Mars Colonies are a Fantasy

Page 4 - Seeking answers about space? Join the Space community: the premier source of space exploration, innovation, and astronomy news, chronicling (and celebrating) humanity's ongoing expansion across the final frontier.
Feb 1, 2020
165
93
660
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.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Dragrath
Mar 22, 2020
15
5
515
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
165
93
660
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.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Catastrophe
Mar 22, 2020
15
5
515
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.
 
Last edited:

Catastrophe

The devil is in the detail
Feb 18, 2020
3,838
2,424
8,070
I would just like to confirm one point for the silent majority who follow your interesting cut and thrust. It helps from time to time if certain points can be established.

The question is: Can we understand that terraforming is ruled out for the foreseeable future? The question of atmospheric renewal seems a killer.
On the basis of 'never say never' can we say within 200 years?

Thank you for your kind cooperation.

Cat
 
  • Like
Reactions: dfjchem721
Mar 19, 2020
433
482
560
I will take this one, Cat. (Hope this is not repeating any previous notions - haven't read them all.)

We cannot rule out terraforming since an advanced alien species might come to visit us and really get to like us and help us do all kinds of things. Sounds like a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Short of that, we can rule it out permanently, unless we can decrease global population 10x and concentrate on almost nothing other then terraforming.

Such activities border on the "cosmic scale", and we are way too puny for such things. The best we can do for the foreseeable future is with thermonuclear explosives. Their power is limited only by the amount of fissile and fusionable mass one can assemble at the appropriate density. Thousands of megatons of yield from one device is certainly possible. We could probably shatter the moon if we worked at it hard enough! That might help with lunar mining.

That is the closest thing to "cosmic scale" I can think of regarding human technology today, and the foreseeable future. And it is a destructive force. Which describes many of our activities, willful or otherwise.

But a powerful force nevertheless.!
 
  • Like
Reactions: Catastrophe

Catastrophe

The devil is in the detail
Feb 18, 2020
3,838
2,424
8,070
"The question is: Can we understand that terraforming is ruled out for the foreseeable future? The question of atmospheric renewal seems a killer.
On the basis of 'never say never' can we say within 200 years?"

"Short of that, we can rule it out permanently" Yes?

Sometimes we get bogged down with so much posting that it is difficult to remember what has been said. Shall we try from time to time, where appropriate, to get a fair even handed summary?

If we can rule out terraforming within 200 years we can start looking at colonies (underground? etc.). How about that?

Short of that . . . . . . . . . within 200 years . . . . . . . . . Yes?
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: dfjchem721
Mar 19, 2020
433
482
560
Cat, will play along as if it is possible:

The biggest hurdle is the cost. The virus control and its impact on economics has made clear that working off-earth on any significant scale is not a likely scenario in the near future (10-20 years). No telling what other nasty thing is going to show up in the future, making this pandemic look like a pimple.

Let's assume that this doesn't happen and start with the primary issue (sorry if this has been covered):

Who is going to pay for terraforming? How many trillions of U.S. dollars will it cost?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Catastrophe

Catastrophe

The devil is in the detail
Feb 18, 2020
3,838
2,424
8,070
"The question is: Can we understand that terraforming is ruled out for the foreseeable future? The question of atmospheric renewal seems a killer.
On the basis of 'never say never' can we say within 200 years?"

"Short of that, we can rule it out permanently" Yes?

Sometimes we get bogged down with so much posting that it is difficult to remember what has been said. Shall we try from time to time, where appropriate, to get a fair even handed summary?

If we can rule out terraforming within 200 years we can start looking at colonies (underground? etc.). How about that?

Short of that . . . . . . . . . within 200 years . . . . . . . . . Yes?
"we can start looking at colonies (underground? etc.)." Sure. OK.
 
  • Like
Reactions: dfjchem721
Mar 19, 2020
433
482
560
Colonies underground is certainly much more likely, but do we want to become the "mole people"?

Cost of such activities will again always be the issue. It just does not seem feasible. Cost is number one, beyond any engineering issue.

Who is going to pay for it?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Catastrophe
Oct 21, 2019
249
107
260
Colonies underground is certainly much more likely, but do we want to become the "mole people"
The term "mole people" is a pejorative term intended to elicit emotional response and therefore inappropriate in a scientific discussion.
Mega buildings are becoming popular. They include apartments, company work spaces, entertainment, recreation, sports, and gardens, everything people need. Residents don't ever need to leave the building. Many people love the environment and thrive there.

