We Asked Astrobiologists About Jose Canseco's Plan to Terraform Mars
December 11, 2015 4:44 PM   Subscribe

 
Biggest problem: will definitely wake the ancient martians, and boy will they be pissed.
posted by sammyo at 4:52 PM on December 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


And the winner for "Most 2015 Headline Ever" is...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:53 PM on December 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


There are so many things that could go wrong here it is difficult to know where to start.

Such as...? What's the worst that could happen? Mars ends up transformed into a cold, arid, radioactive wasteland devoid of any signs of life?
posted by sfenders at 4:58 PM on December 11, 2015


The fact that Mars is not massive enough to hold the lighter atmosphere elements that we need, and has no magnetic field (because no tectonics, because no heavy iron core) to protect from cosmic rays and other space radiation, are pretty serious roadblocks. Serious enough that anyone claiming they can terraform Mars has to be nuts, or deluded.
posted by Sintram at 5:03 PM on December 11, 2015 [17 favorites]


has no magnetic field

uh, it's right there in TFA - Conseco himself says "It is created when the Triton collision liquidates Mars outer core into molten iron."

I mean, how much more obvious could the solution be?
posted by GuyZero at 5:04 PM on December 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


All you have to do is put your hand in the giant four fingered control device.
posted by Splunge at 5:05 PM on December 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


Such as...? What's the worst that could happen?

This exact phrase was also uttered by the first Australian rabbit owner.
posted by GuyZero at 5:05 PM on December 11, 2015 [35 favorites]


By the time we could terraform mars global warming will require that we terraform Terra first.
posted by Splunge at 5:07 PM on December 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


How is Gary Sinese going to fly a B-52 to Mars?
posted by clavdivs at 5:07 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Massive nuclear strikes? Jose, it's terraforming, not terrorforming.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:10 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


The problem with nuking Mars - where are you going to get the nitrogen from? Even if you release the CO2 and melt the water, you don't have the thing that makes up 80% of our atmosphere. Presumably you planned to get the oxygen from the CO2 via plants, but an atmosphere with any meaningful percentage of CO2 is still totally toxic. If you did somehow convert it all to O2, an atmosphere of pure O2 would still be toxic, plus it would support insanely violent combustion of basically anything.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:11 PM on December 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Well, what does Michael Mann know about terraforming planets? I mean, Thief and Manhunter were great, but come on--talk about going outside of your field of expertise, sheesh.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:13 PM on December 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Gotta nuke somethin'
posted by a lungful of dragon at 5:14 PM on December 11, 2015 [25 favorites]


It's a good plan, but "Saturn's moon Triton" is already on loan to Neptune.
posted by peeedro at 5:18 PM on December 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


Start small. Nuke the moon.
posted by ocschwar at 5:23 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mars Needs Bombs.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:25 PM on December 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


Maybe he meant Titan?
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:30 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The problem with nuking Mars - where are you going to get the nitrogen from?
From the asteroid belt which you will shepherd in by using Saturn's other larger moon, Jupiter, which will also contribute large amounts of magnetism than can be turned into a sphere later.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:33 PM on December 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


This is a dumb person and a waste of time and I feel bad for participating in it even so far as I have.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:34 PM on December 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


"Every several seconds," Musk continued “send large fusion bombs over the poles." Those bombs would "blink out, like a small sun" and then you could send up more to keep going with the process, Musk added.

Fucking ridiculous. Why not build two giant circular magnets, about 2,000km in diameter, and drop them onto the poles? Boom, instant magnetic field. Then you can send another craft to release a satellite fitted with a hydrogen-powered flamethrower that orbits Mars in a north-south orientation, spurting out blasts of fire each time it crosses the poles, and you have water. What, we still need an atmosphere? No problem. You build a steel tube 225 million km long, connect Earth and Mars, and let people walk to the planet while bathed in Earth's atmosphere the whole way. By the time they get there, Mars will be totally breathable, watery, and outfitted with a sweet magnetic field. Plus everything will be like a third what it weighs on Earth, so you can pack three times as much stuff. I'm puzzled as to how scientists who've actually studied space are still laboring over tiny details and can't see the big picture. I blame too much fancy book-learning and "safe spaces" at universities that shield ideamakers from believing in themselves and seizing the tools they need to pursue the truth.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 5:37 PM on December 11, 2015 [96 favorites]


Halloween Jack: "Well, what does Michael Mann know about terraforming planets? I mean, Thief and Manhunter were great, but come on--talk about going outside of your field of expertise, sheesh."

