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NASA Mars Science

The Challenges of Building a Mars Base 228

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the needs-a-jacuzzi dept.
ambermichelle writes with an excerpt from an article in Txchnologist: "Going to Mars? Expect to stay a while. Because of the relative motions of Earth and Mars, the pioneering astronauts who touch down on the Martian surface will have to remain there for a year and a half. For this reason, NASA has already started experimenting with a habitat fit for the long-term exploration of Mars. Last year, students at the University of Wisconsin won the XHab competition to design and build an inflatable loft addition to a habitat shell that NASA had already constructed. The final structure now serves as a working model that is being tested in the Arizona desert. Like any home, it's a sacred bulwark against the elements; but not just the cold, heat, and pests of Arizona. A Mars habitat will have to protect astronauts from cosmic rays, solar flares, and unknown soil compositions all while keeping inhabitants happy and comfortable."

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The Challenges of Building a Mars Base

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  • Find a big cave (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    and build it in there.

    • by Moheeheeko (1682914) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:37PM (#38639954)
      Just make sure its actually a cave

      http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Exogorth [wikia.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jd (1658)

      That shouldn't be hard. There's evidence of lots of them. Caves are good -- radiation shielding, sand-storm shielding, and (most important of all) that's where the water is. Further, whilst it's easy to build rovers to explore the surface, it'll take humans to explore subterranean depths -- we can't build robots to handle unknown terrain, there's no sunlight for solar panels, and the lack of isotope production on Earth means building a high-power nuclear battery is not currently viable.

      • Re:Find a big cave (Score:5, Informative)

        by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:21PM (#38640510) Homepage Journal
        Um, the Mars Science Labratory is going over there with a RTG as the primary power source. The reason the rovers don't explore underground isn't the terrain handling (they already do their own navigation) or the lack of sun, it's the fact that you can't transmit data back out of the cave.

        It would be possible for the MSL to explore a cave a little bit, but I'm sure that would cause a lot of nail biting over at NASA.
        • Re:Find a big cave (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Lumpy (12016) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:32PM (#38640674) Homepage

          " it's the fact that you can't transmit data back out of the cave. "

          Bet you $1000 I can. It's actually east to do.

          It's not possible to communicate to a satellite in the sky with microwave signals from a cave that has no direct line of sight. but it is indeed very possible to transmit data out of a cave and back in. It is done all the time. See how they map the aquifer caves in florida. guys can walk around above ground to follow and talk to the divers underground in the cave and under water.

        • Re:Find a big cave (Score:4, Informative)

          by jd (1658) <imipak @ y a h o o .com> on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:08PM (#38641154) Homepage Journal

          You can have relay stations. That's not a problem. Yes, the rovers can do their own navigation, but caves aren't the same thing as strolling along the surface. Spelunking requires skills that even the most advanced robots to date have enormous difficulty with -- unpredictable traction, corners that require flexibility, debris around which there is no good path, the fact that the original pothole will more likely be a vertical drop than a nice, easy drive-in, etc. (Chances are that most of the entrances will be ancient sinkholes - there may have been a shallow sea on Mars but with no significant moon there would be no tides and therefore no caves formed from the lateral pounding of water.)

          The flexibility plays into everything else. There are "snake" robots that can handle the kind of terrain we're talking about. They're designed to and do a wonderful job of it. Those snake robots are not, however, equipt to lug around nuclear batteries. Their ability to climb up vertical walls is astonishing but relies heavily on being able to cling to that wall. Adding a few kilos of battery would not only shift the centre of gravity in the wrong direction, it would vastly exceed the gripping ability of the robots.

  • by Synerg1y (2169962) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:37PM (#38639950)

    The base will build itself with corporate sponsorship. Problem solved.

    • by hedwards (940851) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:38PM (#38639976)

      Or oil, never mind that it would waste an incredible amount of energy shipping it back here, the point isn't the energy benefits, the point is showing those dirty hippies who's the boss.

      • by Synerg1y (2169962)

        Hmm? Shipping it back would involve exiting the atmosphere (a lot less fuel since Mars has a lot less) and a trajectory calculation w respect to gravitational pull, letting momentum do the rest, unless of course I'm missing something. My point is for us to build a base on Mars practically, something tangible needs to exist there, that way it's an over fattened production budget for building the base, as opposed to a usually meager science budget.

        • by Americano (920576) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:03PM (#38640266)

          My point is for us to build a base on Mars practically

          You could have stopped there. It is not an economically feasible operation on any scale larger than "send a couple geeks there to do some science". It may be scientifically interesting, and we may have a lot of NASA geeks get hot and bothered over the prospect of months cooped up in a small cargo container surrounded by inhospitable environment, but there is nothing you can find on Mars (or anywhere else) that would be economically practical to extract and ship back to Earth.