People that do not understand often make comments based upon lack of knowledge or understanding. I lived for 4 years on a US Navy ship, 512 ft long, 52 ft wide, with 333 other sailors. Submariners live in close quarters with others 6-8 months at a time, deep under the surface. None of them have ever gone Postal. People living above ground, in the open air, walking freely down the streets every day, have. I laugh at people complaining about being “confined” during this Pandemic. I have been there and lived it. Please do not purport to understand what living on Mars would be like.
 
  • Like
Reactions: dfjchem721
Mar 19, 2020
433
482
560
Your commentary suggests you are likely a graduate, and further reading perhaps of the U.S. Naval Academy? At any rate, the connotation of "mole people" is one of levity regarding a technical issue of building colonies on the moon, etc. I don't recall any scientific issues addressed. That would involve the most nebulous of human activities. Everything here seems rather tame.

Truly, this is not a spit and polish forum, sorry to say. If you find my response a little brash, it is because I am a Navy brat. People can develop an edge when raised by some war veterans, or so I have been told.

So, I was very much intrigued by the rest of your post. Seeing that you served on this large naval vessel sparked my interest, and as I read, thought the size would nail it down.

So a quick search of various U.S nuclear submarines gave most under 400 feet long, so I figured you were probably in an Ohio class submarine, which my book tells me is 560 feet long, with a beam of 42 feet. Can't seem to find anything exactly the size you mention, however. My data could be faulty. But then you say living "6-8 months at a time". That is a long time for such a large crew, so I am back to Ohio-class again. Please clear up my ignorance on this issue.

Now that is a very unique position you have been in, and I would not think of such a person in the pejorative, much less write about it, to be sure. Indeed, quite the opposite. Serving on a nuclear sub is a true distinction and completely different from colonizing any planet. If you were cocked and loaded, am guessing that would have been 24 launch tubes for Trident and/or Tomahawk missiles. People in tunnels on the moon don't hold the fate of the world in their hands.

And living in such conditions would not really approximate living off-world in that you know at the end of each cruise you will probably be coming home, and you are staying on the planet, which is also nice to know. After all, the surface is usually only a hundred meters up, give or take! Certainly not on a distant world.

My question regarding the most significant hurdle to off-world colonies remains:

Who is going to pay for it?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Catastrophe

Jackie Cox

BANNED
Jun 4, 2020
10
0
10
The suggestion that humans will soon set up bustling, long-lasting colonies on Mars is something many of us take for granted. What this lofty vision fails to appreciate, however, are the monumental—if not intractable—challenges awaiting colonists who want to permanently live on Mars. Unless we radically adapt our brains and bodies to the harsh Martian environment (become cyborgs), the Red Planet will forever remain off limits to humans.

Mars is the closest thing we have to Earth in the entire solar system, and that’s not saying much.

The Red Planet is a cold, dead place, with an atmosphere about 100 times thinner than Earth’s. The paltry amount of air that does exist on Mars is primarily composed of noxious carbon dioxide, which does little to protect the surface from the Sun’s harmful rays. Air pressure on Mars is very low; at 600 Pascals, it’s only about 0.6 percent that of Earth. You might as well be exposed to the vacuum of space, resulting in a severe form of the bends—including ruptured lungs, dangerously swollen skin and body tissue, and ultimately death. The thin atmosphere also means that heat cannot be retained at the surface. The average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees Fahrenheit (-63 degrees Celsius), with temperatures dropping as low as -195 degrees F (-126 degrees C). By contrast, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was at Vostok Station in Antarctica, at -128 degrees F (-89 degrees C) on June 23, 1982. Once temperatures get below the -40 degrees F/C mark, people who aren’t properly dressed for the occasion can expect hypothermia to set in within about five to seven minutes.

The notion that we’ll soon set up colonies inhabited by hundreds or thousands of people is pure nonsense.
Mars also has less mass than is typically appreciated. Gravity on the Red Planet is 0.375 that of Earth’s, which means a 180-pound person on Earth would weigh a scant 68 pounds on Mars. While that might sound appealing, this low-gravity environment would likely wreak havoc to human health in the long term, and possibly have negative impacts on human fertility.

Yet despite these and a plethora of other issues, there’s this popular idea floating around that we’ll soon be able to set up colonies on Mars with ease. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is projecting colonies on Mars as early as the 2050s, while astrobiologist Lewis Darnell, a professor at the University of Westminster, has offered a more modest estimate, saying it’ll be about 50 to 100 years before “substantial numbers of people have moved to Mars to live in self-sustaining towns.” The United Arab Emirates is aiming to build a Martian city of 600,000 occupants by 2117, in one of the more ambitious visions of the future.

Even if all these obvious problems are somehow solved, who in their right mind (after the initial kick of living on another planet wears off) would actually wanna live in such a hellish place?

