfectly positioned space truck stops for any mission you might want, tons of power on the outside, gravity (or the equivalent) on the inside. Alright it's a bit sci-fi, but a asteroid mining firms are more numerous and more realistic than reality shows on Mars.
    posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:37 AM on November 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


    Spacemart is going to kill Mom & Pop space stores.
    posted by fairmettle at 3:00 AM on November 12, 2014 [15 favorites]


    This would be a good place to recommend The Martian by Andy Weir. A very entertaining what-if of a lone survivor on a Mars mission, stranded. Very nerdy, lots of math equations and MacGuyver-type improvisations in order to survive. Apparently Matt Damon and Ridley Scott are already set to make the movie.
    posted by zardoz at 3:13 AM on November 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


    Landing them on the Moon has already been done, with no loss of life.

    Well, unless you count the three men lost when a fire broke-out in the then-brand-new Apollo-1 capsule during a static test. 'Cause testing counts as part of the actual landing process.
    posted by Thorzdad at 4:31 AM on November 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


    Tell Me No Lies: Okay, new plan. We send a crew entirely comprised of reality tv producers.

    Reflecting back on yesterday's Pedro Zamora thread, I think we've found the ideal setting for the Real World '94 reunion.

    It would be worth it only to see Puck call Pam a spacebitch before huffing off on his bike in low gravity.
    posted by dr_dank at 4:39 AM on November 12, 2014


    Get a bunch of asteroids, or other space rocks, mine out all the metals and ice and other good stuff, spin them up and live inside them. Perfectly positioned space truck stops for any mission you might want, tons of power on the outside, gravity (or the equivalent) on the inside. Alright it's a bit sci-fi

    Heh. A "bit".
    posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 5:36 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


    It cost $2.47 billion to send the MSL Curiosity -- a single, unmanned rover the size of a car -- to Mars. The idea that we could pay for even a very small crewed mission with only twice that budget is ridiculous on the face of it.Narrative Priorities

    Yet it only cost $74 million for India to send a satellite to Mars.


    This comparison is meaningless. Seriously. You're comparing completely different payloads, payload weight and mission duration. The spacecraft from India was mostly a technology demo, designed to orbit for six months. Curiosity had to get to Mars, then land and drive around for at least two years.

    It bugs me that we can so quickly dismiss an extra $3.53 billion as if that was a minuscule amount hardly worth bothering over. I know you are correct, but that is a huge sum of money.

    On an individual level, sure, but on the scale of national budgets, it's not a whole lot. Plus a large part of it was money spent employing people to figure how to land a car on another planet. So yeah.
    posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:43 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


    Heh. A "bit".

    Bear in mind this is a conversation between people on different sides of the planet talking about a planned reality show on Mars whilst at the very same time a robot 500 million km away is harpooning a comet.
    I think we can allow ourselves to be a bit sci fi.
    posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:03 AM on November 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


    Get a bunch of asteroids, ... Alright it's a bit sci-fi

    This. It costs $20 million for a space tourist. The cost to lift all the fuel and building materials for buildings and stuff is insane. So mine/harvest some resources that are just "floating around" out there and the cost equation shifts.

    Once there is a demonstrated way to generate value from space, it'll put the gold rush to shame.

    Billion dollar corporations that secretly want to become not trillion dollar but Quintillion dollar corps are seriously looking that way.
    posted by sammyo at 6:09 AM on November 12, 2014


    A Saturn V rocket has a payload of 3% of it's total mass because every bit of fuel you need you have to haul up with you, and every kg of fuel needs some more fuel to lift it.
    The tyranny of the rocket equation
    The cost per kg to get to General transfer orbit is equal to the cost per kg of platinum.

    So if you have any plans to go to Mars it's going to be massively massively easier to do if you can pick up fuel on the way, and to be honest, once you've got that bit sorted, why bother with Mars. Let the robots have it.
    posted by Just this guy, y'know at 6:38 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


    The Earth will eventually get so polluted and damaged by conflict that Project Orion won't seem like such a crazy idea anymore. Lots of problems can be brute-forced when you can launch 4,000 tons into orbit. (And hey, we're already supposedly saving all these warheads for shooting asteroids anyway...)

