"Mars is awful."
January 21, 2020 6:18 AM   Subscribe

So your local techno-libertarian wants to build a new home off-world. What are the challenges (YT) to supporting human life on Mars? What's most likely to kill you? And even if we can keep people healthy for more than a short period, what would it look like to work on Mars?
posted by backseatpilot (102 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
At least, no lions, tigers or bears.

Other than lack of air and water and well food oh and yeah warmth, plain old dust seems like it may be one of the biggest challenges. But we can handle dust. Like make a special mud room plus.
posted by sammyo at 6:34 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


The final link references several famous works of fiction about Mars. However, given the contents of the post, it perhaps misses the most relevant: PKD’s “Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”. In that book, being sent to Mars as a colonist is (1) involuntary and (2) awful and (3) only made bearable by taking powerful psychotropic drugs that allow you to pretend to be inside a special doll’s house where everyone lives in a perfect 50s suburban utopia. (Hey, it’s a PKD book.)

My suggestion is that we all treat this as regular Elon Musk self hype for the time being - the man can’t yet build a glorified sewage pipe subway for his cars, how is he going to make radiation proof bunkers on Mars - at least until he spends part of his emerald mine inheritance on a pioneering biotech firm, experts on miniature interior design, and a metal hand.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 6:35 AM on January 21 [18 favorites]


I suspect that the answers to these questions is encoded within the news that Elon Musk recently updated Tesla screens with a fully playable version of Stardew Valley.
posted by fairmettle at 6:37 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Casino!
posted by clavdivs at 6:40 AM on January 21


Could we please for once not make this about whether Elon Musk is a terrible human being?
posted by hat_eater at 6:44 AM on January 21 [18 favorites]


I just know Mars ain't the kind of place to raise a kid. In fact, it's cold as hell.
posted by SansPoint at 6:50 AM on January 21 [50 favorites]


Don't forget your spacesuit if you go out to play dear.
posted by sammyo at 6:54 AM on January 21


any excuse to post this, imma post it
posted by entropicamericana at 7:00 AM on January 21 [7 favorites]


The whole salary question is interesting. One article suggests the thought experiment of how much engineers are to be paid to work on Mars (say, 10x).

Which is great ... but what the heck do you spend it on? Until there is a functional internal economy, being paid while on Mars is pretty much useless - with the logistical nightmare of getting to and from Mars, you aren’t going to be commuting back and forth. A large chunk of that salary could go toward providing the necessary shipped-in life support, but the cost is Earth-based, not Mars-based, so your Martian sees no benefit other than not dying miserably.

Which, given the conditions under which you have to survive on Mars, would be remarkably easy.

Get rich quick! Live on Mars! Of course, you won’t be able to spend it anything, but, hey! Martian money-pile!
posted by drivingmenuts at 7:01 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


Get rich quick! Live on Mars! Of course, you won’t be able to spend it anything, but, hey! Martian money-pile!

Eventually you might be able to afford a ticket home (Musk is planning on re-using those big-ass rockets, yes?), at which point the left-overs fund your retirement and, hopefully, the cancer treatments.
posted by cstross at 7:09 AM on January 21 [8 favorites]


You;ll never fill the B-ark with that kind of talk.
posted by ocschwar at 7:12 AM on January 21 [17 favorites]


Plenty of people have come to America primarily to send money back home.
posted by rikschell at 7:12 AM on January 21 [31 favorites]


You could ask any individual who leaves their family behind to come to a place like the US for work what the benefit of a larger salary far from home might be. I can think of many reasons.

On preview: exactly rikschell.
posted by meinvt at 7:14 AM on January 21 [5 favorites]


There are many, many people who go overseas and work for years at a time in order to send money back home to their families. Why would Mars' economy be less exploitive of impoverished people than the economies of any other colonialist nation?
posted by jacquilynne at 7:14 AM on January 21 [5 favorites]




You'll never fill the B-ark with that kind of talk.

I see what you did there, ocschwar.
posted by dowcrag at 7:18 AM on January 21


Why would Mars' economy be less exploitive of impoverished people than the economies of any other colonialist nation?

