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Mars Technology

Let's Not Go To Mars 684

HughPickens.com writes: Ed Regis write in the NYT that today we an witnessing an outburst of enthusiasm over the literally outlandish notion that in the relatively near future, some of us are going to be living, working, thriving and dying on Mars. But unfortunately Mars mania reflects an excessively optimistic view of what it actually takes to travel to and live on Mars, papering over many of the harsh realities and bitter truths that underlie the dream. "First, there is the tedious business of getting there. Using current technology and conventional chemical rockets, a trip to Mars would be a grueling, eight- to nine-month-long nightmare for the crew," writes Regis. "Tears, sweat, urine and perhaps even solid waste will be recycled, your personal space is reduced to the size of an SUV., and you and your crewmates are floating around sideways, upside down and at other nauseating angles." According to Regis every source of interpersonal conflict, and emotional and psychological stress that we experience in ordinary, day-to-day life on Earth will be magnified exponentially by restriction to a tiny, hermetically sealed, pressure-cooker capsule hurtling through deep space and to top it off, despite these constraints, the crew must operate within an exceptionally slim margin of error with continuous threats of equipment failures, computer malfunctions, power interruptions and software glitches.

But getting there is the easy part says Regis. "Mars is a dead, cold, barren planet on which no living thing is known to have evolved, and which harbors no breathable air or oxygen, no liquid water and no sources of food, nor conditions favorable for producing any. For these and other reasons it would be accurate to call Mars a veritable hell for living things, were it not for the fact that the planet's average surface temperature is minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit." These are only a few of the many serious challenges that must be overcome before anyone can put human beings on Mars and expect them to live for more than five minutes says Regis. "The notion that we can start colonizing Mars within the next 10 years or so is an overoptimistic, delusory idea that falls just short of being a joke."
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Let's Not Go To Mars

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  • Hmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @08:20AM (#50573489)

    We choose to go to mars not because it's easy, but because .... Wait... it's not easy?
    Oh, well lets give up then

    • Re:Hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gfxguy ( 98788 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @08:30AM (#50573573)
      I didn't see where he said we "shouldn't" go, just that it's a fantasy to think it'll be any time soon.
      • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Somebody Is Using My ( 985418 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @09:31AM (#50574031) Homepage

        Even that is wrong. Given enough resources and a reduced concern for the health and safety of the astronauts, we could probably reach Mars about as fast as we could build the ship and launch it towards the red planet. We've had the technology to launch - and land - men there since the '70s. But both the cost and risk were considered too extravagant, especially considering the lack of significant reward for all that effort. While a ten-year deadline might be a bit tight considering the US would have to build up the industry to support such an effort, if it really wanted to it could very likely get a man to Mars and back within that schedule. It would just cost A LOT more money than is prudent and we'd probably see a number of astronauts either splattered across the Martian surface or stranded down their until their life-support systems gave out (landings and lift-offs are hard).

        Otherwise, most of Regis' other arguments are bunk. It would be a long, cramped, unpleasant journey? People have suffered far worse; the early antarctic explorers, or sailors from the Age of Sail. Hell, we have refugees cramming themselves for weeks at a time into tiny boxes that would seem luxuriously expansive to any astronaut in hopes of reaching a better life. And the lack of gravity only HELPS here; yes, it is initially disorienting to see people hanging at "nauseating angles" but it opens up a lot of wasted space, making what appears to be a very cramped habitat much more spacious because all that wasted space on the walls and ceilings can be put to use.

        Nonetheless, I do ultimately agree with Regis' premise that Mars should not be the goal simply because Mars is a dead-end. I mean, what are you going to do once you get there that can't be done here on Earth? Dreams of terraforming aside, in the short term (read: next few centuries at least) man will only be able to live on Mars if encapsulated in climate-controlled metal-tubes. And if people are going to be stuck in metal tubes anyway, it might as well be tubes that can MOVE places instead of being anchored to rock at the bottom of a steep gravity well. L5 colonies, asteroid mining, and ultimately island-hopping our way through the Solar System, the Oort cloud and beyond are far more entertaining and profitable enterprises than being tethered to another planet just because its there. Forget Mars; it's a luxury that we can look into after we get the basics down. In the mean time, if you really want to explore off-world colonization options, use the Moon; it's closer.