    Sadly (said in a 1950s sci-fi narrator voice) humanity is not responsible enough to harness these incredible energies. So we keep building these intricate custom timepieces when we really just need to invent the Seiko sports watch.
    posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:40 AM on November 12, 2014


    The Earth will eventually get so polluted and damaged by conflict...

    I think Mars One is the first step towards realizing that leaving Earth is going to be far more difficult than we've imagined. Then we'll have a choice to start acting like adults and face up to the long-term reality of living on a finite planet. That's going to be a huge challenge.
    posted by sneebler at 6:48 AM on November 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


    Once there is a demonstrated way to generate value from space, it'll put the gold rush to shame.

    Sure, but you'll have to demonstrated that value first.

    Then we'll have a choice to start acting like adults and face up to the long-term reality of living on a finite planet.

    YOU CAN'T MAKE US.
    posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:52 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


    Great article. The only thing I really appreciated the Mars One team was how they had a bat-shit idea and went with it, without having any qualifications to do it other than chutzpah. That's fantastic. That's irresponsible. And, it means I don't have to go forward with my idle-moment daydream of founding a company whose main goal is to send people on a Martian Death Trip.

    No matter how cool that sounds. Martian Death Trip.
    posted by From Bklyn at 7:11 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


    Shop smart, shop Spacemart.
    posted by The Whelk at 7:36 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


    tspae: "The Rocket Of 2018
    by CM Kornbluth Jr.
    "

    Damn, I came in here to post that reference.
    posted by Chrysostom at 7:59 AM on November 12, 2014


    I'd like to recommend Hostile Planet, from the excellent Love + Radio podcast.
    posted by stevil at 8:21 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


    The Earth will eventually get so polluted and damaged by conflict...

    ... that it'll be at least 5% as hostile an environment as mars?

    Also the human race weighs somewhere around 400 billion tons. Good luck fitting that into a rocket. Oh, wait, none of these plans don't involve basically the entire race dying.

    (I know you were being a bit facetious. Personal bugbear.)
    posted by Drexen at 8:44 AM on November 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


    It's a good article, and I don't dispute the conclusion that Mars One doesn't even begin to look like a plausible mission. It just makes me sad to read it, like here we all are on Metafilter smugly saying "uh huh, those people with the big ideas are FAIL". It's not quite schadenfreude, it's the guilty pleasure we take in seeing someone else taken down a peg, so that we don't feel quite so inadequate about ourselves.

    I read this article while watching ESA landing a probe on a fucking comet, So that's awesome! Go real space programs! I think we've got a lot of productive work to do with robotic missions before fooling around with launching meat. But part of me keeps hoping someone keeps working on manned missions. I'm particularly encouraged by SpaceX's much more credible work towards a Mars trip.

    I'm not quite ready to call Mars One a scam; the article gives more the impression that the folks running it just have no clue what they're doing. And while the applications may amount to nothing, the $50 fee is still cheaper than the "Name a Star" registries. Both are selling people a hope, a little piece of the dream of space. Although the story of hapless Josh is pretty sad.
    posted by Nelson at 8:49 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


    the human race weighs somewhere around 400 billion tons.

    Man, we need to start cutting down on the ice cream and going to the gym more often.
    posted by sobarel at 8:50 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


    here we all are on Metafilter smugly saying "uh huh, those people with the big ideas are FAIL"

    No, we're saying "those people with the big ideas who have not one clue what they're talking about, the people who are too stupid to know they're stupid, the people who aren't even wrong... they are FAIL."
    posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:52 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


    I think Mars One is the first step towards realizing that leaving Earth is going to be far more difficult than we've imagined.

    I've always hoped the first step would come earlier when we realized that we won't be leaving Earth at all. Even among science geeks it seems hard for people to remember that we produce 83,000 new humans per day, and that unless we can export faster than that exo-colonization will do squat for the problems faced by Earth.
    posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:06 AM on November 12, 2014


    Whoops, math error: ( 7,125,000 * 60kg ) / 1000 = 427,500,000 = ~430 million tons. As per Tell me No Lies, add ~ 5,000 tons a day.
    posted by Drexen at 9:20 AM on November 12, 2014


    I'm not quite ready to call Mars One a scam; the article gives more the impression that the folks running it just have no clue what they're doing. And while the applications may amount to nothing, the $50 fee is still cheaper than the "Name a Star" registries. Both are selling people a hope, a little piece of the dream of space.

