Mars Colonies are a Fantasy

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Mar 19, 2020
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Cat, you may have finally found an example in science where I can truly appreciate "Occam's razor". Perhaps the earth is the odd planet, and moons belong only to gas giants, for the most part. Moons around dwarf planets appear more common.

I usually assume complexity in science, which more than often is the case. The simplistic answers are usually wrong, at least in my experience.

An old professor once suggested Occam's razor to explain the activity of a complex globular protein matrix. I was not aware of Occam or his razor at the time, so after asking him when Occam had made his observations (1300s), and learning he had used a preference for simplicity to defend the idea of divine miracles, I noted that Occam had probably never heard of molecular biology, where simplicity is not on the menu. This notched me one more "evil eye" to my credit!!

You have a good eye for simplicity as well as complexity. My eye for simplicity seems to be lazy.......
 
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Below is an abbreviated quote from Ken's fine earlier post on the subject of economics for Mars colonization, responding to my "shout-out" about "who is going to pay for it".

I don't think Mars colonies can work but i don't think the Mars optimists will take any of the arguments for why on board; in order to sustain the dream they cannot. I too, see the economics as unworkable and if it isn't economically viable it is not viable.

My own view is that only a large, comprehensively capable industrial economy can make the essential technology for self sufficiency under such conditions. "Bootstrapping" style improvising as you go cannot substitute.

Any attempt to make a self supporting colony in these kinds of remote places can only succeed through a long period of profitable and enduring trade and cannot start with self sufficiency.
Ken, I hope this is not too late to respond to your post. I meant to do it shortly after you posted, but then got side-tracked, only now remembering that you were the only one to take up my challenge as to "who is going to pay for it".

You make very good points about profitability, which was not even on my mind when I posited the question. Governments have always paid for space exploration etc. in the past, so when I read all these stories about Mars colonies etc., I just shake my head and ask that question, over and over. Yes, of course it has to be profitable.

Saw some quotes for a simple manned mission to Mars. Quotes were from $500 billion to $1 trillion. Expected to need two ships, like Apollo 10 and 11. The first one is a no-landing "dry-run", and if that works out, then the second run is for landing. Reading all this left me with that same overwhelming question - funding.

Sure it is possible that all the countries who can afford it would be able to put this together in a joint effort, but that is even less likely now with all the animosity and trade wars.

Still, I am wondering about your background based on your well reasoned post about economics, and the map of trade during the early years after discovery of the new world. Some interesting comparisons there (but we likely won't have the slaves.)

How do you foresee the next trip to the moon? And what is that going to cost? If they are going to colonize Mars, they should think about the moon as a test run. No doubt all the dreamers will whine and insist on going to Mars, but this is just not going to happen, unless a major change occurs in human economics, particularly with the "greed" factor. As The Man said in the movie, "Greed is Good", but it has it limits.........and you and I both agree that Mars is way outside those limits.

Nobody is going to pay for it without major returns. Still cannot even figure out what those would be!
 
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Feb 18, 2020
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"You have a good eye for simplicity as well as complexity."

Thank you kind Sir! Half way along I was getting a bit worried.

Might this be a good time to raise one general question?

How is it that we feel it appropriate to dignify names like Donald and Boris with capital letters, but some (not I) refrain from so dignifying Moon, Earth, Mars and even Universe with the respect that they deserve.

BTW don't forget Asteroid Day on 30th June.
 
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Dec 29, 2019
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Ken, I hope this is not too late to respond to your post. I meant to do it shortly after you posted, but then got side-tracked, only now remembering that you were the only one to take up my challenge as to "who is going to pay for it".
I do think it is a LOT harder for a colony to achieve true self reliance under such conditions than most posters here do. I think it would take a sizable population to support the capabilities of an advanced industrial economy that reliable long term survival - well, it has to be reliable for survival - on Mars requires.

I'm not convinced colonising The Moon or Mars makes sense as a near term goal.. I really think it is overreach to try for anything but fleeting visits just to show that we can. Which will rely on taxpayer funded programs. There will be commercial opportunities servicing those programs but the programs ARE the opportunities, not The Moon or Mars.

I can't help but think asteroid mining rather than colonies on planets other than Earth is where I'd start for something that can stand... err, go freefall on it's own. Crude, unprocessed nickel-iron is the resource I would target first and it would be for bulk delivery to Earth; any use in space, or in-space activity it kickstarts would be incidental. But I think it would kickstart some. Nickel-iron has value as it is; crude nickel-iron delivered to Earth would be worth probably a few thousand US$ a ton as nickel-iron. Keep it as simple as possible, with the least people in space, least infrastructure in space. If that infrastructure can be built using nickel-iron in space at reduced cost, so much the better but the reduced cost, not the making stuff in space with nickel-iron, has to be the goal.

