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'Colonizing the Red Planet,' a How-To Guide 288

Velcroman1 writes "A manned mission to Mars would be the greatest adventure in the history of the human race. And one man knows how to make it a reality. In fact, he just wrote the book on it — literally. Joel Levine, senior research scientist with NASA's Langley Research Center and co-chair of NASA's Human Exploration of Mars Science Analysis Group, just published 'The Human Mission to Mars: Colonizing the Red Planet.' The book reads like a who's who of Mars mission science, featuring senators, astronauts, astrophysicists, geologists and more on getting to Mars, studying its atmosphere and climate, the psychological and medical effects on the crew and other details. The most interesting bit: Levine presents is a solution for funding the trip, something unprecedented for NASA: advertising. 'The suggestion is marketing to different corporations and professional sports leagues for advertising, which is something NASA never does.'"
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'Colonizing the Red Planet,' a How-To Guide

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  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @02:53PM (#34723430)
    This is a collection of papers. Levin is credited in the article for other peoples' work. But at a glance, there looks to be a lot of great work there.

    Further, I don't buy the slashdot summary claim that Mars exploration or settlement (using current cost basis) can be funded solely through advertising and sponsorship. Sure if one looks at something like the Superbowl, World Cup, or the Olympics, you see many billions of dollars a year changing hands. That sort of money should be enough to run a space program. The problem is that Mars exploration doesn't have the guaranteed high interest viewership on a regular basis. Sure the actual first landing will be a big draw. But not so much the second, or third, etc. A long term program will need continuous funding over long periods of time. There's nothing to offer comparable permanent excitement to the repeated extremely popular contests of media sports.

    OTOH, such a thing could be good funding for a first mission or two, especially if cost of access to space should go down considerable.

    For me, the most interesting part is section 9, "Mars Base, Exploration, and Colonization of the Red Planet". Any sort of long term human activity on Mars, be it some sort of scientific mission, a new hobby for the extremely wealthy, or somebody else, is going to have to solve the sorts of problems discussed in this section.
  • Defying Gravity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Goboxer ( 1821502 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @02:54PM (#34723448)
    In that short lived tv show Defying Gravity, wasn't that how they secured a lot of funding? They would shoot video of them doing something for some company and the entire world would watch it because it was the most amazing mission the world had ever seen. Some people might consider that selling out the mission or the science. However, I say better to get there sometime in the next two decades riding on the collective backs of the commercial industry then get there sometime next century with the "no-strings attached" money of people's collective good will. We'll get there sooner this way, and we can all benefit from the resulting advances in knowledge and science.
  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:06PM (#34723556)

    Really, what's on Mars that can't be done more cheaply by building near earth orbital environments?

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:15PM (#34723628)

    The few ones going to Mars will do it at the expense of the entire living humans left back with their problems and much less ressources to solve them.

    Fair trade. Keep in mind that the humans left on Earth have serious problems because they don't attempt to solve them, not because they don't have the resources to solve them.

  • by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:17PM (#34723638) Homepage

    Are you nuts? A Mars landing would have FAR more viewers than any sporting event. Hell, most people don't even know the rules of American football! And to keep funding a mars program going forward, you could sell the rights to sporting events on Mars where the gravity is much lower... but really, there would be a land rush as rich guys and hedge funds all scramble to purchase Mars real estate after colonization has been demonstrated to be possible.

  • Um, why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Elbereth ( 58257 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:17PM (#34723640) Journal

    I know this is going to be a hugely unpopular opinion on Slashdot, but has anyone actually made a decent argument to answer why, instead of how? I've never heard one. People usually just stare at me, when I ask, then say something akin to, "Because it's there." or "You weren't alive when we landed on the moon. You just don't understand." Occasionally I hear something like, "It's an investment in science (or the tech industry)," which is much better than "you just don't get it", but still hardly a winning argument, in my opinion. I'm not against space travel, but I'd like to see some compelling arguments, rather than nerd rage.

