Mars One: Exciting Adventure or Hoax?

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Updated 3/22/15
[Update 5/8/13: Please see “Mars – A New Beginning,” Harry’s follow-up plans for this article and discussion. Update 5/18/13: See Martian Rhapsody: Chapter 1 – Landing. -Editor]

The Mars One project has received quite a bit of press lately. This project plans to establish a human colony on Mars in 2023 with four people. The project is the brainchild of Bas Lansdorp, a Dutch businessman. You must give him credit for creativeness. Much of the financing will come from a 24-hour television reality show that will follow every step of the project, including watching the new “Martians” as they adapt to the harsh Mars environment.

According to the Mars One website, this project will use existing technology. The habitat consists of modules that will arrive on Mars over a period of years and will be moved into place by a Mars rover. The first colonists will do the final assembly. Every two years, four more colonists will arrive until the total population consists of twenty immigrants. At that point, the colony intends to be self-sustaining, requiring no additional supplies from Earth. No kidding!  At $10,000 per pound, Earth will not continue sending oxygen, water, food, Mars suits, and more to Mars regularly.


If you haven’t guessed yet, the trips by the colonists will be one-way only. There’s absolutely no provision for bringing them home. Even with an estimated $6 billion budget, the money just isn’t there. So, who will these colonists be? Interestingly, Lansdorp proposes to charge for the privilege of taking a one-way trip to hell. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bas Lansdorp

Bas Lansdorp

The technology does exist to ferry materials, habitats, and a few people to Mars. The technology exists to produce enough solar power to eke out a sort of living there, in principle. The concept of establishing human habitation on another world must create a sense of excitement in anyone who has the time to pay attention. The educational opportunities would be enormous. The new colonists would be “going boldly where no one has gone before” – unless NASA gets there first with their round-trip Mars program.

It all looks exciting even if very dangerous. One misstep would spell death for the entire colony. It’s reminiscent of those who left Europe to colonize the New World or those taking their chances in the American West. Many died on the trips and after arrival from a wide variety of causes. The numbers for the Mars mission will be much smaller, and any rupture of the habitat will exterminate them all. If food production falters, they could all starve. Failure of water processing and reprocessing will doom them. These are the easy parts.

The true problems arise when you look more deeply into the circumstances under which the Mars colonists will live. Skip over the problems with four people traveling in cramped quarters for the eight-month trip to Mars. They pale in comparison to living on the planet.


Problem number one is radiation. Interplanetary space is filled with solar and cosmic radiation. The former originates from the Sun and fluctuates on an eleven-year cycle. The latter originates outside of our solar system from cataclysmic star events and black holes. Both are potentially deadly.

NASA has estimated that a three-year round-trip and visit to Mars by astronauts would expose them to about one Siemen Sievert of radiation, the recommended lifetime dosage. Annual exposure on Earth at sea level is in the milliSiemens  milliSieverts range. The effects of radiation exposure include cataracts, increased likelihood of cancer, and sterility. Without radiation shielding on Mars, colonists will be doomed to very shortened lifespans and would be unlikely to reproduce. Children, if born, would have even more problems because rapidly developing cells are even more sensitive to radiation effects.

The reasons that radiation is such a problem on Mars but not on Earth arise from the two things that shield us Earthlings from radiation: our atmosphere and the Earth’s magnetic field. The Martian atmosphere is about 1/100 that of the Earth. Essentially all radiation arrives on the surface. Mars has no magnetic field. Scientists postulate that it is solid to the core and so has no liquid interior to generate a magnetic field. The Earth’s magnetic field deflects arriving ionic cosmic rays and solar radiation, although gamma rays are unaffected. This deflection to our polar radiation is the reason that we see the aurora borealis near our north pole but not near the equator. Those light displays are caused by energetic ions impacting the atmosphere.

The proposed Mars One habitats have no evident radiation shielding, and radiation is not mentioned on their website. The best shielding would be a thick layer of liquid hydrogen, but water can also function reasonably well. Oddly, metal shielding, unless very thick, makes cosmic radiation worse because the rays hit metal atom nuclei and create a shower of new radiation from what was a single ray.

The colonists could go underground to avoid radiation, but Mars One has no such plans. They do hope to build extensions to the shelters from the Martian soil. We don’t know how feasible this plan is or whether the thickness of the soil walls will be sufficient to avoid significant radiation damage.

Moving on past the radiation issues, which may never be adequately resolved, you will encounter a number of more mundane issues. These fall into two areas:  physical and psychological.

Physical Problems

The physical problems have to do with life support and expansion. Life requires air, water, food, and shelter. With one percent of Earth’s atmosphere, Mars has an atmosphere that we cannot breathe. It’s mostly carbon dioxide (95%) anyway with oxygen only as a trace component. Even if you compressed  it, you still could not breathe it. The colonists must live in a pressurized environment and must scrub the carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air to prevent stress and eventual death from hypercapnia. Oxygen must constantly be generated from some source to make up for oxygen consumed by the colonists.

Plants grown for food can perform the functions of carbon dioxide removal and oxygen generation, but early plans for Mars One suggest that the space allotted for plants may not be sufficient for these purposes and must be supplanted by mechanical and chemical processes, which will require power.

Substantial supplies of water will be required to support even four colonists who will be living in a water-poor environment. The interior of the habitat may actually be moist because it will not take much water to saturate the small atmosphere contained there. Most edible plants transpire, and a moist atmosphere will reduce their water requirements. Water will come from three sources: water carried on the mission, water recycled from colonists, and water “mined” from the Martian soil.

This last source may be a problem because the best location for water is near the Martian poles, but the best place for solar energy is near the Martian equator. We do not yet know if reasonable amounts of water exist below the Martian surface at the equator. Water is also the most likely source of oxygen. Electrolysis of water produces hydrogen and oxygen gases. Therefore, water is necessary for both its own value and for replenishing air. Because colonists must venture outside and so step through an airlock, losing air in the process, and because the habitat will certainly have at least minor leaks, air must be constantly replaced.

The initial six habitat modules have been allocated in pairs. One pair has been reserved for food production. The exact nature of the plants to be used has not been described by Mars One. Unless colonists have a decent radiation shield, the plants will neither grow nor reproduce well. Assuming such a shield is available, the plants must convert sunshine to edible plant matter. The solar intensity is about 43% of that on Earth, which will necessitate the use of efficient plants that can grow well in eternally cloudy Earth climes. Most food plants must have strong sunlight. Hybrids may be developed to compensate.

Even so, it’s unclear whether the amount of space allocated for food production will suffice to feed the entire colony. Even if the space is adequate, the diet will be monotonous. The inefficiency of animals for food sources means that the entire diet must be vegan. Yeast or similar organisms must be grown as well to provide B12, which cannot be obtained from strictly plant sources. Colonists will never again see a steak or filet of fish. They will have eggs or milk products. They won’t even have the produce of trees – nuts, apples, citrus, etc. There will be no pepper, cinnamon, or vanilla.

Only the most efficient plants can be utilized for food on Mars. The variety will certainly be limited. We cannot yet tell if colonists can grow some ginger or basil to help alleviate the monotony of diet.

Shelter will remain a serious problem for the foreseeable future. Four people will inhabit six small modules of which four are reserved for mechanical and food purposes. The shelter must remain airtight and insulating at all times. Temperatures on the Martian surface drop to far below freezing at night. Although the atmosphere is extremely thin, very strong winds create sandstorms that can erode anything exposed outside, including the shelters. The materials from which shelters are built must be strong enough to withstand the winds but light enough to ship to Mars, a real engineering challenge.

NASA's Curiosity Rover

NASA’s Curiosity Rover

Heat will be lost through the walls of the habitat even with the best insulation. This heat must be replaced. The Mars colonists will find absolutely no coal, no oil, and no natural gas to use as an energy source. Only solar and wind energy will be available unless they bring along a nuclear power generator. Small ones, such as is being used by NASA’s Curiosity rover, can provide some power but not enough for this purpose. Heat will be a serious issue for Mars One. Their plans call for large flexible solar panels to be rolled out onto the Martian surface to capture the wan sunlight. The plans do not show calculations for expected energy capture during the long Martian winters. With a “year” twice as long as ours, winters are also twice as long.

In addition, batteries must store this captured solar energy. Lots of batteries will be needed to hold enough energy for heating and other purposes such as oxygen generation throughout the Martian nights. The Mars One information does not include battery specifications. Even the most efficient batteries are heavy and will have to be lifted from Earth to Mars at $10,000 per pound.

The colonists must work outside of their habitat in the harsh Martian environment and so must have Mars suits that are the equivalent of space suits. Maintaining these will be crucial to extending the colony. Without petrochemical sources, it’s unclear what materials will be used to replace the plastic components of these suits.

If the colony is to be self-sustaining, it must be able to expand using local materials. Water is too precious to use for making concrete or even adobe if the basic materials could be obtained. Note that cement requires lots of heat to make. To make iron, iron ore and enormous amounts of energy are needed. Converting iron to steel requires more energy and lots of carbon, but Mars has no fossil fuels as sources of carbon. Similarly, copper, zinc, and tin all require massive amounts of energy – far more than the solar arrays will provide.

Colonists will have to expand their solar arrays as they expand the colony – if such expansion can be done at all. The high-technology required for manufacturing these arrays will be far beyond the capabilities of the Martian colony. With nothing to export, the colonists will have to depend on Earth to send them the needed materials and will become interplanetary beggars. If they have children, they’ll have to expand their food tanks. Of what will they construct them? Indeed, what building materials will the colonists have for any purpose, even for making cooking pots or children’s toys?

Medical issues have not even been considered. The colonists would not have any access to modern medicine. They would have to be carefully screened for genetic factors that predispose to disease. Medical problems that we can handle readily here would result in death on Mars.

Psychological Pressures

Even if power, air, water, food, shelter, and building materials can be resolved, a very unlikely result, the colonists must face extreme psychological pressures. A single small error by one colonist can kill them all. This could happen on any day.

Only digital material could be imported from Earth on a regular basis. With sufficient power, the colonists could watch videos and listen to music. However, conversation with Earth-bound families and friends would not be possible. The round-trip delay for radio transmission is between 6 and 40 minutes. Say, “Hello,” and you hear a response 20 minutes later on average. All communication with Earth would be asynchronous.

What would it take to make life on Mars bearable? How could you overcome the monotony of food, of view, of company, of smells, of cramped living spaces? You would never smell a pine forest again or see the ocean. There are no “amber waves of grain” or even cityscapes. You’ll have no blue skies or clouds and no hope of ever experiencing them again in person. You’ll be subject to extreme cabin fever.

It looks like Mars colonists will be in a constant state of stress from a long list of sources. How can you stand this sort of stress? The answer typically lies in hope for the future, in the belief that you’re building something for your children and future generations. Unless the problems of radiation, power, water, building materials, repairing and replacing Mars suits, and the rest are solved, you’ve just sentenced yourself to a life in prison, and that prison is the closest thing to hell that any living person can experience over protracted periods. Without hope, Mars One is doomed today.

Unless and until the Mars One organizers provide clear and detailed explanations of exactly how they will deliver the ability for a colony on Mars to grow and flourish, this project is dead on arrival.

831 Responses

  1. Dear Sir,
    your entire story is based on reading only a headline. If you would read the Mars One website, which I would before writing so many unfounded words, you would know how many experts and even universities are busy at this very moment to solve the problems you anticipate. Would you really assume any organisation that tackles such tremendous task and responsibility to not solve these issues. I wonder from which planet your are. Ah, earth. Well that explains… :-)

    Greetings and please… next time, do your homework first.

    • I spent quite a bit of time reading all of the pages on the Mars One website searching for answers. I read entire articles regarding the project.

      Not one word was written regarding radiation shielding.

      The explanations of power sources were very cursory, just mention of thin, flexible solar arrays. Power storage was not mentioned.

      Saying that people are busy solving these problems belies the claim that Mars One is using “current technology.” I find it disingenuous that Mars One now says that it has people working on problems that it has not publicly alluded to.

      My article refers to potential problems that have not been solved. A response that says that they’re being worked on basically verifies what I wrote. Many of these problems may be resolved during the ten years before the planned first human launch. I suspect that some will not.

      Radiation and power are the primary issues. Psychology is another issue that’s more difficult to quantify and plan for.

      Without sufficient radiation shielding, plants will not breed, and food will dwindle causing starvation. Life expectancies will shorten. Children will be, for any practical purposes, sterile by the time they are ready to reproduce.

      The area that must be covered to provide adequate solar power has not been mentioned, nor the weight of panels required to cover that area. The issue of removing Mars dust from the panels has not been mentioned either. Exactly how sufficient power will be stored for the Mars nights has not been described, nor has the mass of batteries to be used.

      Nowhere do I read about the thickness or the nature of insulation to be used in the modules or how much mass must be dedicated to this crucial resource in the launches.

      I don’t see how exactly local resources will be turned into building materials. On Earth, we used vast quantities of water and fossil fuel to turn our agrarian society into an industrial one. Even adobe bricks required water.