          Look at the size and tonnage of the ISS and other space vehicles & modules, then look at their living capacity. You will not have large scale colonization and exploration of space - for economic or survival purposes - without overcoming significant swaths of our current understanding of simple physics.

          • by Princeofcups (150855) <john@princeofcups.com> on Monday January 09, 2012 @06:29PM (#38643324) Homepage

            You will not have large scale colonization and exploration of space - for economic or survival purposes - without overcoming significant swaths of our current understanding of simple physics.

            The actual problem is our ridiculous understanding of economics. So we cannot go to mars because a select group of wealthy and powerful will not get more wealthy and more powerful? That is pretty much what our economics is all about. No, humanity can do these things because they are great to do. In terms of available resources, that is, materials, manpower, and knowledge, we have more than we need to put a permanent habitat on Mars without any significant impact to the workings of humanity, except for the positive. Let's just fucking do it.

            • "because a select group of wealthy and powerful will not get more wealthy and more powerful" There is an abundance of wealth to be made in a project like this. The same type of money weapon system development generates today. The problem is whether the government can actually commit the resources needed for a project like this in the political climate.
              The US citizens are already demanding reducing and out right cancelling any foreign aid and the Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians are are ready to su
        • by jd (1658) <imipak @ y a h o o .com> on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:18PM (#38640464) Homepage Journal

          The usually-quoted metric is a pound of gold per pound of material into orbit. That's just orbit, not getting the stuff to Mars, or then getting the stuff from Mars back to Earth. To deorbit in Earth's atmosphere, you would need expensive heat shielding (or you'll just get a really nice burn) and the more you plan on bringing back, the more heat shielding you need. If we find an asteroid of pure platinum, it might be commercially viable to mine, but we'll need much better launch facilities before space industry in raw material terms is viable.

          Now, that's not to say space is useless commercially. Quasi-crystals are found in space and occur there naturally and frequently, you need a lab to make them on Earth. It may well be, therefore, that the value of -finished- products from space would exceed the launch costs in a few cases, even if raw materials are currently off the table. It's simply a better environment for certain things. "May well be" is not the same, however, as "certainly is". If space production of such-and-such was obviously economic, it would be done. It isn't done, so we can assume that there's no obvious case. Doesn't mean there isn't a case, just means it's not obvious.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Except for aliens what could they possibly have that would be cost effective for us to mine from Mars and then ship back millions of miles through space to Earth? Seriously, it would have to be something pretty phenomenal to make the cost worthwhile.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Hey I gota get more gas for my Hummer H2... I dont want to have to resort to actually putting it in drive. I prefer driving in 1st gear everywhere.... 2.5MPG YEE HA!

    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      This is actually the core of the problem. We don't have a base on the Moon (for instance) not because we couldn't, but because there is simply no compelling reason to do so. Technical issues of course prevent us from doing it just because we can. There isn't even a scientific reason to justify the cost at this point. Although it would have to be a pretty valuable resource to justify a Mars base when you figure in return costs (and the difficulty of creating rocket fuel on Mars itself.)

      • There isn't even a scientific reason to justify the cost at this point.

        In the long run, having our eggs in more than one basket would be nice. At the moment, humans are stored RAID 0 here on Earth.

        • by Americano (920576) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:37PM (#38640734)

          Why would it be nice?

          Given our current understanding of physics and biology, you would be spending far longer than presently-recorded history traveling in an interstellar "generational" ship to reach the closest stars; there is no guarantee that ANY of them will have earth-like conditions that would be suitable for human life.

          We are not going to construct colonies - either floating, or planet-bound, that are of sufficient scale & size to provide any hedge against extinction. The materials, the cost, the risk, and the energy requirements are simply too high.

          If you're talking a legitimate hedge against extinction, then you need to:
          1) Find another planet that is close enough to earth conditions that it would be suitable for human life.
          2) Build a space ship capable of surviving the time required to travel there;
          3) Provision a space ship capable of surviving and supporting human life for thousands of years;
          4) Build a large enough ship & colonization group that you wouldn't end up with hundreds of generations of inbreeding and genetic defects at the end of the trip;
          5) Find a bunch of people who don't mind dooming hundreds of generations of their descendants to life in a tin can hurtling through space, and that they will never, ever see or hear from Earth in any practical manner again;
          6) Ensure that no critical part, anywhere, at any point on the trip, goes bad;
          7) Figure out a way to land the ship on the far end with all that cargo;
          8) Realize that a small gene pool, after thousands of years of travel and introduction to a completely new habitat, may very well diverge from "human" evolution in significant ways such that calling the people landing on the far side of that trip may not be particularly "human" in any appreciable sense anyway.