    And, yes, maybe I would have said the same thing about the European obsession with exploring the New World. So what? What good idea has ever suffered from a little debate?

  • for a number of reasons, not least of which its "fake" magnetosphere, which mars does not have: []

    also note:

    Despite the harsh conditions on the surface, the atmospheric pressure and temperature at about 50 km to 65 km above the surface of the planet is nearly the same as that of the Earth, making its upper atmosphere the most Earth-like area in the Solar System, even more so than the surface of Mars. Due to the similarity in pressure and temperature and the fact that breathable air (21% oxygen, 78% nitrogen) is a lifting gas on Venus in the same way that helium is a lifting gas on Earth, the upper atmosphere has been proposed as a location for both exploration and colonization.[11]

    cloud city anyone?

    living chambers or entire cities, pressurized to earth-friendly atmospherics, floating like balloons. with human-friendly gravity and a good-enough magnetosphere, and, on top of the clouds, a much nicer temperature (although the venusian day > venusian year! so you'd have a hot and cold cycle that's pretty dramatic)

    still, all this points to life above the venusian clouds as something better than mars. colonial life, floating on the venusian cloudtops. on a number of merits, compared to mars, with much less atmosphere, no magnetosphere and paltry gravity to offer... venus comes out the superior choice. and then there's the closer solar proximity (power source anyone?)

    one drawback to venus is it seems to boiled off most of its hydrogen. but mars seems to have done that too, so the deficiency is simply a problem with both mars and venus

    overall, venus is the future folks, not mars

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:18PM (#34723650)

    I agree that various powerful organizations, not all of them governments, can be counted on to stake out turf and use this for their own advantage. But
    A.) There are plenty of powers other than corporations.
    B.) Staking out turf doesn't need to be zero-sum or destructive. At least not for the next few decades.

    There's no reason that Wisconsin can't arrange to send Official Wisconsin Cheese and Salmon to be used by Mars settlers in return for an endorsement. And U. W. has more than enough of a space science program to get a fifty kilo payload to mars orbit as long as it can survive slow/frugal trajectories and launch. Same for an Official UCLA remote filming rig. Which could fight for better coverage with ILM and Digital Domain roving camera rigs. Or New Zealand Wool Mission staff sweaters. And so on.

    And now that we have a version of IP 6.0 that works in space, there's no reason we can't set up shared parking orbits with traffic control, and shared taxiing from orbit, allowing portioned out tasks to do this in ways that don't have to be predatory.

    And oh by the way, lots of that kind of stuff can get going with the tech that we have right now.

  • Next planet, please (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tokul ( 682258 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:21PM (#34723686)

    Martian surface temperatures vary from lows of about -87 C during the polar winters to highs of up to -5 C in summers.

    Colony should be able to sustain itself someday. Top temperature of -5 C does not look like some place that can sustain people from planet Earth. They might be able spend some time there, but they won't last for long without supplies coming from Earth. I am even not sure if Mars atmospheric pressure level allows humans to breath without aids. Forget all Sci-Fi movies that you saw and look for better planet.

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:30PM (#34723756) Journal

    Real estate, yes, but I suspect at some point in the next couple of hundred years (if not sooner) we're going to start running up against some pretty major resource walls. Remember, the early colonization efforts by the Europeans had little to do with colonization itself, and everything to do with making money. It's little wonder that the early colonization efforts were the founding corporate enterprises.

    I can't imagine anyone seriously wanting to live on Mars, the Moon, or anywhere else out there. But at some point we'll want to start eating the resources out there; the metals, the minerals, the huge amount of hydrocarbons, and that's going to mean having the technological means to go get them. I rather look at this period as something like the Portuguese explorations of the African coast in early and mid 15th century; though clearly not very profitable.