      Water is mentioned on the Mars One site but only as something that requires proper siting. We’re not certain of underground water resources on Mars. Those at the surface are at the poles where sunlight would be a problem.

      We certainly do not know if our species can adapt to the incredible monotony of Mars. Occasional punctuation of emergencies only heightens the psychological stress.

      The initial sentence of the response by Pieter Hoogstad says more about his homework than about mine.

      • As of at least 22April there are words on the Mar One web site about radiation. Basically they say that a layer of a few meters of rock provides and Earth-like radiation environment. I agree but “a few meters” means they need more than one very, powerful rover. Not a little battery powered tractor but large machines. We are likely talking about blasting and jack hammers and dump trucks. This CAN be done but their $6B budget is low by two orders of magnitude.

        Radiation is not the issue if you can dig a deep enough hole and cover it over. So you dig a trench 12 meters deep, roll the inflatable tube down there, blow it up then back fill the trench. Now remember how long it took NASA to drill a hop a few centimeters deep

        • Yes, I’ve already commented here on this issue.

          To recapitulate, radiation on Mars would not be a problem if exactly two things can be handled satisfactorily. The first is the amount of soil available to move around. Right now, we don’t know for sure. Without substantial erosion processes, it appears that granular material will be limited in quantity, but we’re not certain. If you cannot dig deeply and cannot procure large quantities of granular surface material readily, then the next part doesn’t matter.

          The second issue is energy. As you rightly mention, it will take vast amounts of energy to move or to dig — if you have something to move or soft enough material to dig into. The artist’s conceptions make it look easy. Just suppose that you’re going to cover over one of those artistic modules that are maybe 3m high and 4m in diameter. (Note that those artist drawings have mysteriously vanished from the Mars One site.) The exact amount will depend on the angle of repose of the material and the means being used to mound the material up. It might be on the order of more than 20 cubic meters of material. With a density of around 1500 kg/cu m, that’s 30000 kg to move just to cover one of the modules. Some of that material must be lifted to a height of 6m. Little electric Mars buggies will not be capable of that work. Larger machines will not be sent to Mars.

          The power is to come from 3000 sq m of solar panels. The site (newly) says that the average solar gain on Mars is about 500W per sq m. That amount must be at the equator because it will be much lower at the poles. It also may be the number for the period of the day when sunlight is shining on the panels. Under ideal circumstances (no dust, Sun directly overhead), the efficiency of solar panels might be 12.5%. So, you’ll get 75W per sq m. I checked one brand of this sort of panel and found that it weighs 1.55 kg/sq m.

          Putting all of this together, you’ll get 225 kW from about 4660 kg of solar panels. For those thinking in British units, that’s a bit over five tons. Putting those panels on Mars will cost an estimated $100 million.

          Wait! That’s not enough. The panels stop generating power when the Sun goes down. Curiously, the Martian day is just a tad longer than the Earth day, although the Martian year is over twice as long. Anyway, the excess power (hopefully there’s an excess) must be stored to last through the night when it’s really cold. Storing solar power requires batteries.

          Most hybrid vehicles use Nickel-Metal-Hydride technology, which is reliable but heavy. Lithium-Ion technology is lighter but it’s long-term reliability is uncertain. New ultra-lead batteries promise very good long-term reliability with comparable weight. Let’s go with the lightest solution, lithium, and take the figures from the GM Volt. It’s battery provides 16 kW-hr from 180 kg. The 225 kW “average” generation of the solar panels may be for around 10 hours and so five us 2250 kW-hr of power. At least 2/3 of that must be stored for non-light usage — about 1500 kW-hr. Allowing for a very small margin of error, you’d have to have 100 of those Volt packs or 18000 kg of batteries. Those batteries will cost $400 million to move to Mars.

          The costs mentioned above do not include the purchase costs for the panels and batteries, just the estimated $10000 per pound delivered to Mars. I’ve ignored the necessary electronics because it’s certainly lighter than the panels and batteries.

          For a self-sustaining colony, those batteries must last nearly forever. It’s unclear when, if ever, a Mars colony will be able to make its own batteries or refurbish the ones it has. But batteries do not last forever. Battery life may be between 10 and 20 years under good circumstances.

          Is a daily power supply of 2250 kW-hr sufficient for all purposes in this colony? Most will likely be used for heat. We have insufficient data to determine the heat requirements of the colony. Machinery will use lots of power as will oxygen generation and water extraction.

          What happens to our colony when the batteries begin to fail?

            TO SET UP A COLONIAL.
            5 FORGET THE SOLAR PANELS 4.



          • You have made several suggestions. Some are interesting. Some will take a long piece to explain.

            I’ll take the short ones first.

            Wind power: Not practical on Mars because the air is 1% of that on Earth. Those high-speed wind storms cannot even lift sand into the air. Sand particles may roll along a bit, but only dust goes into the air.

            Nuclear power: Practical in the long run but difficult to ship to Mars. Alan Bond has a plan to do that in about 20 years. By then, he thinks, we can bundle up the parts of a practical nuclear reactor and ship to Mars. It will not require the huge containment shell. Note that nuclear power does not last forever. Fuel runs down. Refueling requires additional fuel that cannot be obtained on Mars in the near future.

            Food: Algae can be used, but is not sufficient. Initially, a variety of fast-growing varieties of food plants supplemented by yeast grown on the inedible plant parts looks like a good approach. You can algae to that, but it has to be processed (water removed etc.) before eating. Could be a good additive to improve nutrition.

            Solar Power: Most efficient in terms of moving mass to Mars. Only fails in dust storms. Must have alternative back-up that will last for weeks. RTGs can fill that role (sort of micro nuclear power plant) and provide heat for the cold environment.

            Sand as Radiation Shield: Will not blow away because of extremely thin atmosphere but may shift. Requires periodic maintenance.

            Gender of Settlers: 4:0 not viable for future. 2:2 makes most sense. There are arguments for other ratios, but these fail to note that more settlers will be on the way — unless everyone dies first.

            Exosuits: Remotely piloted (and even autonomous) vehicles are more efficient.

            Many other ideas are more controversial and have valid opinions on both sides. It’s a matter of how to combine technologies to get the stuff to Mars and have it be usable there for human survival. In ten years, the decisions could be quite different than today.

          • The Mars ONE project should be cancelled immediately, since sending young people to Mars with no hope of ever getting back safely is an ill conceived notion from the very start. There is no pressing need to go to Mars at all and Mars will always be there. The continuous stress of providing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide in very cramped modules would kill the young explorers in a few days. Sanity must prevail. Some day, NASA will have a fly past but not before all the technological problems have been solved.

          • While there are a great many problems to solve, the provision of oxygen and scrubbing of carbon dioxide would seem to be one of the least, and something we have over a century of experience with if you think back to early submarines and then forward to the ISS and projects like Biosphere II

            And what else shall we stop people from doing because they might get hurt? Common sense and best practices sure, but don’t tell little Johnny and Susie they can’t climb the tree, teach them how to to it and what to watch out for. We’re all going to die, which is not to say we should throw lives away needlessly (how about warfare then) but that dying is preferable to hiding in a closet waiting for the sky to fall.
            Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

          • Hi Brett,

            Exactly. The O2 and CO2 issues are not difficult. There will be some practical issues on Mars, where conditions are indeed difficult.

            Mr. Shaw suggests that Mars will always be there. If earlier explorers had heeded that advice, we would never have reached the poles of the Earth or the tops of mountains. The air will always be there. So, why bother to attempt to fly in it today?

            Living on Mars has many challenges. Getting there is merely scaling up what we already can do. Yes, scaling has challenges too, but these are not the fundamental ones that living on Mars poses.

            Can we recycle human wastes safely and efficiently for decades? Will 38% gravity have negligible impact on health? Can enough water be dug with relatively primitive instruments to supply the colony’s requirements? Can food be grown and regrown from seeds collected for decades without loss of viability in a Martian environment? Will enough energy be available to ensure that the entire settlement does not freeze every living thing to death? Those are larger questions.

            Smaller ones such as the nature of the habitat walls remain to be solved. These must withstand the pressure on the inside and the UV and cosmic radiation on the outside while keeping heat in.

            I could go on and on. People will be addressing these problems. I don’t see them being solved as rapidly as Mars One assumes, but you never know. The future has a way of fooling us.

          • Freeze-up would be nearly fatal to such a project; several smaller areas and energy sources would increase flexibility for maintenance, and improve chances against losing everything in one disaster. In this case redundancy would be a good thing but adds to payload unless you can manufacture on site.

            My birthday wish would be a 3D printer that churns out sheets of Solar cells

            Attention to explosive, flammable, pressure loss hazards: the more passive it can be designed the better – so storage of compressed gasses, batteries, motors, wiring. Toxins could be much more insidious than mere CO2

            It seems wiser to plan on at least limited inputs; if that seems difficult better rethink the entire project. A delivery of 100kg bounced down within 50km (maybe there are more efficient payload sizes depending on the tech) could bring in new seed varieties and other specialty items invented later – sorry, you still have to make your own toilet paper…

            There is even a psychological benefit, they will not feel quite so cut off if there is a bounder coming in a couple times a year.

            I think I already mentioned Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy but maybe Hugh Howey’s Wool omnibus would be more appropriate: just building a hole on Earth that four people could live in for years, completely self-sufficient, would be quite a project.

            I’m looking at Mars, Venus and the crescent Moon tonight (you can cover all three with a fingertip outstretched) and I think our grasp of distance and size is poor, whether the distance to a point of light in the evening sky or how many electrons are dancing on the head of a pin.
            Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

          • Hi Brett.

            “… manufacture on site.” This is the ultimate goal, of course Much energy will be necessary for this result — energy to travel, energy to dig (mine), energy to refine, energy to manufacture. Without any great pool of (carbon-based, for example) energy on Mars, it cannot be bootstrapped from scratch. In the near-term, only fission reactors have the potential to deliver sufficient energy to make a settlement “self-sufficient.” Solar would require such extensive arrays of cells and such enormous storage facilities that it could not be done with imports from Earth. There’s just too much mass to move before you’d have energy for mining, refining, etc.

            Your wish may be granted. 3D printers for electrical circuits are already on the drawing boards. However, the raw materials are a different matter. You must have feedstock, and such a printer would have little use if all of the feedstock had to come from Earth. Again, you’re in the mining, refining, etc. conundrum.

            Generation of toxic gases from an accident is certainly a concern. What if a motor shorted and melted down? The insulation could generate seriously toxic gases that would be confined to the habitat without any good means for venting them because of having no air to replace them with. Thus, design must include electrical insulators that do not do this.

            Batteries can be maintained outside of the internal atmosphere as can any compressed gases, mostly O2 and H2 — not toxic.

            Fifty kilometers away from the habitat would be a challenge to reach. Five would be acceptable. Even more will work as long as it’s within walking distance of one hour or so each way. Low gravity compensates for bulky Mars suits (mostly for insulation) making the trip similar in time to one on Earth: 5-7 km/hr. Eventually, fast rovers can extend that distance, but those require some advances in power storage as well as the power source to charge them.

            I have read KSR’s series. Starting with 100 settlers is cheating. Also cheating is the constant underlying assumption of virtually unlimited energy supply. He never tells us where all of this energy originates, except in the early “Rickovers.” He makes some really wild assumptions about technological advances but has some things not advance much at all. It’s like imagining traveling to an airport in a 19th century stagecoach. His descriptions of the surface of Mars and its geology (areology) are magnificent and show a real command of the planet’s surface. He also avoids Andy Weir’s error of thinking that high-speed winds on Mars can blow things down (until the planet has enough atmosphere to breathe). However, he does fall into the nitrogen trap. It’s a long read filled with pages at a time of descriptions of the panoramas of Mars that seem to go on forever.

            We humans are ill-equipped to fathom the vastness of space of the enormous worlds just beneath the precision of our unaided vision. That’s just the spatial dimension. Time also confounds us. Who can truly say that they understand what a billion years is? Most of those arguing against evolution fail completely to comprehend the vastness of time and what it can do.

          • The only reason for canceling Mars One is lack of funding or, by similar logic, the discovery that the funds raised are being misappropriated.

            It may never get off the ground, but that’s for the future to determine. I think that actually landing four people on Mars to live out their lives there is a true longshot. Yet, 100 sane people remain in the running for the dubious honor of being the first chosen to found a colony on Mars. I say, “chosen to found” because being chosen does not mean actually going. Going does not mean getting there. Getting there does not mean that they will succeed. However, the largest hurdle is the first one.

            Based on what little I have seen of these intrepid explorer-to-be, they are dead serious and intelligent enough to understand the odds of success are slim. Like so many explorers of old, they are optimists who will prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

            Also, like those ancient explorers, they will have many obstacles to overcome, including ennui.

