Mars One colonists better off eating frozen pizza than local veggies
February 27, 2015 6:50 AM   Subscribe

A graduate student at MIT has published an analysis of the Mars One colony plans. Turns out that surviving off local crops is a bad idea. [pdf] Mars One is an ambitious and highly publicized plan to start a colony on Mars by launching groups of astronauts on a one-way trip to the red planet. The Mars One foundation claims that all of this is feasible with current technology: Falcon heavy launchers, Dragon capsules, inflatable structures, and life support systems similar to the International Space Station. Sydney Do, a Ph.D candidate in MIT's Strategic Engineering Research Group disagrees. His detailed and impressive analysis of the Mars One architecture reveals a few surprising and counter-intuitive results: the astronauts are better off eating food delivered from Earth, and the need for spare parts to sustain life support system ends up dominating the materials required to keep the colony going.
posted by amy27 (54 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Probably not a good idea to rely on supplies from Earth. Far wiser to look into cannibalism, just remember this is not a good group activity.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:09 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher, that's absurd and I'm a bit disturbed you'd even suggest it. Everyone knows humans can't reproduce nearly fast enough to provide a sustainable source of food.
posted by dubitable at 7:13 AM on February 27, 2015 [23 favorites]


Facsinating. And terrifying.
posted by valkane at 7:14 AM on February 27, 2015




They should plan to rely on food from the local supermarket and take away, the same a the rest of us, since their chances of going to Mars are the same as the rest of us.
posted by biffa at 7:22 AM on February 27, 2015 [38 favorites]


Maybe that's Mars One's plan when it comes to filling in the ?????* of the Mars plan - just wait for grad students to develop it as part of their self directed coursework.

*
1) Assemble the Delusional
2) ?????
3) Mars, y'all!

posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:25 AM on February 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


Their first concern is too much oxygen:
First, our habitation simulations revealed that crop growth, if large enough to provide 100% of the settlement’s food, will produce unsafe oxygen levels in the habitat. As a result, some form of oxygen removal system is required – a technology that has not yet been developed for spaceflight.
posted by achrise at 7:28 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


It costs a lot of money to go to Mars.
Therefore only the rich can go to Mars.
Ergo: Eat the rich?
posted by blue_beetle at 7:28 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


...some form of oxygen removal system is required – a technology that has not yet been developed for spaceflight.

Perhaps some kind of Russian inwention?

I'll show myself out.
posted by duffell at 7:31 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Huh. I thought all this got neatly sorted out in The Martian.
posted by NoMich at 7:33 AM on February 27, 2015 [14 favorites]


Interesting that MIT has remembered Apollo I, and Mars One hasn't.

I don't think N+N redundancy is enough when the nearest spare parts are an average of 30 months away -- you can't, after all, put them on the ships already in flight, so you have to figure that the minimum time is going to be about 21 months, basically a month before the next launch, and the maximum time would be one the order of 39 months, when you order just after the next flight boosts, so that you need to wait until the next launch window, 19 or so month away, then roughly another 20 months flight time.
posted by eriko at 7:33 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought there was an issue of radiation. First during the transit phase, and then the actual living on a planet that doesn't have enough atmosphere to protect the occupants.
posted by Alt255 at 7:41 AM on February 27, 2015


And the haunted water. That's a problem, too.

My first thought wasn't tribbles, but rabbits.
posted by mochapickle at 7:44 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


A ship full of people in cryo-stasis. "Colonists"
posted by fatbird at 7:46 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just recommission the mothballed supply base on Ceres
posted by el_presidente at 7:46 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a result, some form of oxygen removal system is required – a technology that has not yet been developed for spaceflight.

I nominate fire.
posted by enamon at 7:55 AM on February 27, 2015 [23 favorites]


Did he take into account that Mars may be out of the delivery area for most pizza places?
posted by kyrademon at 7:57 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


kyrademon: Did he take into account that Mars may be out of the delivery area for most pizza places?

Nah, red-lining by pizza joints is as illegal as it is for other businesses.