And what about the critically important microbiome?

Apparently, many people have forgotten the Biosphere I and Biosphere II projects in the Arizona desert designed to test a completely enclosed, self-sustaining environment for long space flights. After ten of millions of dollars spent, both were miserable failures.
••••••••• How can we technically overcome the lack of. Gravitational Field ? •••••••••
 
Nov 21, 2019
19
19
515
Even a very bad climate change/global warming devastated day, a day on Earth is far more survivable than a day on Mars. Always has been. Always will be. So the excuse that Mars is Plan B if Earth fails is not tenable. Earth will not fail. It'll give us a whupping from time to time to keep us in our place, but we'll figure out a work around. That's going on right now!;)

There is plenty of water on Mars though it needs some modification to be drinkable. We can manufacture an artificial atmosphere from that water plus the MARS' CO2. We can escape the radiation by living underground. We can grow food underground using zig-zag light tubes with mirrors to get the light to the plants while those nasty cosmic proton bullets eat dirt.

We can protect in-transit humans either with water stored around the hull of their ship or by using some sort of artificial anti-radiation shield, technology that is currently being researched.

We might even do something about the muscle and skeletal atrophy problem simply by wearing heavily weighted clothing to simulate Earth normal gravity.

But we still get to the issue of What's the Point? People dream of Mars because they see it as some new frontier, like the deserts of the American Southwest. But it's not. It's not even as fun as the Sahara, and I don't see anyone living there except in oases. Otherwise, they're just passing through.

Living on Mars is somewhat like though harder and more constrained than living under the ocean or in Antarctica. So I see those two places as templates of what people will really do on Mars. Most people there will be scientists living there for 2 years at a stretch to study it. Geologists will be in hog heaven! But there are other disciplines that would find it fascinating, too.

But families? Is it moral to risk your kids' lives when they have no say in the matter? Do we see kids living in Antarctica or under the ocean? Of course not! What we see are single persons or couples staying on site for a set amount of time and then going back home.

Tourists? We do see them visiting Antarctica and under water venues, but I doubt that we'll see many of them on Mars until the round trips get a lot shorter.
 

Catastrophe

The devil is in the detail
Feb 18, 2020
3,838
2,424
8,070
I cannot speak for Jackie but my interpretation would be that both the atmosphere and gravitational field are not conducive to human occupation.

I would further suggest (insist) that terraforming is totally out of the picture. That leaves colonies. Atmosphere is quite easily rectified (in space occupancy terms) but the low gravity would (as has been pointed out) lead to long term health adjustment terms. I am neutral on the question of colonies. What is the purpose of colonisation? Overpopulation? Danger to Earth from space debris? Expansion of the Sun? The same problems would apply to Mars - or anywhere.
 

Wolfshadw

Moderator
Apr 1, 2020
496
435
1,060
What is the purpose of colonisation? Overpopulation? Danger to Earth from space debris? Expansion of the Sun? The same problems would apply to Mars - or anywhere.
While true, there is the old adage, "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.". If the human race wishes to preserve some semblance of itself in the event of an extinction level event, then we're going to need more than one basket.

-Wolf sends
 
Mar 19, 2020
433
482
560
But we still get to the issue of What's the Point? People dream of Mars because they see it as some new frontier, like the deserts of the American Southwest. But it's not. It's not even as fun as the Sahara, and I don't see anyone living there except in oases. Otherwise, they're just passing through.
Susan raises one of the best issues. "What is the point?"

I have a bigger problem with it all. Indeed, it is the most fundamental barrier to all of this. Have brought it up before, but no one wants to talk about it.

So I still insist on an answer to the question that remains the biggest elephant in the room:

Who is going to pay for it ???!!!

Again, no one wants to address this most important issue of all. You have nothing but fantasy without massive funding. Apparently that is why no one wants to talk about it.

That is because the fantasy is better then the reality. The reality is that all this Mars stuff is never going to happen.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ken Fabian
Feb 1, 2020
165
93
660
••••••••• How can we technically overcome the lack of. Gravitational Field ? •••••••••
The plan for the Moon is to build a big dome and make a wide railroad loop around it, then spin the entire thing on tracks. This generates artificial gravity.

This plan was printed with engineering documents on power needs and materials with stress analysis in the late 1970's. Most of the problems identified as insoluable had solutions printed with some limited engineering studies decades ago. It only uses technology that had been available since the 1960's.

The problems aren't technical, they are political and economic.
 
Feb 1, 2020
165
93
660
Who is going to pay for it ???!!!
Who paid to settle the entire Atlantic Seaboard of North America?

Answer: Nobody. Same answer today.