And you can bet the tech fuckers who want to execute this colonial vision are banking on the hellish effects of climate change to make dying a debt slave on Mars in order to feed your family an attractive proposition.
posted by Reyturner at 7:30 AM on January 21 [11 favorites]


RE: the salary question: I think there's a lot of smart people who would jump at the chance to be a Mars pioneer in exchange for a few million piling up in their families bank account back home. As the Mars project develops pioneers would also probably start being able to purchase creature comforts from back home to be sent on the next flight.
posted by backlikeclap at 7:31 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Oh! Don't forget the gravity!
At present, it is unknown what effects long-term exposure to this amount of gravity will have on the human body. However, ongoing research into the effects of microgravity on astronauts has shown that it has a detrimental effect on health – which includes loss of muscle mass, bone density, organ function, and even eyesight.

So much of human biology is dependent on earth's gravity because, duh, we are the earth. Trying to port that to another planet is gonna be a nightmare. Forget terraforming, you gotta go into full Newtonian landscape mode if you want to guarantee the long term survival of an earth species.
posted by Philipschall at 7:32 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


The idea that the functional cost of human work-hours on Mars would be two orders of magnitude higher than on Earth is one of the simplest and easiest to understand arguments about the difficulty of the endeavour that I have seen.

It's hard to think of many industries that could still be viable after a 100-fold increase in labour costs.
posted by 256 at 7:35 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Astrophysicist Katie Mack's summary of the SciAm article:

I think fewer people would be excited about moving to Mars if they knew that they’d have to live in deep, shielded caves and that still might not be enough to save them. Good piece by @caleb_scharf
on the hazards of living without a global magnetic field
..
One of the (rather few) pieces of science Andy Weir’s The Martian hand-waved around was the radiation shielding. In the book/film, a special fabric habitat was enough to protect the humans. Technology like that doesn’t exist. You need meters-thick water, ice, or rock.
..
“But we need a backup planet in case this one is ruined!”

There is virtually nothing we — or the Universe — could do to Earth that would make it less habitable than Mars. Global warming, nuclear winter, extinction-level asteroid... still easier to live in caves here than there.

posted by vacapinta at 7:36 AM on January 21 [35 favorites]


Yeah, the "backup planet" and "backup population in space" people are really overlooking how many advantages even a radioactive post-apocalyptic Earth has over anywhere else we can get to.

If we want to build a self-sustaining backup colony to repopulate the Earth, it would be WAY easier to do it in Antarctica, or atop Muchu Chhish, or (for easy mode) on a remote archipelago like Tristan da Cunha.

The biggest argument for why a backup colony on Earth wouldn't work is that it would either get targeted in a military armageddon or the survivors of a climate/other apocalypse would invade and pillage it.

So basically, the best argument for Mars being a safer place than Earth in case of apocalypse is that there aren't any humans there to murder you. Which kinda becomes moot as soon as you put humans on it.
posted by 256 at 7:48 AM on January 21 [15 favorites]


So basically, the best argument for Mars being a safer place than Earth in case of apocalypse is that there aren't any humans there to murder you. Which kinda becomes moot as soon as you put humans on it.

Well, it seems human's get at least ten thousand years or so before they really start to apocolize themselves, with tech advances Mars Humans have their 10k years to find another place to leapfrog a new civilization onto, hoping to escape the mistakes of prior humanity.

Mars seems foolish to me in general. We can't even positively terraform our current perfect planet, no confidence we can terraform a wasteland shithole planet. Fuck, we don't even have a space colony where people live, breed, and work yet. Until we've got a space elevator and are mining NEA, I don't buy anyone's bullshit about living on Mars.
posted by GoblinHoney at 7:52 AM on January 21 [5 favorites]


Plenty of people have come to America primarily to send money back home.

I hadn't considered that Musk was working to lift his Martian family out of poverty, but it checks out
posted by phooky at 7:56 AM on January 21 [20 favorites]


I remember reading the Robinson Martian terraforming books and realizing that if we had that kind of tech, we would be able to fix all our pollution issues on Earth as well. And if we could grow food on a hostile planet, we could grow enough here to feed everyone.

In fact, if we fixed up Earth, then we would have a lot of useful tech for things like space exploration (maybe) and also, our planet would thrive. I wish more Mars-enamored types thought of it that way.
posted by emjaybee at 8:09 AM on January 21 [13 favorites]


But at this point doesn't just being in space for an extended period mess with people's health? I thought the latest news was that being weightless for extended periods was basically really bad for all body systems. And it doesn't look like Mars is exactly a quick trip. And then there's the question of the return journey(s) - that's at least two extended periods of weightlessness, more if you were to make a career on Mars.