See, the ideal Michael Mann joke in this context would have referenced Heat.
posted by koeselitz at 5:37 PM on December 11, 2015 [17 favorites]


Alexander Abian had the right idea. Just the wrong target.
posted by delfin at 5:39 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Such as...? What's the worst that could happen? Mars ends up transformed into a cold, arid, radioactive wasteland devoid of any signs of life?

It doesn't work and we waste untold trillions on fucking up something fascinating, complex, new and untouched because we can't get a hardon for just sorting out our actual problems.
posted by howfar at 5:40 PM on December 11, 2015 [24 favorites]


This is what happens when society puts sports entertainers above scientists.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 5:44 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, if we have the capability to get a large number of nuclear fusion bombs to Mars, along with the equipment and such to live there, I say we ought to go the Project Orion route, given that that's the only viable plan anyone's come up with for interstellar travel.
posted by koeselitz at 5:45 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Such as...? What's the worst that could happen? Mars ends up transformed into a cold, arid, radioactive wasteland devoid of any signs of life?

It doesn't work and we waste untold trillions on fucking up something fascinating, complex, new and untouched because we can't get a hardon for just sorting out our actual problems.


Or, a spaceship full of nuclear material explodes on launch while in the upper atmosphere, spreading fallout all over the planet? That's pretty bad.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:59 PM on December 11, 2015 [15 favorites]


The true value that sportsing provides is as a honeytrap for crackpots. It doesn't get them all but it sure gets a lot of them. Including me!
posted by srboisvert at 6:07 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


> And the winner for "Most 2015 Headline Ever" is...

This does not seem like a headline from 2015. it seems like a headline from 1987's idea of 2015.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:17 PM on December 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


Apparently the question of just how you change Triton's orbit is left as an exercise for the students.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:25 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


2.6 million cubic kilometers of ice to melt. An online converter says there are 4,184,000,000,000 kilojoules in a megaton. Which is handy because it is 4.184 joules to raise 1 gram of water 1 degree. About 980 billion kg of ice in a cubic km. We need to raise the temp more than a degree. An absurd number of nukes are required to make this scheme work.

Cheaper to setup an operation to mine the Venetian atmosphere and export it to Mars. Alternatively create automated factories on Mars to manufacture greenhouse gases and aerosols capable of absorbing solar radiation.
posted by humanfont at 6:27 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is what happens when society puts sports entertainers above scientists.

We needed a bearded Spock type figure to change our ways!
posted by juiceCake at 6:28 PM on December 11, 2015


Seems it would be easier to fix Venus than Mars. Just move it closer to Earth's orbit.
posted by Leon at 6:30 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Cheaper to setup an operation to mine the Venetian atmosphere and export it to Mars.
I envision a giant series of tubes.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:33 PM on December 11, 2015




These hypothetical Venus atmosphere-mining operations can involve giant airship-cities floating in the 1 ATM pressure band of the Venusian atmosphere. Which I think is conveniently located above all the sulfuric acid as well?

I don't know how practical any of it is, but it would make for a really cool sci fi setting, if nothing else.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:39 PM on December 11, 2015


Trump, and now Cancseco? What is it Narcississtic Personality disorder month?
posted by jonmc at 6:51 PM on December 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


Biggest problem: will definitely wake the ancient martians, and boy will they be pissed.

That's what throwing the moon at them is for.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:52 PM on December 11, 2015


Wait'll you guys hear about what Chris Sabo is doing with ophthalmology
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:52 PM on December 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah, the older and wiser (and I guess more conservative) I get, the more I realize how many big science ideas aren't going to ever be remotely feasible for a very long time, and it is not merely the limitations of technology, but society and culture.

When you look at then space race (and be default, the arms race, the cold war) it took a surprisingly short amount of time for several major superpowers to pretty seriously damage huge swaths of our environment and raise the ambient background radiation a few clicks just to build an endless series of aircraft, nuclear weapons and then missiles (and, ostensibly, some big cool chemical rockets for "the good of mankind" or something.

All built by the lowest bidder, usually. Who is hoping to make as much profit as possible, because that's what we value first. So, sure, dump that slurry of waste right out back, or just let it pile up.