Get it? RED-lining, and Mars is the RED planet?
posted by wenestvedt at 8:01 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maybe they could adopt Husker Du's economic plan. Are cat skins edible?
posted by the phlegmatic king at 8:01 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I work from home so I am already know the answer to almost every economic conundrum is frozen pizza.
posted by srboisvert at 8:22 AM on February 27, 2015


It's probably cheesy to reference, but I feel like Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars is a great overview of what you might want if you were going on a one way trip to mars. Included in the list (dropped in multiple times ahead of the humans) were:
- a power plant
- a factory for building important components and more factories
- earth moving equipment
- vehicles
- medical supplies and facilities
And of course, other sci-fi bootstrapping equipment. The ISS gets supplies, repairs, and assistance from Earth constantly! If you don't want any of that, you better have a way of getting all of it locally. And repairing all the stuff you brought with you, and repairing the repairing equipment.
posted by Phredward at 8:26 AM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


AT MARS ONE MISSION CONTROL IN AMSTERDAM:

SUPERVISOR: Hans, remember when we said that resupply was a pretty standard and even boring sort of task, since it was all done by drone-piloted ship?

HANS: Yeah, sure, what about it?

SUPERVISOR: Well, thing is, even though it's kind of boring you still have to enter the mission coordinates by hand.

HANS: Already done.

SUPERVISOR: But, Hans, you have to enter them exactly as written.

HANS: Um.

SUPERVISOR: Um, what?

HANS: Well, you made it sound as if it wasn't that big of a deal. So...

SUPERVISOR: So, what?

HANS: So I rounded them up. There were like fifteen digits after the decimal point.

THEY LOOK AT EACH OTHER.

ON MARS:

COMMANDER BENSON: Bad news, the latest resupply is on its way to Ganymede. Good news: we figured out who was sneaking extra rations, and he broke an ankle. By "accident." Jepsen, time to find out if your grandma's barbecue recipe is all you said it was.

posted by Halloween Jack at 8:38 AM on February 27, 2015 [9 favorites]


This thing raises my blood pressure, not in itself, but because it causes people I otherwise like but who can't be arsed to do the bare minimum reading on what actual space exploration is like to gush about it on my Facebook. I keep wanting to say, look, you're my friend, but your YAY MARS ONE SO AWESOME stance means you are either gullible and uninformed about it being a scam or else cruelly uncaring about the (horrible! painful!) deaths that would result if it were real. Stop making me question being your friend, Facebook people.

On the upside, the recent Castle episode featuring a Mars One-type setup (Murder in the Mars Simulator! Oooh!) was entertaining. Mostly because it's a TV show and no one actually gets scammed or dies.
posted by emjaybee at 8:40 AM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


While the concern about too much oxygen is interesting, it's important to know that atmospheric chemistry in closed biospheres can have a lot of confounding effects. Witness Biosphere 2, where oxygen was gobbled up by microbes in the soil faster than expected. The plants in the habitat were supposed to take in the resulting CO2 and replace the oxygen, but instead the carbon dioxide was absorbed by the concrete walls of the habitat.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:42 AM on February 27, 2015 [11 favorites]


As a result, some form of oxygen removal system is required – a technology that has not yet been developed for spaceflight.

I'd suggest worms. Genetically modified worms that use a lot of O2, are easy to harvest for food, breed quickly and work the soil to help the crops that generate the oxygen. Then when there is too much O2 you get the worms breeding, too little and you have a feast.

MiFi's resident SF curmudgeon cstross suggests a pretty large minimum resource allocation for a remote human outpost. But man can never fly, so the only way we'll really know is if we try. There are are rather many ways to fail at flying. What we don't have here on planet earth is a source of spare parts. We make all our parts. A colony needs to be self supporting, build it's won shelters, build it's own air scrubbers from scratch. It's a tricky bootstrapping problem.

Moving some raw materials closer to us, perhaps a nice small iron rich asteroid in a stable orbit that we can build larger transport ships and if there's some spare hydrogen it could make for reaction mass so the larger ship could transit at a small but steady acceleration reducing the time in spaces significantly. We need to think bigger.
posted by sammyo at 8:43 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Then when there is too much O2 you get the worms breeding, too little and you have a feast.