          9) As an alternative to all that, develop faster than light travel or some sort of fool-proof suspended animation, as well as a computer system capable of self-healing and adaption on an unprecedented level, and find a way to power it for thousands of years without error or failure.

          In light of all of those limitations, I'd suggest that in the long run, learning to behave like civilized fucking human beings and get along with one another without shitting all over the blankets might just be the easier and more practical way to survive as a species.

          • You do realise that there are some planets in our own solar system, right? The summary mentions them.. Colonies around other stars can wait for a long time, since we only need those to protect against really really huge disasters like supernovae or the sun going out. Those aren't going to happen for a VERY long time, so we can ignore other stars for now. What we need is self sustaining colonies off Earth, but near enough to be able to interact with Earth, hear Earth's messages, learn Earth's lessons. The
            • by Americano (920576) on Monday January 09, 2012 @04:28PM (#38641478)

              You do realise that there are some planets in our own solar system, right?

              *sigh*

              You do realize that none of the other planets in our solar system will support human life - that any colony or structure we build there must be *entirely* self-sustaining, self-contained, and extraordinarily fault tolerant - right?

              You do realize that building and shipping a habitat that will house a mere handful of people will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and that's a low-ball estimate, right?

              You do realize that "6 people in a tin can orbiting one of Jupiter's moons" does not provide any appreciable insurance for the human species against extinction events, right?

              If you want to send people to do science for a few months, great. But let's stop pretending that we're ever going to build a large-scale colony on another planet when that planet is fundamentally incapable of supporting human life. The energy, time, and financial costs are far too high for it to be anything but a "because we wanted to see what would happen" sort of thing.

              Mars is fundamentally inhospitable to human life. The rest of our solar system is fundamentally inhospitable to human life. This fairytale notion that we're going to magically whisk ourselves away to another planet, star system, galaxy, etc. and live there is just that: a fairytale notion. We better learn to behave well here on earth, because this is all we've got until we learn to violate our fundamental understandings of time & distance to enable faster-than-light travel.

              Any attempt to convince yourself that we will build a self-sustaining colony on another planet or other body inside our solar system which will be entirely self-contained & self-sustaining - i.e., capable of supporting human life indefinitely in the midst of an environment that is hostile to human life - is just delusional mental masturbation, and simply enables us to continue behaving in self-destructive ways in our own habitat here on earth.

              • What I'd prefer us to do is wrap a few major comets in Mylar, and set them up for a nudge onto collision course with Venus. Let's shear it's atmosphere off and dump some water there.

                It would be a 100 to 1000 years effort, but there's a lot of valuable science to be done by the type of missions it would require. It also supports the kind of technology we'd need to prevent such a thing happening to Earth.

            • by lennier (44736) on Monday January 09, 2012 @05:43PM (#38642570) Homepage

              The threat we're guarding against is that of having a vast number of people stuck in a single biosphere, all complex unpredictable people, occasionally inventing new and dangerous things. A few decades ago, nuclear war seemed like the manifestation of that. We got past that hurdle with civilisation intact. How many more inventions like that will there be? How many times can we pass the test?

              I don't know what new doomsday weapons might come down the physics pipe (at the moment, realistically speaking, it's looking very much like physics has reached a centuries-long dead end and won't even be able to got fusion working, and the huge surge of discoveries in the 20th century was a weird spike anomaly which won't be repeated) - but also realistically speaking, there's no plausible scenario where any kind of war or world-killer device could make Earth less habitable than Mars, without also stuffing the rest of the solar system.

              Consider: to get a colony onto Luna or Mars, we're going to have to create a fairly reliable space shipping network. It won't be a case of "one launch, one ship, one colony, no followups". Apollo took more than 10 ships just to put boots on the ground. Soyuz/Progress/Shuttle/Mir/ISS have done multiple service flights per year just to replace consumables. Any longer-term space habitation program will grow out of these existing initiatives, and will require creating a space transport infrastructure which will most likely remain once the colony is self-sufficient. (Bear in mind that achieving true self-sufficiency may be a matter of centuries, not decades; even if Mars Base Alpha can grow its own water and oxygen like ISS currently can't, there'll still be skills and resources like doctors, engineers, replacement seeds, trace minerals, etc which require special flights. Even Earth city-states never became completely isolated from trade.)

