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Mars Space

Future Astronauts Must Deal With Toxic Chemicals In Martian Soil 117

Posted by Soulskill
from the nice-place-to-visit-but-don't-drink-the-soil dept.
Thorfinn.au sends this quote from Space.com: "The pervading carpet of perchlorate chemicals found on Mars may boost the chances that microbial life exists on the Red Planet — but perchlorates are also perilous to the health of future crews destined to explore that way-off world. Perchlorates are reactive chemicals first detected in arctic Martian soil by NASA's Phoenix lander that plopped down on Mars over five years ago in May 2008. It is likely both of NASA's Viking Mars landers in 1976 measured signatures of perchlorates, in the form of chlorinated hydrocarbons. Other U.S. Mars robots — the Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity — detected elemental chlorine. Moreover, orbital measurements taken by the Mars Odyssey spacecraft show that chlorine is globally distributed. [Phoenix principal investigator Peter Smith] said microbes on Earth use perchlorate for an energy source. They actually live off highly oxidized chlorine, and in reducing the chlorine down to chloride, they use the energy in that transaction to power themselves. In fact, when there's too much perchlorate in drinking water, microbes are used to clean it up, he said. Furthermore, seasonal flow features seen on Mars may be caused by high concentrations of the brines of perchlorate, which has a strong attraction to water and can drastically lower its freezing point, Smith told SPACE.com. The high levels of perchlorate found on Mars would be toxic to humans, Smith said."
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Future Astronauts Must Deal With Toxic Chemicals In Martian Soil

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  • Anyway (Score:2, Insightful)

    In fact, when there's too much perchlorate in drinking water, microbes are used to clean it up, he said.

    Can we just pick some bacteria and launch them up there? It's going to happen eventually, anyway. Might as well get it over with.

    "But...but we must keep it pure! Must research!"

    Ya ya, I agree. However, may I redirect you to "It's going to happen eventually, anyway."

    • Re:Anyway (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @05:23AM (#44020855) Journal

      Even if you want to introduce microbes, you'll need to find some that are useful under Martian conditions.

      They are tough little bastards, so finding microbes that aren't killed will probably be easy enough; but finding ones that are metabolically active(rather than just capable of dormant endurance) could be trickier. Bacteria are pretty good at shriveling up and shrugging off downright alarming conditions(unprotected exposure to the vacuum of space, ionizing radiation, freezing, etc.); but they can't exactly shiver to keep themselves warm.

      On the plus side, if you are planning on humans, you'll have to have a climate-controlled habitube setup anyway, so you could presumably use off-the-shelf perchlorate cleaner bacteria in 'scrubber' units that treat contaminated materials before they are introduced into the human support environment.

      • by Tyr07 (2300912)

        Que super human eating microbe virus from Mars that thrives in the conditions of human habitats, artificial or otherwise and craves human flesh.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Que super human eating microbe virus from Mars

          People sometimes get cue (signal to start) and queue (put in a line) mixed up. You have gone one better!

        • by kermidge (2221646)

          Am I really the only one who read "que" in Spanish? And take a beat or two to realize writer likely meant "cue"? Or am I simply the only one oafish enough to mention it? Never mind, I can guess.

          I have trouble imaging a bacterium that'll use perchlorates magically deciding it likes human flesh.

          • by Tyr07 (2300912)

            Actually thank you for pointing that out, I didn't really realize I was doing that, and will appropriately use cue. Never gave it thought.

            • by kermidge (2221646)

              No sweat, man; some have done the same for me over the years for some real doozies, so I try to pass it on. I rather liked "que", truth be told. And I'm not gonna tell you how badly I got ribbed for my pronunciation of horizontal back in '55. (I'd never heard the word pronounced, so it was down to creative phonetics.)

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Perchlorate is an oxidising agent. You need something that bacteria can oxidise - otherwise they can not live and thrive. The same is valid for using the stuff as rocket fuel. You need something else to oxidise - only then perchlorate is actually useful. Oh, and by the way: Wenn chemist need a nice non-reactive salt - perchlorate does just fine (at least in aqueous environments) -- it's not the best microbial food in the world!

        • by tragedy (27079)

          You need something that bacteria can oxidise - otherwise they can not live and thrive.

