TALK STORY

Colonizing Mars

POSTED BY: EVANS
UPDATED: Thursday, October 31, 2002 13:54
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Wednesday, October 30, 2002 4:22 PM

EVANS


In a "New Yorker" magazine article a couple of years ago, the magazine's house physician, Jerome Groopman, gave reasons why it is unlikely we Terrans will be colonizing our neighbor Mars any time soon. I no longer have the article (I pass the issues along), but as I recall ...

1) The ill effect of weightlessness on the human body is far more serious than the layman is led to believe. Will the colonists (astronauts)really be able to perform work when they arrive at Mars?

2) We who are Earthbound are protected from all kinds of radiation by our atmosphere (I read somewhere else that our hair is turned grey by the effect of cosmic radiation). In space, radiation will pass right through any walls and any soft tissue as well, causing lesions on the brain as well as other problems.

3) Cabin fever. You can't go outside for a smoke, or for a bicycle ride. And when you get to Mars, you still can't. Those of us who like our jobs know that we have to get along with our coworkers, no matter how annoying we all are. Will the colonists/astronauts keep themselves from going mad?

4) Surgery in space. Not trivial. Remember the scientist in Antarctica who discovere she had breast cancer? In space, in weightlessness, if there needs to be surgery, how will the blood and other fluids be handled?

These paragraphs are my extremely simplified versions of Dr. Groopman's arguments.

Here's another, from an amateur astronomer (me). Mars is smaller than Earth. Even though it a relatively near neighbor, the U.S. and other countries have often failed to get probes to reach Mars, and the probes are lost. In other words, it's a tough target to hit. Do we really believe we can send colonists to Mars, support them, and bring them back as required? Look how much trouble it is to support the international space station.

m.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2002 4:49 PM

DELVO


1) If a ship flew fast enough to get there, they wouldn't have been weightless for long. I think much faster travel is assumed in any colonization prediction, whether or not the predicter has any idea how. The trouble is that, while a ship trip lasts a while and ends, colonists stay there forever, and Mars's gravity is 0.38 g, which is far lower than those predicting Mars colonization seem to acknowledge. So no matter how fast they fly to get there, gravity will ALWAYS remain a huge problem.

2 & 3) These points make it obvious enough that a bubble colony on Mars could never work. But I think most of those who foresee Mars colonization are picturing "terraforming". The problem is that the planet's just an awful candidate for terraforming. Its gravity is too wimpy to sustain an atmosphere, and the raw materials for it aren't there. Venus, on the other hand, still has some supply of those lighter elements and compounds, it's just a matter of what form they're in. And Venus's gravity is more suitable: 0.903 g.

4) Well, if you can manage long enough for the trip, and let's remember that we have to assume it'll be a quick one for a variety of reasons anyway, there IS gravity when you get there.

Quote:

the U.S. and other countries have often failed to get probes to reach Mars, and the probes are lost.
How many times has this happened, and how many times have they gotten there? And of the "lost" ones, more importantly, how many really "missed" and how many lost contact with Earth because of malfunction? And how do you explain that we can keep reliably "hitting" trickier targets than that, such as outer planets reached after multiple slingshots around other planets?

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Wednesday, October 30, 2002 5:10 PM

EVANS


Quote:

So no matter how fast they fly to get there, gravity will ALWAYS remain a huge problem.

There are astronauts in training NOW. It's scary. I wonder how fast they think they'll fly?
Quote:

Venus's gravity is more suitable: 0.903 g.

Too bad Venus is so Hellish that she melts her visitors.
Quote:

how do you explain that we can keep reliably "hitting" trickier targets

Lots and lots of money and dedicated people, back when NASA's budget was a separate entity, not so subject to the slings and arrows of daily fortune. The Voyagers are ancient. Galileo was badly crippled. Cassini is on its way, a six-year voyage to Saturn.

m.