    So you're saying it's exactly like raffling off a house, except no one ever gets a house?
    posted by sebastienbailard at 9:40 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


    Oh Chris Hadfield is just jealous.

    Not to impugn Chris Hadfield, who I have a major man-crush on, but he is a part of a system that is all about 0% risk.

    Chris is a careful planner and for that reason I could never see him attempting Everest, for example. Evidence suggests that it can't be done safely (as he would consider safe) on a sane budget. Of course, it could be done safely on a 2.5 billion dollar budget.

    I think one thing people are missing is that the cost of reliability soars exponentially the closer you get to 100%. You could easily cut your costs by 1/2 by settling for 99%, and probably to 1/10 if you're willing to take 98%.

    My impression of Chris is that he would consider that a ridiculous risk to take. However, with a 3.7% death rate on Everest I think there's a pool of people willing to give space a shot even if it involves experimental equipment and unknown dangers.

    So even if Mars One isn't the right company to do this, there still is a major competitive advantage to being willing to risk lives and no shortage of people willing to take the risk. Whether it's Mars or asteroid mining or simple orbital manufacturing, private industry really does have a huge advantage over a government agency that is committed to zero human loss.
    posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:06 AM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


    Space travel has a similar risk of death to Everest historically, so I'd say Hadfield has climbed that mountain at least twice. Shuttle travel was a bit safer, but still had over 1% failure rates. Commercial air traffic with similar accident rates would have thousands of casualties a day.
    posted by bonehead at 11:16 AM on November 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


    I think one thing people are missing is that the cost of reliability soars exponentially the closer you get to 100%. You could easily cut your costs by 1/2 by settling for 99%, and probably to 1/10 if you're willing to take 98%.

    1. That math doesn't sound right, what are you basing it on?

    2. When going into an environment as hostile as space, for months at a time, don't want it to be as close to 100% as possible?
    posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:33 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


    Like most rational people, I'm very skeptical of the success of a Mars mission under Mars One's parameters. I wouldn't go under these conditions. I wouldn't go unless it was a two week round trip with less than a 2% chance of death. But that's me.

    There are lots of crazy people, however, who take bigger chances for worse reasons. Who was the madman who first tested the wingsuit? I understand people who want to live a life free of big risks. I don't understand people who want to prevent anyone, anywhere from taking risks.

    Besides, even if all they do is get a can full of dead people into an orbit around mars, that's some valuable material for the next people who try the trip. That's very cynical, I know, but realistic. Frontiers are dangerous, and you learn from the mistakes of those who go before you.

    As for the corporate structure of the Mars One organization... yes, it's very questionable. But is there any other strategy that gives you a shot in 2018?
    posted by quillbreaker at 11:46 AM on November 12, 2014


    bonehead: "That seems bizarrely wasteful. Why wouldn't they be muched? Run through a woodchipper to make nutrient slurry for the algae tubes?

    They're going to be starved for biomass. It seems incredible that they would waste dozens of kilos of good soil.
    "
    Why do you insist that the human genetic code is "sacred" or "taboo"? It is a chemical process and nothing more. For that matter -we- are chemical processes and nothing more. If you deny yourself a useful tool simply because it reminds you uncomfortably of your mortality, you have uselessly and pointlessly crippled yourself.
    Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, Looking God in the Eye
    posted by boo_radley at 11:54 AM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


    Space travel - even just the pootling around in earth orbit we're currently doing - is at least as dangerous as climbing Everest. If NASA was "all about 0% risk" they wouldn't be in the business of putting humans into space.

    You could easily cut your costs by 1/2 by settling for 99%, and probably to 1/10 if you're willing to take 98%.

    I don't think this can be true really. Your putative 98% reliable rocket, for example, is still going to need to perform the same function as a 100% reliable one - carry the same payload and fuel, have engines of the same power - so where 90% savings are coming from I don't know. Or, for that matter, how you can have a design process that works out the safest option and then aims for 2% below that.

