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Mars Earth Government

Should a Mars Colony Be Independent? (bbc.com) 295

An anonymous reader writes: The BBC has an article about a recent essay (PDF) from researcher Jacob Haqq-Misra, who argues that any future colonies established on Mars should be independent from nations or corporations on Earth. He suggests that such colonists be entirely disentangled from Earth, to the point of revoking their Earthbound citizenship. Haqq-Misra also thinks we should establish laws on Earth to prevent governments, companies, and individuals from interfering with the politics or economics of Mars. That might be harder to do; clearly, even innocent communications between family members can have an effect, and surely there will be a continuous flow of supplies to help support a colony. Where would we draw the line? It may be hard to secure investments for a Mars colony if it is guaranteed to cut ties with those spending the resources to build it. At the same time, enforcing a relationship seems impossible at interplanetary distances. Still, we're starting to ramp up our Mars exploration plans, and it's a good idea to start debating these issues now.
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Should a Mars Colony Be Independent?

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  • Oh shut up already (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2015 @12:19AM (#51152441)

    We haven't been doing anything other than the space equivalent of NASCAR since the 1970s as far as human spaceflight goes.

    Get back to me when we can actually put a man back on the Moon again, let alone Mars.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Are you kidding? Tons of lonely space nerds are fully erect now and very seriously discussing this.

    • How about putting robots on Mars that stay there and run science experiments forever? How is that not way better than putting a man on the moon again?
      • by khallow ( 566160 )
        Depends on the reasons. Running science experiments on Mars isn't very useful, if no one will ever live there. While having a repairman on the Moon to handle a few tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure is at least useful.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 20, 2015 @12:20AM (#51152443)

    Mars looks pretty barren and especially devoid of water and food. The colonies would be heavily reliant on shipments from earth for quite awhile.

    • by plover ( 150551 )

      Once it becomes self sufficient, it will rebel anyway. Nobody could afford to send a tax enforcement and collecting rocket. And there's no way in hell any self-respecting Martian would vote for any of the current Earthican candidates for president - it's not like they could be represented by an off-worlder.

      Nope, they should just plan for a 100% independent planet from Landing Day onwards. Their interactions with Earth should be through trade negotiations and contracts, just like any sovereign nation. An

      • by murdocj ( 543661 ) on Sunday December 20, 2015 @12:39AM (#51152489)

        Well, then the inhabitants should also plan on paying full freight for food, air, water. Which will be billions.

        • Either that or barter with something infinitely more valuable - information.

          • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

            This might shock you, so perhaps you should sit down:

            Nothing is infinitely valuable. Further more, value is determined by the receiver, not the provider.

          • Either that or barter with something infinitely more valuable - information.

            What information would that be, and why would anyone on Earth want to pay for that knowledge to be developed on Mars?
            Face it, any trip to Mars will be an expensive ego trip for the nation or nations that pull it off. I'm not saying we shouldn't do it, only that we should be realistic about the fruits of such a trip. The biggest thing they'll learn is 'How to live on Mars', and that information can't be 'sold' to people on Earth.

          • by murdocj ( 543661 ) on Sunday December 20, 2015 @10:15AM (#51153649)

            Right. Just like the inhabitants of Antarctica barter with information. Got it.

          • by khallow ( 566160 )
            That information has to be valuable first. Information about Mars is going to be much more valuable to colonists on Mars than to anyone staying on Earth.
        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          Well, then the inhabitants should also plan on paying full freight for food, air, water.

          Why would they ship those things when they can just obtain that locally? Remember the whole point of a Mars colony is that it is self-sufficient for the basic human needs.

          • by murdocj ( 543661 )

            Imagine shipping people off to the harshest environment on earth. Do you think they would survive w/o resupply or support? Now, make that environment FAR harsher ... no air, hard to get water, bathed in radiation, nearest support is tens of millions of miles away. Do you still blithely say "no problem, they'll do fine"?

            • by khallow ( 566160 )

              Imagine shipping people off to the harshest environment on earth. Do you think they would survive w/o resupply or support?