This whole "let's have a colony on Mars" thing seems like putting a whole lot of carts before the horse, since it's not at all clear we can even travel to Mars safely, never mind live there.
posted by Frowner at 8:11 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


I wonder if the survival and misery rate for Mars in the 21st century will be on par for say a European colonist in the 15th century.
posted by nickggully at 8:17 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Why do none of these future visions account for the Mars colony telling Earth to fuck off while they murder the techno capitalists?
posted by odinsdream at 8:22 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Also, my bet is that it's going to be so expensive to send people to Mars that they won't be sending impoverished people with any strong parallel to US immigration. Every person who went to Mars would need to be extremely healthy, extremely educated in probably several fields, pass a bananas number of psychological tests and have no really, really strong ties to Earth. The people you'd send to do food prep would probably have advanced degrees. And you'd end up paying those people huge amounts of money. You could probably find them because, hey, going to Mars, but they'll be from privileged backgrounds.

That's the other thing - like, it's very possible indeed that we could send people to Mars and they all die. It's possible that we send a crew of healthy, talented people and something totally unexpected that is unique to Mars conditions goes wrong and they all suffocate. Once they're on Mars, there isn't a rescue or a back-up.

It's going to be a really long slog before transport is cheap enough and living conditions are stable enough to be sending large numbers of marginalized people to do the scut work.

I mean, leaving aside moral questions (would Musk send people to virtually certain death on a whim or if he thought it would make him a dollar? Sure, and so would every other rich person) this isn't like going to the New World, because in the New World you could still breathe the air and eat the food. And you were going somewhere where there were people - people to exploit, of course, but in general those people were far, far kinder than the Europeans ever deserved, and plenty of Europeans survived because they were helped in various degrees by Native people.

I'll tell you - I love science fiction but I don't think we're going to Mars in any meaningful sense. It's a much bigger project than I think anyone is actually internalizing. If we can get a small number of people to Mars for a short time and back again, that's about the best we'll be able to do before climate change puts paid to the whole enterprise.
posted by Frowner at 8:23 AM on January 21 [17 favorites]


The people who want to colonize space seem like the sort of people who could not deal with scarcity or deprivation very well. I feel like mentally they've skipped thru to some fantasy future of plenty off world and missed the bit where Twitter isn't going to be available let alone showers or fresh food.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:26 AM on January 21 [12 favorites]


Why do none of these future visions account for the Mars colony telling Earth to fuck off while they murder the techno capitalists?

you mean like The Expanse?
posted by numaner at 8:28 AM on January 21 [14 favorites]


Wow that last article was hard to read, but it's not wrong. We assume we'll be able to mine and utilize Mars materials efficiently and in a sustainable manner to replicate the sort of life we have on Earth, which, I mean, who knows? Do we assume we'd have to replicate our species' industrial evolution while living on the planet or will we have time to experiment here on Earth before we even get there? My guess is the later, so I think the majority of that article's point is moot. Who would really think to set out to live on Mars without that sort of infrastructure in place?

Oh wait. Answered my own question.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:32 AM on January 21


Re: the salary question again: this would be kinda similar to petroleum industry work camps in northern Alberta or South Dakota or something. I'm told they can develop quite the local economy in illicit drugs and alcohol and such.
posted by eviemath at 8:45 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Considering we're still getting ourselves stuck in traffic jams while driving personal gasoline-powered carriages here in 2020, I predict almost none of this stuff will ever happen.
posted by SoberHighland at 8:52 AM on January 21 [7 favorites]


Considering we're still getting ourselves stuck in traffic jams while driving personal gasoline-powered carriages here in 2020, I predict almost none of this stuff will ever happen.

Or it will happen and fail miserably like everything else we do without considering a sustainable infrastructure. We're exceptionally keen at making our ideas happen when there is enough money available, but there is a reason why most of them fail.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:57 AM on January 21


I'm probably in the minority here, but I'd probably be overjoyed at the chance to live on another planet, even if I was having the shit exploited out of me.
posted by Dr. Twist at 8:58 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Don't forget the rogue synths!
posted by CaseyB at 9:03 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


In 1960 the manned bathyscaphe Trieste descended 11 km to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. So why haven't we colonised it and built vast cities there with permanent populations? Because it's a monumentally pointless, dangerous and stupid idea, especially given that robotics and AI are far more efficient at a mere fraction of the cost. This is assuming, of course, you are more interested in producing science than aerospace profits...
posted by jim in austin at 9:10 AM on January 21 [11 favorites]


Re: the salary question again: this would be kinda similar to petroleum industry work camps in northern Alberta or South Dakota or something. I'm told they can develop quite the local economy in illicit drugs and alcohol and such.