    The only way we're ever going to do manned missions beyond near Earth orbit as a continuous and expanding venture, and that's profit. Idealism is a Golden Age SF-Star Trek notion, and not one you can sustain something as complex and expensive as space travel on. At some point, whether because we figure out some way of getting into space and to other planets for cheap or because of some sort of resource scarcity here on Earth, it's going to have to pay for itself, much as the European colonies in the New World ultimately had to be able to feed and clothe themselves, to provide the core resources and technologies to keep the people breathing. If you don't have that, then it's a no go.

    It isn't going to happen in my life time. If I'm really lucky, maybe I'll see the first manned mission to Mars, but beyond that, I'll wager we're probably looking at another hundred years or more before the technology and the economic attractiveness of space create a point at which manned interplanetary travel and colonization (and I use that word hesitantly, I really don't foresee some future Pilgrims founding a colony out there, it will be commercial or nationalistic interests, not idealistic ventures) become feasible.

  • Re:Um, why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:39PM (#34723856) Journal

    At the moment I can't think of a better one than laying the groundwork. There aren't really a lot of compelling reasons to go beyond near Earth orbit. But like I said in another post, at some point, and no one knows when, the cost of extracting certain key resources will go up enough that people will begin eying the rest of the Solar System. It isn't going to happen today, and it's probably not going to happen in a hundred years, but it will happen eventually, and by laying the groundwork for that, we enable future generations to start accessing resources in the rest of the Solar System.

  • Re:Um, why? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SpeZek ( 970136 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @03:47PM (#34723926) Journal

    Easy, and you touched on it. Past experience has taught us that the new frontier is bountiful. Even if it is not clear at the outset, exploring new places leads to profitable discoveries often enough that the risks are worth it.

    That, and it's fucking badass to shoot up in a rocket into space going a million miles per hour, eat astronaut ice-cream, and drink Tang while floating around. Having heroes is damn well worth it, to inspire future greatness.

  • if your standards for saying there is "a lot" of hydrogen on mars are that loose, then the concentration of water vapor in venus's atmosphere is more than suitable for your needs

    the same atmosphere that is basically nothing but hot dense carbon dioxide, from which your solar powered nanobots are continually spinning carbon tube nanofibers that are then assembled into gigantic ultrastrong self-sealing cloud cities for happy colonists. the oxygen from breaking down CO2 is for breathing... the limited nitrogen and water vapor making the rest of life possible. mars has pretty much the same atmosphere, but way less dense. advantage: venus. waaaaay more sulfur than needed though


    too cold
    sun too feeble
    no magnetosphere
    human unfriendly gravity
    human unfriendly atmospheric pressure

    your venusian cloud city is slowly moving with the venusian day, constantly in twilight for perfect temperature. with perfect atmospheric pressure, gravity, and magnetosphere. none of which mars can offer

  • or, just pick a spot, flip on the solar powered fans, and, at a lazy speed no faster than a person walks, maintain constant position in the sky. say a nice position in permanent twilight that also happens to be the perfect temperature gradient. no need to artificially maintain temperature or pressure or lighting in your cloud city, and all of the energy problems therein

    but on mars, you'd be living in a pressure cooker compared to the atmosphere outside, you'd be have to expend a lot of energy on heating in those cold martian nights of -100 to -200 F, and you'd have to have all sorts of artificial lighting

    since venus has an induced magnetosphere, you can have windows everywhere. but don't try windows on your mars buildings, unless you like cancer, since mars has no magnetosphere. entombed in metal and cinder block pressure cooker with no windows, from the bitterly cold, very thin irradiated air of the red martian dry dust outside

    or floating in perfect lighting, perfect temperature and perfectly isobaric pressure on a venusian cloud city, with windows everywhere looking out above the swirling yellow clouds (isn't sulfuric acid beautiful? *sigh* lol)

    see a venusian storm coming? move out of the way. see a martian dust storm coming? get ready to clean the grit out of the robotic mining joints in a few days

  • by bertok ( 226922 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @08:16PM (#34725846)

    Wow... can I visit the fantasy land where you live? It sounds just like a classic sci-fi novel! Do you have flying cars too?