        • Even this is wrong (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Giant Electronic Bra ( 1229876 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @12:03PM (#50575531)

          There's not a snowball's chance in hell of a long-endurance spacecraft using the existing state-of-the-art in life-support and logistical technology to endure for 9 months in space. To build such a thing is still decades off, and this is just one of the more trivial details of things that people fail to understand. No doubt its FEASIBLE, but that degree of engineering doesn't happen without a LOT of buildup. Look at the plan diagrams that have been published, they include several generations of technology in this area before we're really ready.

          Beyond that no existing technology will land men on Mars with the ability to take off again. A lunar-lander style 'direct descent' would require a huge amount of fuel because the ascent engine would be pretty large, on top of the lander itself, and thus the descent engine would be prohibitively large. This means we have to design some sort of aerobreaking/parachute/glider/rocket hybrid approach. Those which have been used in the past are only good for a up to a couple 1000 kg, not enough for a manned landing by a long shot. Again, its FEASIBLE to do this, but we are at least a decade away from such a thing, maybe more.

          So, maybe we mostly agree at some level, but I think your 10 years, even for an insanely useless project, is highly optimistic.

          As for your ideas on reasons to go or not go, I heartily concur. Mars is a useless waste of a place to go except perhaps as a science destination, and in that case you can send 100 unmanned rovers per human. While a rover is far less than a human 100 sophisticated rovers with advanced manipulators, semi-autonomy, and sample return capability are unlikely to be outperformed by one miserable man who can only move a few km from his landing point and can't stay more than a couple weeks.

          If you want to 'colonize Mars' it would make FAR more sense to colonize Antarctica, or the deep ocean, both of which are infinitely more hospitable and closer.

          • by werepants ( 1912634 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @01:39PM (#50576285)

            There's not a snowball's chance in hell of a long-endurance spacecraft using the existing state-of-the-art in life-support and logistical technology to endure for 9 months in space.

            I know, right? If only the U.S. [wikipedia.org] (or the Russians [wikipedia.org] perhaps) had the foresight to start trying to build technology that could sustain human life [wikipedia.org] for an extended period [wikipedia.org] in space. Since [wikipedia.org] nobody [wikipedia.org] did [wikipedia.org] any [wikipedia.org] such [wikipedia.org] thing [wikipedia.org], I suppose it is impossible [wikipedia.org]. That kind of thing would have had to start over 40 years ago.

    • So what he is saying is that Mars is what Hell would be like if it actually froze over...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @08:22AM (#50573507)

    It's about going everywhere else. The tech developed going to Mars will undoubtedly be useful when going other places. You crawl before you walk, you walk before you run.

    • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @09:53AM (#50574253)

      It's about going everywhere else. The tech developed going to Mars will undoubtedly be useful when going other places. You crawl before you walk, you walk before you run.

      Then go to the moon first.... Colonize it where the technology can be perfected in a place where help is perhaps a week away and not at least a year away like Mars would be a lot of the time. IMHO we will kill less people this way and still get much of the same technologies developed we will need to keep expanding our reach. Take smaller steps. It's not as glamorous because we've been there before, but it gets us into technology development.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @08:25AM (#50573531)

    ... let's not go to Mars. It is a silly place.

  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @08:26AM (#50573535)

    It's the logical stepping stone always has been.
    Easier to get to.
    Can actually get aid to in case of emergency.
    Will have a much quicker return on investment.
    Once we have it colonized, it will be much easier to spread into the solar system from there.

    Mars Mania is just rather strange.

    • Yeah, seriously. Mars doesn't make any sense, when we've got the moon just sitting there. Untouched for decades.
    • by EdgePenguin ( 2646733 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @09:44AM (#50574157) Homepage

      The Moon is not better than Mars. It has a much harsher thermal environment due to its complete lack of atmosphere. Mars is very cold - but its pretty consistent. The Moon has wild variations in temperature depending on if you are in sunlight or shade - and the night lasts 2 weeks. The first lunar night it had to endure pretty much killed the Chinese moon rover. Non of the Apollo missions spent a night.