I hear they're a great environment for women, too.
posted by Reyturner at 9:13 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Hmmm...
Needs this And this.
posted by evilDoug at 9:17 AM on January 21




MY NAME IS ELON MUSK AND I WANT TO HELP YOU DIE IN SPACE

"This is SpaceX, and these are our dreams. The future is then, we are now, and you are wonderfully mortal."
posted by MengerSponge at 9:23 AM on January 21 [7 favorites]


Is that "brow" bullshit for real? I mean it sounds like satire, but *Elon*.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:28 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Rand Paul could use a lesson in these difficulties.
posted by Monochrome at 9:30 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


There seems to be a significant change of MF over the prospect of manned space exploration here. Wasn't that long ago I got plenty scorn for pointing out how absurd the notions of settlements and beyond were, and how passionately some mefites were rhapsodizing in favor of them. Amazing what happens when a few rich people actually start throwing money at the task.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:32 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


I mean it sounds like satire, but *Elon*.

Rich people are not like you and me.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:45 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Mars is not microgravity, Mars is about 1/3g (twice the gravity of the moon). So that's probably not an issue. Getting there and back again is, but we have learned a lot from the ISS on that subject. It can be done.

Absolutely correct that it would be much easier to live on Antarctica, but different challenges.

Also, this is where I point out that the Obama administrations mission of getting an asteroid moved into a lunar orbit was by far the best thing we could have been doing for 12 years, but no one listened.
posted by BeeDo at 9:50 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Yea that's definitely the crazy-pants person we should have in charge of getting to Mars, my god, the disdain for "the poor" alone should disqualify him from ever having responsibility over anything again.
posted by odinsdream at 9:58 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Oh, I'd be keen if it was like the ESA doing a Mars habitat.

If Elon wants to colonize something, I suggest a black hole.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:58 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Musk is obviously talking about a Martian colony, which is far removed from a Martian base/outpost (which I would love to see). A colony would have to be much closer to self-sufficient than an outpost with a few dozen people. Not completely self-sufficient, but anything that it couldn't make would have to be really easy to transport from Earth in necessary quantities (perhaps pharmaceuticals or micro-chips. Not steel or food). "Easy" being a relative term here, of course.

One question that I've had kicking around in my head for a while is how many people you need to make a self-sufficient society at a particular level of civilization/technology. It seems pretty obvious to me that you need more people to maintain a late 20th century/early 21st level of society than to maintain a late 19th century level of society. We have more automation, but we also have more "stuff" that we expect. We want cars and AC in our houses and internet and movies and insulin and nightclubs and good booze and sushi all that stuff. But, how many people? Could you do it with 50 million if you assigned the roles carefully? 10 million? 1 million? My feeling is the answer is closer to 50 million than 1 million, but it's just a gut feeling.

If you don't get enough people to Mars plus a few extra (like maybe a factor of two) then your little experiment is doomed to failure. Getting the "few extra" is also important. Too few and your civilization is balanced on a knife edge and you are one epidemic away from disaster.

I also wonder if the secret to long-term survival of the human race is for that magic number to start going down. Get machines that mine the ore and machines that build the machines that mine the ore and machines that maintain those machines then we are set for life. Then a Mars colony would be a snap.

posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:00 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


I also wonder if the secret to long-term survival of the human race is for that magic number to start going down. Get machines that mine the ore and machines that build the machines that mine the ore and machines that maintain those machines then we are set for life. Then a Mars colony would be a snap.

What happens when the machines that maintain the machines break?
posted by SansPoint at 10:05 AM on January 21


You fix them.
posted by BeeDo at 10:11 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Is that "brow" bullshit for real? I mean it sounds like satire, but *Elon*.

It's a parody of a speech by Andrew Ryan, a character in the video game Bioshock. He's an industrialist who built a city called Rapture on the bottom of the ocean. The city was supposed to have been a libertarian utopia but the rich turned out to be predictably terrible people and the poor were resentful they'd gotten swindled into believing that they'd have a chance for a better life. Unsurprisingly, things went very badly.