And in retrospect? It's all a little dingy, really. How many desks or library shelves can you build out of a B-52 or a Titan II?

We're still playing with fire crackers and bottle rockets.

We don't even respect the planet we already have. Sure, we need to not have humanity all on one planet, but if we can't even take care of our own planet, not only will attempts to change other planets fail, but we will destroy our own planet in the process just trying to get there. Hell, we can't even get our politicians to sit down and talk honestly about climate change and how to stop utterly destroying our own planet through energy and resource extraction for little more than nakedly aggressive hyperconsumerism.
posted by loquacious at 6:59 PM on December 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


Cheaper to setup an operation to mine the Venetian atmosphere and export it to Mars.

Also, the Venetian water. They have too much of the stuff to the point where their buildings are sinking in it, whereas Mars has an acute shortage.

As a bonus, you wouldn't even need big government. Just establish a market for water, and presto; the invisible hand does its work, and before long, they're having Carnivale on Mars.
posted by acb at 7:02 PM on December 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


Disney can build a real cloud city on Venus and have Zeppelin cruises of the planet.
posted by humanfont at 7:19 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


The currency of exchange would of course be Dogecoin.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:19 PM on December 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Presumably you planned to get the oxygen from the CO2 via plants, but an atmosphere with any meaningful percentage of CO2 is still totally toxic.

If nuking the hell out of Mars made it suitable for growing plants, with a suitable hydrological cycle and above-freezing temperatures, well I can't speak for what Jose Canseco has in mind, but I would think that a rather spectacular success. Sure it'd be toxic to breathe, but being warmer and having a food supply and enough atmosphere to provide more substantial shelter from radiation (which it would do, even without a magnetic field) would make it a much nicer place to visit. All the objections seem a bit flimsy and probably motivated by unnecessary rationalizations in reaction to the fact that it is completely ridiculous and impractical. Unnecessary because really that's sort of obvious.

It makes at least as much sense as recruiting a bunch of millionaires to go live on un-terraformed Mars.
posted by sfenders at 7:33 PM on December 11, 2015


I, for one, completely trust Elon Musk and his buddies with the thousands of nuclear bombs they say they want to use for terraforming Mars.
posted by straight at 7:34 PM on December 11, 2015 [9 favorites]


You know what? To hell with Mars, colonization and terraforming.

Building Death Stars is the way to go.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:38 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the way to go is to colonize Venus and Mars, as colonists of one planet would start making barbed jokes about colonists of the other. Maybe Martians would sneer that Venusians were too chickenshit to go very far from Earth, and insufferable steampunk hipsters with their dirigible cities and constant Ray Bradbury references, while Venusians would scoff that Martians were tryhard MGTOWs holed up in their radiation-shielding caves and playing EVE Online all day. Both would agree that Earthlings are plebs and normies who will never know the joy of barely surviving in a hostile environment never meant to sustain life.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 7:38 PM on December 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


Next up: Matthew McConoughey gives us a peek at his new breakthrough in the field of relativity. "If you turn a flashlight on, and then start running, you can make the photons travel faster than the speed of light!"

How to measure them? One word: MAGNETS.

Seriously, though, is it just me or does anyone else sometimes get a "Howard Hughesian" vibe from Elon Musk. I want to dig him so much, but every now and then he says something that makes me go, "Whaaa? That's not even wrong."
posted by darkstar at 7:39 PM on December 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


If I want advice on terraforming Mars, I'll ask Javy Lopez, not Jose Canseco.

(Venus? Chuck Knoblauch can take care of that.)
posted by octobersurprise at 7:55 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, Jose.

Oh, Elon.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:06 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


A friend once gave me A Confederacy of Dunces for Christmas.

I think our solar system is much more delicately interconnected than it is convenient to think about for kinesthetic science types. They think you can do massive stuff to a component of this system and nothing else will happen.

I wonder what the collision of Schumaker Levy did to our system? How long does it take for repercussions of a collision like that to reach Earth?
posted by Oyéah at 8:15 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the way to go is to colonize Venus and Mars...

Since Mars is too cold and has no atmosphere, and Venus is too hot and has too much atmosphere it seems that the obvious solution is to crash them together and get a happy medium.
posted by 445supermag at 8:16 PM on December 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


Hmm. What would a planet that was between their orbits be like? I guess we'll never know.
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:27 PM on December 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


I, for one, completely trust Elon Musk and his buddies with the thousands of nuclear bombs they say they want to use for terraforming Mars.