Successful colonies will be emergent outcomes, developing on the back of long running economic activity within the greater Earth economy. I don't think we can get them by planning them.
 
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Thanks for the overview Ken, I appreciate it.

Still, getting "crude nickel-iron delivered to Earth ....worth probably a few thousand US$ a ton as nickel-iron" does not seem feasible. Iridium and/or some other more precious metals used industrially would seem more practical. They say asteroids are rich in some of these metals, particularly iridium. The amounts, and ease of recovery are the issue.

But I suppose if you are going to get to an asteroid to mine it, might as well get what you can.

Of course getting the nickel-iron ore would be a lot easier since all you have to do is "blast" chunks off the right bodies, and then be able to direct these fragments to earth. A few low yield, clean neutron bombs might be ideal for this kind of mining. Properly situated, they should not impart too much velocity to blast-fragments for their recovery, and minimize radioactive contamination.

Reminds me of Barringer Crater, which was formed by an Iron-rich "asteroid". Barringer bought it way back when iron was worth much more since he thought he would find the mother load of iron in the crater bottom. Of course most of it was lost to fragmentation etc.

But that is a cheap way to get the nickel-iron back from space. Just have it crash into the earth somewhere where it does not cause a problem, and take the leavings. If you bring enough in that way, it might work. Otherwise, how do you get it to the surface cheaply? Seems like only high value elements would make this work. Never really pondered space mining. Clearly a difficult problem, but at least you won't get black-lung from it!
 
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Still, getting "crude nickel-iron delivered to Earth ....worth probably a few thousand US$ a ton as nickel-iron" does not seem feasible. Iridium and/or some other more precious metals used industrially would seem more practical. They say asteroids are rich in some of these metals, particularly iridium. The amounts, and ease of recovery are the issue.

This is taking the discussion off topic I guess... sorry. My views on many of these things is quite different to most of the posters here.

There are precious metals mixed in asteroid nickel-iron but that is a very difficult ore to extract them from. Up to 100ppm for a mixture of Platinum Group Metals that includes Iridium. Less than 10ppm for Gold. (Going by meteorite samples). There is no real basis for expecting anything with much higher concentrations; the material that made the solar system got well mixed up. It is a huge amount in absolute terms even in "small" metallic asteroids - but the extraction costs are a huge barrier.

Perhaps some simplified method of extraction to get those high value materials can be developed (plasma separation comes to mind) that can work cost effectively in space but right now it would likely involve grinding to powder, completely dissolving in acids, adding reagents that cause different compounds of metals to (with centrifuging) precipitate out, then further chemical processing. Probably including electrolytics. It is not then just a matter of mining metals, it would mean mining and refining and processing a variety of consumable materials and probably require bringing key materials as well as equipment from Earth.

A major power source is needed for asteroid belt objects but any in odd orbits that get closer to the sun than Earthmight offer solar energy as an option. Otherwise probably nuclear power is needed as well as materials, equipment at huge expense. It becomes a huge and very costly undertaking before it starts. Avoiding expense is absolutely critical to commercial viability. Which is why I would not start with anything that involves complex refining but go for something that involves the least processing. We can see if Earth based refiners can extract those low concentration, high value materials once it is somewhere that has an advanced industrial economy. If they can that might add more US$ per ton to the market price.

I know that a few thousand US$ per ton looks low compared to the hundred and thousands per gram of rare precious metals but by any Earth standard Ni-Fe is a valuable commodity as it is. Much lower value commodities are shipped around the world. Supposedly moving stuff around easily is one of the great advantages of vacuum and no gravity. I think if packages can be slowed they can be dropped using parachutes or possibly if reduced to effective zero orbital velocity (depending where) just dropped; we wouldn't want them hitting atmosphere at high velocities, or the ground. More like dead satellites that often reach the ground as distinct pieces. The problem is reduced to bringing down in-space transport and final delivery costs.

I would not use nuclear explosions in any of this - seems like overkill and very uncontrollable. I would probably aim for metal rich chondrites, full of metallic nodules or grains that simple mechanical methods can separate from softer carbonaceous material. Or can solid Ni-Fe be broken up with shattering? I don't know what Ni-Fe is like at very low temperatures, but cooling to make more brittle might be preferable to energy costly sawing or plasma cutting. Or melting.

The economics of space activities are prohibitive; the less hardware/construction (or people) in space the better the economics will be. Opportunities for permanent human presence may (will?) emerge out of that but including them for their own sake, like that presence is the point, hurts the economics. It is getting ahead of ourselves.
 
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That is an excellent treatment once again. I knew there was a lot involved in purifying Pt etc. but did not realize it was so low in abundance.

