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Mars Space Science

Elon Musk's Mars Colony Would Have a Horde of Mining Robots (engadget.com) 222

An anonymous reader shares an Engadget report: If it wasn't already clear that Elon Musk has considered virtually every aspect of what it would take to colonize Mars, it is now. As part of his Reddit AMA session, the SpaceX founder has revealed that his vision of a permanent colony would entail a huge number of "miner/tunneling droids." The robots would build large volumes of underground pressurized space for industrial activity, leaving geodesic domes (made of carbon fiber and glass) for everyday living. As a resident, you might never see the 'ugly' side of settling the Red Planet. Musk also explained how his colony would get to the point where it can reliably refuel spacecraft all by itself. Dragon capsules would serve as scouts, helping find the "best way" to extract water for fuel reactions. An unmanned Heart of Gold spaceship would then deliver the basics for a propellant plant, while the first crewed mission would finish that plant. After that, SpaceX would double the number of flights between each ideal Earth-Mars rendezvous (every 26 months) until the colony can reliably produce fuel by itself. Oh, and don't worry about today's Falcon 9 rockets being consigned to the history books. Although the main booster for interplanetary travel will "have an easier time of things," Musk believes that the final iteration of Falcon 9 (Block 5) could be used "almost indefinitely" if properly maintained. Production on Block 5 should fly in the next 6 to 8 months.
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Elon Musk's Mars Colony Would Have a Horde of Mining Robots

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  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @09:43AM (#53138633)
    That it, I am not going to Mars unless Musk also agrees to implement an alliance of mining robots.
  • If we send 1000 people to Mars how exactly are we going to feed them? I have heard enough about spaceships, engines, fuel and robots. Has anybody done some thinking on the steaks and the veggies?
    • If you have said robots build a city ahead of time. We have the technology to grow plants inside, Mars has enough gravity that most plants should grow just fine, we just need soil (and all the bacteria that contains, which yes, would require us starting with some earth soil) worms and seeds.

      • Exo-Farming (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @10:09AM (#53138811)

        We have the technology to grow plants inside,

        We do but that doesn't mean we can do so with 100% reliability. Plus we have a lot to learn before we start exo-farming. It's not clear how reliably we can grow crops on Mars even in a well controlled greenhouse. There is reason for optimism but there is a lot we don't know yet.

        Mars has enough gravity that most plants should grow just fine,

        Perhaps but currently that is an unproven assertion. Frankly the gravity is likely to be among the least of the challenges to growing food on Mars. When you have a small self contained garden you run the risk of any number of problems hugely disrupting the entire crop. And the crop for early explorers will necessarily be small with minimal excess most likely. On Earth we have enough agriculture that we only tend to experience localized famines due to distribution problems because other areas can make up for a shortage. Early Mars explorers could very easily have their entire crop wiped out and the only back up option is to ship food from Earth. I'm not saying it's impossible but it probably will be quite a challenge.

      • And artificial lighting, either by concentrating suns rays onto greenhouses, or LEDs powered by solar power farms. The sunlight otherwise might not be powerful enough to grow crops.

        The other problem is that there are compounds in the Martian substrate that are toxic to life. We have to make sure that the plants aren't killed by them, and that they don't absorb the toxins and kill humans.

      • by Ranbot ( 2648297 )

        We have the technology to grow plants inside...we just need soil...and seeds.

        Hydroponic systems make importing soil and soil amendments (like bacteria and worms) unnecessary. If (a BIG if) we follow Musk's assumptions that robots are sophisticated enough to tunnel through Martian soil/rock, mine and process fuel, water, and oxygen, and build pressurized human habitats, then it's not unreasonable to believe robots could also build hydroponic farms in advance of humans arriving. You really have to drink the kool-aid to believe all that is possible in any reasonable time frame, though.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      I assume we would feed them food which magically makes its way to my mom's fridge and then to my basement lair. Just make sure they have fridges and the rest will follow.

      More seriously, Mars has all the nutrients plants need, sunlight, and dirt. Whatever you can already grow in a greenhouse on Earth, you can grow in a Martian greenhouse as well.
    • You will not have steaks and meat, even vegan "steaks" take a lot of processing. Unless you take a vegetable cut it up and call it a steak or piece of meat.
      There has been a lot of work done on the food issue from NASA and individuals. there is a place called the Mars Desert Research Station which researches growing in mars simulated environments and soil, except for gravity. Reports from the ISS have shown gravity is not really that much of a matter for some plants.
      The one thing that is needed is lots
      • by khallow ( 566160 )

        You will not have steaks and meat

        Shrimp and fish are a lot easier to transport than cattle.

