Mars Colonies are a Fantasy

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Feb 1, 2020
Ultimately, this renders to a cost/benefit analysis. What is there to Mars that would be ultimately valuable to us?

Research? As noted, this can be adequately done using purpose-built rovers.

Living space? That's an awful difficult thing to justify, given the sheer distance, small amounts of material we could send and the limited number of people as well.

Terraforming, Doctor Forward and such notwithstanding, is a hugely difficult thing to pull off.

And really, if we can build the proper and in-depth infrastructure with which to even manage limited landings on Mars, there are far better targets to apply this to. The Asteroid Belt is chock-full of resources and, if we can get to Mars in any meaningful way, then we can get to the Belt as well - where there's a real economic incentive to do so.

All this IMO, of course.
Cost Benefit Analysis? I can give it to you. Payback time is well over a century. When I was a practicing Professional Engineer, our cost estimate times generally used a seven year payback as the maximum acceptable figure. On that scale, Mars colonization cannot be economically justified presently.
Hey, it only just became possible for less cost than a global war.
Simple living space isn't a reason to colonize Mars. There are other, better ways to get that. O'Niel Cylinders or Bernal Spheres can be built with Lunar processed materials to give us room for many times more people than currently exist.
True Terraforming isn't possible on Mars. There isn't enough atmosphere and without a magnetic field there can't be. So the farms on Mars won't be outside. They will be inside. Maybe in large domes, maybe underground and artificially lit. Maybe even growing crops in plastic roofed river valleys with big dams at both ends.
We're already growing some crops indoors commercially in New York and Tokyo. The technology exists and is slowly growing more economical. Farmers are already a skilled trade here on Earth, just like plumbers or electricians are. This will just move them indoors like the other trades already are.
So no, those aren't the reason to go to Mars. The reason for Mars is simple, really. Mars has nitrogen. We can't live without it. After Earth, the next closest source of nitrogen is the moons of Jupiter. Mars we can do now. Jupiter and the asteroid belt we can't yet. For either of those, we'll need fusion.
Venus is easier to reach, but over an order of magnitude harder. Jupiter is easier than Venus.
After we have fusion, and after that becomes more economical, then there will probably be colonies on the asteroids and nearly all the planets as well.
But we can't do those yet. We can do the Moon and Mars.
The Moon however will never be able to exist without Earth. Mars can. Not well at present, but easily if we build it up over a century or so.

BTW, Terraforming plans that I have seen all require a working time of several centuries to a couple of millennia before anyone could go outside without a special suit. So it's still not an economical sort of thing. Recall that seven year rule.
Mar 22, 2020
I must admit, it's good that conversations can occur here. The userbase is still painfully small. In the old days, when Tech Media Networks pulled the plug on us, we had over 585k registered members. Hopefully the numbers here will increase.

I am also a (now former) engineer. I understand the 7 year rule, Anything invested in must see a return in a finite amount of time or it's just vanity, throwing money down a rathole. The vanity aspect is my key onjection to attempting to colonize Mars - there does not, as you note, appear to be any return on this for far longer than I'd care to think of.

As to ecploiting the Belt, well, this, I think, is what Mars would be key in, that is as a waystation en route to there via orbital facilities, pre-emplaced supplies, etc. And don't forget, as you'd mentioned Nitrogen, there *are* volatiles present in the Belt - water ice and such, nitrogen, methane, many compounds. It's simply a matter of locating and exploiting them.

Propu;sion - well, there is VASIMIR and other up and coming systems. Fusion not, per se, required I'd thinbk. Though truth be told, a workiong fusion drive would likely be an order of magnitude simpler than fusion power generation. After all, in a drive, you initiate the fusion rwaction but don't have to fully contain it as in a fusor - simply guide it for thrust.
Feb 1, 2020
I overestimate none of this. In point of fact, one of our old SDC Moderators was Doctor Jon Clarke, who in fact was/is a project scientist for various Mars rover projects. His skew on their capabilities was far different than yours, I'm afraid. Within their limitations they are quite capable.

Agreed about the Moon.
NASA is divided internally between the Robots folks and the Astronaut folks. Your Doctor is apparently one of the robot boosters.
The real best course, and the one that NASA is actually following is to use both. Robots where humans can't go and Astronauts where robots aren't enough.
Within their limitations, robots can do more than a human can do on site for one particular task. Yes, I recognize this. It's true in factories on Earth as well. However, robots are generally suited only for the task they are designed for. That means the robot can do well those tasks you knew about before it was built.
What a robot cannot do is anything you didn't anticipate. So we have excellent astronomical telescopes examining several planets and moons about the Solar System and using some excellent radiation and magnetic measurements. We also have some TV cameras moving about on Mars, SLOWLY.
What we don't have is any good general purpose instrument analyzing random bits of the planet. That is why we still don't know if there is life on Mars. We also don't have robots able to keep the machines in repair.
Personally, I would like to expand the robotic presence on Mars, but add some Human presence as well. Humans do the things the robots can't. Such as repair the robots, look closely at the things the robots can't examine, and cut that lag time down so our robot explorers can make Kilometers a day instead of meters.
But most of the people on Mars should be doing other things.
Hopefully in ten years all this will change.
I've been saying this since Carter was President.
Mar 22, 2020
Ugh, Carter. I was serving in the Army as a radar/missile tech. when he was President. A dearth of imagination and follow through.

Yes, Jon is a proponent of robotic based exploration, although he was not against manned missions as well. It simply depended on the what and the where. And yeah, perhaps we will land people on Mars someday in some limited numbers and capacity. Anything beyond that is well beyond our abilities at this point.

Just from a rational POV, there's a great deal we have to do first much closer to home. More and more capable orbital facilities here. Better vehicles for such as round trips to the moon. Mars can wait. There's no actual hurry, really.

Anyways, must run for the evening. I'll check back here tomorrow. G'night.
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