    In general I'm sceptical about private companies being able to "do Mars" better than NASA (or the Chinese space program come to that). The difficulties and costs are insane, and there's no obvious profit to be had. Maybe that will come later after the government agencies break the ground, but even then I doubt it.
    posted by sobarel at 11:55 AM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


    The Earth will eventually get so polluted and damaged by conflict that Project Orion won't seem like such a crazy idea anymore.

    Earth has to get extremely damaged--as in the absolute worst-case scenarios for anthropogenic climate change or nuclear winter, with maybe a Yellowstone supercaldera explosion thrown in for laffs--before the level of time, expense and effort needed to repair the damage is anywhere near what would be required to terraform either Venus or Mars; even a modest self-sustaining colony would be a huge expense.
    posted by Halloween Jack at 12:29 PM on November 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


    Who was the madman who first tested the wingsuit?

    This is a madman pocketing people's money and shooting them off into space, to die — and that is the "success" result.
    posted by dmh at 3:27 PM on November 12, 2014


    I mean, I know it's not exactly high quality. But I love the Isaac Mizrahi for Spacemart Collection.
    posted by thivaia at 5:21 PM on November 12, 2014


    But is there any other strategy that gives you a shot in 2018?

    This strategy doesn't give anyone a shot at anything except, at a totally outside chance, making money off reality TV.
    posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:36 PM on November 12, 2014


    Anyway, eh. Everytime something like this comes up, I'm like - so has the development of artificial biospheres (closed systems in which living creatures can eat, breath, etc with only sunlight etc as input) had a massive breakthrough? Wait, no, of course they haven't.
    In which case, what will they eat, what will they breathe?
    We can't even create self-sustaining systems within earth orbit, let alone outside it. That is the BIG problem, and the fact that we think about the problem in terms of rockets and getting to Mars, is very telling.
    If we actually cared about self-sustaining systems, we probably wouldn't be having the ecological problems we have now, with biodiversity loss and climate change. Actually, we probably wouldn't be having the economic problems we have now - sustainability? Ha!
    Oh well.

    P.S. I missed the joke, what was with the New Zealand sidetrack?
    posted by Elysum at 8:41 PM on November 12, 2014


    > I've always hoped the first step would come earlier when we realized that we won't be leaving Earth at all. Even among science geeks it seems hard for people to remember that we produce 83,000 new humans per day, and that unless we can export faster than that exo-colonization will do squat for the problems faced by Earth.

    By which argument, we never "left" Africa - despite the fact that today more people live outside Africa than in it. I'm not sure what problems our ancestors faced in Africa, so perhaps it is arguable whether leaving did anything to alleviate those problems, but do you want to argue that we would all have been better off if everyone had just stayed in Africa?

    Our future lies in getting some viable portion of the human race off Earth, if only because if we stay confined to Earth, we have no future.
    posted by Autumn Leaf at 8:48 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


    Halloween Jack: "The Earth will eventually get so polluted and damaged by conflict that Project Orion won't seem like such a crazy idea anymore.

    Earth has to get extremely damaged--as in the absolute worst-case scenarios for anthropogenic climate change or nuclear winter, with maybe a Yellowstone supercaldera explosion thrown in for laffs--before the level of time, expense and effort needed to repair the damage is anywhere near what would be required to terraform either Venus or Mars; even a modest self-sustaining colony would be a huge expense.
    "

    But even in that worst case+supercaldera scenario, wouldn't Earth *still* be much more habitable than Mars/Venus/anywhere that isn't Earth? I mean I don't have a solid answer myself but that's my impression. Surely any tech that can terraform an exoplanet can re-terraform Earth.
    posted by Drexen at 3:08 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


    That was, obliquely, my point about asteroids.
    Almost any challenge you face living in an asteroid you would still face on Mars. Gravity is still low on Mars and you can't do anything about it. The environment is still massively hostile, so you would probably always need a self sustaining biosphere. People just get carried away because it's a planet. Nothing special about it being a planet, it's not any easier.
    posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:03 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


    Alright it's a bit sci-fi

    Heh. A "bit".


    The TELEPHONE I **CARRY AROUND** IN MY SHIRT POCKET was 'a bit sci-fi' when I was a kid, too.