The choice of nuclear explosives in mining just seems so practical. Their yields can be reduced to the sub-kiloton range, and are almost dirt-cheap. Taking a few chips off the old rock would seem like an easy task for delicately implanted implosion devices. Seems like a cheap, quick and simple means of obtaining large chunks to tug back to where you are set up to manipulate things. Done correctly, the blast force might even send chunks on a near intercept course with earth, minimizing the effort to stabilize it after "energetic detachment". Or steering rockets could be implanted on the chunk to help guide it correctly.

Delivering Fe-Ni to the surface seems like a major problem. Perhaps it needs to be used for things that stay in space. After all, heavy life rockets will be required to put up massive deployments like a Mars mission, etc. How many launches to build the ISS? - dozens if I recall. Of course we both think most of this is just dreaming, but that is a nice thing to do also, as long as they don't turn into nightmares.
 
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Perhaps it needs to be used for things that stay in space.
I don't know how bulk commodities could be delivered safely and cost effectively to Earth but I don't think it is impossible. The physical trade in bulk commodities making an income stream that supports the enterprise is the point. I think it all gets a lot harder to find foundational commercial opportunities without bulk physical trade.

Using space materials in space to reduce the costs of a commercially viable space enterprise would be good, but if there is no or only limited physical trade, what viable enterprise, what income stream? There is no space economy independent of Earth's; asteroid mining will run on Earth made tech, funded by Earth based investors, producing commodities for Earth based markets. I hope, delivering tangible benefits to people on Earth. Possibilities for people to live and work in space seem likely to emerge but are not the point.
 
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Might this be a good time to raise one general question?

How is it that we feel it appropriate to dignify names like Donald and Boris with capital letters, but some (not I) refrain from so dignifying Moon, Earth, Mars and even Universe with the respect that they deserve.
From old English classes going back as far as elementary school.

Proper Nouns should be capitalized. General nouns should not be capitalized. So Moon when referring to the Earth's single Moon is capitalized. But when referring to a natural satellite like Jupiter's moons, the word is not capitalized. But a specific moon like Ganymede is capitalized.

The name of a specific planet is also capitalized. So Earth, Venus, Mars etc. are capitalized. When referring to a generalized planet it is not capitalized. So the Planets referring to the Solar System is capitolized, while 'the planets' when referring to putative planets around another star which do not have names and may or may not exist is not capitalized.

As to why you don't see that generally done? It's simply ignorance in action. There's a lot of that going around. Not everybody is as well educated as you are.
 
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Nobody is going to pay for it without major returns. Still cannot even figure out what those would be!
The planned economics for Space based industry are generally not appreciated and assume direct competition with Earth based industry at current astronomical prices.

That isn't however the case.

Costs for launch from Earth are currently around $2,000 per Kilogram, or $2000,000 per Ton and don't look to be dropping by very much any time soon.

The costs though to go from Earth Orbit to the ground are much lower than that. They range from $2,000 per Ton down to $200 Dollars per ton. With work it could get down to $2 Dollars per ton if the reaction gasses were space produced.

I don't expect it will ever get so cheap that spaced based iron or nickle-iron will replace terrestrial sourced iron. Especially where recycled materials are concerned.

However there are quite a lot of materials that are quite valuable that can be produced in space. This includes the frequently mentioned gold and Platinum Group metals. But there isn't really very much demand for those.

Much higher in demand is pure silicon wafers, particular when processed into semi-conductors. So too are finely machined parts. Those can be built anywhere and are already made mostly by robotic machines. Those machines can be just as easily located on the Moon or in some free space facility as they can be on Earth.

But shipping from Mars is most likely a non-starter. Shipping from the Moon takes around three days, and can be dropped to any point on Earth by a simple ball of material that can resist the temperature and pressure of Earth Insertion. Some such cases have been designed to be able to survive being shot from the surface of the Moon and then landing in places like Lake Michigan or the Great Salt Lake in Utah. There are many other such locations all around the Earth. Parts of the North Sea or the Sea of Japan for instance. The basic container would be a steel bubble, a meter or so across with the cargo, if the steel of the container isn't the cargo, placed and secured inside.

For temperature sensitive materials such as semi-conductors that need to be kept at below two or three hundred degrees Celsius, some insulation may be needed. The accelerations are extreme for human cargo, but machine parts and raw materials don't much care about that. The temperatures are also above those for Human Survival. But they are in the hundred of degree ranges, not thousands or millions of degrees. These can be launched from HEO (High Earth Orbit) or the surface of the Moon electrically.

So the primary source of revenue from an Earth-side perspective will be that the Moon or some O'Neil cylinder or cylinders are where the money from Space comes from.

But those places will require resupply, and it will be less expensive to resupply from Mars.

The simple truth is that the Earth is at the bottom of a deep gravity well. Mars has a gravity well about a third of Earth's gravity well. It's roughly a square of the strength problem for rockets to escape the well. So it's nine times cheaper to ship things from Mars than it is to ship them from Earth.