      The dust on the Moon is entirely un-weathered, and is likely to present a hazard due to being incredible abrasive. Mars dust is probably easier to deal with

      The martian atmosphere provides CO2 - that is 2 useful elements you can get just by sucking it through a pump. Any materials you want to use on the Moon must be mined from rocks, and that is harder.

      Finally, the Moon is too close. One goal of an offworld colony is a break from lots of the crap here on Earth. A place where you could conceivably still get a connection to Earth internet (albeit with seconds of lag) makes this harder.

  • "The notion that we can start colonizing Mars within the next 10 years or so is an overoptimistic, delusory idea that falls just short of being a joke."

    If it's not a joke, if it falls short of being a joke, then he's admitting there is a possibility! Cool! I'll start packing!

  • by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @08:29AM (#50573563) Journal

    Genuine question...

    Given the difficulties of getting to Mars, the fact that Mars is barely any more suited to habitation than space and the fact that trips to and from Mars need to deal with the planet's gravity well... why do we assume that the first off-Earth permanent habitation would necessarily need to be on Mars, or indeed on any other planet?

    If we want a permanent off-world habitat, would it not be more worthwhile to devote energy to exploring the possibility of permanently-habitable, (near) self-sustaining space stations? These could be closer to Earth , would presumably have rather better access to solar power and journeys to and from Earth would only need to deal with a single planetary gravity well. They would have their own challenges; dealing with radiation and with the effects of zero-gravity on the human body in the longer term, but those don't instinctively feel as difficult as some of the problems highlighted in TFA. Other challenges, such as those around hydroponics and recycling, might not be that different from those associated with a settlement on Mars.

    Or is there a good reason why this is in fact more difficult than Mars-colonisation which I've just overlooked?

    • Well, it has a little bit more than space, it has gravity, which seems to be important for various life process (of both man and plants).

      • Well, it has a little bit more than space, it has gravity, which seems to be important for various life process (of both man and plants).

        Yes, but there's a well-known solution of a rotating space station [wikipedia.org] to produce artificial gravity, an idea that has been around for more than a century.

        The main problem is just funding the thing. But the amount of funds, resources, and amount of stuff needed to be launched into space to create a rotating space station is about as feasible as establishing a semi-permanent settlement on Mars. But travel to and from a rotating space station would be a LOT easier.

        • I agree it would be cheaper. Unless you need a lot of territory, and you dont plan on travelling or returning to earth of course.

    • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @08:55AM (#50573751)
      ^All that and learning to mine asteroids seems more productive than a Mars mission.
  • indeed, let's not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @08:32AM (#50573591)

    Technically, humanity probably could colonize Mars already. It would be expensive and unpleasant, but lots of things that have advanced humanity were expensive and unpleasant at first.

    A bigger reason not to colonize Mars is that there are far better things to do in space. Mars is a deep gravity well, and there's little evidence that there is anything in it we want. The asteroid belt, on the other hand, is full of useful stuff in convenient orbits.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @08:34AM (#50573597)

    Going to Mars is a bad idea for a whole range of reasons.

    First, aside from proving that we can do it, what is the point? Going to the moon is *way* easier, we do have the technology to establish a base there right now, it is immeasurably cheaper to finance - yet no one is suggesting seriously that we open a colony on the moon. And why would we? With Mars - it is the same thing. At first, going to the moon was totally exciting, electrifying the entire world. After the second or third landing, people stopped caring. Been there, done that. If we go to Mars, the first trip would make headlines, so may the second, but then attention will fade. People will care about a colony on Mars as much as they care about the international space station.

    The biggest problem with the long-term prospects of the endeavour is that there are no good economic reasons for it. But without economic reasons, this is not sustainable.

    And about the argument that it will be great for technological breakthroughs. I suggest to think again. The biggest tech breakthrough we will have in the next generation is the development of machines that can act ever more independently. From that perspective, going to Mars could be a great boost - if we decide not to send humans but restrict ourselves to probes. Then we will have the biggest technological benefits.

    In the meantime - if you want to live on Mars, why don't you apply to become a researcher on the south pole. Compared to Mars, life there will be paradise. And there is plenty of interesting research to be done there as well. Of course - no one will give a flying f*** about it - but this is about science and progress for humanity - not personal vanity, right?

    • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @09:33AM (#50574049) Homepage

      What really cemented my belief that going to Mars is impossible with current technology is this article [nasa.gov]. The biggest thing to me is just how much supplies you need to sustain yourself for the trip. 3 million pounds worth of supplies. That's 60 shuttle launches worth of supplies. Sure there's rockets that can lift more than the shuttle could, but even with those heavy lifter rockets, you're probably looking at around 30 launches just to get the gear into space. Then there's the problem of being stuck in a tin can for 9-12 months, and still being in good enough shape to do something useful once you get there.

      If you want to come back, the minimum stay is 3-4 months while you wait for the planets to line up again. And there is no turn around option like with the Apollo missions. Once you are on your way, there's no way to bail out and come back quickly in the event of an emergency.

  • he puts on a good show, even if he "falls just short of being a joke".
  • Colonizing the moon first sounds like the reasonable choice...
  • These men actually tried some of the privations of a trip to Mars, on a budget:

            http://channel.nationalgeograp... [nationalgeographic.com]

    The "Rocket City Rednecks" are a wonderful mix of genuine scientific research on a budget, and the sort of project some of us tried on long weekends when we were much younger.

  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @08:41AM (#50573661)

    To everyone with the "We HAVE to leave earth or we're doomed!" argument:

    With the exception of a planet-destroying asteroid (similar to the one that formed the moon), there is no conceivable disaster that will leave the earth less inhabitable by humans than any other body within our conceivable reach. The nearest planet or moon where humans could live in an even remotely self-sustainable way is so far away that even if we could travel near the speed of light, it would still be well out of our reach.

    • That's a rather short [youtube.com]-sighted [imdb.com] perspective on things.

  • Going to Mars.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by WhiteWolf666 ( 145211 ) <sherwinNO@SPAMamiran.us> on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @08:58AM (#50573757) Homepage Journal

    Is not complicated. Nor is it difficult bringing several orders magnitude greater "stuff" than the article contemplates.

    But this will not happen without nuclear propulsion. With Project Orion powered space craft, we could send 100,000 ton vessels to Mars, single stage, capable of landing, with a trip time of weeks, not months.

    This is the difference between trying to explore the new world, from Europe, with 5 people, paddles and a canoe; or a fleet of diesel powered amphibious vessels holding thousands of tons of cargo, and hundreds/thousands of expeditionary personnel.

    Exploring Mars (or pretending to settle it) with chemical rockets is really just playing with toys, the science equivalent of masturbation, and we really shouldn't bother with the cost. If mankind wants to expand beyond the earth, it will take nuclear propulsion.

  • So basically, it would be exactly like the passage to the New World was, only a) without gravity, b) with far better entertainment and medical options, and c) you can actually phone home.
    • by emagery ( 914122 )
      No... the new world had the capacity to sustain life. That said, 'omg it's hard' is not valid reason not to exercise our ingenuity and expand our capacities. Mars is a stepping stone, not a destination.
      • Or maybe Mars is not yet a stepping stone, more a cool challenge? It wouldn't be so much for the science. The science can be done in unmanned missions.
          There are people willing to go there even if they won't survive very long.
          I think the idea that we're trying to colonize the planet is a bit of a straw man. A first attempt at an outpost that will probably fail after a while, is there support for that? I think there is.

    • So basically, it would be exactly like the passage to the New World was, only a) without gravity, b) with far better entertainment and medical options, and c) you can actually phone home.

      Except that when you got to the New World you could step off your ship - without simultaneously asphyxiating, freezing, getting fried by radiation and being covered in rather unpleasant dust - shoot a few buffalo for food and start planting your crops in the fertile soil. Even Antarctica or the top of Everest are pretty cosy compared to Mars. Plus, the great thing about sailing ships is that they didn't rely on your destination having fuel refineries to get back.

      Trouble is, a lot of us grew up with the im

  • Well, at least Ed Regis is in the esteemed company of people that believed that you would fall off the earth if you went too far east or west. I'm looking forward to toasting Ed Regis with the local moonshine from a beautiful view sitting above Candor Chasma Rim. Seriously, find reasons to do things instead of excuses for giving up.

  • by Dishwasha ( 125561 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @09:13AM (#50573889)

    This never stopped our predecessors and defined science and discovery in ways unimaginable. That's why you leave it to those individuals at the extreme.