    And I haven't used a key to unlock my car in A Decade.

    We are the music makers,
    And we are the dreamers of dreams,
    Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
    And sitting by desolate streams;—
    World-losers and world-forsakers,
    On whom the pale moon gleams:
    Yet we are the movers and shakers
    Of the world for ever, it seems.
    -- Arthur O'Shaughnessy
    posted by mikelieman at 4:44 AM on November 13, 2014


    But is there any other strategy that gives you a shot in 2018?

    There are no shots for any sort of manned mission to Mars in 2018. At least none that'll result in the crew returning alive.
    posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:26 AM on November 13, 2014


    Autumn Leaf: “By which argument, we never ‘left’ Africa - despite the fact that today more people live outside Africa than in it. I'm not sure what problems our ancestors faced in Africa, so perhaps it is arguable whether leaving did anything to alleviate those problems, but do you want to argue that we would all have been better off if everyone had just stayed in Africa?”

    Walking across a land bridge is not the same thing as building a space colony rocket and moving millions of people to another planet. Walking on the land bridge certainly wasn't unthinkable to those who left Africa – it may have involved some sacrifices, but certainly it was always clear that the next furthest camp outward was at least habitable. That is not the case with human colonization of another planet.

    “Our future lies in getting some viable portion of the human race off Earth, if only because if we stay confined to Earth, we have no future.”

    This is a dramatically hasty conclusion, isn't it? For one thing – no matter how hideously we damage the Earth, we have never found a planet as suitable for human life even at its worst. For another – considering the trillions upon trillions of dollars and countless scientific advances it would take to relocate humanity, isn't it thinkable that we'd figure out a way to save the planet we have, at least as far as making it habitable?

    I mean: even if it's absolutely terrible here, I'd rather live on protein soup in a ceramic bubble habitat right here instead of taking the risk of shooting myself halfway across the galaxy just to do it somewhere else.
    posted by koeselitz at 8:51 AM on November 13, 2014


    I don't think anyone is suggesting a massive airlift of every human. The idea is that for humanity as a thing to survive, a self-sustaining colony needs to be located somewhere off the planet.

    Think of it like bees: new hives are created from time to time, but not all of the bees relocate from one hive to the new one.
    posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:21 AM on November 13, 2014


    I guess the question is what a "viable portion" means.

    Another thing to think about is that it seems to me that actually colonizing a planet involves a much higher payload than we've ever been able to deliver before. We've been able to send up piecemeal parts to build a station that allow highly trained astronauts who are incredibly disciplined to live for months in space. The threshold for self-sufficiency on another planet for people on the long term seems much higher. An Orion vehicle seems like the best thing for such a task, since it could probably deliver a payload of around a thousand tons to Mars – or even a much larger payload for interstellar travel, if you're willing to build something around the size of 8 million tons.

    This is, I think, the easiest path to colonization of another planet. The tradeoff is that you have to bombard the earth with the fallout from a thousand nuclear explosions. But if the Earth is already completely doomed, then that decision gets a little easier...
    posted by koeselitz at 10:12 AM on November 13, 2014


    But if the Earth is already completely doomed, then that decision gets a little easier...

    You do realize that the sun isn't forever, right? I mean, one day it's gonna go ka-blooey. Granted, that's a long way off, but it is gonna happen.

    And then there's that whole entropy problem....
    posted by valkane at 10:29 AM on November 13, 2014


    I think we will be colonizing ocean trenches before we colonize Venus or mars or even start living in space.

    Living in ocean trenches has better economic returns than living in space .... and the costs are lower.

    Cameron’s submarine, the 12 ton, 25-foot-long Deep Challenger, cost $8 million to build and it can be reused. compare it to one spacex dragon launch cost of $54 Mn.

    Hence, private companies would be mining oceans for metals and oil long before they start thinking of going to asteroids for raw material.

    We would require an astonishing ability to control and modify our biological processes before we even think of colonizing space.

    A huge bunker built and dropped in ocean trenches will provide much higher probability of survival for a very large population from any asteroid hit or super-volcano eruption compared to shooting a bunch of them in space and hoping they survive.
    posted by TheLittlePrince at 1:08 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


    Cameron’s submarine, the 12 ton, 25-foot-long Deep Challenger, cost $8 million to build and it can be reused. compare it to one spacex dragon launch cost of $54 Mn.