A Diet of Worms?
posted by XMLicious at 9:11 AM on February 27, 2015 [17 favorites]


*golf clap*

Also, like seriously... these people are going to be eating both frozen pizza and local veg for the rest of their lives because augh, why is anyone even giving these scamtastic asslords free publicity?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:16 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Okay, so they aren't going. Seriously, they're not.

Someone will eventually, though, because somebody somewhere always has a budget surplus. So the math works for me -- anywhere nearby, it's just cheaper to keep on sending stuff from Earth (although I vote for hundreds of kilos of whatever-it-is that the 3D printers use, plus hundreds of kilos of whatever-it-is that the pizza printers use), instead of making a tiny Mars base self-sustaining.
posted by Mogur at 9:24 AM on February 27, 2015


I don't think N+N redundancy is enough when the nearest spare parts are an average of 30 months away

Your pizza in 30 months or it's FREE!
posted by adept256 at 9:36 AM on February 27, 2015 [5 favorites]


>> As a result, some form of oxygen removal system is required – a technology that has not yet been developed for spaceflight.

> I nominate fire.


So that explains the Guy Smoking A Pipe In A Rocketship I read about yesterday.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:42 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


the pizza printers
stfu and take my money from my soon to be bloated corpse
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:44 AM on February 27, 2015 [4 favorites]


There's really not much point to building a colony on Mars, unless it could be done for way cheaper. Might cheaper to just hole up on the Moon or one of Mars' Moons.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:45 AM on February 27, 2015


Might cheaper to just hole up on the Moon or one of Mars' Moons.

God, has everyone forgotten what happened to the military base we set up on one of the moons of Mars back in the early 90s? Sure, it's cheaper to get supplies there than to the surface... but what good is frozen pizza when you've got a cacodemon gnawing on your skull?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:11 AM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Hey buddy, don't get snotty with me about the history of the Mars Exploration Wars. 'Cause someone clearly forgot how frozen pizza wedges were used in the Battle of Stickney Crater to defend the colonies to against the hordes of communist cacodemons.

Download a newer education program and learn your history!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:17 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


Might cheaper to just hole up on the Moon

Sure, that's what Hitler said and you see what happened to him.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:26 AM on February 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


I imagine the Mars One colonists 20 months from first landing being like Angelica was on an episode of Rugrats in the desert with her Cynthia doll where she proclaims "I'm the queen Cynthia, and I say dig for food, NOW DIG!"
posted by wcfields at 11:46 AM on February 27, 2015


ure, that's what Hitler said and you see what happened to him.


Welcomed by the Mole Men and brought to their base at the center of earth to live in eternal youth? Sounds sweet.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:18 PM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


What we need is a reliable source of meat with a fast reproduction cycle.

The Axlotl Tanks await us.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:23 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Probably not a good idea to rely on supplies from Earth. Far wiser to look into cannibalism, just remember this is not a good group activity.

Brandon Blatcher, that's absurd and I'm a bit disturbed you'd even suggest it. Everyone knows humans can't reproduce nearly fast enough to provide a sustainable source of food.


Isn't part of the Mars One "plan" to keep sending new waves of colonists every few years? Maybe they've already thought of the "just send food from earth" idea!

Really, it sounds like the set-up for a Black Mirror version of "To Serve Man": there's a colony on Mars that regularly send back reality-TV-style transmissions. Despite initial skepticism, the colony seems to succeed beyond anyone's expectations, sending back footage of a thriving colony and requesting more colonists to keep up the rate of expansion. A graduate student does the math and realizes there's no way that the actual colony can be expanding the way it claims to be. A videographer friend of the student starts noticing odd inconsistencies that indicate the chronology of the footage in the broadcasts is being heavily manipulated (say, someone with a fresh cut or bruise in the same place in two broadcasts that were supposedly filmed weeks apart.) They take their findings public and are "coincidentally" chosen for the next trip.

When they get there, they discover that, of course, the broadcasts are all carefully edited propaganda to cover up the much smaller cannibal society that took over early in the process. The leader of the society offers them a choice: either they, as everyone else on their ship, can be filmed for several days to produce the next few months of footage, then slaughtered and hung up to become human jerky, or they can join the propaganda team to prevent any more mistakes like the ones that they noticed.