As opposed to the ideologues, idiots and lunatics who have their hands on them now?

Me, I'd actually rather blow off the fucking stockpiles and have them gone in a vain attempt to thicken the Martian atmosphere than leave them where they are now.

How long does it take for repercussions of a collision like that to reach Earth?

I can't tell if you're kidding or not. The difference between the (average distance) orbits of Jupiter and Earth is about 628 million kilometers. So closest approach, when they're on the same side of the sun, is about that. When they're on opposite sides, you're talking twice the orbital radius of Earth plus the Earth-Jupiter distance, so about 928 million kilometers. The speed of light is near enough 300,000 km/s, so: 34 minutes at closest and 51 minutes at farthest, more or less, and somewhere in between most of the time.

Again, not sure if you're joking, but every orbiting body on the solar system is getting constantly peppered with rocks big and small. Shoemaker Levy was made up of fragments ranging up to 2km in size, which, sure, would probably be another extinction level event if it had hit Earth, but was a kitten fart at Jupiter scale, pretty much, and even more kitten-farty at this very distant remove. Like a kitten fart over in the next neighbourhood or something.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:38 PM on December 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'd see us making habitats out of asteroid-iron beforehand using mirrors to bootstrap larger and larger solar furnaces. If you have that capacity, just use mirrors as a soletta to heat the icecaps.

And why bother terraform Mars, if you're already in nice plant-filled O'Neil cylinders or something? By then the greatest minds will be trying to figure out how to terraform Earth to make it livable again.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:45 PM on December 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


All you have to do is put your hand in the giant four fingered control device.

Thank you for simultaneously referencing one of my favorite movies (the original Total Recall) and the fact that Canseco shot one of his fingers off while cleaning his gun.

I saw this on twitter, briefly glanced at Canseco's tweets, and thought "it sounds remotely plausible but he can't successfully clean a gun, so I'm going to forget about this now and go about my day." And I did. And it was great.
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:46 PM on December 11, 2015 [13 favorites]


"I don't care if it's so much as a microbe, it has to be moved!"

Never mind the mention of James Tiberius who deposits random antique warlords and their posses on random planets
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:47 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Apparently the question of just how you change Triton's orbit is left as an exercise for the students.

Dude, never go full Velikovsky.
posted by bonehead at 9:07 PM on December 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


Metafilter: I'm going to forget about this now and go about my day.
posted by mr. digits at 9:25 PM on December 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I, for one, completely trust Elon Musk and his buddies with the thousands of nuclear bombs they say they want to use for terraforming Mars.

As opposed to the ideologues, idiots and lunatics who have their hands on them now?


Well, I mean, the ideologues, idiots, and lunatics have successfully avoided blowing everything up for the past 70 years or so. Seems like a pretty decent track record to me, so maybe we shouldn't be so quick to let Silicon Valley go around disrupting nuclear weapons management.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:11 PM on December 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


See, the ideal Michael Mann joke in this context would have referenced Heat.


He is tired of those.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:25 PM on December 11, 2015


Apparently the question of just how you change Triton's orbit is left as an exercise for the students.

Actually, in all seriousness, we know how to do that already. It's totally doable, even with technology as we know it. Unfortunately, the time scale is at least in the range of hundreds of thousands of years, probably millions or tens of millions of years. Of course I'm not planning to go anywhere...
posted by happyroach at 12:05 AM on December 12, 2015


It seems like more of a Michael Bay approach, really. Blow shit up!

Someone mentioned Venus having some of the missing elements. Maybe if we just move Venus out to Mars orbit and then smashed them together. And then wait a billion years until things cool off and quiet down...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:18 AM on December 12, 2015


A giant planet-sized mirror on the sunward side of Venus, and a giant space fan on the other to blow the excess gas out into space aught to do the trick within 20 years. I mean, duh.

Then we just bomb it with a few thousand comets for water, et voila!

Do I have to do all the thinking around here?
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:21 AM on December 12, 2015


See, the ideal Michael Mann joke in this context would have referenced Heat.