              Also consider: the energy requirements for regular, reliable space shipping are similar to that required for city-busting weapons. If you can launch a chemical rocket into orbit, you can launch an ICBM to bomb Moscow or Washington (and in fact, in our history, the ICBMs were easier and came first). If you can put lots of cheap fusion drives on commercial rockets, you can probably smuggle lots of cheap fusion devices into office buildings. If you can divert asteroids for mining, you can also divert asteroids to smash Earth cities. So realistically, space shipping will require space policing and the extension across the solar system of (possibly fairly draconian) state monitoring and control of reactor fuel and drive flares - just like our current space traffic control has grown out of NORAD's missile monitoring. And space is lots of empty vacuum, very hard to hide things in, very easy to detect signals from a distance. Habitats will also (at least initially) be very fragile, very exposed to terrorism, and very aware of the delicate social balance needed for survival. So don't expect space to be a big wild west of freedom - expect the opposite, a tiny well-lit, pressurised, glasshouse filled with lots of big rocks and many very nervous people with guns watching everything.

              Also consider: the energy requirements for making Earth less habitable than, say, Mars already is, are absolutely stupendous. A simple nuclear war with every bomb we have wouldn't do it. Mars is bathed in radiation as it is; Jupiter's moons have far more; Venus is a hell of boiling sulphuric acid CO2 gas; Luna will just straight-up kill you with vacuum if you get a tear in your suit, and we don't even know how toxic or carconigenic moon dust might be to breathe (tiny nano-chunks of harsh dust, think asbestos). Global warming? Not a chance it could compare. If all the ocean levels on Earth rose ten metres, we'd still be far better off than Mars with its no oceans; at a pinch we could build undersea habitats using a tenth of the technology we'd need to even start looking at Mars. Boil Earth dry, irradiate it to hell, it's still better than Mercury. So u

          • by toddestan (632714)
            Well, if you're going to allow faster than light travel, you might as well allow for a power source that can accelerate a ship for extended periods of time. If you can build a ship that can accelerate at a comfortable 10 m/s/s (or about one g) for long periods of time, you can go just about anywhere. Such a ship could travel to the Andromeda Galaxy, and you could even live to see it (the journey would take about 30 years or so ship time). Problem is that the energy costs are absolutely enormous - if you
        • by hawguy (1600213)

          There isn't even a scientific reason to justify the cost at this point.

          In the long run, having our eggs in more than one basket would be nice. At the moment, humans are stored RAID 0 here on Earth.

          Please don't implement earth-scale RAID-5, I don't want to be torn to pieces just so you can distribute me across different planets with an extra bucket of cloned body parts stored somewhere else for redundancy.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          At the moment, humans are stored RAID 0 here on Earth.

          One person dies and all is lost? More like seven billion disks in RAID1 all hooked to the same AC and PSU.

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      You DO understand, of course, that is pretty much how the New World was found and developed, right?

      Certainly, they were governments backing many (but not all of) these explorers, but by and large their motives were entirely commercial.

      Now, governments pretty much just impede whatever progress they can when they're not too preoccupied providing bread and circuses for the ignorant masses.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      If Mars were made of solid gold it would still be too expensive for any private venture to go there.

  • Mars.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's a cool thought, but we haven't even built a base on the Moon yet, or sent people to Mars. (although I guess you could send modules, and robots to Mars first to get things put together before they send people).

    I rememeber in Middle School (Jr High) I had a science teacher that made an assignment where we would all have to design a "feasable" base design for mars. Obviously at that young age we didn't go through the mass complexities that really exists, but he did expect us to do a fair amount of researc

    • by hedwards (940851)

      The point is that in order to go we'd have to either have someplace for the astronauts to stay before their return visit or we'd have to make it a suicide mission. There isn't really much middle ground to be had, if there aren't plans for a return it's unlikely that there will be a return.

    • by jd (1658)

      The moon would be much harder than Mars. No significant water, the dust is microscopic and razor sharp, there's no cave networks for shielding, etc. All the arguments Carl Sagan mentions in his novel "Contact" that favoured Mars over the moon for construction work also apply.

      One thing about complexities is that you can always stepwise-refine a design that you already have, but you can't ever improve on a design you never had.

      I taught for a year a range of subjects using a similar method to the one your teac

      • The moon as partial protection from solar wind by earths magnetic field, no 400mph winds, no dust storms...
  • by swb (14022) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:40PM (#38640002)

    That those fucking rocks are really spiders!!

  • Cryosleep (Score:2, Interesting)

    by yog (19073) *

    The obvious and simple solution is cryo-sleep. Just ship some capsules along with a rudimentary habitat, and be prepared to sleep most of the time away. The Mars explorers can't realistically bring 18 months' worth of food and oxygen and medical supplies and whatever else--tampons, contact lenses, etc. So just send a month's supply of food, and they can sleep for 17 months until the return vessel arrives.

