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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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  • Mars.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:37PM (#38639960)

    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 research on Mars, and what plan what kinds of things would be necessary for survival, how you could make the base as self sustainable as possable, where on the planet would be best (and why we thought so) etc.

    I've never forgotten that lesson, it was actually one where a teacher expected growth of thinking skills, not just a rehashing of materials from a text book...

  • Cryosleep (Score:2, Interesting)

    by yog (19073) * on Monday January 09, 2012 @02:44PM (#38640048) Homepage Journal

    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 times when people fall into icy water and are revived many minutes later (google extreme hypothermia).

    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.

    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. In fact, the astronauts' main concern would be cutting themselves while slicing a bagel in the kitchen--the number one injury in the home. Nasa would probably want to ban bagels during this time, or maybe send them pre-sliced versions.

    In summary, there are quite a few workarounds for this problem and I look forward to a lively discussion!

  • 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.

  • Re:Find a big cave (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <imipak@yaCOLAhoo.com minus caffeine> on Monday January 09, 2012 @03:06PM (#38640304) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by jd (1658) <imipak@yaCOLAhoo.com minus caffeine> 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 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.

  • 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.

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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