          How about iron? There's evidence of plenty of iron on Mars. Of course, most of that is iron oxide, but there's probably a fair amount of unoxidized iron from meteorites and the like.

          • My chemistry is a bit rusty, no pun intended; but my understanding is that chlorine is a stronger oxidizing agent than oxygen is. Are there any (feasible) conditions under which the chlorine could be persuaded to replace the oxygen in the iron oxide, leaving you with iron chloride and a considerable amount of oxygen?

            • by tragedy (27079)

              Not sure about leaving oxygen chloride, but there are perchlorate-based oxygen candles.

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        that treat contaminated materials

        That usage does annoy me. What about perchlorate in the Martian environment makes it a "contaminant"? From what Pathfinder reported (backed up by the Viking experiments), perchlorate is a normal part of the environment, while deadly poisons such as oxygen (the subject of the worst pollution event in the history of the Earth) are the "contaminants".

        Why do people think that the environment that they happen to live in is, in any sense, "normal". The huge majority of the univer

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Can we just pick some bacteria and launch them up there? It's going to happen eventually, anyway. Might as well get it over with.

      Please read Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series before making Mars-related proposals. It will save you a lot of time and effort which has already been spent by whole groups of smarter people, many of whom were consulted during the authoring of the trilogy.

    • Re:Anyway (Score:4, Informative)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Sunday June 16, 2013 @07:45AM (#44021217) Homepage Journal

      Can we just pick some bacteria and launch them up there? It's going to happen eventually, anyway. Might as well get it over with.

      Rather than just destroying them, why not use them? An astronaut will need a pressure suit to walk around outside anyway since the air pressure is so low. This story got me curious, so I hit wikipedia.

      They have been used for more than fifty years to treat thyroid disorders. They are used extensively within the pyrotechnics industry, and ammonium perchlorate is also a component of solid rocket fuel. Lithium perchlorate, which decomposes exothermically to produce oxygen, is used in oxygen "candles" on spacecraft, submarines, and in other situations where a reliable backup oxygen supply is needed.

      • The first thought I had... rocket fuel! I live close enough to the old PEPCON site that we could smell it in the air, fortunately not so close as to hear it.

        PEPCON explosion [youtube.com]
    • KS Robinsons' 'Mars' series uses the 'purity/necessity' debate as a main source of conflict all the way through.

      The novels discuss it from practically every imaginable angle. The point is, just because the following statement is true:

      "It's going to happen eventually, anyway."

      Does not indicate that any one single biological intrusion is justified. Each intrusion must be evaluated as best as possible against the whole system. Sure we can't know every effect but inevitibility is no excuse to go off half-cocke

  • Read the signs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @04:52AM (#44020777) Homepage Journal

    It's an energy and useful material source:

    ...perchlorate is used within the pyrotechnics industry, and ammonium perchlorate is also a component of solid rocket fuel....
    researchers propose a biochemical approach for the removal of perchlorate from Martian soil that would not only be energetically cheap and environmentally friendly, but could also be used to obtain oxygen both for human consumption and to fuel surface operations.

    It lowers water freezing point:

    Furthermore, seasonal flow features seen on Mars may be caused by high concentrations of the brines of perchlorate, which has a strong attraction to water and can drastically lower its freezing point, Smith told SPACE.com

    and it's a poison for humans:

    "It's bad for astronauts because it is toxic for humans, as it interferes with the thyroid," he said.

    So read these signs, Mars is even more difficult for human exploration than previously understood, but it provides potential energy source for machines to fuel themselves.

    This only means that if we are going to do something in the near future, it's going to be more robots powered by perchlorate chemical reactions.

    • Re:Read the signs (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Immerman (2627577) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @12:03PM (#44022391)

      >Mars is even more difficult for human exploration than previously understood

      I'm not sure that follows. Yes, Mars is a bit more *hazardous* than previously understood, but it also has more readily-accessible resources (power and liquid water). Which wins out would take more than an arm-chair analysis. Especially since the hazard profile is potentially fairly minimal - when outside they'll need to be in protective suits anyway, and when coming inside they'd want to avoid tracking in a lot of dust anyway just for the nuisance factor. In practice this might just provide an incentive to provide better de-dusters in the airlock. I imagine a quick decon shower would do the trick quite thoroughly. So long as the artificial ecosystem includes microbes that digest the local percholate mix any dust that does get in will be neutralized fairly rapidly, just make sure to wash your hands before eating.