      • They will line the walls of the crew transit vehicle with water and cover the larger inflatable section of the mars hab with a layer of Martian soil to protect against radiation you haven’t read enough of the website it’s written in the mars-one FAQs

        • I’ve written quite a bit already about the Martian “soil” (actually regolith) covering the habitat. This “layer” is to be “several meters” thick. They don’t explain how so much soil will be moved or kept in place, and they do not say where such a large volume will come from.

          • A very good point, the nature of the regolith, the sort of earth-moving equipment and the structure required to support say 1m of cover. Inflatable? Hmm…

          • I have yet to comment on the “inflatable” part. Will there be rigid structure underneath? Without it, decompression will be a disaster with tons of regolith collapsing the inflatable area.

            Whatever design is used, it must allow for decompression, a real possibility over a decades-long life span of the colony structure. A pebble-size meteorite or simple stress failure can create a loss of air that will collapse the inflatable portions.

            There’s also the calculations as to what load the inflatables will carry given lower gravity and lower pressure.

          • The density of dry sand is around 1600 kg/m^3, 60% more than water. The height of “several meters” could be three meters, about a single story building height. You’d have 4800 kg/m^2 of material. At 38% of Earth’s gravity, the acceleration of gravity on Mars is about 3.8 m/s^2 and results in a pressure of 18kN/m^2 or 18kPa. One atmosphere on Earth is about 100 kPa meaning that the pressure of all of that sand is around 1/5 atm.

            Well, the inflatables can withstand that pressure as long as the pressure remains above 1/5 atmosphere. If the atmosphere in the habitat were to be pure oxygen, then that would be the pressure to duplicate the partial pressure of O2 here on Earth. The Mars One site suggests that nitrogen (N2) be added to the air, which would mean a higher pressure inside of the habitat and more air loss do to leaks and diffusion.

            Were the inflatables to decompress and not have rigid internal supports, they would collapse under the weight of all of that regolith. A 50m^2 area, which is in the range suggested by the website, would have a mass of 240000 kg or 240 metric tons. On Mars, the weight would be the same as about 100 metric tons on Earth, and the volume would be, of course, undiminished.

            Both building up and digging out (but see below) would be very large projects, and that’s just for a single inflatable module.

            Needless to say, large earth-moving equipment will not be ferried to Mars. The regolith-moving project would require months, if not years, to complete. A year without adequate radiation shielding would not be a disaster, not even a serious health risk unless a rare powerful solar event occurred. As more colonists arrive, this activity of piling up regolith would have to continue indefinitely. Without cement, the covered shelters would look much like sand piles whose slopes would depend on the angle of repose of regolith.

            Collapse and reinflation would move the covering material, which would have to be piled up all over again. Materials inside of the collapsed structures would be crushed, and may or may not be usable depending on their nature. The integrity of the inflatable material would also be questionable after a collapse.

            All of the above presumes adequate supply of nearby regolith, of which we have no guarantee.

          • Thank you for providing some cold, hard numbers – last time I calculated an escape velocity was 1988. Since we are talking low grav, how many meters of water would provide adequate shielding? Submerge hab in tank? Dig channel for hab, roof with 2m of water tank? 3m? I like the idea of “bury with regolith” less and less.

          • Water would be worse than dust and sand and rock (regolith). You’d have to get it. You’d have to contain it or it would just sublimate away. Then, it would just freeze. Sand may be 60% more dense but is more available with less cost. Water on Mars will be precious.

            If we could land inside of a large crater and had excavation equipment, we could have the colonists live in caves. We’d have to fill them with inflatable bags to hold in the air.

            If you could find a location with deep enough regolith, the you could dig out a small hole, maybe 1.5 m deep. Drop a solid module in there. Cover over with removed material plus some from surrounding area.

            The problem with all of these schemes is that they take so much time. Besides, they have too many ifs. If only we could get a full-sized backhoe with solar power on Mars, we could excavate the entire site, plunk the modules into it, and cover it over. Fat chance!

            Note that the colonists will be, in effect, cave dwellers. LEDs can supply enough UV to keep them healthy but not so much as to raise melanoma levels. They’ll only see a horizon when on an EVA or looking at a monitor.

            If you’re claustrophobic, do not apply.

          • Well I wasn’t proposing an open swimming pool, but obviously you want a considerable reservoir somewhere, even with good recycling.

            But since you mention it, how about a Mars hot tub? An enclosed bubble that fizzes oxygen as the CO2 dissolves into the water. Oh I would risk a little radiation for that… Please sign the radiation waiver first, ma’am.

          • Obviously not open. Any leak would result in water loss. You could not spend the heat energy to keep it liquid. Then, there’s all of the distillation of Mars soil. Water is slightly better as a radiation shield than rock I’m told. However, the logistical problems of just using Mars sand will win out handily.

      • There is no way you’ve looked through the web sight the mentioned all of those things in the FAQs

    • How about making money on Earth and selling a dream ?

      • Lynn,

        Thank you for your comment. Mr. Hoogstad has, in just a couple of lines contradicted his own thesis. People at work on problems means unsolved problems that may not be solved by 2023. Neither he nor I can say whether they will be solved or not.

        This is a grand adventure. It’s worthy of serious thought, not playing games. Even if every problem we recognize today were to be solved, the problems in a venture as complex as this one are like layers of an onion. Many solved problems merely reveal additional, previously unsuspected problems. We cannot determine how many will crop up.

        The 2023 date was chosen, not because it’s the end point of a carefully designed schedule, but rather because it’s near enough to generate excitement and far enough to make statements such as Mr. Hoogstad’s to the scoffers.

        I like the idea of heading out to Mars, but I like it much better if it’s done more soberly. I’d like to see a Moon base first.

    • Let’s hope they solve these problems or there will be some very rich lawyers working for some very upset families who watched their families die on Mars Reality TV!

      • In the first place, this project may never get off the ground. I’ll believe it when the first supply modules land on Mars. Love the concept but not too much into the reality.

        In the second place, those who are chosen (if the program moves forward) will certainly be people with few or no family ties. It will be difficult for an estranged second cousin to sue.

        It’s fairly clear that we have or will have technology to get four people to Mars in one piece with reasonable likelihood of success, although not 100%. It’s also obvious that they can sustain themselves for awhile, maybe even a year (Earth year). After that, all bets are off.

        The longer the stay, them more the problems multiply. With no source of substantial energy, they cannot refine metals or even work them into useful shapes. Three thousand square meters of solar arrays just won’t provide enough power to do more than survive. Things wear out. The only replacements either come with them or have to be shipped from Earth.

        The 1% atmosphere that’s almost entirely CO2 and has lots of carbon monoxide too cannot be compressed to breathe. Unless we find a way to raise the air pressure and add oxygen to the air in less than a few centuries, those settlers are doomed.

        Living on Mars will make the early pioneers in the American West and Australia look like people on a picnic.

      • The Mars One people have many hurdles to overcome before I’ll believe that they’re serious. One of these is establishing a training center for settlers-to-be. Another is designing, equipping, and sending the first supply modules to Mars. One important PR hurdle is putting their money where their mouths are by keeping all proceeds in an accessible location related to the project. The project leaders could well remove all substantial funds from access and so prevent those attorneys from making any real money. If they don’t, they’ll have more credibility. Of course, the applicants will be signing away many of the rights of next-of-kin to sue and those finally chosen (if they ever get that far) will have more papers to sign. The country in which the operation is run will have its own laws. If a country with laws making suit difficult were to be chosen, we’d have less faith in the project leaders.

    • I would really like to see their Project Management Plan for this project. Having plans for, or someone working on a solution to an issue is not proper risk management. Everything that Mr. Keller highlighted in this article are risks. Risks involve management in order to mitigate. Having another project to mitigate the risk… sure may eliminate or reduce the risk, but until a solution exists… today, the risk is still very high.

      Until you understand Project Management Principles, or can provide the Project Management Plan for this project, I suggest that you not comment. I wonder if a Plan even exists for this project, and how they have determined a cost analysis of $6 billion for this project. Unless everyone is expected to provide donations toward project goals, I simply don’t see how it;s possible. And expecting to have risks solved by donationary actions just adds another risk to the issue when efforts prove that funds are not sufficient to resolve the initial risk issue.

      • Good analysis. If carried through, this is a gigantic and extremely complex undertaking.

        I focused on the risks that may not be immediately obvious to the casual reader and are also significant risks that can be explained readily to most readers.

        Having read extensively over the last several months in the area of the Martian environment, I have found still more risks that cannot easily be mitigated.

        We all are aware of many of the risks involved in just getting four people onto the surface of Mars alive. They involve taking off, landing, and the months of travel in a small space while entirely dependent on life-support systems and on the compatibility and sanity of the four people.

        Long-term, sustainable living on Mars depends on continuing support from Earth in the form of more take-offs from Earth and landings on Mars over a period of years. The Mars One project suggests a ten-year period of such flights. One risk is whether that’s sufficient. The larger risk, as Cal points out, is continuing funding for that long period. It’s not adequate to raise $6 billion for preparation and the first manned flight — even if $6 billion is sufficient for that purpose. Billions more must be raised and on a schedule to support another flight every two years.

        Without having done anything close to a detailed budget, just having looked at various other estimates for putting people on Mars, I would guess that you’d have to get nearer to $10 billion initially and another $1-2 billion annually until the project’s end. These numbers assume more efficient lifters and shuttles than possible today.

        The mathematics of risk are quite interesting. I recently had to guess the answers to two five-answer multiple-choice questions for reasons I won’t discuss here. The chances of getting at least one answer correct were 46%, not 40% as most would assume. It was almost a coin flip. Lucky me. I did get one correct.

        If you have 100 independent risk factors and can mitigate the risk of each to 99% success, your likelihood of succeeding is about 37%. In real life, the number of risk factors depends on the complexity of the project, and the likelihood of failure ranges all over the place.

        A settlement on Mars requires such complexity that the number of risk factors could reach 1000 or more. Even if there were only 100 and the likelihood of failure of each were down to 0.1%, the likelihood of success would become only about 90%. Would you go on that basis?

        Personally, I’d like to see something above 95%, preferably above 99%.

        To reach 99% success with 1000 risk factors, you’d have to have a probability of failure of 0.00001005. That’s about 0.001% for each and every one of the 1000 elements. If you can build a system with only 100 risky components, 99% success means an individual failure rate of 0.01%. Some components can have backup. Two 90% components backing each other up will improve the success rate to 99%. Two 99% components make for a combined success rate of 99.99% or a failure rate of 0.01%. Yet, duplicate components mean greater lift-off mass and more than double the expense of one component.

        Hand-waving about humans being able to take care of contingencies will not do here. Having people to fix things is just one more factor in the overall risk analysis and may bring that 99% item up to 99.9%, the extra 9 being because a person has a 90% likelihood of being able to fix the thing that broke. Not all components are accessible to people either.

        Risk and cost are complimentary factors in designing any large project. How much risk is acceptable for landing four people on Mars?

    • I think this reporter did a great report on this issue Mars One. It is the organisation which has to come up with many explanations to his questions. But there are always kool aid drinkers who believe everything they are told by “authorities”, especially if the whole affair is funded by Reality TV Programs!

      • Mars One has been focusing on many of the issues I raised initially and others raised later. I wish I could take credit for this but cannot know that I had any impact at all. I view these questions as rather obvious, and they should have at least been mentioned specifically as ones that the organization was working on in their initial announcement.

        Two issues remain that are difficult to engineer away — energy and gravity. Too little of the first will be available through solar cells. The effect of 38% gravity is totally unknown and could make colonization of Mars not viable until we can re-engineer the human body.

  2. If radiation doesn’t (deservedly) kill these lunatics shortly after they leave near Earth orbit, muscular atrophy and bone loss will ensure they are unable to set foot outside of their rocket let alone wear spacesuits. But of course, no-one will survive to reach Mars.

    If Peter Hoogstad and Bas Lansdorp volunteer to put their money where their mouths are, I will also happily purchase pay-per-view for the privilege of watching them lose both their sanity and their lives.

    • While my gut reaction may mirror that of Vitaly, I have to remember many previous crazies. Don’t forget “Fulton’s Folly.” Also, realize that a real effort to overcome these problems will have great benefits for “Earthlings.”

      My article casts light on issues that the Mars One website has swept under the rug. Radiation will not kill the Mars voyagers on their trip. Even NASA has determined that a three-year round trip to Mars will expose the astronauts to a barely acceptable radiation dosage of about one siemen (the typical lifetime dose of a Earthbound human).

      However, as you raise crops and harvest seed for the next crop, radiation damages viability until after a few generations, your crops won’t grow. After perhaps ten years, the effects of radiation on the colonists will begin to show as greater cancer incidence, increased rate of eye cataracts, and decreased organ function. The worst effects are reserved for any children because radiation does the most damage to rapidly developing cells (which is why it’s used to kill cancer in our bodies). Without adequate radiation shielding, having children on Mars would be a very cruel activity that only the most extreme sadist could contemplate.