    Lets break this down:

    The real estate to spread a colony upon

    We have plenty of real estate here. Lots of it, and it's cheap. There's the frozen tundra of Canada, or the arid interior of Australia. All of Canada is warmer than Mars, and all of Australia is wetter than Mars. So... why isn't there a big "land rush" to move out to those places? Hmm?

    1/3 gravity would be healthier

    There's absolutely no data for this, so you're just making shit up. If anything, an educated guess would be that it would be less healthy. Look at the long term zero-g space missions, where astronauts returned back barely able to walk.

    Local water is pretty damn nice too

    There's water here, in enormous quantities, and in a conveniently liquid form. Mars has some icy rocks, in some places. Most of the planet makes the Sahara look moist.

    Easier construction environment

    A near vacuum and lethal sub-zero temperatures are "easier"? Where did you build your last house, the core of the Earth?

    simpler building designs

    You mean, much more complex building designs that would have more in common with a space station, right? There's no air! Right off that bat that means every building must have a complex series of airlocks, safety systems, self-healing walls, air pumps, pressure sensors, filtration systems, humidifiers, water collection, CO2-scrubbers, air quality monitors, etc... At least the first few hundred colonists would have to take their buildings with them, so then you're looking at all of that, but with incredibly tight weight budgets. You'd have to build a robust air-tight building out of what amounts to foam and thin plastic sheeting.

    The closest you could come to living on Mars on Earth is to live in the Death Zone [] of a tall mountain for a year. It actually has way more air, but you'll have roughly the same amount of resources available to you: cold rocks. Now live there for a year, and pay a charity $10K for every pound of material you take up there with you.

    Call me when you get back!

  • Re:Um, why? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Facegarden ( 967477 ) on Friday December 31, 2010 @08:33PM (#34725954)

    I know this is going to be a hugely unpopular opinion on Slashdot, but has anyone actually made a decent argument to answer why, instead of how? I've never heard one. People usually just stare at me, when I ask, then say something akin to, "Because it's there." or "You weren't alive when we landed on the moon. You just don't understand." Occasionally I hear something like, "It's an investment in science (or the tech industry)," which is much better than "you just don't get it", but still hardly a winning argument, in my opinion. I'm not against space travel, but I'd like to see some compelling arguments, rather than nerd rage.

    And, yes, maybe I would have said the same thing about the European obsession with exploring the New World. So what? What good idea has ever suffered from a little debate?

    If you're genuinely curious about some of the reasons, I highly suggest reading Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. He goes over many reasons why we should keep exploring.

    Off the top of my head, there's the extinction argument - one big asteroid impact and we could all be wiped out if we're only on one planet. There's also science. For example, we never knew about global warming until we studied Venus (he discusses that in another book, I think). The scientists responsible for the worldwide end of CFC production first started pushing for the bans after learning of the global warming that causes Venus to be 700 degrees F on the surface. We could learn similarly impressive stuff by studying Mars more closely (we've been studying Earth for a long time, so a lot of the basic stuff is covered. Mars may hold new information that is easy to discover. That may help us back on earth.)

    Also, studying Mars can help us advance out space travel capabilities so we can further study even more interesting places, like Europa, Titan, etc that will require large rockets to get to.

    Almost all of our science is limited to what is going on on earth. Surely there are physical and chemical phenomena on other planets that simply don't happen here. The more we know about those things, the more we can do for ourselves here. I personally think that science is the path to world peace. The more easily we can provide for people and the higher the minimum standard of living for people becomes in the world, the happier people will be, and the more connected we will all become.

    Space exploration also gets more kids interested in science, many of which may decide to study science in college instead of liberal arts or something. The world needs more scientists, so flashy stuff like a Mars landing can go a long way towards encouraging young people to become scientists.

    There is no one impressive reason to go to Mars, but many very compelling ones. Though the extinction risk is a big one. If we don't go to Mars, and then get hit with a major asteroid, we'll sure wish we had.

"I will make no bargains with terrorist hardware." -- Peter da Silva