    Cooling the human body to a near-death state has been demonstrated--actually, it has happened many ti

    • Re:Cryosleep (Score:4, Informative)

      by hawguy (1600213) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:08PM (#38640342)

      The obvious and simple solution is cryo-sleep. Just ship some capsules along with a rudimentary habitat, and be prepared to sleep most of the time away. The Mars explorers can't realistically bring 18 months' worth of food and oxygen and medical supplies and whatever else--tampons, contact lenses, etc. So just send a month's supply of food, and they can sleep for 17 months until the return vessel arrives.

      I think that compared to the amount of fuel and supplies they're going to have to carry to travel to mars, build a habitat and survive for months (years?) on Mars' surface, supplying them with food on the trip there is not going to be a big deal. The ISS goes through around 3 tons of food per person per year.

      Cooling the human body to a near-death state has been demonstrated--actually, it has happened many times when people fall into icy water and are revived many minutes later (google extreme hypothermia).

      But waking them up again without a team of doctors to assist is rare.

      Another concept might be to simply upload the astronaut's neural net into a very high capacity computer. Once this task is accomplished, the computer can continue to operate a space vessel and otherwise completely imitate a human being's decisionmaking and responses. One possible catch is that the computer, unlike an organic brain, lacks any stimulus from hormonal secretions, adrenaline, etc. This kind of stimulus would have to be simulated. The astronauts themselves would remain on Earth, monitoring the flight. Any mistakes or accidents would be blamed on the individual whose brain had been uploaded, obviously.

      How would you do this? Dissect a live astronaut's brain cell by cell to determine each neural connection?

      Lastly is the idea of telecommuting (similar to the second idea expounded above). A completely automated vessel with remote controls would allow a team of astronauts to "work from home". Unlike an actual trip into space, this virtual exploration would be much safer.

      The 6 minute to 45 minute round trip communications lag makes this difficult (but not impossible as demonstrated by the mars rovers).

      I think a hybrid of your last two approaches is better than sending men right now - send smart robots to build a base, they can be largely autonomous, and when they need help, they await communications from earth.

      Or, maybe instead of sending a large team of men to live on the surface and build a habitat, send a large team of drone robots controlled from orbit by a small team of humans.

    • by msobkow (48369)

      Cryosleep might be needed if we're ever to engage in interstellar travel in the future, but the problem with a Mars mission is not that the astronauts are going to age into old farts before they get there: it's surviving once they DO get there.

    • Human body fat is the most efficient way for a human to store energy. Give them enough (recycled) water, some vitamins and protein and they will shed weight all the way to Mars, and back maybe too.

      Cryo sleep will not work, because joints will become fibrosed, muscles will atrophy, etc.

      So to figure out how FAT our ASTRONAUTS will be - we'll need to look at some numbers.
      A pound of fat can expend about 3500 KCAL of energy.
      An average male basal metabolic rate is around 2000 KCAL/day.

      Now using conventional fuel

  • by jzarling (600712) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:46PM (#38640068)
    The NASA video shows them bringing whole hab in on 3 semi-trailers -
    Why not airdrop the major components in, and see if putting the thing up while encumbered with a suit is feasible.
    • by mvar (1386987)
      and do this in Antarctica where the weather conditions will be much more harsh than in the desert
      • by nwf (25607)

        and do this in Antarctica where the weather conditions will be much more harsh than in the desert

        Or in Antarctica in suits pressurized to 1.5 to 2 atmospheres like the dwelling should be. That's an even better test.

      • Exactly. A real condition would be Antarctica, though even year around artic region is doable, initially. But before sending a crew to mars or moon, we really should test at the south pole.
    • by perpenso (1613749) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:03PM (#38640274)

      The NASA video shows them bringing whole hab in on 3 semi-trailers - Why not airdrop the major components in, and see if putting the thing up while encumbered with a suit is feasible.

      Testing is done in stages. First see if we have the concepts and solution correct with basic equipment. Then figure out how to ruggedize the equipment. If the concept was flawed or the basic equipment lacking then ruggedizing would be a waste of time and money.

    • by White Yeti (927387) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:13PM (#38640396) Homepage Journal
      The HDU work to-date has focused on developing processes, procedures, and some technologies you'd need to live away from Earth. The first assumption is, "We have a habitat." They're still figuring out where to put lights and bunks before building expensive hardware for tests in near-Earth space. With current Administration/NASA plans, the next step is a Lagrange point and/or asteroid. Mars (and those siting and assembly issues) will have to wait...
    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      I don't think this is an oversight on NASA's part.

      I mean, would you want to take on the expense of air dropping if you don't even know if the thing is livable? First test out the practicality of the unit in an assembled state, and then figure out how to air drop it and how it can be assembled in a suit.