True, there is only a window every twenty six months or so from Mars to Earth with present day technology, but that can be planned for. The sorts of supplies that will be needed by the Earth Orbit industries are mostly biological or compressed gas in nature. The Moon has very little water and so far as we know no Nitrogen. Both are needed for agriculture and therefore food production.

All the technologies needed for production of the required life support and agricultural facilities have already been worked out. The Science is done. There is a lot of Engineering, but there are many possible solutions to each of these promlems.

And remember, it's nine times cheaper to take the long slow route to supply from Mars than it is quickly from nearby Earth.

The material processing flow for space based industry will be different from that on Earth. The Planetary Society has already worked that out. There are carbon monoxide refining techniques that will process the ores and in that process separate out the various components as by-products. Yes, it is energy intensive there, just as it is here. But large mirrors in Space are cheap. We can use sunlight out to at least the orbit of Jupiter. They just get larger. Three times larger diameter than that needed on Earth is enough for Jupiter. We lose half of the sunlight to the atmosphere here on Earth. So the mirrors for a Jupiter based factory will just need to be six times larger than those needed for a HEO O'Neil.

Carbon monoxide is toxic, so we can't use that here on Earth. Here we used Carbon and oxygen processes that require even more energy than does the toxic CO based refining system. On Earth we use coal or oil and just burn it. Space doesn't have those non-renewable resources. So they will have to do things differently.

That's not a problem though when you have to seal the processes off anyway. The Moon, free Space and Mars all need that sealing off to work. Workers inside will be using either space suits or remote robots.

The machines that make all this possible, such as 3D printing and CNC (Computer Numeric Control) machines as well as robotic links, arms and assemblers are all established technologies as well. Currently, it takes enough materials to stock a large garage to have the ability to make literally anything at a small scale. But that is enough to build a factory that can then make literally anything at a large scale.
Shipping down to Earth takes only a modest rail gun with a package that can survive high G and high T entry conditions. Steel balls a few centimeters thick and a meter or two wide that are mostly hollow can do that cheaply. That's how you get to the $2.00 per Ton figure.

That's the economic driver. There are several Billionaires who realize this and are reaching for the Prize.

Some of those are American, some are not. So we can go or we can stay behind and fall behind.

I don't believe that any of this will be implemented by 2024, but some of it will be in place by 2030, and all of it will be there by 2050.

Yes, we could put a colony on Mars by 2024 o4 2028 (or 9), but they probably wouldn't survive and definitely wouldn't be able to pay their way. The infrastructure to support the complete system just isn't there yet.

BTW, the Chinese are aware of all this, and plan to be on the Moon by 2030 and on Mars by 2050, with the goal of permanent off world colonies. So far they are on track for success. Whoever gets the industry up there will be the dominant economic power of the late 21st and most likely the entire 22nd Century.
 
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I think the nearest historical analogues would be the ghost towns of failed dreams that litter the remote places on Earth.

The historic colonial successes were all in places with abundant, accessible resources. Most of the ones that tend to get cited as great successes had people already in place - to guide, to assist, to enslave and to rob. Potable water fell from the sky, wild grown foods were present and could be used to supplement farming - which was done in pre-existing soils...

Mars colonisation has no real historical precedents.
Mr. Fabian,
The entire thread interests me and I'm short of time, but I wanted to mention that your idea of colonial successes is a bit dated. While it once held true, today we have:

1. Phoenix, a city with only enough local water to supply a small sheep ranch, which is all that was there before the millionaires bought the land and pressed government to supply water to them, paid for largely by federal tax dollars. We taxpayers continue to pay to bring them water from the distant Colorado River, from the man-made Lake Mead.

2. New Orleans, a city that we taxpayers keep semi-dry, even though it is up to ten feet below sea level.

3. Dubai, a city that could not survive on its own resources.

And so on.

None of these cities have the "abundant, accessible resources... [and] Potable water [falling] from the sky, [and] wild-grown foods" you require. What they have is a lot of millionaires who want to make a lot of money, much of which is transferred to their wallets from the wallets of taxpayers. Well, okay, Dubai doesn't fit that characterization.

But... 4. LA does. LA was a vast sea-swamp surrounded by a vast desert until millionaires decided to buy it up. Now it's a city, much of its water still supplied by the Colorado, although its "needs" have grown beyond the entire delivery of the Colorado and now requires delivering water from 100s of miles to the north.

Indeed, Mars colonization has many historical precedents, most of them centered on large infusions of cash from people who want even more money.

I'm an anti-Mars guy, so I don't mean to upset you, just clarifying a minor point.
 