      There are many more issues. The point here is that we can visit Mars, but we can’t stay there until a large number of problems are resolved. Just attempting to solve them, even if the excuse is lame, is a worthy undertaking.

      We should not be suckering people into thinking that going to Mars is a great adventure that will be filled with wonderful exploration. As things stand today, it would be “cruel and unusual” punishment to send anyone not fully aware of their fate to Mars. The Mars One site does not fully inform. I simply seek to light up the dark corners.

    • Well Vitaly, to solve the problem of no gravity they could include a spinning room inside the shuttle. the spining creates artificial gravity in the middle and has already been demonstrated here on earth. the spining on earth actually increases the gravity within the room. in space the right ammount of spin could generate sufficient gravity to make a semi-normal environment.

      • Talk about doing homework… You clearly do not even understand the mechanism behind artificial gravity and centrifugal force. The rotation of earth actually *reduces* the effect of natural gravity, not enhance it. The “gravity” found in a spinning chamber is found along the *circumference* of the chamber, not in the middle. There are difficult enough issues to resolve with a project of this scale without adding bad information to the mix.

      • A spinning room inside the shuttle would be tremendous overkill adding complexity and weight unnecessarily. You might imagine a spinning vehicle. I’m sure that NASA has considered that. It must add lots of complexity too. Is the gain worth the cost? Apparently, NASA says no, or they would have done it already.

        The spinning of the Earth creates a pseudo-force everywhere but the poles and getting strongest at the equator. This force is directed outward away form the Earth as you would notice if you ever played on a playground merry-go-round. Without gravity, we’d all be propelled out into space. But then, without gravity we wouldn’t be here in the first place. Neither would the Earth or our solar system.

        • You want to spin the entire structure, if you are going to spin – and it certainly solves a lot of the physiological effects of null gravity. Spinning a room inside, or even spinning the structure around a hub means that if ever there is a problem with the bearings and/or seals, you will have a catastrophic failure as the motionless elements try to match the speed of the spinning section. Might as well set off a bomb.

          • Spinning spacecraft are as old as science fiction — well, almost.

            Using bearings would be a very bad idea. Everything must spin because of keeping air inside. The fuel cost of spinning fast enough plus stopping spinning is one problem.

            I think that a greater problem is that spacecraft are too small. The effect of a rapidly changing acceleration (pseudo-gravity) field on our sense of balance would be disorienting. You’d go from zero gravity at the axis to whatever you chose (e.g. 0.5 g) at the periphery in a rather short distance. Moving about in a non-uniform pseudo-gravity field would upset our internal systems like crazy. Depending on size and rotation, you could have a difference of 0.1 g between your head and feet in one orientation and none if you laid flat across the field.

            Then, there’s the Coriolis effect. No fun for your inner ear.

            Spinning is for space stations, not space craft. Space stations have their own problems because you have to dock with them — not so easy if they’re spinning.

            It’s time for someone to invent a gravity generator. :-)

          • There is another idea. Hold onto that last stage that’s normally jettisoned. Tether it to the spacecraft. Rotate the pair around their mutual center of gravity. If the tether is strong enough, you can have Martian gravity on the trip.

    • Deservedly? Are you a psychopath? If this is legit and all safety measures are in place this should be encouraged for the advancement of humanity. Without exploration we’d still be living in caves.

      • I support seeking new frontiers. All safety measures are not in place yet because the exact nature of much of this initiative is not yet known.

        This discussion is about two things. One is shining a light on the various aspects of establishing a Mars colony that the Mars One people have not revealed. The second is sharing ideas about how to overcome as many of these problems as we can.

        Some are very sanguine about the concept of Mars One. I’m more skeptical. By challenging those running the show, I hope that we’re all keeping them honest and even telling them things that they may not have yet thought out thoroughly.

      • Good observation, use of the word “deservedly” is very telling of this individual and the tone of many Mars One critics. But then cowardly schadenfreude is a hallmark of the unfit who would probably suffer mental breakdown if they ever did find themselves in a life-threatening situation. This is precisely why Mars One seeks “playful” candidates, or individuals who understand how self-control works with respect to sanity.

        Yet I count myself among the Mars One critics, I am very concerned the project will never leave the ground. I don’t think any sooner than a 2040 departure is realistic. However, I admire the childlike spirit of enthusiasm from so many who have courageously stepped forward believing they will carry-out the remainder of their lives 50 million miles away from home (during apposition anyway [and it’s “apposition,” not “opposition,” we don’t protest Mars every time Earth flies past]).

        • I too applaud the (public) spirit but believe the date is rather optimistic. Estimating 2040 is rather pessimistic, though. Aim high! Perhaps, around 2030, we will see a manned Mars landing by someone.

  3. Harry is correct on the issues he raises. I do think we will send humans to Mars before 2050. The energy and radiation issues he poses are real and have not been solved. While we have learned a great deal on the International space station the stress of living in a Mars colony is magnified many times. Steven Hawking has suggested that mankind needs to think about and actually venture into space. A great deal of study must go into life in space. It has some relation to our forefathers venture into the new world, but not much. We have much more to learn about life in small cramped spaces. The trip out and back to Mars is at least three years or more. Who should go?
    Who is capable of going? I think man will go beyond the confines of Earth, but there are many unanswered questions. Harry has started the list that must be answered.

    • It’s NASA that may be sending some people on that three-year round trip. The Mars One trip is ONE-WAY!!!

      Those colonists will be stranded in a resource-poor environment for as long as they live, which may be a short time. The shortness may be due to an accident. Eventually, it will be due to lack of food, water, or heat unless some serious answers to some severe problems are found.

      In the long term, radiation will do them in unless they can burrow underground.

      • You seem to be under the belief that it is kinder to have a round trip to Mars and back than to leave settlers there permanently, yet you also show some knowledge of the loss of bone-mass caused by extended exposure to reduced gravity. I’m just curious why you believe NASA would show more sense than the Mars One team by bringing astronauts back to our own planet, where the levels of gravity would either cripple or kill them after that amount of wastage.

        • Anonymous, your argument is unfounded. Please read further.

          Per the Wikipedia article pertaining to the International Space Station:

          “To prevent some of these adverse physiological effects, the station is equipped with two treadmills (including the COLBERT), and the aRED (advanced Resistive Exercise Device) which enables various weightlifting exercises which add muscle but do nothing for bone density, and a stationary bicycle; each astronaut spends at least two hours per day exercising on the equipment. Astronauts use bungee cords to strap themselves to the treadmill.”

          I know you’re focusing in on “but do nothing for bone density”, BUT there is an individual named Valeri Vladimirovich Polyakov, and he holds the current record from 1994-95, when he spent one year, two months and 14 days (437 days) in space between launching on Soyuz TM-18 and landing on TM-20.

          Furthermore, and according to his Wikipedia article:

          “Polyakov volunteered for his 437 day flight to learn how the human body would respond to the micro-gravity environment on long-duration missions to Mars. Upon returning from his second spaceflight, Polyakov held the record for the most total time in space. This record, however, was later broken by Sergei Avdeyev and is currently held by Sergei Krikalev. Data from Polyakov’s flight has been used by researchers to determine that humans are able to maintain a healthy mental state during long-duration spaceflight just as they would on Earth.

          Polyakov underwent medical assessments before, during, and after the flight. He also underwent two follow-up examinations six months after returning to Earth. When researchers compared the results of these medical exams, it was revealed that although there were no impairments of cognitive functions, Polyakov experienced a clear decline in mood as well as a feeling of increased workload during the first few weeks of spaceflight and return to Earth. However, Polyakov’s mood stabilized to pre-flight levels between the second and fourteenth month of his mission. It was also revealed that Polyakov did not suffer from any prolonged performance impairments after returning to Earth. In light of these findings, researchers concluded that a stable mood and overall function could be maintained during extended duration spaceflights, such as manned missions to Mars.”

          Also, “Astronauts subject to long periods of weightlessness wear pants with elastic bands attached between waistband and cuffs to compress the leg bones and reduce osteopenia.”

          Harry and Anonymous, one major problem that HAS NOT been addressed is the following:

          “After long space flight missions, male astronauts may experience severe eyesight problems. Such eyesight problems may be a major concern for future deep space flight missions, including a manned mission to the planet Mars.”

          • Had not heard of the eyesight issues. Would low gravity be an issue as with lengthy stays on the Moon and Mars?

            The weightlessness will be an issue on the 8-month trip to Mars. There may not be enough space in the travel vehicle for serious exercise, but I can’t know for sure without further data.

          • Hi Harry,

            For some reason I was unable to reply to your comment, so replying here. This was the original comment:

            “Had not heard of the eyesight issues. Would low gravity be an issue as with lengthy stays on the Moon and Mars?

            The weightlessness will be an issue on the 8-month trip to Mars. There may not be enough space in the travel vehicle for serious exercise, but I can’t know for sure without further data.”

            The eyesight issue has been a big concern as of late. It’s not well known yet, as the issue was only discovered last year. There isn’t much literature yet, but found the following synopsis:

            “Because weightlessness increases the amount of fluid in the upper part of the body, astronauts experience increased intracranial pressure. This appears to increase pressure on the backs of the eyeballs, affecting their shape and slightly crushing the optic nerve. This effect was noticed in 2012 in a study using MRI scans of astronauts who had returned to Earth following at least one month in space. Such eyesight problems may be a major concern for future deep space flight missions, including a manned mission to the planet Mars.”

            Having said this, their vision MAY return to normal once entering Mars’s atmosphere, but unfortunately, we do not have any long term studies or data of how vision may be affected by lower gravity environments. The mission would be utterly useless if the astronaut’s vision is either impaired, or they suffer permanent blindness.

            Wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of weightlessness being an issue while en route to Mars. MarsOne has not released any information on the specifications of their space crafts.

            Should they arrive safely on Mars, their bodies will be re-subjected to Martian gravity, which is 37.65% of Earth gravity. If the astronauts returned to Earth, it is unknown as to how their bodies will respond when re-exposed to Earth’s gravity. We cannot assess or ascertain how long term exposure in low gravity environments will affect human bodies, as we simply do not have the data. For example, on Earth I weigh 153 lbs. On Mars, on 57.6 lbs. As of today, it is unknown in determining how that would affect my body on Mars, and/or when returning to Earth.

          • I appreciate your information. Very useful. Indeed, we do not know about long-term weightlessness and the human body. Apparently, the osteoporosis will not be so severe as to have bones break in Mars gravity. Muscles can be maintained, even in small spaces if not too small. That issue must addressed. You also have to convince the colonists to maintain a steady and dull exercise regimen for eight months.

          • Thank you Harry and I’m glad you’ve found the information useful! Totally agree, but one must worry that if there are plans for returning these intrepid individuals back to Earth, what would the long term affects in low Martian gravity have been to their bodies? You bring up an excellent point, aside from the fact that these astronauts must engage in consistent exercise routines, how will they be motivated to continue their training for up to eight months during the journey?

          • lol ignore this part of my previous reply: “For some reason I was unable to reply to your comment, so replying here. This was the original comment:

            “Had not heard of the eyesight issues. Would low gravity be an issue as with lengthy stays on the Moon and Mars?

            The weightlessness will be an issue on the 8-month trip to Mars. There may not be enough space in the travel vehicle for serious exercise, but I can’t know for sure without further data.”

            Replying to comments on here is a tad bit confusing lol. As you can see, technology and I have a love/hate relationship :).

      • So let’s sum up the low resources thing. Just the natural resources alone would put them on the same pay scale as Bill Gates. The corporate and scientific communities would pay billions to get what the colony would have to sell. Don’t think for a minute that just corporate america alone wouldn’t jump at the chance to monopolize on that. They would eventually be able to order anything they wanted once they make themselves a viable society.

        • It’s a fascinating venture, despite the immensity of the whole thing. And small change in the vast scheme of things.

          Some will criticize that the money should be spent on the poor, as it were – and yet we have box office and gaming sales into the billions.

          As an incentive to adventure, education, research and a spirit of inquiry, if not wonder, it is money well spent. Spinoffs will certainly be useful back here on Terra Firma.

          I heard a view the other night that procedures and facilities that only the wealthy could afford were somehow unworthy of pursuit and immoral. The comment was in regard to sleep research, and particularly a drug that advanced the sleeper rapidly into useful sleep patterns (meaning you could in theory get by on four or five hours of sleep)

          Without disregarding the need to look after us all, more or less, to some acceptable minimum, the means to do that have often been discovered and developed by the more outlandish personalities among us, aided by personal wealth or patrons.

          Besides, the current governments of the world do not seem particularly interested in these sort of expenditures, either afraid of such criticism from the mediocracy or generating it themselves.

          I will have to wait until one-man asteroid prospecting vessels are created as my psychological profile is not, shall we say, conducive to smooth group dynamics.

          • Hi Brett,

            I’m with you on the solo activities. ;-D

            I certainly see the potential for spin-off benefits. Today, we’re around where we were in perhaps 1945 with respect to going to the Moon in regard to going to Mars. We went there 25 years later. It can happen. It must happen someday.