I think about the world of that game every time I hear about one of these "let's build a city/colony where we'll be unfettered by labor laws and taxes!" schemes.
posted by treepour at 10:19 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


The inevitable terminal respiratory ailment caused from all that Martian dust should be called Red Lung.
posted by interogative mood at 10:34 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


Can someone point me to the actual tweet from Elon Musk about brow sweat? I can’t find it. I’d like to dunk on it as well, but so far it seems like a fake.
posted by chuntered inelegantly from a sedentary position at 10:45 AM on January 21


What happens when the machines that maintain the machines break?

It's machines all the way down (until you hit the turtles).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:50 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Mandatory background reading: "Breakaway, Backdown".
posted by The Tensor at 10:52 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


Can someone point me to the actual tweet from Elon Musk about brow sweat? I can’t find it. I’d like to dunk on it as well, but so far it seems like a fake.

I'd assumed it was satire. He says some goofy stuff on Twitter but I can't imagine him parodying himself in such an on-the-nose way.
posted by treepour at 10:54 AM on January 21


Mars is really cold. I mean, you all know that, but here's an extra example. For a recent presentation at a work conference, I calculated the number of heating-degree days on Mars, based on Curiosity's data from Gale Crater. (Yes, this is the same presentation I mentioned before where I sent the deLoreans to 1985, why?)

Heating-degree days, for those who don't know, are a metric we use to compare the coldness of different places. You calculate them by subtracting a day's average temperature from an outdoor temperature at which you assume people's thermostat will be calling for heat (for Fahrenheit it's often 65 degrees). So if the average temp on a given day is 30 degrees, we'd say there were 35 heating-degree days. This lets us compare both the level of coldness and the amount of time over which it's cold; you could also get 35 heating degree days over 35 days that each had an average temperature of 64 degrees.

According to NOAA data, Boston averages 5,681 heating degree days per year; New York averages 4,750, and Minneapolis averages 7,580. Fairbanks, Alaska gets 13,669.

By my math (and acknowledging that I was working from only 3 years of data while the NOAA figures are based on 30-year averages), Gale Crater gets 48,079 heating degree days per year.
posted by nickmark at 10:57 AM on January 21 [11 favorites]


RE: the salary question: I think there's a lot of smart people who would jump at the chance to be a Mars pioneer in exchange for a few million piling up in their families bank account back home.

Who is going to pay you millions of dollars? Why would they pay you millions of dollars.

People immigrated to new lands for better opportunities and maybe the chance to send money back home. But Mars is a complete resource sink. You need to keep sending resources to Mars so the people can stay alive. But there is literally nothing of value that people on Mars can send back to earth. So there are no better opportunities.

So who is going to pay you to go there?
posted by JackFlash at 11:07 AM on January 21 [3 favorites]


If radiation means that you are going to have to spend your life in a bunker buried deep underground from which you control remote robots to explore the surface, why not have that bunker on earth where you can go home and see your spouse and kids at the end of your shift? What's the point?
posted by JackFlash at 11:14 AM on January 21 [7 favorites]


I think the reason for having someone on Mars as opposed to on Earth is to reduce latency as far as relaying instructions are concerned (signals would take a couple of minutes to travel between Earth and Mars) and to have someone available to do something on the ground right now as opposed to months/years from now.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:20 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


So who is going to pay you to go there?

What's the point?


The point is - to billionaires - humans are basically PCs and NPCs in an IRL "Sims" universe and paying hairless great apes a couple million dollars to go to mars is the IRL equivalent of me throwing $4 dollars at a Sims expansion pack where I get to build a Mars simulation.

There's no economic benefit, of course, but when you have $29.8B net worth, paying 0.0069% of your net worth (or $4 when proportioned to your average US household income) towards watching real people endure horrific conditions so that you can play IRL Sims... Well there's precedent for all these things occurring on a lesser scale now. And I'm not just talking about the Sims analogy.
posted by avalonian at 11:25 AM on January 21 [10 favorites]


Mars is overrated. Build cloud cities and zeppelin on Venus, imo
posted by Apocryphon at 11:41 AM on January 21 [7 favorites]


I seriously doubt any of the techno capitalists, other than Musk, would actually go to Mars. They have considerably more power here on Earth and can actually spend their money here (plus breathe real air and drink clean water).

While they might assume some financial risk, I wouldn’t bet on them assuming physical risk.
posted by drivingmenuts at 11:42 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


But Mars is a complete resource sink.

Wrong. Mars is Constantinople.