    • The mining robots are going to be made of organic material incase times get tough.

    • Big challenges (Score:4, Informative)

      by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @10:18AM (#53138891)

      If we send 1000 people to Mars how exactly are we going to feed them?

      It will be a substantial challenge but hardly the only one. Early explorers will be supplied from Earth but they'll have to develop some self sustaining exo-farming technology. This is not a trivial problem. And manufacturing will have even bigger problems. You basically have to develop an entire self contained supply chain from scratch which except for life support issues is probably the biggest show stopper problem with colonizing another planet. Need some tungsten? You have to either ship it from Earth at tremendous cost or you have to figure out how to mine it and refine it locally on Mars. Either way it's a tough challenge.

      Has anybody done some thinking on the steaks and the veggies?

      Yes though such research has a looooong way to go.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NEDHead ( 1651195 )

      One person can feed ten people for 25 days, so after 25 days there will only be 900 people to feed....etc, etc.

    • Well half of them can eat the other half. That strategy can be repeated for a while, at the very least.
    • Soylent Green biscuits of course.
    • by joh ( 27088 )

      Yes, a lot of people are thinking about this right now instead of posting on Slashdot. Slashdot is so 20th century anyway.

  • Naming this supply ship for disaster, I guess. At least it's unmanned.

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @09:55AM (#53138713) Homepage

    Okay, so we've got the mining robots, the auto-fuelling spaceship dock, the autonomous telephone sanitizers... I can't help feeling there's something we're forgetting...

    Oh! Right - people.

    Hang on. Why are we sending people again?

    • by ghoul ( 157158 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @10:01AM (#53138753)

      Because we (tech billionaires) cant stand the crowds. Plus we can offshore to Mars. People on Mars work even cheaper than those in India. You only have to provide food,water and oxygen. Not like they can go on strike and wait out MuskCorp. Mars the ultimate Companytown.

    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @10:10AM (#53138823)

      Hang on. Why are we sending people again?

      I think this comic [thedevilspanties.com] sums it up rather well.

      • by e r ( 2847683 )
        It makes perfect sense why someone would want to go to Mars. But what is our incentive to help pay for their trip? (NASA pays a large amount of SpaceX's income)
        • NASA pays SpaceX primarily to put NASA satellites into orbit, or to send NASA cargo to NASA astronauts on a space station partially built by NASA. They provided some funding to help SpaceX develop that capability. They are continuing to fund SpaceX's development of Dragon v2 (because NASA also wants the ability to send NASA astronauts to the space station) and Falcon 9 Heavy (because NASA wants to improve what NASA satellites SpaceX can put into orbit). NASA is *not* directly funding BFR/BFS development, be

      • So the only reason to go to Mars would be tourism? That's not a compelling case.
        • So the only reason to go to Mars would be tourism? That's not a compelling case.

          Holy missing the point Batman! Of course there are more reasons to go to Mars than tourism. Science research, preservation of our species, joy of exploration, financial gain, engineering, military dominance, and the list goes on and on. Use your brain and think of a few more. It's not hard. The point is that relatively little of this is possible by just sending robots just like there is a difference between knowing that it is 85F and sunny in Hawaii and actually being there yourself.

          • I just responded to the comic you posted, which only implies tourism as a reason to go to Mars. What else is there that Hawaii and Mars have in common? Do you really think will be pineapples plantations on Mars? And why should I be expected to think of arguments for a proposal I think is flawed? Burden of proof lies with those who think sending humans to Mars is justified. But now that you've provided a few more ideas, I'll respond to those.

            Science research: going just fine with robots. In fact, we coul

        • by joh ( 27088 )

          A reason to go to Mars would be to leave the idiots behind and go to somewhere where productivity isn't a curse but a blessing. You certainly don't need people there who can't even live in a comparable paradise without wrecking it for fun.

      • Not really.

        Hawaii is a really nice place for humans to live: the weather is perfect, it's lush and beautiful, there's all kinds of fun things to do like swimming, surfing, scuba diving, exploring rain forests, etc.