          • This is a great article! How to take a crazy venture and turn it into a teachable moment for personnel recruiting!

            Let’s especially note item 3: “Tout training and education.” In most schools, PD is just a check mark on a sheet. In industry, training has all but vanished. Instead, these companies lobby Congress for more H1B visas. Whiners!

            Personnel should be viewed as an asset to be developed, not a replaceable part!

        • All right, let’s analyze this resource issue. Right off, there are no fossil fuel resources — no coal, no oil, no gas. Without that once seemingly endless energy supply, what can you do with other resources — if you can find them? You cannot drill because that takes lots of energy. You cannot even dig without plenty of energy. You can just scratch around on the surface but only in small area because moving long distances requires more energy.

          For the sake of argument, let’s say that some enterprising soul solves the energy problem sufficiently so that you can dig and drill. Let’s also, just for argument’s sake, say that someone finds a valuable resource, for example large deposits of vanadium or some other valuable mineral. Mineral ore has lots of impurities in it and must be extracted. More energy!

          So, now you have something valuable — on Mars! This mineral has no value on Mars. Who will buy it? Anyone there is only interested in food, water, air, and protection from the horrendous elements, mostly incredible cold, which requires — you guessed it — more energy.

          Anyone living on Mars could care less about some mineral unless it can be traded for something useful from Earth. Lifting something from Earth and carrying it to Mars costs an estimated $10,000 per pound. There’s no energy on Mars, except solar, so how do you get enough energy to lift anything off of the planet? You have to import it from Earth. Oops! More huge expense. That mineral must be worth more than diamonds. It’s just not a viable scenario.

          Not corporate American nor huge multi-nationals have any interest in all of this. They don’t play guessing games. We have no clue whether any mineral resources exist on Mars except for the obvious ones. You won’t find diamonds because there’s no coal from which to form them. The lack of plate tectonics and millions of years of water erosion eliminate more. So far analyses of the Martian “soil” have yielded no excitement on the commercial front. Only scientists care.

          Only putting an atmosphere significantly better than the current 1% of Earth’s pressure and with oxygen, not 95% carbon dioxide, in it can change things. If you could get the atmosphere up to 10% of Earth and have most of that be oxygen, then you’d have some hope. The carbon dioxide (the carbon monoxide would react with the oxygen) in the air would make it poisonous until it was extracted by hardy, genetically engineered plants. People would still have to have pressure suits and breathing apparatus but could work outside longer than now. A thin ozone layer would protect against ultraviolet to some extent but not lots. Consider the UV on mountaintops, where the pressure is much higher than 0.1 bar. Cosmic rays would be slightly attenuated. No food could be grown outdoors.

          Two things must happen for corporations to be interested in Martian natural resources. Firstly, they must be located and verified. Secondly, the cost of transportation back to Earth plus the transportation of the exchanged trade goods to Mars must be low enough to justify the whole business. Neither is even near to being true today.

          • I cannot imagine natural resources from Mars being of value to Earth, for the reasons mentioned – but their value is in developing the Martian economy/colony. Which is practical stuff like aluminum for building, copper for wiring, various kinds of glass and in particular minerals for crop production of a serious nature… and the first question that comes to mind there is Nitrogen scarcity.

            Mars colonization has value for scientific reasons: simply colonizing a mildly (compared to anything but Earth) hostile planet and how to solve those problems – which will be useful for longer expeditions to moons of Jupiter perhaps, or Saturn.

            Asteroid mining starts to make more sense as you spread out into the Solar system, simply because anything you find there does not have to be lifted out of Earth’s gravity well. I do not know what asteroids may have in store: frozen water and methane would be as valuable as anything.

            Aside from the simple curiousity and regular scientific experimentation are the science projects that might not gain approval on Earth: serious and ‘unethical’ genetic engineering, nanotechnologies of the self-replicating and pervasive sort; who knows what else? Recall the very small chance that black holes possibly generated in the LHC might propagate and you have a taste of weird events might take place in a locale that removed from Earth’s meddling legislators.

            Persecuted minorities and survivalists would be willing for considerably greater risks and privations than others. Or a well-developed colony could be a lifeboat to preserve vestiges of humanity in the event of apocalyptic events on Earth – thinking particularly of collisions with large objects from space, although I would never underrate the human ability to invent (and release) something that could not be stopped.

            Viruses, properly engineered, could leave the Earth green and lovely – and quite fatal to anyone with a primate genome.

            On that happy note, I will bid goodnight and off to bed: sweet dreams.

          • When a Mars colony can be truly self-sustaining and grow to more than a few dozen individuals, then and only then will resources begin to enter the picture.

            In the short run, the primary resource will be energy — unless something makes water or air scarce. Food will be grown using energy and recycling plus some addition from Mars itself but slowly.

            Only an atmosphere will truly change the equation, and that atmosphere must be at least 0.1 bar and possibly more, not the current 0.01 bar. If you could make Mars have an atmosphere of 0.2 bar and mostly oxygen, then people could live there without extreme issues. Properly designed greenhouses could grow plants without pressurization. And so it goes.

            A handful of troglodytes on Mars will not be building a vibrant economy soon. They won’t be sending asteroid mining expeditions out. They won’t even be mining Mars.

      • Really, it doesn’t really matter it is a ONE-WAY trip for those 200.000 people who are willing to go. From the more than 7 billion people on earth, there are really a lot of people who are prepared to give their live to science. Everyday thousands of people die during war not wanting to die, you really care about the 4 people dying pretty early even if they are aware of the big chance that will happen?
        Ok, maybe we should send with them some suicide-pills just in case they get in a situation like a slow painfull dead so they don’t need to suffer longer than they want to.

        • Suicide on Mars is rather trivial. Just step outside without a suit. Less painful would be to seal off a module and slowly let the air out. You lose consciousness and then die.

          Plenty of people die on Earth everyday unnecessarily from war, starvation, pollution, and preventable disease. That’s true. What are four more, you say? What if they were your family? It’s too easy to dehumanize others. If a foursome ever does go on this one-way trip, we should all be cheering for their success and try to understand what they’re facing. Symbolically, they would be much greater than just four more Earthlings. We’re all doomed to die, but we should have the opportunity to make the most of our lives.

  4. I agree with Frank. We will eventually land humans on Mars.

    Living there, as Harry points out, is problematic. However, problems are the stuff of invention, and NASA’s primary business is problem-solving via the invention of new technology to address new problems. To date, NASA has registered over 6400 patents. The problems associated with survival on Mars or other planets will generate thousands more.

    Re the Mars One project — this is just one of many likely efforts, but my guess is that it will take an organization such as NASA to make it work.

    Another option is to prepare the planet in stages, just as we construct space stations that orbit earth. In this scenario, we’d build space stations that orbit Mars, and these would serve as operational bases for on-ground preparation and construction. Roundtrip flights to and from earth would be eased by these orbiting platforms at both ends.

    In time, Mars could become a habitable planet.

    There are many other options for colonizing distant planets. Richard Gray reports “Two Earth-like ‘blue-planets’ discovered orbiting distant star” (Telegraph, 4.18.13). There are problems of survival in water worlds such as these as well as distance — 1200 light years away. But, again, problems inspire innovation.

    It took humans 60-to-340K years to spread from Africa to the rest of the planet, overcoming geographical problems along the way with inventions. Given time, we’ll spread out into other planets. -Jim S

    • “Given time, we’ll spread out into other planets” The primary issue here is how much time. The time issue also comes into play with respect to transforming Mars to having a breathable atmosphere. Even if we had a technological path to increasing the atmosphere to 50% of that of the Earth and making it have enough oxygen to breathe, the energy requirements would be staggering.

      The Moon is much closer than Mars and has only slightly less atmosphere (0% versus 1% of Earth). Resupply is much easier. The same problems exist as with Mars, except that the gravity is much less (16% versus 38% of Earth). The sunlight is much stronger (100% versus 40% of Earth). Without dust, solar cells would work much better on the Moon than on Mars. So, why go to Mars when the Moon is so much closer. We could even rescue Moon colonists (Lunarians?) if necessary.

      A colony on the Moon would be a testing ground for all of the technology required to go to Mars. If people can survive and thrive on the Moon, then Mars would be a logical step.

      My guess is that the human race is just naturally arrogant and that we’ve already put people on the Moon, although for just a few days at at time. Mars is at the edge of possibility, actually past it in my opinion. It can capture the imagination of our planet. So, why not go for it?

      In the 1950s, people were confidently predicting that mankind would soon be building undersea habitats and living there full time — at least by 2000. Obviously didn’t happen. The technology is and was there. It was an exciting new frontier. A full half-century later, we still haven’t done it.

      It’s great to dream of magnificent explorations and new horizons. Occasionally, they become reality. Mostly, they don’t. I love the dream and am glad that Bas and Pieter are putting some solid research on this gossamer framework. If I’m still around in 2023, I do not expect to see a colony on Mars or anytime soon thereafter. I’d be surprised if you’ll see one in 2050. We’re more likely to have undersea dwellings than to have dwellings on Mars. We’ll also benefit more from the former than from the latter.

      • Lunarians? You know we – er, they – are going to be called Loonies!

      • Yeah why don’t we go to the moon. Sounds 1,000’s of times more logical to me. But you also raise an interesting point. Although it’d be cool to say we’ve colonized Mars, why not spend the time and resources developing our own planet (particularly in how we use the oceans – probably the greatest untapped resource we have). It would seem to be far more beneficial.

        • It’s good to explore the concept of going to Mars. Practically, I see a transient Moon base as the best path forward. It means that I probably won’t be around to see the first Mars settlement. I might make it to the first round-trip manned Mars expedition. That’s sad for me, but we cannot let our emotions set our agenda.

          It’s exciting to go to Mars, but what are the benefits? The only ones I see are very long term. Those don’t require such precipitous actions as a settlement in ten years. I am deliberately placing my fictional Mars settlement at an unknown time in the future but using only technologies that exist or are reasonably close to existing with one or two exceptions allowed under author’s license. I doubt that we’ll be on Mars in ten years. Twenty years is possible for a landing but a stretch for a settlement. Because we cannot predict new technology breakthroughs, I could be wrong. Indeed, I expect a Mars settlement within 50 years and quite possibly within 30 years.

          It may not happen anyway. In the 1950s, people were confidently predicting undersea settlements by 2100, some sooner. You can see how far that’s progressed. There’s a vast frontier right at our doorstep that’s unused as living space for people. (I don’t count houseboats. :-) )

          I remain convinced that thinking about a settlement has many benefits. It’s fun and costs very little money while putting no lives in danger.

          I hope that you’ll join me in this adventure, this thought experiment.

          Harry Keller
          Smart Science Education Inc.

    • “There are problems of survival in water worlds such as these as well as distance — 1200 light years away. But, again, problems inspire innovation.”

      I saved this remark for a separate comment. This has nothing to do with Mars.

      People understand that 1200 light-years is a long distance but may not realize fully its implications. Support that further investigation revealed that one such planet was a real candidate for colonization. What would have to be done?

      The first thing you must know is that the given planet WAS a candidate for colonization. We’re looking at it as it was 1200 years ago. Geological time being what it is, that may not be much of a problem, but it does deserve thought.

      Next, you must determine whether colonization actually is possible. How can you do that without probing the candidate planet closely? We could send a probe to the planet. The probe could beam back information about it. With our first interplanetary probe just now leaving the solar system, we’re hardly ready for such an undertaking, but let’s assume that we have a crash program to prepare an interstellar probe within ten years.

      Such a probe would have to have lots of fuel and a long-lasting energy source. But these are engineering problems to overcome and only lots of money and ingenuity are necessary for that.

      Sometime around 2025, the probe takes off. After about five years, it reaches 50% of light speed and ceases using fuel for acceleration. It’s 2031. Now, we wait. Somewhere around 4231, the probe nears the planet and begins to decelerate. It approaches the planet and achieves orbit. It’s now 4240 or so. It does its analysis and sends back the information at the speed of light. We receive the information around 5440. If it’s positive, we can send people, and they’ll arrive around 7640. We’ll receive the first images of landing on the planet around 8840.

      If this all does not seem absurd to every single reader, you are not thinking at all. Even if we could rapidly reach 99% of the speed of light, the final date would still be 6440.

      Problems do inspire innovation. The innovation required here would be FTL (faster than light) travel. Einstein settled that one for us. It turns out that even if he’s wrong, there’s still the time travel aspect. FTL means time travel. Time travel (backward, not forward) means time travel paradoxes. In theory, you could know the outcome of tomorrow’s football game and make a fortune betting. That’s without the problems of physically altering the past. Such things fundamentally alter the nature of our universe.

      Simply, you cannot travel or send a probe to a planet 1200 light-years away and have it return in a few years or a few decades or even a few centuries.

      • Human migration expansion may most likely be in the order of 10lys every 3000-5000 years, What is interesting about the vision for a human presence on Mars is that individuals like you are now probing the ways to do this within the next 20 years, the more debate like this the more likely it will happen in this time frame.