Our first real steps into the universe will be at Mars.
We need to go to Mars to visit the stars.
Sure we will live underground in something that looks like the west Edmonton mall to start.
Then release any gas that thickens the atmosphere and stays on the current Mars so at least we can go outdoors with just oxygen and similar protection of micro meteorites and radiation as earth.
Get used to sleeping in a centrifuge at night to stay healthy.

It won't be earth but people will still love the Mars it is and endure the hardships to make a new different world.

Or we can stay home on earth and become stagnant or forget what war would do with ignorance.
JMO
 
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I think better Earth analogies to Mars colonization would be mountains over 20,000 feet - nobody living there! These places have many similarities to Mars - lots more radiation, lots less air, and very cold.
 
Dec 29, 2019
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Mr. Fabian,
The entire thread interests me and I'm short of time, but I wanted to mention that your idea of colonial successes is a bit dated. While it once held true, today we have:

1. Phoenix, a city with only enough local water to supply a small sheep ranch, which is all that was there before the millionaires bought the land and pressed government to supply water to them, paid for largely by federal tax dollars. We taxpayers continue to pay to bring them water from the distant Colorado River, from the man-made Lake Mead.

2. New Orleans, a city that we taxpayers keep semi-dry, even though it is up to ten feet below sea level.

3. Dubai, a city that could not survive on its own resources.

And so on.

None of these cities have the "abundant, accessible resources... [and] Potable water [falling] from the sky, [and] wild-grown foods" you require. What they have is a lot of millionaires who want to make a lot of money, much of which is transferred to their wallets from the wallets of taxpayers. Well, okay, Dubai doesn't fit that characterization.

But... 4. LA does. LA was a vast sea-swamp surrounded by a vast desert until millionaires decided to buy it up. Now it's a city, much of its water still supplied by the Colorado, although its "needs" have grown beyond the entire delivery of the Colorado and now requires delivering water from 100s of miles to the north.

Indeed, Mars colonization has many historical precedents, most of them centered on large infusions of cash from people who want even more money.

I'm an anti-Mars guy, so I don't mean to upset you, just clarifying a minor point.
Then they survived and grew because the continent around them as well as Europe (through trading) had an abundance of usable resources and they were close enough and well connected enough that they could draw on those. Even those Phoenix sheep fed on grass that grew on pre-existing living soils, from rain that fell from the sky. The early European settlement drew on existing rivers of flowing water (derived from water falling from the sky, just further away) to achieve the irrigation aided agriculture that followed. That irrigation was inspired by evidence of previous irrigated farming that had been done there. They sold their excess produce to import what they did not have - which would be almost everything barring the produce of their farms. Trade wasn't an afterthought; the ability to trade with existing economies - including Europe - was essential.

I don't think your examples change my view that there are no Earthly precedents for Mars colonisation. Most infusions of cash come from making a convincing case that they will make even more money; that is not the case for Mars. Or else other motivations are involved for the big infusions of cash.

I think the only commercial opportunities in Mars colonisation are in space tech companies servicing taxpayer funded government contracts; Mars itself offers no commercial opportunities so it is important to those entrepreneurs that governments support ambitious plans for activities in space - and thus they promote and hype space colonies.

That governments do support excessively ambitious plans in space I put down to a deep underlying co-dependency with defense considerations and inexorable militarisation of space; the fears of other nations gaining space superiority are powerful motivation for continuing to push the limits. However, without that fear it really would be down to commercial viability - which doesn't exist for manned space flights or for anything beyond near earth or that doesn't face back downwards.
 
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Our first real steps into the universe will be at Mars.
We need to go to Mars to visit the stars.
Sure we will live underground in something that looks like the west Edmonton mall to start.
Then release any gas that thickens the atmosphere and stays on the current Mars so at least we can go outdoors with just oxygen and similar protection of micro meteorites and radiation as earth.
Get used to sleeping in a centrifuge at night to stay healthy.

It won't be earth but people will still love the Mars it is and endure the hardships to make a new different world.

Or we can stay home on earth and become stagnant or forget what war would do with ignorance.
JMO
I think it is entirely possible to stay on Earth and not become stagnant; the opportunities here, even with our problems, look rosier than what Mars can give us. I seriously doubt there will be any Mars colonisation attempts - possibly a boots on ground visit or even (but less likely) a base - but not a colony. I think any permanent settlements in space will be absolutely dependent on viable trade with a healthy, wealthy Earth economy for the foreseeable future; mess things up too badly down here and there won't be any grand space dreams. Any settlements probably won't be on Mars or the Moon but will be associated with asteroid mining - for the Earth market.
 
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Foremost, thank you, everyone, for not quibbling with my use of the word colony.