        If you found yourself magically transported to Hawaii in prehistoric times, perhaps with a small group of intelligent people, you could pretty easily survive there by living off the land. There's wood for making huts and burning, there's extremely fertile land for farming, there's vegetation that

        • Hawaii is a really nice place for humans to live: the weather is perfect, it's lush and beautiful, there's all kinds of fun things to do like swimming, surfing, scuba diving, exploring rain forests, etc.

          Way to miss the point. We explore Antarctica too for lots of very good reasons and it is anything but hospitable. Mars is very similar but with the degree of difficulty turned up to 11. There are plenty of good reasons to go there in person. Learn to understand what an analogy is and stop thinking so literally and being so short sighted.

          • Maybe instead of ranting at people for missing the point, you should come up with a better analogy than comparing Hawaii (one of the most to pleasant places on Earth) to Mars (which is an uninhabitable, cold, dead, airless, irradiated rock).
        • It'd be a lot easier to just stop messing up this planet so much.

          How do you propose we convince 7 billion people and thousands of individual countries and corporations to agree with your vision of "not messing up the planet so much". No, I'm pretty sure it's far easier to colonize Mars.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Okay, so we've got the mining robots, the auto-fuelling spaceship dock, the autonomous telephone sanitizers... I can't help feeling there's something we're forgetting... Oh! Right - people. Hang on. Why are we sending people again?

      Because we're not smart enough to make a robot that could and would do what we'd do and telepresence would be hopeless with the delay. Take the stupidest person you know that can drive a car. Ask him to write the software for a self-driving car, might as well ask him to jump to the Moon. Not even many man-years of the best and brightest has managed to get their car a driver's license that millions of teenagers manage every year. If there's a real base there will be plenty that goes wrong or becomes defectiv

    • by Bite The Pillow ( 3087109 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @10:51AM (#53139175)

      First step in ensuring we can survive when this planet is no longer habitable, is establishing a presence on another planet.

      And when the time comes, another solar system.

      And because we can. Or at least one guy in charge of a lot of related tech can. Electric cars, batteries, mass transport, rockets... Elon has most of what he needs in house.

      Eventually, we won't have a choice. So I'd vote for ASAP rather than wait for public interest to die out. The mars one reality show never was viable, but got lots of volunteers. This guy seems to have a chance.

      • There are no plausible scenarios where Mars would be more habitable than Earth. Even if Earth was hit by simultaneous global warming/nuclear war/comet strike, it would still be infinitely more habitable than a dead cold airless rock.
        • The only scenario I can come up with is when the sun expands and swallows the Earth in a few billion years. At that point, Mars will clearly be more inhabitable (though also very hard to live on because of the heat).

        • by joh ( 27088 )

          You forget one thing: Hell is other people.

    • Well, to take a cynical view, consider this plan:
      1. Establish rocket company that can send stuff to Mars
      2. Send 100 or so humans to Mars
      3. OMG they're going to die, but we don't have any more money to send them supplies!
      4. Profit!!

      Though I admit, if you wanted to force the hand of society into creating an interplanetary civilization, you would use basically the same strategy if you had the ability to do step 1. I think this is one of the ideas explored in "The Martian" -- society appears to be much

  • Being outcast to a mining colony on a barren planet where the very air is toxic and robots might turn against their masters. The only question before I book passage is whether I should buy the regular space suit or stump the extra cash for the one with a "ludicrous" 60 minutes of extra oxygen.
    • Look at the options though.
      Option one: Enjoy a long, healthy life on earth. Raise a family if you can. Grow old. Spent the last decade of your life in a care home as your mind decays before dying of natural causes. Your immediate family will mourn you for a few years, but in the end you will leave no legacy but a headstone.
      Option two: Volunteer for the mars colony mission in thirty years and head off. Spend your life advancing mankind, breaking new ground, and solving exciting problems on the frontier. Enjo

  • SpaceX = Spacers

  • Bacterial Vats (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @10:12AM (#53138841)

    Bacterial vats, or single cell algae are probably the future of space food. Add crap and energy into vats and either bacteria or algae converts the crap into food.

    (more too it than that, but that forms the bulk)

  • Elon Musk's Mars Colony Would Have a Horde of Mining Robots

    Good, because it sure as hell won't have any humans.

  • He describes such robots. He called them Von Neumans.

    I'm sure other writers thought of them too.

    • by Salgak1 ( 20136 )

      Fred Saberhagen ALSO described such robots. Except HE called them "Berserkers [infogalactic.com]". . .

      So the question to ask is. . .are you Goodlife ???