              If they're trying to make a self-sufficient colony (at least for basic resources like food, air, water, energy), then sure, I have no trouble imagining that.

              Now, make that environment FAR harsher ... no air, hard to get water, bathed in radiation, nearest support is tens of millions of miles away. Do you still blithely say "no problem, they'll do fine"?

              Why wouldn't I? It's not like they have a choice. I get the impression, yet again, that hard problems are being conflated with impossible ones.

              • by murdocj ( 543661 )

                Great. Tell me how they survive. Remembering that broken bolt could mean death. They have 3d printing? Where's the plastic come from... no hydrocarbons on Mars. They have nuclear power? uh, where's the mine for the fuel?

                Look, I grew up on science fiction, I watched the moon landings live (yep, I've been around a while). I would LOVE to see humans on Mars. But there are some "issues" that people just paper over with "oh well, they will be self-sufficient" w/o any thought as to what that means. I thi

                • by khallow ( 566160 )

                  Great. Tell me how they survive. Remembering that broken bolt could mean death. They have 3d printing?

                  Sure.

                  Where's the plastic come from... no hydrocarbons on Mars.

                  The atmosphere. Electrolysis of water yields hydrogen which while under heat and pressure converts to methane via the Sabatier reaction [wikipedia.org]. That in turn can be reacted to form ethene, the building block of most plastics.

                  They have nuclear power? uh, where's the mine for the fuel?

                  They have plenty of solar power.

                  The immediate future belongs to robots.

                  Which is irrelevant since we're not speaking of the immediate future.

                  • by murdocj ( 543661 )

                    Fine. But in that case, why worry about whether a hypothetical colony is going to be independent or not, when we agree it isn't going to happen for the foreseeable future?

                • The energy would likely come from solar plants ... see Rover, Spirit, Sorgeynour ...
                  Hydrocarbones come from CO2 and Water ... so the plastic problem is solved.

                  If you read so many SF, you should know that, perhaps you should read the red, blue, green mars triology, while it has scientific loops, it is a good read.

      • by dfenstrate ( 202098 ) <dfenstrate.gmail@com> on Sunday December 20, 2015 @05:46AM (#51153077)

        Once it becomes self sufficient, it will rebel anyway. Nobody could afford to send a tax enforcement and collecting rocket. And there's no way in hell any self-respecting Martian would vote for any of the current Earthican candidates for president - it's not like they could be represented by an off-worlder.

        Nope, they should just plan for a 100% independent planet from Landing Day onwards. Their interactions with Earth should be through trade negotiations and contracts, just like any sovereign nation.

        Trade negotiations? It's unlikely that Mars has any material worth hauling back to earth, and there's nothing that could be made there cheaper than on earth. Or even the moon. There will be no 'trade.' As for being 'independent', there's no way even the best planned and equipped mission could make it past 10 years without equipment & material from earth.

        No, in the best-case scenario, any Mars outpost will be a massive money pit for nations and corporations on earth for a good 50-100 years. That's about the time you would need to build the ridiculous infrastructure and industrial base required to live independently on Mars. I wouldn't count on anything more than a token presence on Mars in our lifetimes.
        There wouldn't be any point of 'independence' until the colony could support itself anyway. Interpersonal squabbles would have to be settled largely locally in any case. There would be no land and little personal property to argue over. Crimes might require the input of legal professionals on earth to adjudicate- no one's going to waste money sending lawyers into space, and the people paying the bills might take offense if the locals just start 'airlocking' the troublesome. There would also be no 'market' to tax or manage for that first 50-100 years. 'Independent from landing day onwards' is a silly pseudo-western sci-fi fantasy. There's no long-term survival on this frontier without a steady stream of expensively shipped parts from Earth. 3-d printing isn't going to keep a colony running, even if they could source the raw material on Mars. As for sourcing the raw materials on Mars, can you imagine establishing a mining operation?

        It's simple. If the 'Independent' Martians piss off the people paying the bills, they're just going to say "The return rocket is fueled. It's right where you left it. We're not sending anything else your way. We suggest you perform an inventory and make your decision soon."