Asteroid mining promises functionally infinite wealth because of easy access to metals and radioactive ores, but the microgravity effects on human health are very real. We don't know whether this is also true in 1/3rd gravity, but we can be reasonably certain those effects are much, much less severe when there is a sustained "down" and a natural drainage force for your mostly-liquid body to work with. And while the microgravity effects of deep space can be mitigated somewhat with spin gravity on a very large (and extremely expensive) spaceship, there's also radiation exposure to think about.

Mars already has stable lava tunnels that are literally kilometers in diameter, with hundreds of meters of rock overhead between you and the surface to block out radiation, likely more tectonically stable than Earth because the core's frozen solid. Space has ... whatever radiation shielding you're prepared to pay for with reaction mass across every last kilometer of your mining trip. Which if this is all handled by shareholder corporations will not be as much one would like.

Unlike Earth, Mars can support a space elevator with materials we manufacture in massive quantities *right this second*. Even Kevlar is sufficient for a Martian space elevator (though you'd need a shit-ton of it). This means that Mars can transfer the end products of asteroid mining into and out of a human-habitable environment without relying on theoretical future advancements in material science. Earth probably will be able to eventually, but there are no actual guarantees we'll be able to make carbon nano-materials of sufficient length in sufficient quantity.

Point is: Mars is where the Venn Diagram of "access to untold mineral wealth" and "humans can likely survive for extended periods, miserably" overlaps. That's not really true elsewhere in the Solar System, and certainly not anywhere economically feasible to reach.

Obviously in terms of today, right here and now: Mars is Galt's Gulch. The dream of feckless billionaire libertarians who think they'd be better off without their serfs, and basically wish the rest of us were dead no matter how politely they phrase it.

But in the future? Mars is the crossroads for the exchange of quantities of resources we can only dream of. I hope humanity beats capitalism, I hope we win against our own worst tendencies, but there is no system of government - including utopian socialism - that looks at how much material wealth is sitting out there and decides to just leave it on the table. We're fundamentally not built that way.
posted by Ryvar at 12:21 PM on January 21 [18 favorites]


I think the reason for having someone on Mars as opposed to on Earth is to reduce latency as far as relaying instructions are concerned (signals would take a couple of minutes to travel between Earth and Mars)

What's a few minutes latency? Time is cheap. All you have is time - years and decades. We are still exploring earth after centuries. What's the hurry? It's not like there is gold in them thar hills.

For the cost of one human and a couple of robots on Mars, you could put 100 robots on Mars and operate them remotely from earth simultaneously. I would rather have the 100 robots.
posted by JackFlash at 12:23 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


About the cost question, think about affording a plane ticket to Australia (or Paris the other direction:). Not everyone here can just afford to click on kayak and just go but most if that was their greatest dream can imagine affording a 'trip of a life time'.

But can anyone imagine that journey if the requirement was to take all the food, water and a house, and buy an entire plane for a single use trip? Until 2016 every rocket trip cost a brand new rocket. The cost equation changed, not cheap but totally changed.

The one next change needed is to find some water at the destination, from the poles of Mars, an asteroid or on the dark edge of a moon crater. That saves two huge costs, taking drinking water along up the expensive launch and rocket fuel. The rocket ship is cheap, a one time cost like a 747, once in space, like a sailboat on the ocean, cost per mile is just pennies, less. Imagine if your trip to Australia was under $0.01 per mile?

Space is cheap, getting there is expensive. Building a satellite so carefully it will never need a repair is insane expensive. Change the equation so regular equipment can be repaired, (plus reasonably priced fuel) and the cost to Mars and everyplace in the solar system is a nobrainer. Bootstrapping problem.
posted by sammyo at 12:47 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


I'm still waiting on the moon colonies they promised in the 1950's.
posted by windykites at 1:09 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


I'm still waiting on the moon colonies they promised in the 1950's.

Apparently the dust on the moon is no joke either. Turns out that dust that never got weathered by water is wicked sharp, gets in your equipment and can give you silicosis.
posted by emjaybee at 1:17 PM on January 21 [6 favorites]


If space colonies are of interest, this fine article discusses some of the US Gov't's 50s era exploration of the possible purpose a moon base might serve.
posted by Kikujiro's Summer at 1:19 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Talk to your congressmen (men because 'persons' and we'd be there now). They stole the space program and turned it into the biggest pork and works project in history. Again SpaceX is changing this! Radically, there's a launch probably tomorrow (successful test launch yesterday)
posted by sammyo at 1:23 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


I wonder if the survival and misery rate for Mars in the 21st century will be on par for say a European colonist in the 15th century.