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Thursday, October 31, 2002 12:50 AM

KITHKILL


Every one of those points you raise is valid, but I think everyone's missing the point here. If we go to Mars, it shouldn't be because it's safe, it should be because it's worth doing. Since we're on a Firefly forum, after all - was it safe to colonise America? There were dangerous "savages", new plants and animals that we had no idea about, and the voyage itself was pretty risky. All your assets gambled in the hope you'd get some land and not wind up broke with nowhere to go. Out on the fringes there were few doctors, so illness and injury claimed far more than it would have done otherwise. But people still went in droves, because it was a new frontier to explore and experience.

Whilst every effort should be made to ensure the safety of those who would make the trip to Mars, at the end of the day, it'll never be 100% safe. It's not safe in Antarctica, and we still have brave hardy souls going out there because they believe in exploring it. And just as well - it's the human ability to stare the odds in the face and say "Well f**k it, I'm going anyway" that's got us where we are today. All this "It isn't safe" is just a continuation of modern-day sensibilities - the same ones that have led to whole countries of people who believe that nothing bad should ever, ever happen to them, and therefore if it does, it must be someone else's fault, so they can sue them.

I don't give a damn about any of those reasons - if NASA came to me today and said "Want to be one of the first settlers on Mars?" then I'd be on the shuttle before they could even blink. How often does a chance like that come along? To help shape the future of mankind? It's worth the risk. To hell with it, it's worth twice the risk, even if you ended up never making it there.

And anyone who wants a really good insight as to how colonisation could be acheived, check out "The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must" by Robert Zubrin ( http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684835509/qid=1036061134/sr=2-
3/ref=sr_2_3/104-6106043-8175937
)

Cheers,
Kithkill

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Thursday, October 31, 2002 4:37 AM

MUDDER999


I think space colonization is inevitable. Isn't the human population growing astronomically? It's either space or war. These technological problems will be overcome when the need is strong enough.

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Thursday, October 31, 2002 5:47 AM

MALAKILI


As Thegn mentioned, a ship equipped with artificial gravity is within the realm of possibility. I don't think it'd even be that hard to do. All you'd need to do is attach habitat modules at either end of a girder of suitable length, then spin the whole thing at the correct rate. I think I read somewhere that a 60 meter long structure spun at 4 RPM would have Earth-like gravity.
As for travel time, NASA is currently working on a superfast new form of rocket engine called the Magnetoplasma drive. When it's tested and ready, it will cut travel time to Mars to only
3 months! Read all about it here (official NASA site):

http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/mars/technology/propulsion/aspl/index.html

As for radiation... well, a 3 month trip would mean less exposure for the crew, so that's another advantage of the new rocket engine design.


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Thursday, October 31, 2002 6:22 AM

LJSQUARED


There's always someone stupid enough to do it.

Firefly@Trekvideo.com
http://www.trekvideo.com/firefly

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Thursday, October 31, 2002 7:35 AM

JUGGERNAUT


I read a science-laden but great novel on a 'realistic' colonization of Mars in the near future -- I believe it was 2050 or so. I believe it was called "Red Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Reason I bring it up is because the author precisely addresses all of these things. Down side is I can't remember exactly how.

Gravity: simple. They spun the ship. They assembled it out of a cluster of spent shuttle external fuel tanks, and just put it into a spin at .38 gravity.

Cramped quarters: It's possible -- look at the space station, etc. Once on Mars, you could greatly expand the living area.

Radiation: They all took heavy doses until they had shelters built. If I remember, they went underground and built out of thick concrete block.

Anyway -- wish I could remember it better. Interesting stuff. With NASA budget cuts, most of us would be lucky to see it in our lives, but I'm hoping our kids will...

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Thursday, October 31, 2002 1:54 PM

TRUK


Quote:

Originally posted by KithKill:
And anyone who wants a really good insight as to how colonisation could be acheived, check out "The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must" by Robert Zubrin


I watched a program on PBS a couple of weeks ago that included brief comments from Zubrin. Apparently, he is head of The Mars Society, a private "task force" organized "to further the goal of the exploration and settlement of the Red Planet." Check it out at: www.marssociety.org

After watching the program, I picked up the Robinson book. I always meant to read the series (it's supposed to be pretty damn good) and the program renewed my interest in the subject matter.

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