This way, you could just bill the nukes to Ready Demolition in Tucson, Arizona.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:22 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


The simplest thing is to resolve that when we will have gone back to create the moon, we take a few minutes to have been going to have built an automatic self-terraforming facility into Mars. Then we can watch it happen next year without lifting a finger.
posted by Segundus at 12:32 AM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sometimes the best option in the face of reality is to engage in what I refer to as epistemological separatism but which is more classically known as complete madness.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:03 AM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Michio Kaku is excellent, if bigthink hasn't yet had an FPP on its own it deserves one. Thanks for the tip off GuyZero!
posted by Meatbomb at 1:20 AM on December 12, 2015


I don't know why we're talking about spending all this money to blow up Mars when there are so many thing here on Earth we could blow up.

We're earthlings, let's blow up earth things!
posted by Brokor at 1:32 AM on December 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


And the winner for "Most 2015 Headline Ever" is...

Needs more Trump. Trump is best at headlines.
posted by rokusan at 1:51 AM on December 12, 2015


In related news the Golden Globes have the film The Martian nominated for Best Comedy.

Following in the footsteps of WGA, who nominated Star Wars as best comedy back in 1978.
posted by effbot at 2:02 AM on December 12, 2015


2.6 million cubic kilometers of ice to melt. An online converter says there are 4,184,000,000,000 kilojoules in a megaton. Which is handy because it is 4.184 joules to raise 1 gram of water 1 degree. About 980 billion kg of ice in a cubic km. We need to raise the temp more than a degree. An absurd number of nukes are required to make this scheme work.

The trick is that you don't need to melt all that ice. You just need to melt enough of it for it to form an insulative blanket around the planet, and then let the sun do the rest (over a long period of time). Once you clear the tipping point, the more ice that melts, the more insulation you get, and so more ice melts and so on. Of course, getting the feedback loop to stabilise at a useful temperature may be an interesting exercise.

As for how to melt the ice, I prefer lots of large solar mirrors, focusing sun light on the poles. They're recyclable!
posted by YAMWAK at 2:28 AM on December 12, 2015


But there's no magnetosphere.
posted by howfar at 2:44 AM on December 12, 2015


In case that was a bit cryptic: in the absence of a magnetosphere you can't rely on that feedback loop in the case of a thin atmosphere like Mars. There will be insufficient density of atmosphere (unlike somewhere like Venus) to stop solar winds stripping the atmosphere away. That's why Mars is how it is already. You'd need massive heating in a short period to achieve the desired effect.
posted by howfar at 2:52 AM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


This cries out for an old-fashioned community effort. Have all the young moppets and tykes head out on their Red Ryders and gather up magnets to send to Mars
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:24 AM on December 12, 2015


howfar: but how long will that stripping away take if, say, the polar ice caps can be successfully melted? MAVEN measured 100 g of atmosphere leaking per second (on a good day).

A quick back of the envelope calculation with a ton of simplifying assumptions: using NASA's Martian atmospheric mass of ~2.5 x 10^16 kg and MAVEN's loss rate of ~3.0 x 10^6 kg/yr, that's ~8 billion Earth years before Mars' current atmosphere goes kaput.

Obviously that number is a vast oversimplification. Considering the effects of the solar cycle, Mars' actual atmospheric composition, how new inputs will affect its atmosphere, and how quickly different molecules leave should result in a much less dramatic prediction. But surely that prediction won't be less than the average human lifetime? Let alone a thousand lifetimes here?
posted by exact_change at 3:54 AM on December 12, 2015


I think Mars' atmosphere will be hopeless long before it is entirely stripped away (unless by "kaput" you meant functionally unsalvagable and not utterly depleted). Kinda the same principle as jet fuel and steel beams. The magnetic field is paramount, for a number of reasons, but the superthin atmosphere is one of them.

Related: if Mars got a magnetic field, what color would its auroras be?
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:05 AM on December 12, 2015


We haven't even finished Venereforming the Earth yet. One thing at a time.
posted by kyrademon at 5:29 AM on December 12, 2015 [15 favorites]




Ignore the climate on Mars for a moment.

Set the radiation environment aside.

Before you die from radiation damage, or freeze to death, you have to get there.

The largest object landed on Mars has a mass of less than a tonne. To land that, we needed to design and build a hypersonic lifting-body aeroshell, a supersonic parachute, a rocket-powered skycrane and a robust multi-mission lander.