      • Have you considered the possibility of trans space travel. Where if einstein was right and space and time are related a dense enough mass could bring together two separate parts of physical space.

        • Way out of my league, but I know if a better understanding of time and space were discovered it would be the most amazing thing since we discovered how to use fire.

          The weak, wan force of gravity yet acts continuously and instantly (?) across the universe. It does not seem to be a particle, while light behaves both as a particle and a wave, which has never made me happy. The little quantum physicists can explain to untrained people like me is just weird – and makes me suspect they have much more to unravel.

          Perhaps like the ants we are good at analyzing things at our scale like their grains of dust and chemical markers, but completely oblivious to the freight train roaring overhead.

          And it is our arrogance to suppose that of course we would not miss something at the large or small scale, or any kind of stimuli we are simply not equipped to perceive or comprehend – and we dismiss it out of hand therefore, and go on about forming our conclusions with the (possibly very little) ‘facts’ that we have.

          But the scientific method insists we use only concrete ‘truths’ using such terms as ‘verifiable’ and ‘repeatable’ with good, rational reason – and yet, perhaps, so very, very limiting.

          • Yes, gravity does diminish rapidly so that only the most massive of agglomerations of matter can affect very distant objects measurably.

            No, gravity does not propagate faster than light. According to Einstein, nothing of use does.

            Simply put, every bit of matter, including photons of light, behaves both as waves and as particles. Smaller and lighter means more like waves; larger and heavier means more like particles. Even a planet has a wave function, but it’s wavelength (haven’t actually calculated it) is probably less than the Planck distance. If not, it’s so small as not to matter.

          • Hi Brett,

            Your final comment requires a reply from a scientist.

            “But the scientific method insists we use only concrete ‘truths’ using such terms as ‘verifiable’ and ‘repeatable’ with good, rational reason – and yet, perhaps, so very, very limiting.”

            There is truth in what you say but not complete truth. There really is no “scientific method.” Rather, there are methods and approaches to science investigation and analysis. Science never takes its range as complete. That is, it always assumes that there is more to know.

            What science does know, it assumes can be revised, usually in small ways but very rarely in large ones — plate tectonics being one such example. Knowing in science is never absolute. However, your remark raises the issues of verifiable and repeatable. These are nearly the same and apply to data. What good is data if you cannot reproduce it at some later date? It falls from experimental data into anecdotal observations. These may be fine for brainstorming and getting ideas but too readily mislead and/or confuse our thinking.

            The realm of science is not total. It deliberately limits itself to the knowable, the testable, the reproducible, the verifiable. Mostly, beauty falls outside of the realm of science, although some hints have been discovered. I don’t expect a complete “science of beauty” ever to become reality. Beauty changes with the era, the culture, and the individual. It is one of many areas that lie, in large part, beyond science.

            So, yes science does limit one, and that’s not only fine, it’s as it should be. Scientists, as with the practitioners of so many trades, have strictures on what they can do. Beethoven did not create great sculptures. He was limited to music and even more to the instruments available for making it in his day. He did not compose for the synthesizer. These limitations do not make his work or him any the less. We all recognize the arena in which he practiced his art. So it is with science.

            Do not lament the limitations of science. Rather celebrate them.

          • Yes, science is not merely ‘knowledge’ but ‘to know’ – and if so, obviously to know the truth.

            All current knowledge began as imagination, sometimes in tandem with observation, followed by testing.

            I think you missed my point that modern science increasingly refuses to allow the imagining and, worse, assumes it is both capable and accurate in the testing.

            Let us propose that the Universe is mostly made of blue matter, simply because ‘blue matter’ is a concept we can imagine, regardless of its accuracy. Call it magic if you like, but don’t get hung up on what we actually ‘know’ about ‘blue’ or ‘matter’

            Now suppose humans can’t see the colour blue, can’t taste it, cannot perceive blue or matter that is blue whatsoever. We are not even equipped to grasp the concept of ‘blue matter’ because our mind doesn’t bend that way and certainly we cannot see, smell, touch or hear it.

            So we dismiss it and build theories only with what we have, with what we can perceive and imagine. Is that science? Or is that faith? Faith in the ultimate human ‘knowability’ of the Universe. And am I some kind of heretic for suggesting this flaw?

          • Well, “blue matter” used to be “dark matter.” That’s pretty much accepted now. The new “blue matter” is “dark energy,” which may be just about anything including an error in the theories.

            Imagination, in some ways, is the most important aspect of science. I reject the term “modern science” because it’s always today’s science — even 100 or 200 years ago. People seem to excoriate and praise modernity whenever they are. (Yes, I meant “whenever.”)

            “Modern” science is no different that 20th or 19th century science. The processes and modes of thought haven’t altered. The body of knowledge, of course, has expanded. You’ll find people who lack imagination in every field. In science, they’re the “foot soldiers” who painstakingly fill in the gaps left by the scouts who move ahead to new frontiers.

            Science does not refuse to allow imagining. It requires imagining. But not just any old imagining. Whatever you imagine must be and always has been required to be transformed into a question that can be answered in a repeatable fashion so that one person’s answer can be checked with actual measurements by another. That’s the province of science. Outside of that province lies another great expanse of understanding (in contrast to knowing) for others to explore. That second region will never be plumbed by science. It is the area that involves what we call the “human spirit” and imagination, for imagination is not just imagining the answerable and the repeatable but the completely impossible and even other things that are neither impossible nor repeatable. I can imagine solid objects passing through each other and gravity being canceled. I can imagine beauty so extreme that it drives sane people to insanity.

            So, also, I can imagine people living their lives on Mars in the near (1-3 decades hence) future even though I don’t expect to see it in ten years and may not see it in 20. Perhaps, it’s fortunate that we have science fiction writers and that a great many of our scientists have been big fans. These stories have opened up their minds and imaginations.

            “Modern” science is NOT increasingly refusing to allow imagining. Scientists always have to appreciate the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work. Measurements are NEVER totally precise. Therein lies one of the crucial aspects of the nature of science (NoS). Anyone who thinks otherwise is not a scientist and also does not understand science. Scientists DO think that any physical phenomenon can be measured, in principle. One goal of science is extending the range of the measurable. I do NOT think that such a viewpoint stifles imagination. Rather, it expands imagination.

            I’ll just finish off this rant on the nature of science by noting that your comment could have been written in 1963 or 1913 or 1863. Each of those times believed that they were dealing with “modern” science and indeed they were. You cannot just see selected parts of the science effort and make conclusions about the whole. If you go to the places where true exploration of science is taking place, you will find more than ample examples of truly remarkable imagination at work.

          • Great rant – nothing livens up the discussion like a good rant, particularly where the rantor tends toward the erudite and witty.

            I should not have used the hypothetical ‘blue matter’ as it seems to have been too close to ‘dark matter’ which is inferred from descriptions of the motion and nature of the universe which appear to come up short on the mass by about an order of magnitude.

            And so beautifully simple then to create some dark matter – only one type, apparently – to form a placeholder for the moment.

            It was not the sort of matter I was refering to, as its existence can at least be supposed indirectly (note my use of the singular purely for convenience) but is also a reminder that our horizons are broad and undefined when seeking to know.

            Which is not by any means knocking the effort – just the attitude. While we should do the best with what we have, I just want to make the point that humans are limited enough without presuming we pretty much got things figured; even though, as they stand, few if any of us could grasp the details of every discipline, let alone synthesize one grand explanation for this place in time and space.

            It may be that the discipline has not yet been coined, nor the mathematical tools created (discovered? Imagined?) to deal with things we do perceive, let alone those we do not. And it seems the height of hubris to dismiss what we cannot measure or perceive as nonsense.

            I have seen too many scientists rubbing the numbers and using salesmanship to promote their views, their projects, their departments, their politics to ever grant them carte blanche again – which is also not to say I don’t want the very best engineer designing the bridge or chemist designing new drugs.

          • “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” — Albert Einstein.

            It’s not that knowledge is useless. It’s all relative. Apropos to Brett’s comments, imagination is crucial to science. So it knowledge, It’s just that imagination is MORE important.

            There have always been plenty of “hacks” in every field who lack imagination. Then, there are the few who have it and the fewer who have lots of it. These are those who advance their particular field.

            Just because you happen to see lots of hacks does not mean that the creative minds are gone. Science has not changed since Einstein in its essentials. It remains a grand exploration of knowledge.

            Governments tend to be conservative — even rather liberal ones. They are more likely to spend their money (taxpayer money) on small, incremental advances than on bold leaps. They are more likely to seek projects with high probability of success even if that success is minor than on projects with high probability of failure even if success would mean a groundbreaking advance. It’s the nature of the creature.

            So, you may well look out at what’s going on in science and come to Brett’s conclusion. It’s how the landscape looks. You have to delve more deeply into the valleys and cols of that landscape to find imagination being exercised. You can find people in science as elsewhere who almost cannot start a day without an imaginative idea. They still exist. They just don’t tend to get most of the funding — until they make an important discovery. Before then, they may even be labeled as crackpots.

          • I think it has already been said with great elegance: “There are two kinds of scientific progress: the methodical experimentation and categorization which gradually extend the boundaries of knowledge, and the revolutionary leap of genius which redefines and transcends those boundaries. Acknowledging our debt to the former, we yearn, nonetheless, for the latter.” bonus points if you can tell me where that came from without using Google!

          • Very elegant quote. I never played that game and so had to look it up. Amazing that such a remark should originate in a game. Would that more of us had that yearning.

          • Late 90s, golden age of computer games.

            They gave Planet an atmosphere of nitrogen, which is probably easier in most respects than almost no atmosphere, like Mars.

            Just outlining the project, it appears that the vast expense and effort is getting there, personnel and equpiment and supplies, in good shape.

            Problems on arrival are: shelter in a radioactive vacuum, long-term energy and food supply.

            Goal: exploration for water and minerals. Anything else could be done better on Earth and transported (genetically engineered organisms, for instance)

            There is no reason to go there now except exploration and construction of facilities for further exploration. Any prospector will tell you that you’re not going to simply start mining. Orbital and surface analysis provide at best starting points.

            Complex biological experiments, especially terraforming, comes later. Really a working economy is the first order of business after basic food and shelter are in place. This can only be exploration and development.

            I prefer the idea of distributed small machines rather than large equipment, for the lower lift weight but also possible manufacture locally, but even earthside we haven’t improved much on drilling, explosives and heavy machinery – I just keep thinking how cool it would be if you just dumped out a box of ten billion ‘ants’ that could network the ground with mains and tributaries and went looking for whatever material is demanded. Ten billion grains of hematite or potassium perchlorate or bornite an hour would pile up. Obvious game would be for them to bring all materials necessary to replicate back to the 3D printer-assembler and make a few cousins. The process could be jump-started with drilling of course.

            Make environmental regulations much more stringent, such systems would be an improvement Earth could well use. I know it is a bit beyond current technology, but we need to start thinking about mining at the cellular or crystalline scale as part of the nanotech revolution.

            Think of it from here: you have already seen plant roots and ice crystals break rock, not to mention sudden changes of temperature. It is not unlike parallel computing converted to mining.

            And I would point out the vast deserts of the Earth that have received only minor attention at reclamation, relatively speaking, compared to what they provide, as a platform, compared to the surface of Mars. But we do want to go to Mars, hmm?

          • Excellent ideas, Brett. I especially like your noting that our deserts can be reclaimed more readily than Mars can. It’s also easier to live in the seas than on Mars. As long as we’re at it, I’ll note that settling Antarctica would also be a cake walk compared to Mars. It’s certainly easier to get there.

            After all, Antarctica has plenty of oxygen and may have large petroleum reserves for energy. It doesn’t do well on solar but has plenty of wind energy. As is the Sahara, it’s a desert — the driest desert on Earth if I recall correctly.

            If you think about it long enough, here’s the only unsettled continent on Earth — only transient visitors. Energy is the most serious issue. With enough energy and excellent insulation, you can have internal greenhouses for food using the same technology as Mars One.

            How many people would sign up for a one-way trip to Antarctica? How many for two years on the Moon? How about permanent residence in the middle of the Sahara desert? All of these together would make great preparation for Mars. All of these individually make very interesting puzzles to solve with clever engineering.

            People are both hasty and conservative creatures. Curious.

          • Brett, I like your idea of “ants.” Scale may be a critical factor, especially considering the implications of weight and size. In the larger scheme of things, size may be important. In this case, especially in the early stages of the settlement project, tiny may be better. We’re beginning to appreciate the advantages of small drones over manned bombers, and the future for miniaturizing has always been bright. For cost effectiveness and less risk, perhaps a nano-scale approach might be practical. Perhaps the first “settlers” could be nanobots the size of ants. Transporting and sustaining issues would be reduced drastically. Control could be facilitated by Mars-orbiting satellites or manned stations.-JimS

          • The “ants” are one of Brett’s neat ideas. We cannot implement it right away any more than we can send a settlement to Mars right away. A serious problem would be finding resources for reproduction. As Brett says, mining is not so easy. Deep mining would be essentially impossible, even for the ants. Powering the ants would present another problem to solve, especially in the extreme cold.