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          No, in the best-case scenario, any Mars outpost will be a massive money pit for nations and corporations on earth for a good 50-100 years. That's about the time you would need to build the ridiculous infrastructure and industrial base required to live independently on Mars. I wouldn't count on anything more than a token presence on Mars in our lifetimes. (...) There's no long-term survival on this frontier without a steady stream of expensively shipped parts from Earth. 3-d printing isn't going to keep a colony running, even if they could source the raw material on Mars. As for sourcing the raw materials on Mars, can you imagine establishing a mining operation?

          I think that is not so much a matter of time as a matter of size. We can afford to sustain a few at a ridiculous cost per person. And if they're big enough to sustain themselves, great. But what's the curve between and the break-even point? Like, here's another guy from earth and we produce our own power, domes, pressure suits, air, food, water, medicine etc. at a >1:1 ratio so when we can put him to work we'll need less from Earth. That's not going to happen with ten or a hundred or a thousand people, m

        • no one's going to waste money sending lawyers into space

          I disagree. But bringing them back, I could see large potential savings there.

        • No, in the best-case scenario, any Mars outpost will be a massive money pit for nations and corporations on earth for a good 50-100 years. That's about the time you would need to build the ridiculous infrastructure and industrial base required to live independently on Mars. I wouldn't count on anything more than a token presence on Mars in our lifetimes.

          Not if we can perfect portable or at least truck-size replicators. The idea isn't to build massive infrastructure but to build on as-needed basis. I'm not saying that Mars necessarily has the resources. Maybe Mars lacks the elements and minerals necessary to reproduce technology from sratch. But if there's even a dim possibility of building an independent industrial base using resources from the Martian crust, why build it? Why build a nuclear power plant or factories when solar panels and a 3D printer can

  • Sure (Score:5, Insightful)

    by binarylarry ( 1338699 ) on Sunday December 20, 2015 @12:21AM (#51152451)

    And no religion too.

    • Re:Sure (Score:4, Interesting)

      by PHPNerd ( 1039992 ) on Sunday December 20, 2015 @12:57AM (#51152537) Homepage
      Religion is one of those funny things that will crop up anyway, regardless of whether or not the colonists bring it with them.
      • Religion is one of those funny things that will crop up anyway, regardless of whether or not the colonists bring it with them.

        Just start with the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

        If it's the official religion of Mars, then the people who start to get fanatical about it will drill holes in the helmets to obtain the colander hats, go out side, and "Blort!", their eyes bug out of their heads like Schwartzenegger in Total Recall, and the problem takes care of itself!

      • Re:Sure (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Tom ( 822 ) on Sunday December 20, 2015 @09:15AM (#51153461) Homepage Journal

        That depends.

        Religion appeared on earth because our ancestors lived in a frightening world full of stuff they didn't understand but that could kill them. Lightning, floods, diseases, etc. etc.
        Religion was a way to at least explain it, which dissolves psychological stress. We have since replicated that even in rats, random unexplainable punishment leads to mental breakdown, while predictable, understandable punishment leads to adaptation.

        Thought experiment:
        If you take people today, vet them very carefully for being rational and non-religious, and make them start a colony, for what reason would religion appear? With a scientific approach to the universe, there are still unexplained things, but you know that eventually you will be able to understand them, and you have a big framework of understanding to put them in until then. There is no reason for fear and mental pressure.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          I'm not sure that traditional religion would appear, but you have things like New Age spirituality that has appeared well into modern day society. Many people have a desire to believe that there's something more than flesh and blood. It doesn't have to be God but things like fate, destiny, karma, soulmates and feng shui. And understanding is just one side of religion, when the doctors tell me what's going to kill me and why I don't care about knowledge, I want a divine power to change it. When I've been wro

        • Thought experiment: Think about a group of rational and non-religious people like scientists say, and ask yourself if they don't have any dogmatic convictions that they won't defend as staunchly as any theistic believer. The answer is they very much do. The behaviors associated with 'belief' can occur outside of a religion, and outside of spirituality of any kind. The consequences for human interactions from these behaviors will stay with us for a long time.
        • If you take people today, vet them very carefully for being rational and non-religious, and make them start a colony, for what reason would religion appear?