(I was recently at a conference with Anita Sengupta, who led the supersonic parachute team and she is fully awesome - seriously - she led a team that designed and built a supersonic parachute that could only be tested seven months after launch, when it was seven freaking light minutes away in an alien atmosphere and it had to work perfectly first time and it not only worked but we took a photograph of it from a fully autonomous robot spacecraft and I can't even.....)

So: Right now, we can *just* drop a 1000kg load onto Mars. Lighter is easier. Heavier is harder.

If you arrive on Mars, you're going to be doing 5km/s when you hit the ground. That's the absolute minimum - Martian escape velocity. You need to dump some momentum. There are exactly three ways you can to that: push on something you brought with you, push on the annoying but pathetic Martian atmosphere, or push against the Martian terrain.

Pushing against something you brought: Well, that's the whole "rocket" gig. Go and ask Konstantin Tsiolkovsky about that. Carrying reaction mass around is mindflungingly expensive.

Pushing against the Martian atmosphere is phenomenally annoying. It has just enough density to kill you if you ignore it, but not enough to be useful in braking.

Using the solid mass of Mars to decelerate works very well. We've done this. It's the 'Deploy airbags and hope" approach. With modern materials, you can drop as much as 200kg with a hypersonic shell, supersonic parachute and airbag (boing, bounce, slam, burst, crash) approach. Ideal for a single human who is comfortable with 100g transient accelerations! (not actually that stupid - we could probably land people like this with a reasonable survival rate. They'd have to be ready to hike a few kilometers over an alien terrain, assuming no eyeballs, spleens or livers have burst too dramatically.)

So: we can land a 900kg object on Mars. We could *maybe* scale that to 1500kg. Perhaps.

To land the components of a usable habitat, we'd have to be able to land 10,000kg units with 100 times the precision we currently have. And, land a *lot* of them.

We could do this! It's not physically impossible. It's just amazingly beyond our engineering capabilities right now.

I want us to pay for smart people to work hard on moving this from "Not Technically Impossible" through "Wildly Implausible" all the way down to "Absolutely Unaffordable and Totally Suicidal."

Because then, we can do it.

But, today, we have no plausible ideas for landing humans on Mars.
posted by Combat Wombat at 6:37 AM on December 12, 2015 [14 favorites]


Well, you could maybe put a metric fuckton of fuel in orbit via unmanned launches, renesvous with it & use it to decelerate, but I'm not a rocket scientist & I'm sure that concept is a vast oversimplification.

Regardless, any landing on Mars is going to take a huge number of unmanned stages.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:56 AM on December 12, 2015


So, who's up for a Kickstarter?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:58 AM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


An entire radioactive planet filled to saturation with poisonous perchlorate. That sounds nice. Of course, it would be easier, cheaper, faster, and make infinitely more sense to build heated domes in Antarctica instead, or to use limestone-building genetically modified bacteria to build new islands in shallow seas, but never mind that.

Actually, doesn't kinetic energy transfer also transfer heat? Let's just send Conseco to Mars so he can beat the surface with a bat several trillion times. Way more affordable, just as likely to succeed.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:02 AM on December 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


that's ~8 billion Earth years before Mars' current atmosphere goes kaput.

3.8 billion years to go from an Earth-like amount of atmosphere to the present low-pressure Martian air, so they say. Losing atmosphere to the solar wind is an explanation for how the atmosphere got so thin, but it is not really any kind of obstacle to terraforming Mars.

Just a few million fusion bombs, each one an order of magnitude more powerful than any known to have been detonated on Earth, would probably be enough to get things rolling.
posted by sfenders at 7:57 AM on December 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


But, today, we have no plausible ideas for landing humans on Mars.

We'll see if that's still true next year.
posted by sfenders at 7:59 AM on December 12, 2015


Why bombs though? I like this Conseco Pounds Mars With His Bat idea much more.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 8:03 AM on December 12, 2015


The Solar System could become one vast world for humans. Maybe Jupiter’s moon Europa becomes known as the Solar System’s tech hub, while Saturn’s Titan becomes the place you have to move if you really want to be in the entertainment industry.