  • by MouseTheLuckyDog ( 2752443 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @10:26AM (#53138961)

    One thing to keep in mind is that they will go out on a ship where they will live for a year.

    That ship will have to handle the same problems of food and air. So once you get past the ship, the colonization should be easy.
    Just transfer the facilities from the ship.

  • News for nerds? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MouseTheLuckyDog ( 2752443 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @10:32AM (#53138999)

    This is a news site for nerds?
    Reading the comments on this thread I don't think so.

  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @10:45AM (#53139143)

    I am 100% for robotic automation of labor but it seems like this is a task they should master on Earth before they try it out on Mars. So the question is, will SpaceX dominate Earth's mining industry?

    • Hint: Replace the words "mining robot" with "mining RPV".

      Realistically, we're not talking autonomous mining robot, we're talking remote controlled mining equipment. Sort of like what we use on Earth, but with a longer delay between command and response.

      What I'm curious about is whether they've established requirements for CNC milling machines that can make the parts for the mining robots, to include the parts to make another CNC milling machine.

      Excluding IC's, of course. They're light enough that you

      • Realistically, we're not talking autonomous mining robot, we're talking remote controlled mining equipment. Sort of like what we use on Earth, but with a longer delay between command and response.

        I hope you are joking or I've misunderstood something because there is a 15 minute delay between Earth and Mars.

      • I think automated mining is more viable than remote-controlled mining.

        Terrastrial mining incorporates humans to optimize the energy / yield ratio. Since the target materials are not very valuable, energy efficiency is critical to the equation- earth mining operations can't afford to process a million cubic yards of material to extract a couple pounds of gold.

        In a space / Mars mining operation, the input energy will have to be solar. The target materials will be as valuable as the cost of sending them fr
    • I was thinking the same thing "here we go again, Elon is planning on including yet another thing we don't know how to do as a central part of his architecture".

  • Maybe he should start writing science fiction? Most of these things he talks about have been already thought about, maybe we can start planning this thing when there are mining robots on earth.
  • This is just another example of how detached from reality the industrialist class has become.
    These billionaires - with no actual training in science - are so disconnected from what is possible and what is not possible.
    A fool who made his money off of paypal and government subsidies envisions Mars mining with robots while actual mining today on Earth cannot be accomplished with robots. Has this moron ever even been in a working mine today, in the real world? I have worked for over 2 decades now in an actual

    • So what are the technical hurdles that would need to be overcome for there to be actual mining with robots? Doing some quick googling I see that Komatsu and CAT and a few others offer fully autonomous mining solutions. Are those just bullshit and don't work as advertised?
  • by Sqreater ( 895148 ) on Monday October 24, 2016 @12:58PM (#53140299)
    All the things he talks about need intense human maintenance. Which means the humans must come first. But they can't come first without the infrastructure he talks about. Which means the robots must come first. But they need intense maintenance so the humans must come first. But they can't until the infrastructure comes first, so the robots must come first. But they can't until the humans come first.......impossible on the face of it.
  • "leaving geodesic domes (made of carbon fiber and glass) for everyday living"

    An endless stream of pie-in-the-sky colonization porn.... However shouldn't each article on this topic deal with the problem of shielding vulnerable biological creatures such as humans from the harsh reality of high energy particles zipping around to and fro?

  • Every time this subject comes up on Slashdot there is an overwhelming amount of negativity. âoeWe canâ(TM)t go.â âoeWe shouldnâ(TM)t go.â âoeItâ(TM)s impossible!â âoeYou would die there.â âoeIt will never happen.â âoeItâ(TM)s all smoke and mirrors.â âoeSolve Earth problems first.â âoeItâ(TM)s too expensive!â On and on and on you go, whining all the way. And your objections are silly. âoeWell, has an

    • The are many avenues for adventure, exploration and discovery. What makes you believe that manned space programs own a monopoly on those values? There are still vast stretches of the Earth than remain unexplored. A single drop of ocean water contains more undiscovered life than the entire planet Mars. Fewer probes have been sent to the bottom of the ocean than to the surface of Mars. Even in your own body, there are entire hidden ecosystems that remain unexplored by science. You're the one who is narrow-mi
  • Whatever else people may think of the architecture or Elon personally, that is admirable, and it is hopeful, especially for the younger generation that hears no end to the doom and gloom and have to put up with a couple of idiots running for president this year further depressing them.

    https://denniswingo.wordpress.... [wordpress.com]

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