          You'd end up with nobody. There aren't any rational and non-religious people. There are people who think they are rational, but that is just a belief arising from not looking too closely at the underlying assumptions.

        • We should not forget that in really ancient times religion was the same as science.
          The religious rules in Judaism and Islam, not it eat pigs, or the other rules in Judaism to treat various foods differently are in our (blinded) eys, just religion.
          However, not to eat pigs because they wallow in their own shit, necause it causes deseases: was an well onserved scientific fact in the relevant regions in the relevant times. That simply cleaning the flesh would be enough, was out of scope however.

          Same for many ot

    • And no religion too.

      But don't you want to MAKE US WHOLE [wikia.com]?

  • by NicBenjamin ( 2124018 ) on Sunday December 20, 2015 @12:26AM (#51152467)

    They'll have no exports. that means no source of cash to buy the things that Mars can't provide -- like modern medical supples, updated electronics, and other manufactured goods.

    They'll also have no ability to pay for the rocket fuel to get to Mars in the first place, much less for additional trips to bring in new colonists when the PhD aquaculture guy who was running the potatoes gets himself run over by a rover.

    Geeks really like to dream big about space, and the hate the bullshit conventional human institutions provide; but the problem is that the only sources of big-level funding for space have to be large-scale human institutions. Which means dealing with bullshit.

    • They'll have no exports. that means no source of cash to buy the things that Mars can't provide -- like modern medical supples, updated electronics, and other manufactured goods.

      This may not be a problem.

      GDP per capita [google.com] has skyrocketed in recent decades, and would appear to be on an exponential curve. We're just about at the point where don't need as many workers as we have, to supply everyone with what they want.

      The take-away is that automation and efficiency will continue to rise, so that less will be needed to make a self-sufficient colony. Machines which could mine raw materials and build more machines, for instance.

      A breakthrough in AI would be enough to put us over the top.

      • It's not really growing any faster now then it did back in the 50s. And instead of it becoming easier and easier to convince people to pay for things collectively, we've entered an era of death-battles over trivial amounts of government spending. Seriously, back then we convinced people to pay like 5% of GDP for a moonshot. Today we can't get them to a single percent.

        So even if we could fund a Mars colony with a minuscule tax, half the country would be aghast (aghast I tell you!) that the money was being sp

    • They'll have no exports. that means no source of cash to buy the things that Mars can't provide -- like modern medical supples, updated electronics, and other manufactured goods.

      Yeah, but they'll also be a reserve of sanity when President Clark goes nuts and tries to destroy the earth. Plus their neutrality will make it a good place to camp out when the Minbari turn up.

    • People on Mars will have one thing that's worth billions back here to the people who sent them. Cold, hard data. Information on Mars. Observations, results from experiments, detailed data that only a human on the ground can obtain.

      • People on Mars will have one thing that's worth billions back here to the people who sent them. Cold, hard data. Information on Mars. Observations, results from experiments, detailed data that only a human on the ground can obtain.

        It's certainly fascinating, but if it was worth billions we'd be spending billions on it.

        And maintaining a Mars colony would be a tens-of-billions a year-type endeavor. You'd need some resupply ships, probably at least one a year, a satellite (or more probably, a network of satellites) so they can communicate with home, etc.

        None of which is particularly likely to happen is the source of a good 80-90% of the space spending in the world (non-governmental, for-profit, corporations) loses ownership of anything

    • Geeks really like to dream big about space, and the hate the bullshit conventional human institutions provide; but the problem is that the only sources of big-level funding for space have to be large-scale human institutions. Which means dealing with bullshit.

      More importantly, any space colony is going to require a level of authoritarian collectivism that'll make anything that has ever existed on Earth to seem mild. The colony needs to micromanage and coordinate everything since it'll have a shortage of pr

  • We haven't even reached the stage of a prison colony yet. Let's do that first. Once Mars is no longer a prison colony, then we can start discussing the possibility of limited self-governance.