I like the idea of sending the entertainment industry to the outer solar system, although I don't like the idea of spoiling Titan.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:15 AM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Given reasonable assumptions about how many megatons per swing of the bat, you'd need about three trillion copies of Jose Canseco. Keeping them all supplied with sufficient quantities of anabolic steroids in the middle of the Martian polar ice caps would be a logistical nightmare.
posted by sfenders at 8:16 AM on December 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Even if they were using above-average bats, like Louisville Sluggers? Damn. I guess some things science was never meant to solve.

Still, it's more appealing than living in a submarine floating in the pitch darkness of Europa's ocean, the monotony only broken by the occasional fight with a giant space jellyfish.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 8:23 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jose Canseco used to hunt sharks with a "street sweeper" shotgun.

There's so much to unpack in that one sentence it's hard to know where to start.

How can you not be excited about a space program partially crafted by that sort of mind?
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 8:32 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


"An absurd number of nukes are required to make this scheme work."

I think it's telling that only a few people have focused on this -- as opposed to the numerous other absurdities. Even scientifically literate people hugely overestimate the energy released by nuclear bombs when thinking within a global environmental context. Musk is probably thinking that, at the most, the existing nuclear stock would be more than sufficient for his purpose but it's not even close.

People think that an all-out nuclear exchange between the USA and USSR in the eighties would have killed all life on the planet -- I think that many people actually believe that it would have even destroyed the planet. But even Sagan was wrong in his worst estimates of a nuclear winter -- I think that later scientists calculated that a total exchange of weapons would at most produce something like the "year without summer" caused by Mount Tambora. With a large portion of the developed world's urban populations and industrial capacity wrecked, that would likely mean a systemic collapse of modern industrial society. But it wouldn't even mean that most of the planet's human population would be killed, much less the rest of the animal and plant life. Just in terms of the ecology, it would bounce back within a generation and probably -- as we've seen from Chernobyl -- be even better than it was before, given that the presence of humans is more detrimental than anything.

To actually melt a substantial portion of the polar ice on Mars with nuclear weapons would require the manufacture of many, many multiples of all the nuclear weapons ever manufactured -- I don't really trust my intuition on this, but my guess is at least two orders of magnitude greater than anything we've ever built. And then we actually have to get them there. This would be a entire civilization-level sort of a project, using up a large portion of the entire world's GDP for decades.

This is what passes for simple, smart ideas for someone like Musk. And this isn't a coincidence. People like Musk end up accomplishing the sorts of things he's accomplished because he doesn't actually know that stuff can't be done and so his least outlandish ideas end up getting backers and making it through the stage where actual experts evaluate them and decide that maybe they're possible. I mean, you also have visionary industrialists who are generally more competent and realistic, but even then they have to be willing to err on the side of being a little pie-in-the-sky. The problem, though, is when these folk engage in public discourse because they often aren't very self-aware about their limitations and the general public -- seeing them as successful industrial visionaries -- assume they are more generally competent than they really are.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:39 AM on December 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


This ought to shut him up. Everyone knows crazy people are instantly silenced when faced with logic and facts that contradict their claims.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:51 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


you'd need about three trillion copies of Jose Canseco all saying "jazz" at the same time
posted by Wolfdog at 8:54 AM on December 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Put me in the pro-Venusian camp. In many ways Venus is much more Earthlike. I bet there are extremophile bacteria that could survive there just fine. Seed Venus with a bunch of them, wait a few hundred million years, and see what happens. The time scale is a bit of a problem, and the result might be unpredictable, but it seems as realistic as any plan for colonizing Mars that I have seen. There's also that whole magnetic field/cosmic ray thing that is a problem on both planets.

If I were a fiction writer I would write a book (or story, script, whatever) revolving around a time in the near future when we start to seriously explore Venus, and slowly discover that it was once home to a diverse ecosystem and advanced civilization that suddenly destroyed itself by triggering a runaway greenhouse effect. There are a number of directions the plot could go from there. Perhaps the Venusians escaped to Earth, where they repeated their mistakes. Perhaps the Republican Party goes to great lengths to surprise this information. Perhaps the story simply ends with Charlton Heston realizing what happened to Venus and shaking his fist in the air screaming "You maniacs! You blew it up!"


So anyway, I think Venus is much more interesting, even though Mars gets all the attention. Or to paraphrase Jan Brady, all day long I hear how great Mars is for this or how wonderful Mars is for that. Mars, Mars, Mars!
posted by TedW at 9:02 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


For those interested in a quick and dirty roundup about where NASA currently stands on Mars exploration, check this out. Unfortunately, terraforming is not on the list of things to do.