      The real questions may actually be:
      *How does this effect growing soil from Martian sand? Though technically you don't *need* sand to grow soil, it is helpful for a lot of plant types. I suppose in the worst case microbial pre-treatment would be easy enough to do.
      *How does this effect concretes made from Martian sand? They're the natural choice for building material since you need only a small amount of the right binding agent to make large structures. Again you could pre-treat the sand, but that's a lot less convenient for construction-scale activities. Ideally we could develop a cement that actually harnesses the perchlorates for an intensely exothermic curing process that produces an extremely strong and/or airtight crystaline structure.

    • perchlorate from Martian soil that would not only be energetically cheap and environmentally friendly, but could also be used to obtain oxygen both for human consumption and to fuel surface operations.

      see, this is what I'm saying...

      sure, your post represents one possible counterpoint but the greater concept is that nature (no matter which world) is herself a *system* with infinite cause/effects

      when we go to Mars we initiate relationships that we cannot fathom now because of complexity...it's awesome and it'

    • by tragedy (27079)

      So read these signs, Mars is even more difficult for human exploration than previously understood

      It's been known for quite some time that Martian soils probably contain all kinds of things that are toxic to humans. The thing is, perchloarates aren't really that toxic, as toxins go. As long as you're not actually planning to eat Martian soil directly, it's not going to be much of a problem if you're an astronaut. It's not really that much of a shock that it will be necessary to treat the water before drinking it and condition the soil before using it to grow things.

  • When was the last time an astronaut would survive exposure to anything outside Earth's atmosphere. Keep those helmets on kids, regulations and all that.

  • It's not like we don't have these chemicals on earth, it's not like we don't know how to handle them, not to mention, anyone landing on Mars will be wearing full EV space suits you know the ones that can handle major negative pressure differentials and have their own self contained air supply. What are they planning to do, jump out of the space capsule nude and throw themselves into the Martian dust?

    • Dude, you know what they say about sand? It gets everywhere ...

      • Dude, you know what they say about sand? It gets everywhere ...

        Pff... Just get the hose out and spray 'em down before you let them inside, just like when the kids have been out playing in the mud!

        Oh, wait, you said that the local water is perchlorate-laced and relatively scarce? Never mind then...

        • by jamesh (87723)
          Yep. I guess anyone going to mars will be living in a sealed dome and exploring the surface by remote control robot. Seems a long way to go just to reduce latency.
          • by peragrin (659227)

            Have you seen the things gamers will do to reduce latency?

            Besides you just have the astronauts moms tell them they have to leave their suits outside before they go into the basement dwellings.

        • by tmosley (996283)
          One would think they would just have a water supply filled with perchlorate eating bacteria for that purpose. The water could easily be recycled. Hell, the suits could easily be designed such that the outside of the suit never touches the inside of the base.
          • by Immerman (2627577)

            >Hell, the suits could easily be designed such that the outside of the suit never touches the inside of the base
            Not so easily. Even if you do the "hatch in the back" route the outside of the hatch will still be exposed to the inside of the environment. Still, it's not like we're dealing with flesh-eating bacteria here, we just have to avoid acute exposure and keep accumulation rates below what the bacterial population can handle.

    • there was a big dust up a few years ago when it turned out perchlorate was winding up in lettuce.

      the problem was that the perchlorate facility, which is around the BMI complex in nevada, is a massively polluted pile of EPA superfund-ish nightmare.

      on top of that, the private companies responsible for the pollution were able to shed themselves pf the environmental cleanup costs by shaving off subsidaries and then declaring bankruptcy. Carl Icahn is a master at this type of thing. so the government is the only

      • by tmosley (996283)
        Remember, kids, corporations couldn't do this without government intervention. If that company had been a partnership, the owners never could have escaped the liability, and knowing that, would have been more cautious, refraining from polluting when they could, and carrying insurance for when they couldn't. The rates would go up if the insurance company determined that said company was polluting, something which would put them out of business if they did it too much.