  • No (Score:4, Informative)

    by KeensMustard ( 655606 ) on Sunday December 20, 2015 @12:49AM (#51152511)
    "Still, we're starting to ramp up our Mars exploration plans"

    No: No, we aren't. A few dozen enthusiasts on the internet talking about how they would like to go to Mars does not equal a "ramp up". Fantasy stories wherein earth's technologies can be replicated without the base materials and manufacturing that earth provides does not equal a "ramp up".

  • Independent as can kill someone legally if they can't make there life support paymnet.

  • no responsibility? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BradMajors ( 995624 ) on Sunday December 20, 2015 @12:57AM (#51152541)

    You mean no one on Earth would have any responsibility to assist, rescue, or supply the Mars colony? Why would a country want to assist foreign citizens living elsewhere for free?

  • Honestly I think history shows that not cutting national ties when entering a new territory is ideal. There is going to be a far greater need for supplies for those starting out on a new planet than those starting out on a new continent. If you were to go to the extreme of cutting citizenship, funding or any help you can basically say we are not going to colonize any new territory in the future. The reason independence is important is when a people do not have a say in policies that are implemented concerni

  • The answer is very simple to obtain if we go back to the definition of sovereignty, which is the enforcement by a group of rules on a territory.

    If a Mars colony declares itself independent, is there an Earth nation that will be able to afford a fleet to bring a police force to Mars so that its own laws are enforced? As the answer is probably no, then Mars colonies are going to be independent if this is the will of the People of Mars.

    • It's not even the case of can anyone get a fleet to Mars, it is the fact that as soon as Mars has launch capability you had an instant MAD scenario so you cannot enforce laws they don't want to follow. It might take awhile for your attack to arrive but if you aren't trying to slow down to achieve orbit anything you lob will hit the ground pretty hard.

  • Unless a government or some trillionaire donates the money with no strings attached, whoever pays for a Mars colony will probably determine whether it's independent or not. It's a nice thought that it would be independent, but unless the person saying that is donating the money, it's only a nice thought.
  • "starting to ramp up our Mars exploration plans"

    What a dumb ass way to go about it. Plant a colony somewhere that looks like a good spot, and then let the colonists do the exploration when they are not busy reading Slashdot or playing on their X Box.

    Lewis and Clark didn't do their thing until we already had colonies on the continent.

    Why do we have to map the whole damn place down to the millimeter before we send people there? To employ a few roboticists? I'd rather have colonists there than a few employe

  • The Roman empire - take it all.
    Treaty of Tordesillas https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] - who from Earth gets what and a nice map.
    East India Company https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    Congo Free State https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    Bantustan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    The Antarctic territories https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    A high tech land rush with lesser nations from earth funding distant insurgency efforts.
  • I think Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it's cold as Hell.
  • by mark_reh ( 2015546 ) on Sunday December 20, 2015 @02:31AM (#51152759) Journal

    How will an independent Mars colony earn the kind of money it will take to pay the freight for sending things they need to survive from Earth to Mars? It will be the classic coal mining operation just relocated to Mars- people will work all day on Mars doing whatever it is they do and they will earn less than enough to pay their debt to the shipping company that sends them their food, clothing, etc. They will be slaves. Maybe we should send prisoners there...

  • "it's a good idea to start debating these issues now."

    You mean that every SF writer in the last 70 years has been writing in vain because pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals haven't bothered to READ it?

    Besides, it's baloney. Whoever pays for the rockets is going to want SOME return on their investment, and any Mars colony will certainly require support from Earth, at least at first. Saying "Any Mars colony should be independent from its founding" is a sneaky way of trying to eliminate any Mars colony attemp

  • by sgunhouse ( 1050564 ) on Sunday December 20, 2015 @02:42AM (#51152777)
    The whole thing sounds silly when we don't even have a lunar colony yet. If either becomes self-sufficient it will be based on exporting mineral resources, and of course it'll be easier to set up lunar colonies - and easier to transport materials from there to Earth. So let's talk about independence for lunar colonists first.
  • surely there will be a continuous flow of supplies to help support a colony

    And someone will control that flow of supplies. That someone will therefore have absolute influence over the colony.