The European colonists were dealing with local populations to trade with, air they could breathe, food they could eat, drinkable water and abundant natural resources. The initial problems they had were largely cultural: they raided and killed the local people, didn't know how to grow food or hunt, and (at least among some of the early English colonies) had sent people who didn't know how to do the work they needed to do to survive. The real problems (plagues/slavery) they brought with them.

As far as I can tell, this is a fantasy born of the US/North American settler myth of the uninhabited west, which is a particularly Western kind of BS.
posted by jrochest at 2:12 PM on January 21 [15 favorites]


A few minutes latency is no joke if you’re trying to do telepresence control of something. A robot trying to do anything is going to have to be mostly able to work autonomously such that it can basically work continuously without any operator interventionat all, and only be commanded in a general way by the operator, who even if things went wrong, wouldn’t know about it for several minutes and wouldn’t be able to do anything about it for several minutes more.
posted by notoriety public at 2:14 PM on January 21


Occupy Privately-Owned Launch Pads.

Billionaires are investing in space travel so they can escape the planet they have destroyed.

Make sure they die with the rest of us.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:16 PM on January 21 [9 favorites]


A robot trying to do anything is going to have to be mostly able to work autonomously such that it can basically work continuously without any operator intervention at all, and only be commanded in a general way by the operator, who even if things went wrong, wouldn’t know about it for several minutes and wouldn’t be able to do anything about it for several minutes more.

Hey! Yesterday Elon Musk said he will be putting one million robot taxis on the road next year, so autonomous robots on Mars should be easy. They won't be traveling 70 miles per hour and running into thousands of other robots.

(Yes, I know, Elon is lying again.)
posted by JackFlash at 2:30 PM on January 21


Occupy Mars
posted by sammyo at 2:39 PM on January 21


I'd rather try to colonize either the moon or Ganymede than Mars. Hell, even Titan seems like a better choice.

And I can tell you in one word why: atmosphere.

Mars has enough of an atmosphere to be a pain in the ass, but not enough of an atmosphere to be useful. It's thick enough to make rocketry more difficult and expensive, but too thin to make airfoil flight practical and too thin to do really efficient atmospheric breaking and too thin to stop much radiation. Oh, but it's thick enough to make really awful dust storms.

In conclusion, fuck Mars. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
posted by sotonohito at 3:30 PM on January 21 [6 favorites]


Weyland Corporation.

Building better world's.
posted by clavdivs at 3:59 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Re: the salary question again: this would be kinda similar to petroleum industry work camps in northern Alberta or South Dakota or something. I'm told they can develop quite the local economy in illicit drugs and alcohol and such.

So, then Outland.
posted by mikelieman at 4:14 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


We’re having trouble accepting that it is the destiny of all humans to live and die on the tiny blue dot where we were born. However the truth is this: all that we are, were, and can be will eventually be burned away by the sun; if not sooner. Perhaps a few of our corpses and technology like our probes will be preserved for a while as debris in the void; but mostly we’re all going to die here. The vision of humanity spreading to the stars is just another myth/religion that we want to believe because our egos are too uncomfortable with the truth.
posted by interogative mood at 5:27 PM on January 21 [8 favorites]


The whole colonise Mars (or any other planet/galaxy/universe) may well be the greatest act of denial and delusion in which humans have ever indulged.

The rest of the universe is doing everything it can to kill us. We are flat out surviving here, let alone anywhere else.
posted by Pouteria at 5:57 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


The rest of the universe is doing everything it can to kill us.

The rest of the universe is only incidentally killing us -- we don't figure large enough in the universe for it to try.

For a place that's trying to kill us, you really want Australia.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:04 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]


The third link makes me strongly feel that whatever the absolute value of colonising Mars, if the genius who plans the infrastructure says things like "the best historical example of this that I’m aware of occurs in software engineering", I am NOT getting on that spacecraft
posted by mikelynch at 6:11 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]


We’re having trouble accepting that it is the destiny of all humans to live and die on the tiny blue dot

Probably true, our descendants may be very likely unrecognizable by some as a version of homo sapiens, go CRISPR.

