• May 25, 2019, 4:31 a.m.

    Are there any plans for Mars base topics using near-term (or even basically current) technology? By near term/near future here I mean from tomorrow to ~20 years from now. I'm aware of all the current videos on the topics, but they're a little further into the future. What I'm thinking of is a "deep dive" on the realism of a long term/permanent Mars (especially) or maybe a Moon base.

    I can see two categories of problems:
    1) Challenges getting there with enough "stuff" to stay
    2) Challenges staying there (in a "not dead" state) permanently

    For the first one, which I regard as much easier but still hard to do safely:
    1A) How much do we know for sure about travel far beyond low Earth orbit?
    1B) What don't we know?
    1C) What plans have been proposed or are being actively worked on? (And by who?)
    1D) What are current proposals forgetting or glossing over?

    For the second category:
    2A) Combating "entropy" - how do you solve manufacturing & repair problems? I see these challenges as huge, probably insurmountable in the near term. For Moon this isn't nearly as bad, if time required to launch (from no plans to rockets in the air) can be reduced enough. For Mars, reliance on Earth for replacements seems to be unrealistic for all serious problems. (Serious implying - you can't wait for months to fix it! Maybe not even days.) Based on the number of things which you can imagine going wrong, I have doubts that staying permanently on Mars with a "base" smaller than at least an entire city (minimum) is even realistic.

    2B) Environment/climate - how do you ensure the "climate" of such a small base remains stable enough to support both human & plant life? What can go wrong here? The types of things that can go wrong seem very serious, ex. air poisoning (carbon dioxiode/monoxide, smoke from fire, sudden air loss / depressurization) and these things need to be fixed FAST.

    2C) Human needs (other than climate/air) - while obviously we know how to grow plants, recycle water, and so on... what happens if things just go wrong? Ex. plants get a disease and fail, water gets contaminated, battery/power failure, temperature control failure, medical emergencies, resolving serious personality conflicts, or even "economic" issues such as how to share limited resources.

    2D) What else can go wrong and what contingency plans are realistic?

    You can tell which one I've thought about more. Discussion/expansion of those here is welcome, even though I'm also asking about any plans to turn these topics into a video or video series. There's lots of "talk" and plans to do these things, and also lots of criticisms, and sorting it all out is a challenge.

  • July 9, 2019, 5:24 p.m.

    Yes it does seem like there are a lot of problems where every one has to be solved before the others. The most realistic approach to colonizing Mars I can think if is:

    1. One way or another, create self-sufficient spinning green habitats in orbit around the Earth. PROBABLY Moon/asteroid mining will have to come first.

    2. Nurture these habs for years where they are, learning from mistakes as you go. As they develop a track record for stability and independence, put them in orbits farther and farther from the Earth, E.G. Lagrange, Moon, between Earth and Mars, etc.

    3. Finally put one in orbit around Mars, and that will be your safe, well-tested home from which to do everything else. If Mars surface fails, people can evacuate to the habitat, and if that fails, they can evacuate to the next nearest habitat.

    There really is no substitute for iterative real-life testing. Putting people on Mars in one fell swoop is basically alpha testing all of your technology and biology at once, which mathematically almost guarantees failure. Colonizing Mars with no 'Middle Step B' is like asking the Wright brothers to invent an Airbus A380, fly it across the Pacific, and live on the first try.

  • July 11, 2019, 11:58 a.m.

    (If this were a new thread the title would be Moonbot Business Model)

    A pure-robot base on the Moon is usually seen as just an expense, a money pit, until humans arrive to justify its existence. I would like to challenge that assumption.

    A stable colony of telerobots would be a fraction of the cost of a human station. Low overhead leaves you much more room for profit. Your customer base will be anyone who wants to do anything on the Moon but can't afford an astronaut. That's a lot of people! E.G.

    • University-funded scientists.

    • Small, poorer governments who want to construct things in space for prestige.

    • Private corporations with an eye to prospecting or profit-related R&D.

    • Rich fools willing to pay an enormous deposit to pilot their own telerobot for: tourism, rover races, war games, etc.

    • School tours.

    • Subscribers to a 'reality show'-type website where you watch working moonbots every day as terrariums and factories gradually take shape. Premium members can chat with the rover operators.

    Once you have live terrariums the appeal only increases. The Southwest Florida Eagle Cam alone got over 18 million viewers. How many views will Moon Mice get, bouncing around and having babies in low gravity? (Or if not mice, some easier animals.) After all if you can't keep mice alive on the Moon, you have zero hope of supporting humans either. This is important homework that can't be skipped.

