• 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.
    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!