Mr. Fabian,
I didn't realize how far you extended the meaning of "available resources," but yes, Phoenix and LA developed as extensions of the American movement to the west and the Mexican movement to the north.
I'm comfortable that our children's children's children will look back at Phoenix and LA and New Orleans as undeniable proof of our current generations' insanity, but that's beyond the scope of debating going to Mars.
Or is it? Building major cities far from potable water rather than, for instance, locating them at many spots on the Colorado Plateau near its rivers isn't rational. Do the plans to build cities on Mars parallel the irrationality of building cities in the desert? I think of Phoenix as the major "artificial city" in North America, where I measure the degree of artifice as a distance from prime locations. Prime locations have water beyond current needs--e.g. the Great Lakes or the Ogallala aquifer, the Mississippi--a temperate climate, and usually pre-existing transportation. Phoenix doesn't meet my criteria. Neither does Mars, although for more substantive reasons.
BTW, I love your phrase "Trade wasn't an afterthought ."

I strongly disagree with your belief that manned space flights depend on military aims or/and must support Earth. The future is the stars; is not Mars. Historical parallel: the 13 colonies supported England only until Thomas Paine published Common Sense. Nobody argues that North America's current trade practices exist to support Europe; neither will the future think of communities beyond Earth as dependent on Earth. That dependence is transient.


Ms. Susan,
Creating communities at and above 20,000 feet would have been wiser 30 years ago, as would have a Biosphere III atop an Antarctic mountain, although the Nepalese and the Tibetans might take issue with our implying that nobody lives at those altitudes. I haven't heard of any similar test communities being planned, but if you're willing, I'll make you the head of NASA and you can start steering that ship toward deeper waters.
Lemme know if you're interested; I'll start the paperwork.
 
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Nowhere on Earth is independent any more; Earth's economy may be capable of making everything that survival on Mars requires, but I do not think it is possible for colonists to do it on Mars without establishing the equivalent of a working, large, advanced economy first. Including planet wide transport - because even if there are important mineral resources they aren't going to all be within easy reach of a colony.

Nobody argues that North America's current trade practices exist to support Europe; neither will the future think of communities beyond Earth as dependent on Earth.
Not specifically to support Europe, yet the interconnected global economy and trade is an essential ingredient for both USA and Europe - and they will struggle without it. Neither are independent and self sufficient.

Not even nations like the USA exist in isolation, although it may have a better and broader array of resources - and potential for true self sufficiency - than most nations. Not all the following will be essential to a Mars colony but a lot of them will -


Whilst there were earlier occupants of Phoenix that were much more self reliant than the Europeans that came later they ultimately failed; I think the more tech reliant the more important those trade connections become and without those connections much better resourced places than Phoenix will fail. That dependence is going to be very long lasting - effectively a permanent state that has become essential. True independence and self sufficiency works for simple, pre-industrial societies - because of the simplicity of technology and abundance of biological resources.

Doing high tech Mars colonies independently, well enough for full self sufficiently in an extreme hostile environment without a way to pay for importing essential technology is way harder; I think the dependency will have to be very long lasting, not transient. And if the colony can't trade it won't even get started, let alone last long enough to be self sufficient.
 
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I love your lead: Nowhere on Earth is independent .
Why isn't this reality sufficient to move war toward obsolescence?

And thank you for the import reliance chart.

Your response to "Nobody argues that North America's current trade practices exist to support Europe; neither will the future think of communities beyond Earth as dependent on Earth " has modified my thinking, so thank you.
However, since you don't agree with me 100%, I've sent a dozen men in black clothing to collect you in the middle of the night for necessary reeducation. Resistance is futile.

Earth is our cradle, the stars are our home. And yet if your model is durable, how can we send people to other stars? Captain Kirk's Enterprise must be self-sufficient once it leaves the Solar System. I expect Humanity to develop that self-sufficiency across space as well as we did across oceans, but your point of increasing-tech requiring increasing-interdependence damages my model, so shame on you!
Is independence in a higher-tech future impossible? No. As we put all the necessities for survival aboard galleons before they left port, we can do the same for exo-Earth communities. No, sailors in the 1800s couldn't go to Starbucks, but they had needles to repair torn sails, an astrolabe, apples and grains.
Trade dependence is not unavoidable. Rather, the details remain unforeseen. The development of exo-Earth products and services that Earthlings will pay for needs more attention than I'm aware of, but I've looked into it a bit. An exploitable resource that has a low commercial threshold is information. (Isn't Google's main product information?) Positioning a small community at Earth-Moon L2 (or whichever Lagrange point is beyond the Moon) requires forethought, but the information provided from that outpost might be enough to send people there, although I can't currently see how on-site people could do much beyond what machines can do.
The Sun-Earth L2 is a better prospect for gathering sellable info but requires a greater physical independence than the Earth-Moon L2. Would a 1000 people at that L2 sufficiently enhance tradeable info relative to machines placed there? I think so. Machines are great at doing what they're told, but even our best AI systems are contained systems. That is, if we design an AI to scan market factors it can scan market factors better than can any Human. But that AI is useless in mapping the Ocean's bottom, is useless in helping doctors operate on patients remotely; is useless in any endeavor beyond its designed container.
Have you heard of a general-purpose AI? I don't think we have the ability to design a general-purpose AI, an AI that thinks outside its own box. (Pardon the cliche.) Unboxed thinking remains a biological imperative developed over millions of years, a fact ignored by most sciFi novelists. If I'm right about that, then our L2 community will justify its financial support because machines can only analyze what-ifs to the degree that we program them to, while Humans can daydream, can propose absurd options that lead to practical alternatives.
No programmed machine perceived the alcubierre warp drive, a Human did.