            Sending a pile of mechanical ants to Mars may stir the blood in the more nerdy of us, but would not capture the imagination of the world the way that Mars One does. They’re making headlines. I suspect that Mars One will fizzle in a year or two. Will it rise repeatedly like a phoenix, or will a settlement on Mars just be shelved for another generation or two the way that manned exploration of the Moon was after it was done?

            As they used to say, “Stay tuned to this station.”

          • Interesting things: deserts have, in relative terms, unlimited solar energy to provide electricity to pump seawater and free heat for distillation. If residue (sea salt) is undesirable, pump the stuff back into the sea at 75% saturation.

            Soil organisms already do constant warfare on our own ‘regolith’ to obtain the minerals they need to trade with plants for sugar. Lichen is the most basic such symbiotic relationship – with a protective layer it could be engineered to grow during summer months, over ice with even traces of water.

            Maybe the ‘ants’ need help from ‘mites’ and ‘beetles’ for sure, and certainly I would rather experiment with some of this technology on Mars – if simply for the reason that self-replicating technology is rather more dangerous than your basic backyard nuclear bombs and long-range missiles.

            See also “Greening the Desert” on Youtube.

          • Re: granting scientists carte blanche — don’t grant anyone carte blanche. Scientists are people too.

            Some people think that university scientists are immune from the profit motive and so are more “pure.” Not so. They fight like alley cats for grant money. They angle for corporate sponsors and consultancies. They squabble over publications.

            If you’re going to be a scientist, better to be a professor at a small college or work for a large research-oriented corporation or non-profit. The small college probably cares more about your teaching ability and considers publications a plus. Research institutions provide support and camaraderie. Both are more relaxed than universities. I know. I was a professor in one as well as a research scientist in the R&D department of a corporation.

            Don’t trust scientists. Do trust science.

        • You should refer to an expert such as Kip Thorne for your answers.

          Such speedy travel, often abbreviated as FTL, has some obstacles. Current science suggests that you would require some very strange matter indeed to create a wormhole gate to a distant location. Such a hole would then have a diameter smaller than an atom. I haven’t see more recent calculations. The issue here is that theoretical calculations may suggest some possibility of FTL, but the practicality of such travel seem to preclude it ever happening.

          The second problem regards time travel. FTL travel results in time travel as a side effect. Even if physical matter cannot move more rapidly than light, what if you could send signals faster? Then, you could now the future before it happens. The paradoxes that result would throw all of space-time into chaos. The theoreticians must find a way out of that problem.

          Basically, to travel FTL, your physical being would have to be distorted beyond recognition or life. Doing so, even for mere information, would violate the consistency of our universe.

      • We are discovering new planets every day/week/month. It’s obvious that we’ll wait until we find a earthlike planet within a 5-30 ly distance instead of making plans to go to a ridicules far 1200 ly planet.

        • It does seem as though a potential habitable planet will be found within a dozen or so light-years. It would still require nearly a century to travel there.


    See this link for a discussion of the radiation problem.

    • The Mars One website does cover some of the issues of radiation. The problems during transit are minor compared to those of living on Mars.

      According to the site, “… the habitat will be covered by several meters of soil …” If you visit the website, you’ll see no such thing. The habitat modules are sitting right on the surface, not several meters below it.

      Certainly, several meters of soil will afford reasonable protection against solar and cosmic radiation. However, there’s no mention of how all of this soil will be moved or even if enough loose soil is available to move. The website is quite vague about exactly how many meters of Martian soil will be required.

      This sort of quickly passing over very difficult issues is typical of the site. The issues are sort of like the proverbial onion. “Solving” one issue just uncovers others. “Covered” could mean scooped up and deposited on or it could mean dug down into and buried. Each has its own problems.

      If you cover the habitat, the strong, albeit thin, Martian winds will blow off the cover over time. The colonists will have to constantly renew that cover. Going underground means enormous amounts of excavation requiring similarly enormous amounts of energy, a resource that’s in short supply on Mars. There’s still the issue of how deep the Martian soil is and how plentiful.

      Remember that Martial soil does not resemble Terran soil. It contains no organic matter and no water, at least not anywhere near the surface. It’s basically inorganic dust, silt, and sand. When piled up, it can only have so much slope before it falls. One artist rendering shows some soil-covered areas, but the soil could never have that shape without some cementing compound added, and water will likely be too scarce to waste on such extensive construction.

      Let’s just assume that the artist’s rendering is fanciful and that it’s just there to lure unsuspecting prospective colonists with lovely but fake images of their future home. The colonists still must grow food. This food requires light. Artificial light will be a problem due to inefficiencies. There will be some, of course, but perhaps not nearly enough to grow food plants. If you’re buried under “several meters” of soil, how will you get sufficient sunlight to those crucial plants?

      Now comes the good part. If you put those plants up where they will receive lots of the wan Martian sunlight (40% of Earth’s), they’ll be subject to all of the radiation that you’re protecting the colonists from. That radiation will not be strong enough to kill the plants during a normal growing cycle. However, it will damage their DNA and reduce their fertility. After several generations of DNA damage, the seed production will decline and eventually disappear.

      I understand that Pieter Hoogstad and Bas Landorp are working on these and many other problems along with some scientists and engineers. I really do wish them well in solving them. I also wish that they would be more forthcoming regarding the unsolved problems. To do so may create some bad PR, but having others point them out must be worse in the long run.

      • Personally, I believe the first step to a realistic colonization attempt on Mars would be a viable terraforming plan. Maybe when sending the pods over, have some containing some hardy lichen. Also, there have been some sturdy bacteria populations found in the Cherynobyl reactors feeding off the radiation, so we know that life can adapt to the high levels of radiation.

        If these lichen and bacteria can begin to grow successfully on Martian soil, they will be the first step to producing a breathable atmosphere.

        • The anonymous comment regarding lichen and bacteria has the right spirit but not too much science.

          The lack of an atmosphere and of water in the “air” will hinder lichen, and radiation will certainly make it difficult for them to survive in any event.

          Not being an expert on extremophiles, I can only say that most bacteria will, if possible turn into spores in a Martian environment. If they can take advantage of brief water and warmth on some slopes of the southern hemisphere in the Martian summers, the amount of oxygen produced will be minimal, too small to have an impact and quickly used up by various chemical reactions in the oxygen-starved environment.

          I could go through a calculation of the amount of air required and the amount of bacteria that could produce that amount of air in 100 years, but It will not be a few hundred square meters operational just a few weeks of each year.

          The extreme cold means that metabolism will be halted most of the time, even if sunlight falls on the ground, and most of the planet will not be warm enough at any time of the year for bacteria to grow fast enough to affect the atmospheric composition.

          The bacteria would have to have chloroplasts to convert sunlight into energy and then would have to have carbon dioxide, a major component of the atmosphere but still less than on Earth, to convert to oxygen.

          The only hope for single-celled organisms to affect the atmosphere would be chemical energy rather than solar. You’d still have to have water and have bred the organisms specifically for this purpose. Still, the impact would be insignificant. Terraforming would require another mechanism to jump start the process.

          • harrykeller, what about genetically modified microorganisms?

          • For anything to grow anywhere, it must have energy and material. The energy is required to make order out of disorder. The material is necessary because you cannot just make matter appear from nowhere.

            We will not be able to modify any organism to become other than carbon-based. All life on Earth works this way.

            Temperature affects biological reactions profoundly. Every Earth-bound organism requires water to function.

            Low temperatures may only slow life down, but Mars temperatures will stop it for all practical purposes except for short times each Martian year in the southern summer where temperatures may reach 27°C on some favorable slopes when the Sun is highest in the sky.

            There’s also likely to be some water, albeit very briny, and will be light. On these small patches, some organisms that can stand radiation and long spells of extreme cold and dryness might be able to grow. They still must have carbon.

            The Martian atmosphere is about 0.6% of that of the Earth. It is mostly carbon dioxide (around 95%) with only 0.0013% oxygen. The Earth’s atmosphere is about 0.035% carbon dioxide. These facts all make photosynthesis a real possibility on a small patch of Mars for a small part of each year.

            The most promising area for such activity is Hellas Planitia, a very deep, 7152 m, impact crater in the southern hemisphere. The air pressure there is about double that of the Mars average but still only about 1/30 of that on the top of Mount Everest.

            It’s just conceivable that you could modify some strain of cyanobacteria to be resistant to radiation by using genes from other bacteria and also to form spores that could wait out the long winters with no water and outrageously low temperatures.

            You would have life on Mars! That life would be the equivalent of pond scum, but it would be life.

            The amount of oxygen generated each Martian year would be scanty. Even if it did not react with compounds on the surface, it would take centuries and probably thousands of years to generate enough oxygen to affect the surface. Consider that the total mass of Mars’s atmosphere is about 25 teratonnes. (A tonne is 1000 kg; the prefix tera denote 10 to the power 12 or a million millions.)

            Your modified bacteria would probably only generate a few kilograms of oxygen each Martial year at best and probably much less. Suppose that you were able to seed enough such cyanobacteria in the best spots on Mars to be able to generate 25 kg per year of oxygen. Just doubling the Mars atmosphere to be 1.2% that of Earth and 1/15 of the pressure on Mount Everest would require a thousand billion years. Considering that our solar system is less than five billion years old, that time is a bit too long.

            However, the above scenario overlooks one problem. Making oxygen means using up carbon dioxide. Unless inorganic processes constantly replace the CO2, only the content of that atmosphere would change, not the pressure.

            Mars does not have a carbon cycle (or a nitrogen cycle or a sulfur cycle or a phosphorous cycle). Mars does have carbonates on its surface that could be slowly decomposed by some process or other to release CO2. We don’t really know if this is happening.

            Even if we could be sure that more CO2 is entering the atmosphere and even if we could increase bacterial output by several orders of magnitude, you’d still be waiting a billion years just to begin to change the atmosphere.

            With enough available water and power, you could set up an electrolysis plant to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Again, the impact would be small unless you have thousands of such plants. Setting up such a program would probably cost in the trillions of dollars.

            I’m afraid that we’ll have to take Mars as we find it at least within this century.

          • Something that extruded a covering or developed a shell could perhaps grow in the equatorial areas, but then water seems available only near the poles, where it is unimaginably cold *sigh* and it would have to self-correct for genetic damage at a prodigious rate. hmm hmm big problem

          • Until there’s an atmosphere of more than 0.01 bar of 95% CO2, growing anything won’t work. Too much CO2 hurts plants too. The radiation will slowly, over generations, cause problems too.

            Air can fix some of these problems. The UV issue goes away with enough oxygen. GCR is reduced but not eliminated. Solar radiation goes way down, except for solar storms.

            People can live in homes without pressurization and with only a thick roof to protect against radiation not shielded by a planetary magnetic field. Plants could grow in the same environment if you covered the roof with solar cells and used LED lighting underneath. What you lose in efficiency (only around 20-30% efficient) could be partially made up by producing only limited wavelengths.

            Then, there’s the issue of temperature. I don’t know of any simulations that attempted to estimate the greenhouse effect from a 1/6 bar atmosphere of mostly O2 with the right amount of CO2 (from that already there). My guess is that even equatorial temperatures would go below freezing at night.

            I may have mentioned previously that adding air to Mars has a scary side effect that few consider. The strength of gales on Mars will be greater than on Earth due to the lack of a large (very over-sized, actually) moon. Growing crops outdoors, even with an atmosphere, may be impossible because they’d just get blown away.

            Such winds also will pick up sand and pebbles and be potentially fatal to anyone outdoors at the time. Structures will be built into hillsides or low and partially underground for both radiation and wind reasons — once there’s real air.

  6. […] NASA’s Curiosity Rover This project plans to establish a human colony on Mars in 2023 with four people. […]

  7. I dont think Mars is the way forward. I think space stations are the way to go. The space station I see would have the capacity to create its own gravity, expand outwards using modules which could be created from within when the materials and resources are available, be self sustaining in terms of food and oxygen creation and have propulsion. It should have separate parts that would be capable of separation should the need arise. Mars has very little to offer in my opinion and should not even be considered unless more water and mineral resources are found there.. great article by the way, it seemed to me to be very well researched and insightful..

    • I agree partially. A space station would have to be much more advanced than what we have now for people to live there for years. I don’t see a space station as a colony with children and so forth.

      Although the radiation problems are greater on the Moon, it makes a much more likely base for a colony. It does have water. The Sun is strong enough. You can find partially shielded locations that can be augmented to create reasonable radiation shielding over time. Multiple missions can land preparatory people and equipment to get ready for a real colony. Those people do not have to stay forever and can be transients. Rescue is possible as is resupply in event of problems.

      If we are ever to get to Mars, the Moon make the perfect trial location. The primary difference from Mars is the lower gravity (16% instead of 38%). That will affect bone strength.