  • Challenge 1: Landing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ReallyEvilCanine (991886) on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:51PM (#38640118) Homepage
    We can't fucking land more than about tonne on that planet. [universetoday.com]. Forget the time and the <50% success rate of achieving orbit and landing a probe. We could land on either Phobos or Deimos no problem. Mars has just enough atmosphere to really screw things up.

    To even consider going to Mars we first need to send at least 5 rockets full of supplies and land them literally next to each other. We also need to park another 2 or 3 in orbit to hold fuel for Mars Orbit Docking in order to dock and go home within a reasonable time frame. Aldrin's free transfer trajectory is great but unsuitable for human passage.

    Get the supplies and contingency machines in place, then think about it. But first figure out how to drop 5 tonnes safely to a very particular spot on the surface. Now do it repeatedly. Because that's what landing on Mars requires.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:55PM (#38640168)

      I'm sorry, this space is for space nuttery, not your sober assessment of feasibility and practical limitations.

    • by realisticradical (969181) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:11PM (#38640378) Homepage
      So it sounds like there are multiple extremely difficult problems to work through. Isn't that kind of the point of this sort of thing?
    • by Xtifr (1323)

      It seems a waste to drop 5 tonnes if we don't know if it's going to be feasible to send people there to use it. Checking out how people react to this sort of isolation and limited environment is the logical first step.

      • by khallow (566160)

        It seems a waste to drop 5 tonnes if we don't know if it's going to be feasible to send people there to use it. Checking out how people react to this sort of isolation and limited environment is the logical first step.

        We already know. This would not be the first time people have been in extreme isolation and a limited environment. Now there might be a variety of relevant issues, such as vetting psychological screening procedures or adjusting crew environment for a better psychological outcome, that need to be evaluated, but this isn't a show stopper for a Mars mission.

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      You don't think that perhaps the 'land 5 rocketloads of bulk supplies' mightn't provide a wonderful testbed for this?

      Granted, this IS rocket science, and it's really really hard. But considering the failure-tolerance for the habitation part, compared to the failure tolerances for the bulk-shipping piece, I'm unsurprised that they start with the hardest part.

    • by jd (1658)

      I'd actually recommend more than 5. So long as the containers are crush-resistant, the failures of deorbiting aren't catastrophic. Doesn't matter if the supply rockets crash beyond the point where a radio transmitter would function or a rover could survive, they just have to be intact enough that whatever they're shipping (panels and poles for a geodesic dome, for example) retain structural integrity. That makes life a lot easier.

      I wouldn't bother putting fuel in orbit - leakage would be a problem. Much bet

    • by jzarling (600712)
      exactly -
      And even if they do land these parts within say 50 feet of each other how are they going to move it all to put it together. Rather than that cute explorer vehicle - it will need a crane of some kind or the whole thing will need to be inflatable, and then have a catalyst that makes the walls solid.
    • Dropping 5 tonnes is not going to happen. It will have to be landed using a VTVL craft. Think Blue Origin. Think Armadillo. Think even SpaceX's grasshopper. Once they have these taking 5 tonnes to 60 miles and down, all under power, and can do it 10x or more without a re-build, then it should be capable of doing the same on mars without issues. And that will happen within 10 years here. Change the engines to methane, the design to a truck that can take a load up or down and automatically off-load it, then
    • Really, less than 50% landed?
      I think most landed if not all.
      Some faster than others..

    • by khallow (566160)

      We can't fucking land more than about tonne on that planet..

      From the article you link:

      The technology we have today is not up to the task of safely landing anything that weighs more than a metric ton

      Just develop the technology that will land more than a metric ton on Mars. This might sound simplistic, but it's the obvious logical rebuttal to the claim "X is impossible because we can't do X unless we do Y." If we actually "Do Y", then we've shown the claim is incorrect.

      To even consider going to Mars we first need to send at least 5 rockets full of supplies and land them literally next to each other. We also need to park another 2 or 3 in orbit to hold fuel for Mars Orbit Docking in order to dock and go home within a reasonable time frame.

      Or we can just land one cargo that is five times as big (the landing of payloads larger than a ton on Mars being possible despite the claim to the contrary) and fly from the surface of Mars directly to Earth.

      Aldrin's free transfer trajectory is great but unsuitable for human passage.