The doom and gloom about Mars exploration is a little misplaced. We have the technology to do it, we just don't have the money or willpower. The stuff in that link is not completely ridiculous, it has been studied over and over for many years. We just need to pay for it. So instead of spending less than 1% of the budget on NASA, spend like 3-5%.

But the real question is, if we do spend the money and land on Mars in an Apollo-like mission. How soon before the program got cancelled and we would be right back to the drawing board?
posted by spaceviking at 10:02 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


In light of Ivan Fyodorovich's post, this seems like a good time for a TVTropes link: Billionaire Software CEOs and Famous Baseball Players Have No Sense of Scale.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:17 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


What a weirdly topical and specific trope. I guess anything can be troped after all!
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 10:26 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


this is your brain on steroids.
posted by TMezz at 11:14 AM on December 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, what does Michael Mann know about terraforming planets? I mean, Thief and Manhunter were great, but come on--talk about going outside of your field of expertise, sheesh.

Well, don't forget Heat, and the Aviator, The Jericho Mile, and I even quite liked Collateral.

I don't know, if he's on board with this nuking Mars thing, that's good enough for me. Let's blow the hell out of that fucker and make some good surfing beaches.
posted by Naberius at 11:17 AM on December 12, 2015


Elon Musk's Wardenclyffe.
(nerdiest joke ever)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:49 PM on December 12, 2015


Fucking ridiculous. Why not build two giant circular magnets, about 2,000km in diameter, and drop them onto the poles?

This mifi user thinks this is a joke. Right now, boosting a few thousand pounds to orbit let alone a few million/billion tons to mars is unthinkable. Given some manufacturing in space and the ability of robots to build more robots with resources ALREADY in space to mine and build big stuff it's not at all far fetched. What we are doing now is bootstrapping. We have a guy that will be in microgravity for a full year soon. There is no science/physical laws preventing this. Really hard boots, true, but once past that threshold it's going to town, towns all over the solar system.
posted by sammyo at 7:29 AM on December 13, 2015


nuke the moon! and kick off stephenson's seveneves plot :P just make sure there's a bunch of kick ass asteroid miners up there to repopulate lunar orbit following the 'great reset' after the hard rain/white sky and then maybe after 5000 years of trans/post-human orbital breeding (and re-terraforming the earth) 'we' could have a go at mars.

It doesn't work and we waste untold trillions on fucking up something fascinating, complex, new and untouched because we can't get a hardon for just sorting out our actual problems.

iraq...

But there's no magnetosphere.

until magneto gets there.

People think that an all-out nuclear exchange between the USA and USSR in the eighties would have killed all life on the planet -- I think that many people actually believe that it would have even destroyed the planet.

i was watching this thing on JFK (yt) and i kind of suspect in the exchange between kennedy and khrushchev during the cuban missile crisis that they both realized (on some level) that only a handful of people -- nuclear scientists -- actually knew how to build nuclear weapons and that an escalation to nuclear warfare -- never mind the insanity, which arguably was already breached under the doctrine of total war and in the widespread use of firebombing -- would fundamentally reorder the structural hierarchy of power that had developed and still exists around conventional warfare... and they couldn't have that, having scientists in charge.

the same might be said of the effective dismantling of the space program after apollo. if the atomic/space age were to ever occur, and form the basis of a postindustrial economy, then 'the scientist' would represent the archetypal new woman[*] that everyone would want to strive to be. instead, over the last four decades, we've gotten the 'service industry/sharing economy', hedge fund managers and our best and brightest recruited by wall street.

of course, over the last two decades or so silicon valley has been trying to mount a challenge to wall street and -- unless they merge in some unholy alliance -- technology has sounded its own siren song, but it's only now, after IT billionaires have 'made it', that attention has turned back to space (and nuclear energy) with elon musk as its poster child. so now if it's big data and data scientists running the show -- after a decades-long interregnum, where after the GFC and great recession, we collectively decided that we do not want -- then maybe, finally, we're on to the world of tomorrow?*
posted by kliuless at 8:45 PM on December 13, 2015


I wonder sometimes if the only reason we had a space program was to cover for ICBM development, and the only reason we'd invested in remote sensing was to fund spy satelites.
posted by effugas at 10:24 PM on December 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


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