    That submarine, Deepsea Challengers, can only operate for 56 hours and has room one a single person. The Dragon can sit in space for months, with space for seven.

    Bottom line, the immense pressures in the ocean pose major limits and design challenges for human habitation. Space really is easier.
    posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:16 PM on November 13, 2014


    So for onetime launch of a dragon ... we could build say, 5 Deep Sea Challengers (each with one person in them) and do 100s of launches over many years ... there is no cost parity.

    about the pressure problem with deep seas ... if we compare it to the micro-gravity or radiation problems for deep space/mars, its a simpler problem to solve.

    Resisting the pressure is solving a material, structural and mechanical problem. removing the impact of micro-gravity is solving a biological problem.

    Private companies are already building commercial 10000 psi (pressure at depth of 6.5 Kms, more than 4.2 Kms, avg depth of oceans) rated tanks. the problem to scale them up to human habitation sizes is a mechanical and structural issue.. easily solved in next 10 years if not already.

    I doubt we will be able to solve for micro-gravity related biological problems in next 50 years. I don't think we even know all the micro-gravity related biological problems a long term stay in space will cause.
    posted by TheLittlePrince at 2:36 PM on November 13, 2014


    Private companies are already building commercial 10000 psi (pressure at depth of 6.5 Kms, more than 4.2 Kms, avg depth of oceans) rated tanks.

    Curious, what companies are these and are these tanks designed for humans to live in?
    posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:06 PM on November 13, 2014


    Well, it certainly seems like it's easier to find the raw materials to manufacture breathable oxygen on earth, if that's what you're hoping to do. And that's something you'd probably have to do if you're hoping to live anywhere besides the surface, be it at the bottom of the sea or en route to Alpha Centauri. At the bottom of the ocean, you have a bunch of the raw materials (oxygen, probably a lot of nitrogen) right there. In space, you've got to bring them with you, although that might be feasible too. Also, it just costs a lot to lauch a thing from the earth to orbit. But then, you only really have to launch any given payload once.
    posted by koeselitz at 5:22 PM on November 13, 2014


    Which is why you need the asteroids. That's where you get your water and Oxygen from. Lifting it out of a gravity well is for chumps.
    posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:33 PM on November 13, 2014


    > You could easily cut your costs by 1/2 by settling for 99%,
    > and probably to 1/10 if you're willing to take 98%.

    I don't think this can be true really. Your putative 98% reliable rocket, for example, is still going to need to perform the same function as a 100% reliable one - carry the same payload and fuel, have engines of the same power - so where 90% savings are coming from I don't know.


    They come from, for example, not designing weasel resistant engines. The engine is also not resistant to snakes, ants, a windblown piece of grass being ignited by an ice lens, extended launchpad exposure to temperatures higher than 200 fahrenheit, 20% percent variance in fuel quality...

    I could go on but I think you get the point. The rocket is going to get more complicated for any of these risks that you choose to handle, and a *lot* more complicated if you sign up for all of them. The problem with shooting for 100% is that you have to start handling swarms of progressively lower probability risks. You reach the point where the very basic thing you started out to do is practically an afterthought.

    So the people who design the relatively simple 98% rocket lose it on the pad when a piece of grass gets ignited and lands in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time. On the other hand the 100% folks are still hacking out the requirements document for an extremely complex device that will be ready 10 years from now at 50 times the price. But will be safe from weasels.

    ----

    My father is actually better equipped to talk about this with regards to mechanical systems, but in computer systems we're always chasing the infamous 5 9s (99.999% reliability), and believe me when I tell you that the blood spilt to get from 99.99 to 99.999 percent is incredible. Divisions ten times larger than the one that built the original system are spawned off with this as their sole goal, they spend more time than it took to build the original, and they often fail regardless.

    (The Silicon Valley is littered with the corpses of startups that proposed the obvious and tried to build 5 9s in from scratch. Too much time and too many people. Anyway).