      Tha

  • If NASA was smart, they would send robots to build a tunnel in a mountain, or underground. This would protect astronauts from all the elemnts including cosmic rays.
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:00PM (#38640230) Journal

    I hate to bring up something that can only bring up more cost and delay to the exploration and colonization of Mars (and other worlds) but we REALLY need to figure out human biological response to differing gravity levels. Extended stays in zero (micro-gravity) environments have shown that a vigorous regimen of physical activity is necessary to keep astronauts healthy. Will the same be true on the Moon (1/6 earth gravity)? On Mars (1/3 earth gravity)? Will they need to do the same strenuous (and tedious) daily exercises for the same length of time?

    Eventually, of course, it'll be "vital" to know if women can conceive, gestate, bear and raise infants in these varying gee environments (at least until they're old enough to exercise by themselves). But that can wait.

    This seems to be perhaps the ONE thing that the ISS could do that cannot be possibly done on earth. Perform long term studies of humans in environments where the gravity is 0ISS1. Of course that would involve a big (very expensive) centrifuge or at very least a smaller one capable of using small animals. I understand that there was a (small) one planned but it was cut. Considering the long term importance of this, I would say that they should spend the big bucks and put in a big one (large enough so that coriolus effects wouldn't be noticeable) and study it thoroughly. Since this (human biology) is truly an international issue (rather than one nation planting a flag), I would hope it would get international support. Pinwheels in the sky a la 2001 here we come!

    Of course if the results are bad (humans, especially reproducing females, are found to be exquisitely tuned to one gee) we may need to wait until genetic engineering can adapt us to our environment rather than the other way around. In that case I've got a whole host of other "improvements" I'd like to see (radiation tolerance, hibernation capability, vacuum safe bodies...)

    • by jd (1658)

      Low g will almost certainly cause muscle loss, calcium loss and space sickness, though not to the same degree as zero gravity. The question is what the function is. It's doubtful it's a linear relationship between gravity and consequence, nothing in nature is that simple.

      A really sick, sick mind might mention that there's been repeated talk of launching a space brothel along the lines of the Russian space hotel. With suitable danger money bonuses, the rest of your questions would be answered 9 or so months

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:11PM (#38640376)

    I'm always confused by base designs for other worlds that are invariably above ground. Why waste the protective features of just burying things?

    I suppose it's difficult to dig a base into the earth but because there's very little atmosphere to speak of you have no real protection against radiation. And then there are questions of insulation. Put twenty feet of dirt between your habitat and the surface and all sorts of problems go away.

    No problem with micro meteorites since they'd have to penetrate 20 feet of dirt to even touch your habitat.

    No problem with radiation unless it can go through 20 feet of dirt. I know really hard radiation can... but that has to take most of the edge off it. And if needed you can always go deeper.

    No problem with dust storms because it's all raging above you. I suppose a dune could position itself on top of your access shaft but there are some fairly cheap ways to make that manageable.

    So on and so forth.

    this goes double for the moon. For the love of god there's not even a weak atmosphere on the moon. No protection. Put the facility down twenty feet though and you can inflate your little habitat to your heart's content knowing that the whole place isn't going to get stabbed by a thousand micro meteorites or flash burned by a solar flare.

    The only thing that really needs to be on the surface is an access shaft complete with airlocks. A communications array so you can broadcast to orbital relays or directly to earth. And some solar cells. Bury everything else.

    If we build underground we might not even need those somewhat elaborate bubble walls they're talking about inflating. We might just be able to get by with something to harden the earth up and then maybe a spray on polymer to make sure the walls are airtight.

    If people want to see the surface they can use one of the video feeds or climb up the ladder/take the elevator to the surface.

    • I second this with as much gusto as I can!!!!

      Underground is a HUGE idea that is already used for data centers on our little rock.

    • by joh (27088)

      If people want to see the surface they can use one of the video feeds or climb up the ladder/take the elevator to the surface.

      If this is enough why don't just send a probe with a video camera and view the feed from your comfortable home down here on Earth? Much cheaper, too.

      As others already said: There's just no fscking reason to go there. The only reason is "we want to" and nobody likes to say this, so everybody makes up scientific reasons and others that never hold up to any kind of analysis.

      Yeah, I think we should go to Mars (and elsewhere, like the Jupiter moons) just because we can and want. It's hard and it's expensive and

      • by khallow (566160)

        Yeah, I think we should go to Mars (and elsewhere, like the Jupiter moons) just because we can and want. It's hard and it's expensive and dangerous and possible, so let's do it. Let's do all the science we can on the way, but don't think even for a moment that this is the actual reason.

        I wonder why people still don't understand the constraints of robotic science. The threshold for robotic missions is a lot smaller than the threshold for doing human-based missions. So yes, if you just want to do just a token science on another world, robotics is the better pick.

        And some environments are simply too dangerous and/or take too much delta v to consider human visits, such as research near the Sun's photosphere or putting something in Jupiter's atmosphere.