  • it would be accurate to call Mars a veritable hell for living things, were it not for the fact that the planet's average surface temperature is minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit

    Hell, that would be Venus: [wikipedia.org]

    The CO2-rich atmosphere, along with thick clouds of sulfur dioxide, generates the strongest greenhouse effect in the Solar System, creating surface temperatures of at least 735 K (462 C).

  • Wow, getting to Mars will be tough! Who knew?

    Might as well tell the guys spending a year on the iSS as a Mars mission study to come home now.

  • by ITRambo ( 1467509 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @09:16AM (#50573915)
    I saw an Arnold Schwarzenegger documentary some time back that shows that Mars has humanoid women with three boobs. There's your reason to go to Mars. I plan on watching a newer documentary, The Martian, to learn more.
  • If the NY Times author wants to criticize the time lines that's perfectly fine and dandy... and very much so accurate. However with the Slashdot OP suggesting removing it from our list of goals altogether, that's a far worse joke than the joke "Mars One" and "Inspiration One" are making. Out of the bunch, (Elon Musk) SpaceX, is the only one that can be taken seriously. NASA however is the most honest about it, they have it slated for 2035 at this present time which we can already suspect will slide backw
  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @09:21AM (#50573969)

    ""First, there is the tedious business of getting there. ...would be a grueling, eight- to nine-month-long nightmare for the crew,"

    I guess your great grandparents came with a Concorde to the US and didn't have to endure a grueling sea voyage where thousands died, then the long voyage to the west on foot where thousands died as well from hunger, sickness and exhaustion.

    Thank god at least here are no Mars-Indians. :-)

  • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @09:22AM (#50573975) Journal

    The author obviously has no clue about science.
    o Who cares about the average temperature of the planet when a landing spot will be close to the euator?
    o what is the longest stay in space, people already have done?
    o why do inhabitants of the ISS not care if they hang "wierd in space"?
    o did he once check the size of your personal space in a submarine?
    o while Systems may fail, mankind has build enough complex systems that lasted for decades (hint: pioneer and viking space probes)
    o while he is right that the atmosphere is not breathable, there is enough CO2 to produce all O2 we ever need there, and likely with water we have it even more easy to produce O2

    I for my part would happily join a trip to mars, even one way under a few conditions.

    • There have been expeditions to space stations smaller than the ISS, for duration longer than a trip to Mars. He is also wrong about the Hinderberg; hydrogen may well not have been the culprit (this theory was mainly pushed by the Nazis to blame the US for not selling them helium) and in any case the airship industry was mostly killed by powered flight getting better.
  • he seems to bring up alot of things that we already have overcome, the only thing that would be the most problem is the health issues like "your body’s muscles, including your heart..." etc and the water problem

    the thing I see is that we might aim for Mars but end up on the Moon first, people seem to think just because we didnt achieve the primary goal then a secondary goal is not a option, and doing\planning for something harsher will give a "easier" goal like settling on the moon a better chance
  • What in hell makes Mr. Regis qualify as a competent judge on the feasibility of interplanetary space travel ? Just askin'....
  • by EdgePenguin ( 2646733 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @09:38AM (#50574101) Homepage
    ...I'm guessing Ed Regis has never had children?
  • by ardmhacha ( 192482 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @09:52AM (#50574249)

    The New York Times article has the title "Let’s Not Move to Mars" and is basically a rant about how we won't be living on Mars anytime soon (if ever). Changing the title for the Slashdot article to "Let's Not Go To Mars" implies that the author is suggesting we don't even try to land a person on Mars which is not really the point of the original article.

    I think we should try to have an unmanned mission return to earth from Mars before we attempt to have a manned mission go to Mars.

  • by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Tuesday September 22, 2015 @10:18AM (#50574511)
    John F Kennedy perfectly told the world WHY we should do hard things.
    We do them not because they are easy, but because they are hard [youtube.com]

    We need to dare to dream. We need to do hard things. If not, then what the hell are we fighting for? What are we doing? Every society worth remembering, every great nation in history did things that were impossible. We can't stop doing that. We can't stop dreaming, or we will die. We will deserve to die.

You are always doing something marginal when the boss drops by your desk.