I do personally find all the dissenting opinions here somewhat reassuring...
posted by sammyo at 6:55 PM on January 21


PKD’s “Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”. In that book, being sent to Mars as a colonist is (1) involuntary and (2) awful and (3) only made bearable by taking powerful psychotropic drugs that allow you to pretend to be inside a special doll’s house where everyone lives in a perfect 50s suburban utopia. (Hey, it’s a PKD book.)

there's another Philip K Dick novel. I can't remember the name. It may be one that he never properly finished, but they published it after his death anyway. The basic plot revolves around a far away planet that is marketed to humanity as paradise. But once you get there, you immediately realize it's a massive concentration camp with no option of ever returning home to earth.

There's probably a good reason why he never finished it.
posted by philip-random at 7:48 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Once we create and maintain a totally self-contained human base/population at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean for a year - no supplies from the surface, NADA - then, we can even begin to talk about Mars, otherwise, it's little more than mental masturbation.
posted by dbiedny at 8:46 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


We’re having trouble accepting that it is the destiny of all humans to live and die on the tiny blue dot where we were born. However the truth is this: all that we are, were, and can be will eventually be burned away by the sun; if not sooner.

I think if we're not extinct by the time the sun goes, we'll probably have figured out how to survive elsewhere by then. That's a really long runway. I'm not counting out the 'sooner' though, unfortunately.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:50 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Billionaires are investing in space travel so they can escape the planet they have destroyed. Make sure they die with the rest of us. Surely the sooner they all escape the safer for the rest of us.

I'm intrigued by this idea of a colony on Mars but even more so by the way enthusiasts haven't noticed issues of reproductive viability are relevant to the issue. I mean there's pretty essential biological AND social and emotional obstacles.

What happens to gonads in chronic low gravity conditions - do they deteriorate? - and do sperm and ova behave as needed?

Are there any experiments underway to see if a mammalian pregnancy can be carried to term? (Mars enthusiasts are probably envisaging pregnancy and birth as wholly technological processes I bet. With not one second spent on considering the question of individual consent to being born under such difficult experimental conditions.)

I mean the question of family, and what's a big enough community for the children not to be drastically socially deprived; the fact that potential parents who would think of these things just wouldn't go, so that colonists who didn't think these were important would self-select to go, thus drastically reducing the survivability of the group as a whole ... I'm on my phone or I would go on
posted by glasseyes at 4:47 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]


Mars kneads gonads?
posted by Chitownfats at 5:26 AM on January 22


A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies! A chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure!
posted by kirkaracha at 8:53 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


So naming it after the god of war was bitter irony then.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:38 PM on January 22


Colonize Mars? Pfft. Come talk to me when you’ve put pen to paper solving the gonads problem, tough guy.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 2:51 PM on January 22


Billionaires are investing in space travel so they can escape the planet they have destroyed.

They don't even need to leave Earth's gravity well. It'd be simpler just to build an orbital colony. Or isolated luxury bases at the poles or in the deserts or jungles. It'd be even less inhospitable than Mars would be.
posted by Apocryphon at 3:08 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


I find the doom'n'gloom proclaiming that human derived intelligence will never exist off Earth to be more offputting than the billionaire tech bros with their fantasies of starting Galt's Gulch on Mars.
posted by sotonohito at 4:00 PM on January 22 [2 favorites]


We should really learn to survive without a habitable biosphere.

Just in case.
posted by MrVisible at 4:39 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Occupy Mars


That is literally what is printed on SpaceX shirts they sell at the Kennedy Space Center gift shop.
posted by tilde at 6:39 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, if our existence is a simulated reality, then maybe the parameters could be adjusted to favor certain types of life … or specific life forms.
posted by ZeusHumms at 6:51 AM on January 23


I wonder if the Bioshock riff was inspired by these actual tweets where Elon describes people taking on loans to get the opportunity to go to Mars, reminiscent of an indentured servitude situation.
posted by foxfirefey at 8:17 AM on January 23


Occupy Mars

Space Force!
posted by kirkaracha at 1:48 PM on January 24


these actual tweets

That fellow not only thinks he is a mage, he thinks he is buff??!?
posted by glasseyes at 12:32 PM on January 25


JackFlash: why not have that bunker on earth where you can go home and see your spouse and kids at the end of your shift? What's the point?

That's the basic idea behind Clifford Simak's 1961 novel Time is the Simplest Thing, which I enjoyed very much*. I don't know if people think he's a great writer, but he's full of interesting ideas.

*Although it's telepaths instead of telepresence. Is there a functional difference?
posted by sneebler at 2:18 PM on January 26


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