Cut to black.
posted by kagredon at 12:37 PM on February 27, 2015 [14 favorites]


The CRIST Sol orbiters, or Cargo and Resources In-System Transports were huge ships shaped like a hollow potato and designed to be able to move huge amounts of material between Earth and Mars with low cost and, theoretically, low maintenance. The system was simple. The CRIST was put into orbit around SOL on the plane of the ecliptic. Built with a powerful solar sail, the CRIST could change its orbit easily to pass by the Earth or Mars. On a flyby, materials could be loaded or offloaded. The energy used to accelerate or decelerate the materials would be supplied by the solar sail. Loading was accomplished with a giant tether and reel system, which would swing the material into orbit behind the CRIST and then reel it in slowly. Offloading was accomplished with a powerful ion beam which would pound the offloading material with a steady stream of ion particles.

The design of the CRIST was innovative and useful, but it was not low-maintenance. Of the five CRISTs that were built, four lasted around one hundred years, and the other one only seventy three before they needed to be brought back to Earth and refitted. Each refitting took about fifteen years, and completely occupied the Earth-Space Shipbuilding Facility for that time. The result was that no more than five CRISTs could be kept in service at any time. No CRIST was ever built after 2310.

The CRIST failures devastated Mars. As the first five CRISTs were built, Mars colony grew quickly, confident that the growth would continue. But when the source of Mars' resources failed, the colony found that it had overgrown its supportable size, and extreme poverty struck most of the population. Each time that a CRIST broke down, the result was famine on Mars. [...]

Same idea in the backstory to Marathon.
posted by Foolhardy at 12:55 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Welcomed by the Mole Men and brought to their base at the center of earth to live in eternal youth? Sounds sweet.

I guess. If you're into mole men.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:10 PM on February 27, 2015


But maybe you mean mole men. In which case, yum, chocolate.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:15 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


What we need is a reliable source of meat with a fast reproduction cycle.

The Axlotl Tanks await us.


No, these are what you're looking for.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:42 PM on February 27, 2015


Don't you mean this?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:51 PM on February 27, 2015


I think you mean this.
posted by moonmilk at 3:55 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


... or this. So many possible solutions - I'm ready to join Mars One myself now!
posted by moonmilk at 3:57 PM on February 27, 2015


My good friend's wife is one of the 100 people chosen to move forward in the Mars One competition. It's been very odd seeing her face everywhere during the last week.
posted by staggering termagant at 5:12 PM on February 27, 2015


Shit, since they can only efficiently grow peanuts and wheat, how about just soaking up the excess O2 with yeast? What kind of red-blooded space person couldn't function solely on peanut butter stouts?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:24 PM on February 27, 2015


Shit, since they can only efficiently grow peanuts and wheat, how about just soaking up the excess O2 with yeast? What kind of red-blooded space person couldn't function solely on peanut butter stouts?

Fermentation is anaerobic.
posted by kagredon at 6:29 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Although I guess you could aerobically grow yeast colonies for food. Like nutritional yeast.

Mmm, yeast.
posted by kagredon at 6:32 PM on February 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


My good friend's wife is one of the 100 people chosen to move forward in the Mars One competition.

How do you feel about knowing she will never ever set foot on a spaceship, let alone Mars?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:39 PM on February 27, 2015 [3 favorites]


Going to have to try a PB&Vegemite sandwich later, thanks for that.
posted by mcrandello at 1:38 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


The only good that come out of the Mars One project, is the realization of just what our society would be without the ability to externalize so much of our life support costs to the Earths biosphere.
posted by Abinadab at 9:54 AM on February 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Update: Lansdorp posted a video in which he "pushes back" against critics, and in particular Elmo Keep, who wrote the Medium longread criticizing the project. This comes after the would-be producer of the reality show--which, remember, was supposed to be the main source of funding for the venture--pulled out. Also, Keep wrote a follow-up article that features an interview with Dr. Joseph Roche of Trinity College in Dublin, who claims that becoming one of the 100 semi-finalists (he's one) depended on how much money you spent or donated to Mars One.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:52 AM on March 22, 2015


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