    Over time the terrariums will become larger and more stable, hold bigger and bigger life, and you know where this is going.

    But I definitely think a pure-moonbot base can be a pay-as-you-go phase. And what is the phase before that? Better, smaller telerobotics and VR on Earth, which can also be profitable in and of itself before you even start on space. There's a whole bootstrap path for this.

    How much would you pay to build a tower on the Moon with your own hands?

  • Aug. 30, 2019, 4:07 a.m.

    Yeah, maybe I'm just way too pessimistic, but I feel like the problems are just far too numerous and hard to solve. Even with lots of robotics - mechanical stuff breaks down, and needs to be fixed. And that fixing, even if you have a human on hand who can do it in an Earth-like environment, still requires replacement parts. Unless there's also other robots to fix the broken ones, or they can fix themselves (sounds sketchy), I just can't see it working out without lots of other advances to go with it.

    The "hopping" approach like you suggest improves feasibility significantly, but of course that'd put the timeline for getting anything permanent on Mars out... probably centuries? (Unless we get some breakthrough tech which lets us build in space, or something game changing.)

  • Sept. 13, 2019, 3:39 p.m.

    In my personal humble opinion I honestly think you're going to be dissapointed by what we'd build if we could land on Mars between today to 20 years from now.

    While it may be my inner pessimistic tendencies talking we do have to look at current examples from today to theorize what we could expect to see on Mars. So in that regard I kinda expect to see an ISS type of station on Mars. In other words a series of interconnected tin cans with a constant crew of less than 10 but rarely more than 4.
    If I temper my pessimism and SpaceX does get StarShip flying exactly as Elon hopes it would then I'd picture something more like the Antarctic research stations.
    en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amundsen%E2%80%93Scott_South_Pole_Station
    Basically a large central prefab structure that houses 50 permanently but surges well over 100 temporarily with a scattering of assorted support structures. Local resources used in construction would probably be little more than Martian dirt tossed on top to protect it from radiation.

    None of this is too difficult to imagine being built using current technology (except for transportation to the build site). The only major technological hurdle I see would be engineering. It would absolutely habe to be light, easy to build with minimal tools while wearing a bulky pressure suit and thick gloves, and use minimal man hours. Several giant inflatables with rigid portions connected by air locks seems like a given.

    The more advanced structures we see in sci-fi would probably be in the 50-100 year time line.

  • Sept. 18, 2019, 12:55 a.m.

    I would wager to say that there are no such short term habitation prospects for Mars. Habitation for the Moon is likely within the next 20 years but Mars is very unlikely because of its distance. It would take a revolution in propulsion technology or an existing orbital infrastructure here at Earth (which itself is likely 20-30 years away).

    As far as your problems goes, many of them are quite manageable.

    With regards to equipment breaking, you tackle this problem in the design phase. For example(with life support equipment), if the requirement is to support a 600 day mission stay then you would design a system with a 50% margin or so built into it - so a system built to run reliably for 900-1000 days. You include two independent sets of such equipment in your habitat. Thus, the mission personnel should be adequately covered for the duration of the mission - although someone could go crazy and sabotage things...you never have a guarantee.

    Environment problems are actually some of the more easy things to solve. Contaminated water could be filtered. Even if no suitable filter material is available, it is easy to make a still to purify it. And, although you don't want to be drinking distilled water for any lengthy period, it is quite easy to equip the guys with small pills to re-add salts and electrolytes to distilled water as an emergency measure. Contaminants in the atmosphere (such as CO2) can also be filtered out through scrubbers and management of plant life. And you can recover your habitat from an accidental depressurization by equipping it with highly pressurized air tanks which you can bleed to repressurize the structure after you've patched the leak.

    The big problems that there is not currently a solution for both come into play due to the distance to Mars (and so they aren't much of a hindrance for the Moon). One is the lack of an Earth gravity. The longest that people have been up on the ISS is around 1 year. And even that 'short' stay results in a notable decrease in fitness. Exercise routines don't fully mitigate this. Mars has about a third of Earth's gravity, and that may - as Isaac pointed out in some of his episodes, we don't know - help some. But all the evidence points out that long stays in outer space is going to result in physical degradation due to loss of gravity. (You need a big ship to use centrifuges for rotational gravity and so mankind needs orbital infrastructure first.)