        My view is that the first manned mi

    • by msobkow (48369) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:46PM (#38640832) Homepage Journal

      Because it's VERY expensive to ship earth-moving construction equipment (sorry, MARS-moving equipment) through space, and it'd take far too long to dig a habitat with a shovel.

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      As logical as mining is, there are essentially two ways to do it.

      1) dig.
      Digging is problematic because digging requires extraordinarily tough and durable tools. Usually this means unbelievably heavy. In a lower-gravity environment, they might even have to be heavier (I am not a planetary scientist, I don't know if Mars' gravity being only 38% earth's would mean it's proportionally easier to dig into). Weight is the primary barrier to anything going into space, at least until we have orbital factories fed

    • In response to the people saying that digging is hard. I know. But we can send some robots to do it beforehand.

      I'm no expert but my amateurish day dreams on the subject go something like this:

      We use our existing imaging of mars or the moon to pick out a good place to build a base. Whatever that is... we pick a good spot. Maybe an extinct volcano on mars because there should be lava tubes. So free tunnels that maybe go on for miles.

      Then we send robots to survey the site and provide those robots with some sim

  • A new Total Recall movie is in the works. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1386703/ [imdb.com]
    • This is the first time that I have heard about the remake. I clicked on the link thinking, "This is awesome!!!"

      Then I read this...

      Colin Farrel as Doug Quaid

      Dammit!!!!

  • by guttentag (313541) on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:14PM (#38640402) Journal
    Going to Mars was cool last century. This century our priorities have shifted and we can't put humans in orbit of this planet without making them honorary cosmonauts.

    If you want to get people interested in going to Mars, you need to start by erasing the memory of the film "Mission To Mars" from the public consciousness. The very thought of going to Mars now triggers a knee-jerk reaction of: "Wait... didn't Quinn Mallory, Ken Mattingly and Merlin already do this? And it sucked?" It might be easier to simply rename Mars and make it sound like we're going somewhere new and exciting, like Pandora. Then we can start thinking about this again.
  • An inflatable Greenhouse.

    Honestly, why not ship up seeds and have them grow some easy food crops? Plus the greenhouse will deliver free heat, something that is needed for a habitat even in the tropics of mars.

    • By "inflatable greenhouse", I assume you mean one with transparent walls that uses natural sunlight? The one in all the Mars Base artist's impressions?

      According to NASA's Mars rover designers, the atmosphere on Mars is just thick enough to conduct away heat, making thermal control harder on Mars than in a vacuum. A greenhouse is a high surface area, low density volume, so apparently it would take less energy to use grow-lights in a fully underground chamber than to heat a surface-exposed greenhouse at night

  • Don't go at all, just insert memories on interested people of a gorgeous trip to mars, solving a conspiracy, meeting mutants, and activating an alien device that terraforms the planet. Another option is be unplugged from Matrix: Y2K, and get plugged into Matrix: Mars Colonization. Or something more spacey, build a team of robots capable of building a mars colony by themselves (even finding the resources for doing so) and don't launch them, as will be more valuable to use them right here by the time they are
  • I think that If BA or IDC were smart, they would put one of their units at a south pole base and and see how they do. It would be useful to see them hit -100F/-70C or below. That would enable it show how they will do at Mars and parts of the moon. And as far as dropping on the mars or lunar surface, that makes little sense. There are plenty of caverns at both places. Put it down one and drop soil/regolith on top for insulation. At the very least offer up some sort of seal at the opening with a walk-way dow
    • by joh (27088)

      A near vacuum is actually a pretty good insulation. Regolith would help against radiation, though. Ice would be even better, there are quite a few places on Mars with thick ice deposits. You also get water there (no, really?)...

      Still, all of this is pointless. There's just nothing that robotic probes wouldn't do much cheaper, especially since they don't need to breath, eat, drink, wash and be returned.

      • Actually, that is true on the moon, but on mars, there is enough atmosphere to pull heat away. More importantly, on both places (mars/moon), you can have temp extremes. OTH, if you are in the regolith and down a bit, then you have fairly constant temps. That makes it easier to engineer for.

        Sending robotics is nice and all, but you will note that not only do they break down, but they are limited in scope. A human can respond decently. Finally, it is in mankind's best interest to move beyond earth.
  • ...of doing anything in space, but particularly important for going to mars, is getting to low earth orbit more cheaply, regularly, reliably and safely. without easy access to LEO and more significant orbital infrastructure than a tiny tin can toy space station (yes, the ISS is a useless pos), any trip that is made to mars will be hugely expensive and will never be repeated (vis-a-vis the moon race).

    going to mars at the moment is like starting to build a house by picking out curtains

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