        But hey, let's have fascist solution
  • I am surprised (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @05:16AM (#44020839) Journal

    If there is an energy source in the soil itself, why there isn't an abundant amount of bacteria taking advantage of this. I guess I've come to believe that life will evolve to meet just about any condition, and an energy source seems to be about all it needs. Yet there has been no serious evidence of any type of life currently on mars.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I hope you're a troll. Uh... it would be because self-replicating life has to exist before it can evolve. The existence of convertable energy a necessary but insufficient condition for self-replicating life. The mere existence of convertable energy should raise our expectation of life from approximately zero, to approximately zero.

      This ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spontaneous_generation [wikipedia.org] ) does not happen.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It had to happen at least once.

        • by Immerman (2627577)

          Not necessarily. It could be that there actually was some sort of "creator" that kicked things off, and if such a creator pre-existed the Big Bang and the emergence of spacetime then spontaneous generation need not apply even to it - without time causality (and most human vocabulary) necessarily ceases to operate in anything like the manner we're accustomed to.

          Still, given a nurturing planet-sized laboratory and a half billion years of chaotic stimulation spontaneous generation certainly seems more likely.

    • It's not too hard to imagine a total extinction event. To my mind the interesting point here is that there is that Martian soil contains a known energy source. That's... spectecular. We already know there's plenty of oxygen tied up in the iron oxide in the soil, and now we know there's also energy for microbes. That's one step closer to terraforming. And hey, in the process they'll get rid of this pesky toxic stuff too, at least on the surface layers.
      • by peragrin (659227)

        The thing is there really isn't a total extinction event. Well other than a supernova or being sucked into a black hole. Since mars hasn't experienced either. We have found life forms in boiling water next to an active volcanic vent. So there probably some microbial life forms still on Mars especially underground.

        The big problem with terraforming mars are two things. the magnetic field is weak to deflect solar rays and the gravity is only 1/3 of normal. Those aren't easy problems to solve. If you ca

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          The thing is there really isn't a total extinction event. Well other than a supernova or being sucked into a black hole.

          Four billion years ago a Mars sized planet smashed into the Earth and splashed, leaving the earth's surface molten and creating rings around it. The rings gravitationally coalesced into the moon. If Earth had harbored life when Earth had no moon, it would have all been obliterated. And supernovas have caused mass extinctions on earth before, but having people on Mars would also die from a

          • by tmosley (996283)
            Yes, because we have to go to Ganymede first, because of something that will happen in billions of years.

            I expect that in billions of years, things that might be descended from us will be colliding stars with each other for fuel or the human race will be long extinct, along with anything we ever built. Avoiding being consumed by an expanding Sol will not be a problem either way.
            • by mcgrew (92797) *

              The book I'm working on right now is set only ten million years in the future, mankind has evolved into four distinct species, and has two warring planets manufacturing neutron stars as weapons.

              I'm sure long before the sun is a red giant we'll have already been living on Ganymede and everywhere else, and possibly other star systems. Either that or (more likely) we'll be long extinct.

              The idea of terraforming Mars will be fantasy for a long time, though.

            • the human race will be long extinct, along with anything we ever built.

              Three things I can guarantee will still be around:

              1) Porn. Even as we evolve into beings of pure energy we will wire ourselves to be electrically excited by existing porn as a tribute.

              2) Trolls. The art of trolling will be unimaginable at that point but we all know they will be there.

              3) Emacs. It's too damn pretty to die.

          • by tragedy (27079)

            If Earth had harbored life when Earth had no moon, it would have all been obliterated.

            I used to think that. Turns out that there are microbes happily floating around at the highest reaches of our atmosphere. If there was an atmosphere at that time, microbes probably would have survived in it, no matter how hot the lower regions got. If the atmosphere was blown off, some of the microbes probably would have survived and fallen back to Earth. They could have also survived in those chunks blown off into orbit, from where they would eventually fall back to Earth. By being able to survive adverse

    • life will evolve to meet just about any condition

      Oh man! look at those cavemen go
      It's the freakiest show
      ...
      Is there life on Mars?

    • by houghi (78078)

      It is evolution, not intelligent design. This means that there is no plan. Only afterward can you say why something did happen.

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        What? It doesn't matter where in time you stand to look at it, if there's no plan then the why is always the same: some combination of deterministic physics and non-deterministic quantum mechanics produced a series of events which led to the eventual result. You might not be able to predict the eventual result when standing at the first event, but that in no way interferes with your ability to say why the event occured, or even why the next one will occur, provided it is deterministic enough to be predict

    • An energy source by itself is not enough.
      You need a process chain utilizing this energy to grow and build something, like a cell.