I agree that "dependence is going to be very long lasting" but not that it will be "effectively a permanent state ." As exo-Earth communities multiply, isn't it certain that in year N those communities will be able to support themselves by trading among themselves rather than seeing Earth as a necessary partner? Not an excluded partner, but instead a largest partner among many. Today's parallel would be China to the USA and the USA to China, neither relationship excluding the importance of Europe, South America or Africa.
Our forebrains equipped Spaniards to cross the Atlantic. Our forebrains can supply everything necessary for permanent communities in space before our pioneers leave port.

As dark energy is unobserved but its impact--the quickening of space-time's expansion--is undeniable, so too is our journey into the future. Although the Human need to occupy the unoccupied isn't understood, we can see its impact. Our growth rate is quickening, and journeys to the edges of the galaxy, if we can make war obsolete, are a question of when, not if.
 
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I don't see how permanent settlements in space can happen without commercially viable trade in bulk physical commodities; doing R&D in order to trade in information won't be sufficient. Mostly the proposals I've seen have living in space as the principle focus of their research - in line with the desire to create space colonies rather than what I think must be the priority for creating commercial viability. The wrong priority IMO.

I expect commercial viability of space activities like asteroid mining will depend on having the least people in space and failing to ruthlessly reduce costs for the sake of profitability by avoiding the unnecessary use of astronauts makes failure more likely. Opportunities for jobs in space will arise through need; including them because of an overarching commitment to having people in space will impede (by adding costs) rather than advance the pathways that lead to prospects of viable space colonies. Planning for self-reliance is useful too, but commercial viability has to be established as quickly as possible; get that and there will be a bit more room for longer term ambitions.
 
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We are citizens of the information age. Google makes more money without trading in "things" than, I suspect, any mining industry, whether coal, diamonds or peat.
If I offer you a balloon you might buy it, but if I offer you an insider tip on the stock market, you'll buy it. (Ignore ethics. We're in the stock market now.)

Mining asteroids will be profitable at some future point. Mining information unavailable from Earth's neighborhood will be more profitable sooner. If I sell you gold, you will consider my price. If I offer you information on 8 large asteroids that will careen toward Earth within 20 years, information unavailable to you through other channels, you will pay my price. Remember that our asteroid warning system considers orbital mechanics for an asteroid as-is. What we haven't looked at for even 10 seconds is the paths taken by 2 asteroids that will soon collide. After the collision, will one of them pass close enough to Earth to give us a catastrophic high-five? Assessing which asteroids will collide when and what the new orbits will be will be far simpler on site than from Earth. I think robots will do the heavy lifting, but currently nobody is filling that info-niche. The first people to mine that data might not need additional income sources.

Put a group of clever/greedy people into a unique situation and they will discover unique income streams. We don't give ingenuity sufficient praise. My business cards bear this inscription: Genius isn't rare; just unexplored. A bit of an overstatement, but history shows that genius is always within reach but seldom expected. Newton. Einstein. Bohr. Schrodinger. Heisenberg. Dirac. Note too that none of these giants went into the fray seeking profit, and yet Humanity has since profited from their forays.

IMO, trade in information will be sufficient. Facebook has proved the matter beyond question, and its products are 100% virtual.

I want to live in space because I want to live in space, not because I want money. Millions share my desire, but you are right: my desires don't build space communities. Rather, my desires + investments + hard work + luck will build the early communities. If I was in charge, I would seek greedy bastards to go with me, people who would look at dirt and see gold flecks, people who would look at steam and see steamships. After they made their billions, I would murder the lot simply for being dull at parties, but greed has its advantages.

"Jobs in space will arise through need?" I agree. But we differ on how we define need.
"Commercial viability has to be established as quickly as possible?" I agree. Period.

Thank you for your thought-provoking skepticism. I hope you accept my parries in the same spirit.
 