What people then did pay for was a couple of small setttlements, Roanoke, then Popham (in Maine) both failed. The next two were Plymouth and Jamestown. This was early 1600's. Both succeeded. Neither phenomenally well. But they did succeed in making a small profit. This drew others, most of whom also made only a small profit. Sometimes after failing several times first.

Mars will be no different. The first couple of groups will most likely be research bases, then research bases with surrounding support facilities. Things like indoor farms, iron smelting, minor manufacturing and so forth. When those can make everything they need, then some limited trade will start with Earth and probably some asteroid colonies or the Moon.

The dreamed of large colonies will take decades to centuries. If you want luxury and convenience, stay home.

If you are willing to work hard and get things slowly, then you might be the right sort of person.

Later on there will be considerably more profit made. But from the European perspective, what is now the United States was still worth less than the island of Bermuda until the 1820's. The newfangled United States was a lousy source of sugar and only really worth money for tobacco and cotton. Neither of those worth a great deal. By the 1830's it was starting to be different, but that took over 200 years of effort.

Expect Mars to be paying for itself by the 2050's, but don't expect it to be worth as much as the Moon until the 2200's. That's just following the same model as the settlement of North America.

If you want economic growth, concentrate on the Moon and High Earth Orbit (HEO). That's where the easy resources are that can be shipped back down to Earth, and where the manufacturing will be first developed.

We've (USA, India, Russia, China, France [EU] already mapped out where the minierals are on both the Moon and Mars. Both bodies have all the mineral wealth needed to build practically anything. The moon however has almost no nitrogen deposits. Mars does, but the Moon is close enough to reach in mere days, not years.
 
Nov 21, 2019
19
19
515
Who paid to settle the entire Atlantic Seaboard of North America?

Answer: Nobody. Same answer today.

What people then did pay for was a couple of small setttlements, Roanoke, then Popham (in Maine) both failed. The next two were Plymouth and Jamestown. This was early 1600's. Both succeeded. Neither phenomenally well. But they did succeed in making a small profit. This drew others, most of whom also made only a small profit. Sometimes after failing several times first.

Mars will be no different. The first couple of groups will most likely be research bases, then research bases with surrounding support facilities. Things like indoor farms, iron smelting, minor manufacturing and so forth. When those can make everything they need, then some limited trade will start with Earth and probably some asteroid colonies or the Moon.

The dreamed of large colonies will take decades to centuries. If you want luxury and convenience, stay home.

If you are willing to work hard and get things slowly, then you might be the right sort of person.

Later on there will be considerably more profit made. But from the European perspective, what is now the United States was still worth less than the island of Bermuda until the 1820's. The newfangled United States was a lousy source of sugar and only really worth money for tobacco and cotton. Neither of those worth a great deal. By the 1830's it was starting to be different, but that took over 200 years of effort.

Expect Mars to be paying for itself by the 2050's, but don't expect it to be worth as much as the Moon until the 2200's. That's just following the same model as the settlement of North America.

If you want economic growth, concentrate on the Moon and High Earth Orbit (HEO). That's where the easy resources are that can be shipped back down to Earth, and where the manufacturing will be first developed.

We've (USA, India, Russia, China, France [EU] already mapped out where the minierals are on both the Moon and Mars. Both bodies have all the mineral wealth needed to build practically anything. The moon however has almost no nitrogen deposits. Mars does, but the Moon is close enough to reach in mere days, not years.
I really don't think the Americas are a good template for Mars. There's just no comparison. Europeans didn't colonize the Americas. They conquered the humans who had already colonized the Americas thousands of years earlier. The Europeans were just moving in to a section of Earth that they hadn't known about before.

Once we colonize the other 2/3 of our planet, the alien lands under the seas, then we might have the skills to colonize other planets. And those lands are close by, with easy to convert air and water, normal gravity. Easy! And lots of close by mineral resources. So where are the colonies?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ken Fabian

Wolfshadw

Moderator
Apr 1, 2020
496
435
1,060
Who is going to pay for it ???!!!
One if not both of two groups:

1) Profiteers. Just as soon as an economic plan is devised where a company has a reasonable chance of making a profit from colonizing Mars (or the Moon), you'll see it happen.

2) Rich Survivalists. If you have the money, Moon and Mars colonies are the first and second off-world "Off-the-Grid" landing sites. Of course, @Susan is right and there are still plenty of terrestrial locations available, but to be the first? Some just can't resist that opportunity... if they have the money.

-Wolf sends

You see! You have even I falling into the trap of thinking the human race must survive for ever. Who says we must be immortal. (Rhetorical question - no answers please).
Dang! And I really wanted to answer that! :D
 
Last edited:

ASK THE COMMUNITY