      Perchlorate might be great for making bombs, but I doubt you easy find (imagine) a metabolizm eating it. After all all 'genes', cell membrane, mitrochondriae, nucleus etc. must be "resistant" to it. You need a way of encoding genetic information and a way to metabolize the perchlorate and a way to use that metabolization to decode the genes and to craft new "amino acides" ... etc.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Life that already exists will have very strong evolutionary pressure to find new and untapped resources that are exclusive to them, it's not certain that living in the middle of the most lush rain forest is better - evolutionary speaking - than in a barren desert. But just because it can spread almost anywhere, doesn't mean it can start almost anywhere. In fact, we still don't have any experiment or strong models that will create life from inorganic compounds indicating that it is quite hard and quite rare.

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        To be more relevant we don't have any strong experiments showing evidence that life can emerge from complex organic compounds. We've pretty much got the first steps taken care of with several different natural routes availbale for complex organic compounds to emerge from inorganic compounds. And really, considering that we've only been asking the questions for a few decades and done a handful of tiny experiments it's not at all surprising we haven't fully recreated the process that likely took millions of

    • intergalctic submicroscopic battle fleets.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I guess I've come to believe that life will evolve to meet just about any condition

      It has to exist to evolve, and we still know little about life's beginnings. It may well be that life can survive and adapt but that it's still not be conducive to life's formation.

      I find it interesting that oxygen was poisonous to Earth's first life forms.

      • I guess I've come to believe that life will evolve to meet just about any condition

        It has to exist to evolve, and we still know little about life's beginnings. It may well be that life can survive and adapt but that it's still not be conducive to life's formation.

        I find it interesting that oxygen was poisonous to Earth's first life forms.

        I find it interesting that the life forms doomed by the Great Oxygenation Event [wikipedia.org] didn't put punitive taxes and regulations on the cyanobacteria that were polluting the air with oxygen and bringing about climate change.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          I find it interesting that the life forms doomed by the Great Oxygenation Event didn't put punitive taxes and regulations on the cyanobacteria that were polluting the air with oxygen and bringing about climate change.

          If they had evolved brain stems and opposable thumbs, they might well have tried to do something about it, just like as higher-order life forms (by our definitions anyway) it is rational for us to attempt to try to preserve the state of biostasis upon which we depend.

    • Re:I am surprised (Score:5, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Sunday June 16, 2013 @08:12AM (#44021303) Homepage

      I guess I've come to believe that life will evolve to meet just about any condition, and an energy source seems to be about all it needs.

      AIUI, it's not quite that simple.
       
      On Earth, the extremophiles are believed to arisen in more benign environments, and evolved to colonize the extreme environments. It's not clear that Mars ever had the necessary benign environment for long enough for life to arise in the first place, let alone for it to evolve and begin to colonize the extreme margins. (Which, at the time, would have been far less extreme than currently.)

  • indecisive much? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    We're not going back to the moon it doesn't make sense, we've been there already, duh!
    Mars fucking pwns, let's send everyone there! Even though it's makes the Sahara look like Disneyland
    We're gonna mine asteroids! Cos you know, the economy is fucked and there's loads of rocks in space! ...
    We ain't going to send people to mars now, it's dangerous!
    Mining rocks in space is a stupid idea, there's rocks here!
    We're going back to the moon !!!!!!!!!!!

    Cut the crap please

  • Radiation will probably kill them before they get there.

  • How convenient. At least we know there's one back out of the gravity well on Mars, we'll just have to bring the ammonium salts ;)

  • This is good. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @06:55AM (#44021063)

    Perchlorate at 1% concentrations?

    Perchlorates are very easy to turn into rocket fuel or oxygen. Two things potentially of much use on mars. I expect the processing would need too much bulky equipment, time and manual labor to be practical on a plant-flag-and-leave mission, but a long-term sustainable base could certainly put it to good use.

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Rocket fuel yes, oxygen is less of an issue. Mars has plenty of oxygen readily accesible in its almost pure CO2 atmosphere which is readily released as a by-product of growing plants for food. Some sort of perchlorate reactor could make sense on a long-range scouting vessel though I suppose - it would potentially be much more space/mass efficient than a bioreactor.