    The second problem with no immediate solution is radiation. www.space.com/24731-mars-radiation-curiosity-rover.html
    As they point out, just getting to Mars will result in a radiation dose that is 15 times the exposure limit for nuclear workers. Now this is bad, but not as bad as it may seem. The nuclear radiation worker dose is actually set really low - because it is designed as something added on top of normal radiation exposure on Earth. And normal exposure is quite a lot larger. Even still, the trip to Mars will result in a much larger rad dose than what people on Earth get in a year (many times larger) with the possible exception of chain smokers (how many of them do you know that live long healthy lives). And, since Mars doesn't have much atmosphere and no magnetic field, the exposure on Mars is also much larger than here on Earth. To bring the trip rad dose down to something Earth-like we would need to use lead lined spaceships and buried habitation structures.

    We could probably send people to Mars within the next 20 years and get them home alive if that is the only goal set. But the physical degradation the crew would endure would make it highly likely that they wouldn't live long and healthy lives afterwards. That's probably not the right way to do it, and I expect every space program to wait on Mars for a few more decades. The Moon is a MUCH better first stop!

  • Dec. 3, 2019, 9:08 p.m.

    All of you make some good points here, but many of the fears are overblown, and will, unnecessarily, add decades to the space habitation timeline.
    1) gravity - we know 0 g is bad, and 1+ G (up to at least 1.25G) works fine, but have little knowledge between those limits. However, even with long stays at 0 g, astronauts recover mostly when exposed to Earth's gravity, which would indicate that .35 g (Mars), with requirements to carry 50-100kg loads regularly (like Mars suits), will likely result in minimal issues on return. OTOH permanent stays may cause structural changes during childhood which could make a martian child coming to Earth's gravity a higher risk activity. Either way, having spin gravity on your spaceship increase slowly from Martian gravity to earth gravity on the way back is likely to mitigate most of that risk. Also, it is possible to place a centrifuge to generate earth gravity on mars - likely in primary fitness centers in each settlement. these centrifuges will also be needed on the moon, especially since the moon is only 3 days away, and the gradually adjusting the shipboard gravity isn't going to work on that time scale.
    2) Radiation is less of an issue, although it does need to be accommodated. There are many small populations on earth which are exposed to higher radiation levels (2-4x) than allowed to nuclear workers which show no signs of extra radiation caused illnesses (near uranium mines or radon sources, at high altitude, etc.). The human body is able to dissolve radiation damaged tissue faster than the OSHA guidelines, which were generated using high dose, short duration experiments (20 years worth of space radiation in a few hour). At a certain dose rate, the bodies repair faculties are overwhelmed, while those same doses over longer periods are easily accommodated without harm. Iodine supplements and water wall shielding is likely enough to accommodate the flight time. - and the habitats should be covered in dirt to reduce lifetime exposure. Small children and pregnant women probably should not travel, due to the more sensitive flexible genetics of children, though, but they will be fine in the habitat.
    3) repair - between robust, repairable design, redundant systems, spare electronic parts and 3d printers to fix any mechanical parts, repair shouldn't be an issue, except for permanently small settlements, where the expertise to do the repairs is lacking. Once you get to 400-500 people, you will likely have enough manufacturing ability to maintain your environment with only stockpiles of raw materials and sufficient miners to get most of the mass of those raw materials from mars.
    4)All of these assume a reasonable mix of robots and humans. On the moon, robots only could be sufficient, since the time lag for communications is short enough, and replacements are only a few days to a few weeks away. this isn't true of Mars, which means Mars will need at least a small contingent of colonists to work the robots doing the preliminary work to set up the colony.

    I fully expect to see a Martian colony of 20-30 people within 10-12 years. Musk is unlikely to meet his 2022 1st vehicle to Mars schedule, but seems to reach whatever goal he sets for himself eventually, so 2024 and 2026 cargo only precursor missions with a 2028 crewed mission is very likely. Many of those will remain on Mars, at least for a couple of years, until the next vehicle shows up. While the starship may be capable of carrying 100 people to a space station in flights of a few hours, it will need to provide additional room for months long trips to mars, so will only be able to carry, at most, 25-40 people. They will all be chosen, partially, due to their willingness to remain on Mars, so most will stay unless things are a lot worse than planned for.
    Ultimately, I see this martian colony as the reason to put a village on the moon. those starships will need to be refueled in LEO, and it is cheaper (in terms of delta V) to bring oxygen from the moon (~2500m/s with aerobraking) than from earth's surface (~9500 m/s), and O2 (and the aluminum to store it in) is easy to find and extract in lunar regolith.