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people who would look at dirt and see gold flecks, people who would look at steam and see steamships
Whereas I think if the commercial opportunities are not clearly there at the start- if we don't already know what they are and have a clear plan to exploit them - astronauts being there cannot be relied on to discover new and unexpected ones. And using live astronauts is one of the most costly and least productive things we can do in space; even more cause in my view to not rely on astronauts except where it is clear it makes a commercial venture lower cost. Because of the difficulties and costs and distance it is more essential to be very clear about what you are going to do, with nothing that adds unnecessarily to costs.

This is most of all about getting started; when you start at the point where all that has already been done - a large population and economy in space - and it becomes a lot easier to imagine how a successful population of space workers and families might achieve self reliance. But I think that is cheating.

Information has value but Google extracts value by providing access to existing information, it isn't required to create it first and, surprisingly to me, the most valuable appears to be that around entertainment; SpaceBall tournaments? Sorry, I can't see any untapped prospects for high value information arising from living in a space habitat. It won't be zero, but won't pay for such a costly program. I think far reaching R&D is a something that works best when supported by a healthy wealthy, global economy, usually with multiple, mixed motivations.

We have had decades of study of how humans fare in space and decades of searching for commercial opportunities based on space resources to build on and none have emerged. Mars is not it. It is all a lot harder than the optimist are saying.
 
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Whilst there were earlier occupants of Phoenix that were much more self reliant than the Europeans that came later they ultimately failed.
This one interested me. The Phoenix valley was home to an indigenous indian group who lived in the valley from the 600's. Those were the Hohokam. They were the ancestors of the Anasazi, who were in turn the ancestors of the Pueblo and Zuni indians. Their decendants are still there too. So they haven't 'failed' yet. They did trade with the civilizations down in central and southern Mexico. for hundreds of years, but were not supported by the Toltecs. They are still in the Phoenix area and still don't accept Mexican rule.
 
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This one interested me. The Phoenix valley was home to an indigenous indian group who lived in the valley from the 600's. Those were the Hohokam. They were the ancestors of the Anasazi, who were in turn the ancestors of the Pueblo and Zuni indians. Their decendants are still there too. So they haven't 'failed' yet. They did trade with the civilizations down in central and southern Mexico. for hundreds of years, but were not supported by the Toltecs. They are still in the Phoenix area and still don't accept Mexican rule.
Thanks for that. Perhaps more correct to say the system of irrigated agriculture and the specific communities and relevant cultural practices failed? I don't know the history - climate change, warfare, disease? It was probably a very bad time for them.

The extent to which they would have been locally self sufficient or conversely dependent on trade is not clear; not all trade would have been essential, some would be in status objects. There was trade in songs, stories and ceremonies as well as material resources like flint and pituri leaf - a stimulant "drug" - within pre-European Australia; they may even have considered those ceremonies essential and given the importance of enduring social cohesion, that may even have been true. The early irrigation farmers of Phoenix were likely a lot less dependent on trade than the later European settlers were.

I still think that the parallels between post Columbus colonisers and colonising space are only superficial and are misleading.
 
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The Hohokan and the Pima were here when the first Americans arrived. They are still here.

They were self sufficient enough to stay for more than a thousand years in the Valley of the Sun (Where Phoenix is located) where they farmed and hunted.

Phoenix and it's metropolitan area still use the old canals those Hohokam dug too. They have been added to quite a lot. Phoenix now uses all of the Salt River flow and around a quarter of the Colorado River as well. Southern California uses most of the rest and Mexico gets a bit (by treaty).

Phoenix has summer temperatures that go over 110 degrees F, (46 Celsius) every day for several months. That's without any Global Warming. Yuma south of Phoenix is even hotter. Only once, 25 years ago, temperatures got to 124 F in Phoenix. It's the hottest ever recorded in Phoenix. Temperatures of 120 or higher grounds the planes. That's 51 C. It happens only about once every ten years and generally lasts only a few hours. Yuma gets that hot almost every year. They just stay inside with the AC on until it cools down at night.

You can't live here very well without some technical measures to help out. As a large City, Phoenix couldn't exist without air conditioning. Phoenix residents live indoors mostly for half of the year. Yet Phoenix is an industrial powerhouse in many industries. There is also a strong agricultural presence. Citrus was as important as mining for well over a century now. That and the cotton, Arizona's single most important crop, can't be grown without irrigation. But with it they do grow and they grow a lot!

So perhaps, living here in the Valley of the Sun, I have a tendency to credit people with the ability to live even more dependent on technology. After all, you can't live in Ohio or Germany without technology for clothing in winter and so forth.

Mars will just be more of the same. Here you need power and water and food to live. On Mars, it's the same, just add in air. Air we already know how to regulate industrially and we can use CO2 as an industrial feed-stock and add it to agricultural areas like we do fertilizer, feed and water. It's really just another industrial process.

I suspect that air purification will be a major issue in any mars colony too.

But that's technology that isn't really mature yet. we know how, we just don't have experience with it.
 

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