    TL;DR:

    Every risk you try to handle makes your system more complicated/expensive; going for 100% safety means you have to handle swarms of very low probability risks that the 98% folks choose to live with.
    posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:49 PM on November 13, 2014


    That seems a bit misleading. There were 135 space shuttle missions, for instance, of which 2 exploded killing everyone on board. That's a 1 in 67 failure rate. Or a 1 in 3 failure rate for the 6 shuttles built.

    Similarly, of 122 Soyuz missions, 2 ended in disasters.

    How much would you want to relax standards? If you're aiming at 1 in 10,000 failure rate and actually achieve 1 in 67, what number of failures do you get when you aim at 1 in 50?
    posted by zompist at 9:10 PM on November 13, 2014


    The question is whether it the ultra-low risk items that caused the failures. I.E. Could they have skipped all the extra complexity that they (at least the Americans) added and had the same failures for much cheaper? Or worse, did the extra complexity cause the problem?

    Now that you mention it though, at least by reputation the cold-war era Soviet space program ran much more down the lines of a 98% organization. I'd be interested to know the truth of that.
    posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:55 PM on November 13, 2014


    The trick is to build things so when they fail, it's not fatal. For example, if the Space Shuttle delivered on the promises, we wouldn't have lost one due to a heat-tile failure. We would have had the infrastructure in place ( given one launch a week ) to inspect and repair the shuttles IN ORBIT. But of course, Nixon killed the space program in his Kennedy Purges, so here we are.
    posted by mikelieman at 3:32 AM on November 14, 2014


    The question is whether it the ultra-low risk items that caused the failures. I.E. Could they have skipped all the extra complexity that they (at least the Americans) added and had the same failures for much cheaper? Or worse, did the extra complexity cause the problem?

    It depends. I know that the Shuttle program was pretty starved for funding, so they couldn't do all the testing they really wanted to with the engines, which were new. So they wound up being more expensive in the long term, requiring intense refurbishing after each mission. However, after years of use, better engines were developed. So was it better to skip the extensive testing when designing the engines or done it up then? I don't know the answer, but I doubt it's as simple as oh just get 98% safe instead of 99.999%.

    The Challenger accident occurred because the O-Rings were operating in an environment outside their design specs. Columba broke up because the design of the entire system was flawed by stacking Shuttle on the side, instead of the side of the rocket. Apollo 1 occurred because of shoddy workship and people attempting a lax attitude when testing on the ground (in a 100% environment no less).

    Every one of those accident could have been prevented if people had spent more money or took more time (which equals more money) to make things a bit safer. So because of those mistakes the entire program was dealt delays while money was spent investigating what went wrong, designing and then testing a fix.

    From my vantage point, it's hard to see how 98 versus 99 percent is really so much better. Because when an accident occurs, essentially all hell breaks loose in terms of time and money.
    posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:47 AM on November 14, 2014


    Brandon Blatcher: "Curious, what companies are these and are these tanks designed for humans to live in?
    "

    I am sure they will build 10,000 psi tanks designed for humans to live in long time before solving the problems of vestibular dysfunction, weight loss, increase in height, upward fluid shift, anemia, cardiovascular deconditioning, muscle atrophy, and bone loss due to space travel ...

    "The most recalcitrant and disturbing of all these problems is the relentless bone loss associated with negative calcium balance. This problem appears to be irreversible, and critical demineralization can occur after two years in a weightless state. Unless its mechanism is elucidated and preventive measures are taken, the bone loss may prove to be the medically limiting factor for the duration of space flight."

    And we have not even started examining the impact of weight loss and cosmic radiation on human fetuses and children.

    so, unless its catholic priests proselytizing to little green men ... forget about sending any significant proportion of population to space.

    and this link would show the problems with building a rotating space station in, say, next 50 years.
    posted by TheLittlePrince at 7:03 AM on November 14, 2014


    do you want to argue that we would all have been better off if everyone had just stayed in Africa?

    Do you really think the Mars:America::Earth:Africa is a good analogy for convincing people on Earth to spend lots of money to send people to Mars?
    posted by straight at 10:23 AM on November 17, 2014


    It seems totally ridiculous to talk about a self-sustaining colony on Mars when we can't even successfully build a sealed, self-sustaining habitat on Earth.
    posted by straight at 10:35 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


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