    As for trade: what, exactly could Mars possibly have that would be tradable - given the extreme cost of transportation? Maybe once there is a Martian "sphere of influence" with LMO and its moons there would be some local trade (since the gravitational costs of getting stuff up there would be lower). But still: what would the Red Planet have that couldn't be made cheaper on (say) Phobos?

    But

  • You see, the thing about laws is that they're worth nothing if you cannot enforce them. So you are going to do what, exactly, to stop company X when it ignores all of them to get an early monopoloy on, say, water treatment machines on Mars?

    This whole "deregulation" bullshit hasn't worked, or rather: Worked in the opposite of what was promised, good job.

    We don't need more "hands off" stupidity that fails. We need a good, solid framework, preferrably created by experts and not by politicians.

  • Not so fast (Score:4, Funny)

    by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Sunday December 20, 2015 @06:14AM (#51153099)

    They'll have to drop thousands of ice asteroids first, to get a little ocean where they can throw some tea in before becoming independent.

  • by vikingpower ( 768921 ) on Sunday December 20, 2015 @07:31AM (#51153259) Homepage Journal

    TFA opens its abstract with the observation that

    Humanity has the knowledge to solve its problems but lacks the moral insight to implement these ideas on a global scale.

    This, in and by itself, is the most thoughtful remark by an American in 2015 I've read. From there, the author develops his stance that Mars should be liberated before any human lands on it. His train of thought and chained arguments avoid any extremism, be it political or philosophical and cite such successful devices as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ( to which, BTW, the USA is not a party, alas ). In brief: the author makes an excellent point, parting from a single philosophical argument. We need a couple more like him.

  • And why do you want to cut off our air?

  • As long as a mars colony is not viable on its own without stuff brought to earth : no it should be considered a region/state of the nation founding it. Afterward there are a lot of stuff they would have to abid to before being "free" : outer space treaty, various other nation treaty etc... And I concur to the guy who said "shut up until we set foot there". IMHO we will never have a mars colony. Not enough gain for the effort.
  • This article should have been titled "debate the political landscape layed out in Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red/Blue/Green Mars trillogy" because that is exactly what this is. I think if 1653 pages on the subject cant come to a consise answer, then there is no concise answer.
  • Think about it: First of all, the cheapest commodity to ship is information, and it moves at the speed of light, even with existing technology. Most importantly, the business model would be familiar to customers.

    Given time for some cultural drift, Martians will develop funny accents (seen "The Expanse"?) that customers will have have to strain to understand. The time lag will be roughly what customers are already experiencing ("Please wait while I check to see if you are eligible for a refund..." and then a

  • I'm curious; considering that we aren't really anywhere near close to putting humans on Mars (I'd submit that a serious program to do so would be at least 10 years in the works, and to my knowledge no such program has started beyond mere speculation), where precisely does "space researcher" end and "science fiction author" begin?

    Because wild speculation about who is responsible to whom in a situation fraught with complexities that may well be a century away sounds pretty much like science fiction to me. Oh

  • "It might seem odd for a company or country to spend billions of dollars to get to Mars, only to relinquish any control over what happens on the planet. But itâ(TM)s not inconceivable, says Haqq-Misra."

    Yes, yes it is.
    Despite the speculations of an ivory-tower academic, countries and corporations are not charities. They do not dump billions (and perhaps trillions) of dollars into projects that will not return them (expected) benefits.
    They simply don't.

  • They can't be independent. They will be too dependent on the supply chain back at Earth to be independent. Until they have basic industry, including bulk mineral and chemical processing, metal smelting, and plastics manufacturing all up and running reliably on the Mars surface, they're dependent on supplies from Earth. So, basically, until they can make their own Duck Tape... No independence for them!
  • When a Mars colony is completely self-sufficient for Earth, making everything they need to run their whole economy, then definitely they should be completely independent politically.

    I also propose that they should choose to be ruled by unicorns. Because by the time it becomes possible for a Mars colony to be completely self-sufficient we will be able to make unicorns through genetic engineering. They won't have magical powers, but they will be immortal and super intelligent, and we would be wise to submit

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