  • Arent perchlorates an easily accessible source of oxygen?

    • Man, if you think perchlorates are dangerous, wait until you've tried to deal with molecular oxygen! The stuff burns things. It's an oxidizer. Free radicals even. It'll snap your bonds faster than you can type out the redox reaction.

      No way. That's heavy stuff.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @06:58AM (#44021069) Homepage Journal

    Martians will come here before we go to Mars.

    I doubt anyone alive today will ever see humans walking around on Mars.

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      That could be a challenege, unless Mars actually harbors underground sentient life that's just waiting for some key event to make contact with us.

      Meanwhile there's a handful of groups here dedicating a lot of effort to creating viable technologies and business models by which we could establish a manned Martian outpost in the 2020-2030 timeframe

  • i guess applying 'uncle bert's all natural organic martian skin juice' to my face for the past 50 years was a bad idea?

  • Today, German news agency dpa reports that fruits and vegetables currently sold in Germany are contaminated by perchlorates [google.com]. This piece of news will add fuel to the fire for those who wonder where their food really comes from.

  • by Freddybear (1805256) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @07:28AM (#44021153)

    With all the other challenges of putting a viable human colony on Mars, it seems like perchlorates in the soil are small beans indeed.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @08:28AM (#44021347)

    Mars is so far out of reach, that this is absolutely no issue. Lets visit this question in 200-1000 years again, when we can actually get there. If we can.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Mars is so far out of reach, that this is absolutely no issue. Lets visit this question in 200-1000 years again, when we can actually get there. If we can.

      Most people who are serious about understanding whether we can go to Mars say that it's physically possible, but that barring some major world-changing event (incontrovertible proof of extra-terrestrials etc.) we "can't" spend the money it would cost under our current economic system.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "won't" is the more correct word.

        Since we'll be waiting for a little while, all the more reason to begin the process of terraforming Mars right now since we certainly can make the start. A few payloads of microbes and serious research into self-assembling infrastructure? Are you kidding?! That's peanuts in terms of cost, and will also solve very real domestic problems, too.

        The techniques to create more efficient, self-sufficient sustainable living for humanity in an increasingly hostile environment is pre-f

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Hardly. IIRC most estimates put getting to Mars at only a few times more difficult than getting to the Moon and back again. It's the back again part that fouls things up for Mars as that makes it several times again more difficult, which is why most realistic plans involve establishing an outpost which can produce fuel for the return journey over many years.

      Dedicate a few weeks of US military budget to the project and we could do it in style.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        Most people putting out estimates are incompetent fans. Those that actually do understand the level of difficulty involved have long given up making public statements, as they well know it is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. Let the idiots have their dreams. Science and engineering are not a disciplines where majority-votes work.

  • .. I would build robotic avatars and have them controlled from this end of the world. even if you had to make an outpost on the moon and when the 'lines' of sights were most favorable, have the robots be controlled by humans and start the building that way. get more samples, etc.. basically the first real mars exploration should be robotic as much as possible. so, we basically need to improve our automation technology at this end and not worry too much about the rest, until the return flight from mars wi
    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Pretty hard to effectively exercise manual dexterity when there's a 3 to 22 minute speed-of-light lag (depending on planetary alignment) between when you send a command and when the robot responds, and another matching lag before you know the results of your actions. I'm fairly certain it would take you days just to tie your shoes under such circumstances.

  • by cjameshuff (624879) on Sunday June 16, 2013 @10:03AM (#44021771) Homepage

    Perchlorate is a reactive and unstable anion that can easily be washed out of regolith, thermally decomposed by baking in an oven, or removed using chemical or microbial treatments. Similar treatments are likely going to be required anyway if you're going to be growing plants in it.

    It's also not actually all that toxic. The thyroid absorbs it in place of iodine, reducing the amount of iodine absorbed...it has no other effects, and the iodine uptake interference stops when exposure to perchlorate stops...chronic ingestion is required to make it a problem, an acute exposure will only have a brief effect.

    Basically: don't make a habit of eating untreated dirt, and monitor drinking water contaminants. Nothing they shouldn't already be doing. Iodine supplements might be a good idea in case drinking water becomes contaminated and it takes some time to correct.

  • That's not toxic chemicals, that's black oil.

  • At least astronauts won't have ring around the collar.

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