      Getting to Mars someday will prepare us for moving onto a “waterworld” like those currently being discovered, but small enough not to crush us with powerful gravity. Two large ones have been found 22 and 40 light-years away. It’s a long trip to either. Even 22 light-years would take upwards of 100 years of travel with current technologies. We may be able to reduce that to 40-50 years in a decade or two. Time dilation would mean that the colonists would not age so much, and we may have figured out some hibernation technologies by then.

      The space station still is important for numerous reasons. I just don’t see it as the actual colony.

      • ‘Even 22 light-years would take upwards of 100 years of travel with current technologies’.
        Isn’t this a significant understatement? Using current technology it would take in the region of 70,000 years to travel 4 light years to the nearest star to our solar system.

        • Well…. That is more than 100 years. (Notice how I hedged my remark.)

          Thank you for joining the discussion.

          Chemical rockets represent current technology. Other technologies that could be created with current knowledge have the ability to shorten the 4 light-year trip you mention to somewhere between 50 and 150 years depending upon a number of variables. Still, a trip of 20 light-years or more would be daunting in the extreme.

          Serious issues include reaction mass (Newton’s third law and all that) and heat dissipation (those exhausts will be very hot even if the drivers are not). Some proposed schemes have exhausts operating at up to 10% of light speed, a remarkable achievement if it ever happens.

          Any plan must include means to slow down. You don’t wish to get there and just zip by. Again, a number of schemes have been proposed, and none are tested except the ones that must use still more reaction mass.

          The bottom line remains the same whether we’re talking about hundreds or thousands of years. Star travel will not be taking place soon. We’d all better settle down and appreciate our own solar system for the lifetimes of those here today.

          For many of us of a “certain” age, the prospect of human exploration of the solar system is beyond our lifetimes, but our children may see it.

          So, the Moon and Mars represent the only potential for any sort of colonization within a decade or two. Both have severe problems with Mars being the greater in the short run but perhaps not for the longer run. I happen to think that even a transient colony on the Moon is tremendously exciting, but that’s probably because I’m a scientist.

          The Mars One project can engage the minds of even the most humble non-scientist, and that may explain why it was chosen.

          • I believe at a constant acceleration of 1g it is a lot quicker than you think, but of course you have to flip half-way and decelerate the second half of the trip. Voyager took over three decades to clear the Solar system but it was not accelerating much of the time.

          • There’s a problem with long-term 1g acceleration. Where’s the reaction mass coming from? Let’s assume a relatively light vehicle at around ten metric tonnes. That’s 10,000 kg. Accelerating it at 1g (~10 m/s^2) would require a force of 100 MN. If the velocity of the ejected mass (rocket exhaust for example) were an outrageously high 0.1% of the speed of light (10^5 m/s), then the mass would have to be ejected at a rate of 1,000 kg/s to maintain that acceleration (if my off-the-top-of-my-head calculation is correct). That’s clearly impractical.

            A sustainable acceleration would be at least two and likely more orders of magnitude lower. Say that you’re planning to fly 20 light-years. Then, you have ten to accelerate and ten for negative acceleration.

            Let’s call a light-year 10^13 km just to make things easier. Let’s call a year 3×10^7 seconds. Your speed, in non-relativistic terms, is just acceleration times time at constant acceleration. Distance is one-half of acceleration times the square of time. Take the speed of light as 10^8 m/s and the value of 1.0 g as 10 m/s^2.

            Let’s try to accelerate at 0.01g or 10^-4 km/s^2 for 10 l-y or 10^14 km. That will take the square root of 2×10^18 seconds or about 1.4×10^9 seconds. That’s around 40 years. How fast are we going, non-relativistically? Multiply time by acceleration to get 1.4×10^8 m/s. Big-time oops. We have exceeded the speed of light. Clearly, at this acceleration and distance, we must acknowledge Einstein.

            Temporarily ignoring this problem, we still must have reaction mass at around 10 kg/s. For 80 years, including the second half of the voyage, that makes 2.8×10^10 kg. Impossible! We have to settle for much, much less. How about 0.0001g? That only extends the trip time by a factor of ten despite reducing the acceleration by one hundred. Now, it will take 400 years to get to the halfway point. The reaction mass has been reduced by ten but still is outrageous.

            In simple terms, we do not today have a way to provide for constant acceleration to a light-years distance object. We just cannot do it. Also, it doesn’t make much sense (except for time dilation reasons) to go anywhere near the speed of light because you waste so much energy adding on a small increment of speed.

            Can you get to 0.1c reasonably? Accelerating at 0.0001g, it would take 10^4 / 10^-6 = 10^10 seconds or about 333 years. Ramping up the acceleration to 0.001g would make it 33 years to read one-tenth of the speed of light. In that time, the ship would go 0.5×10^-5×10^18 = 5×10^12 km or 0.5 l-y. Slowing down would take as long. The intervening transit time would be 19 l-y / 0.1 c = 190 years. Overall, the trip would take 256 years. If the target were just ten l-y away, then the middle portion would only take 90 years, and we’d arrive in a mere 156 years after departure.

            Now, I certainly could have made a mistake in arithmetic. Please check because I did this all in my head with no paper or calculator. These numbers seem to square with what I’ve read from others, though.

  8. Being one of those people that is seriously thinking about joining Mars One, I kinda wonder how many actually understand the risks involved with this. First Colonies fail and this will be no exception. But to me the cost of it ( my own life) is well worth price for what it will entail. In their website they do mention the possibility of a rescue mission, which is both foolhardy and a major waste of resources. I do wonder if they have a contingency plan in place that if this does get launched and it somehow all goes bad enroute or on the surface that the colonists won’t have to suffer. If I’m going to die I prefer it to be as quick and painless as possible and not suffering from Oxygen deprivation.

    Anyone thinking about doing this remember what the cost is and ask yourself if you’re willing to make that kind of sacrifice. And if it actually succeeds (which I have my doubts on) lets hope History will remember them fondly.

    Now time to go see how I can sign up for this bit of lunacy :)

  9. Ronald, I admire your courage. It will be ten years before the first quartet leaves for Mars if all goes well with this undertaking. You’ll have lots of time for second thoughts.

    Radiation and energy will be the primary issues for the first Mars colonists whether they arrive in 2023 or 2053. Today’s technology makes these issues very serious. You can solve the radiation issue with burying the habitat under enough soil, if you can get it. However, such a task will require lots of energy. Mars is a very energy-poor planet without fossil fuel or hydrological power, the primary movers for industrialization on this planet. You also won’t have animal power.

    Everything must be powered from solar and maybe some wind. If your solar collectors get covered with dust, you must go out and sweep them. They must be huge because the current efficiencies remain somewhat low, and the sunlight is only 40% of that on Earth. Can sufficient quantities of solar collectors be transported to Mars at $10,000 per pound? They’ll have to be! Will that change the schedule or alter the financing? Can’t say.

    Oxygen deprivation is not so bad. You feel short of breath and lose consciousness and eventually life. Sudden decompression would be another matter, very painful but short.

    When the first Mars colonists arrive, I’m sure that they will be remembered for as long as civilization remains. How will they be remembered? As bold pioneering colonists or as hapless fools? That’s the real issue. Fully informed candidates will help to make it the former rather than the latter.

  10. I’m a natural skeptic but even i realise a multimillion dollar project manager isn’t going to put all his planned secrets for success up for all the world to see…

    • It’s a multibillion dollar project, $6 billion to be precise, although I suspect that will be insufficient. A program such as this one can have no trade secrets, at least none that impact survivability. The technologies capable of being employed are all known.

      Until a few days ago, the website mentioned flexible solar arrays but did not even suggest a size. Now, we have specifics to consider.

      This is good because the program no longer relies on a few researchers who may be overly sanguine about the whole thing. Every person with Internet access can comment. Each criticism can be met with responses from the world as well as the Mars One organizers.

      Thousands of details must be worked out. We’re just at the high-level concepts now. If enough people pitch in with their ideas, we may be able to solve 90% of the problems. I believe that we’ll not solve the remaining 10% in the next few year before the first flights are scheduled, and the entire project will be postponed or scrapped.

      Predicting the future is a risky business. I could be wrong in either direction. We could have 50% of the problems still unsolved or could solve them all. We’ll see. For now, I’ll stick with my thinking that no humans will arrive on Mars in 2023 to take up residence, but that, if they do, they’ll not survive for as much as ten years. It might even be as short as ten months or ten weeks before they succumb.

  11. Gentleman,

    I´m appalled that intelligent men would even spend time discussing this absurdity.
    First of all, you bit the bait, moved by the scientific challenges, mankind´s next frontier, brave men in a new planet… But this, boys, is about SHOW BUSINESS and GIGANTIC PROFITS never before seen on a single project. The call for entries is a reality show casting, endorsed by Big Brother co-creator Paul Romer and probably TEN SEASONS. (Or at least as far as they can manage to carry this on for big bucks. I suspect it will be staged to look real, as so many seen in the show business in the past. At least I hope so.)

    Aside from being completely barren, radiation alone makes Mars inhospitable to mammals. Throw in lack of oxygen, water (ice is NOT water) and extremely low temperatures to polish it all up. There is absolutely NO WAY to colonize a barren, waterless, powerless, oxygen free, -64c land. Period. (Not to mention crucial personal hygiene and waste disposal.) NASA´s round trip expedition does make some sense, yet only as a super exclusive sightseeing trip on taxpayer´s money.

    As a reality show, Mars One can make billions in airtime rights alone, since, if it does go forward, it will sure be a fever worldwide, feeding mankind´s innate, infinite sadism and insanity. A preposterous, super clever way of making MOUNTAINS of money legally, (would love to see the release form) depicting a suicidal mission of no contest to hard science. Four indescribably gullible or downright mentally challenged (sorry, Ronald) “lab rats” perishing on the TeeVee, with content duly edited according to the “story” producers want to show. If, in a sudden bust of lucidity they finally realize they´ve been had and revolt cursing producers, we will not see. Period. That is, again, IF this is a veritable mission to land on Mars. After all, landing is indeed, possible, maybe with only half the crew, but survival IS NOT.

    In that case, it´s a 21st century, high-tech Coliseum style blood bath, where they will slay each other on camera over the last chocolate bar. And it will be legal. There is no court of law able to rule over space.

    It´s either a hoax, a staged reality show or a perfectly legal killing. With all due respect, one needs only five minutes to figure it out. It´s a no brainer, boys. No brainer at all.

    But of course, that is my opinion. You are certainly entitled to yours.

    • As a purely theoretical discussion, we don’t really know whether long-term survival on Mars is feasible. For today, the answer must be no. Things change. At one time, travel at speeds above 60 mph was deemed impossible. So was heavier-than-air flight.

      The challenges here are immense and are like the proverbial onion. As soon as you solve one, another is exposed.

      In my opinion, it’s much easier to colonize the Moon AND much less expensive. No one seems to be interested in that. You have double the solar energy there and much cheaper and faster resupply.

      I fear the “been there, done that” mentality prevails here. The engineer side of me says we should to the prototype before moving to the full-scale version.

      If even one Mars One mission, even the initial unmanned one, gets to Mars successfully, things will change.

      However, even so, the Mars One organizers will be criminally liable if they knowingly sent humans to their possibly painful death.

      By shining a bright light on the issues of a Mars colony, we can assure that the colonists volunteer with full knowledge of the risks, and the organizers are held accountable if they ignore any of the real problems we can foresee.

      Without any real chance of survival for the colonists, I believe that the audience will be small and the transmission of video will be shut down.

      The good news is that the Mars One website has already been updated to answer some of the questions. The bad news is that many more remain.

    • Many of the issues you mention are quite real. However, waste disposal should not be a big problem. All wastes must be recycled. The technology exists for that already. Waste handling can be thoroughly tested here on Earth beforehand. Without extreme recycling, the colony will perish rapidly as it loses its organic matter and ability to form an artificial ecosystem.

      The two very, very large problems are radiation and power. If radiation can be dealt with, not just for colonists but also for plants used for food, and a reliable power system with lots of power can be put in place, then the other problems can be addressed and possibly solved.

      You can make air from the rocks. For example, analysis of Martian soil indicates calcium perchlorate and iron sulfate. The perchlorate can produce oxygen. The food plants will not be available in sufficient quantity to replenish oxygen for the colonists. Yeast, necessary for vitamin B12, uses oxygen.

      Water is available in some areas of Mars, but we don’t know how much or how deep. Ice is just solid water. Heating it will give you water, but you must have plenty of power. This water is likely to be undrinkable without further treatment, and that treatment most probably will be distillation and will require enough power to boil the water. Oddly, Mars can be helpful here. Putting the still in a sealed compartment that can open to the outside in a controlled fashion will make the pressure low enough to boil water without heating much at all. The distillation apparatus must have a condenser that must be cooled, but Mars can do that rather nicely. You still must supply the heat of vaporization of the water, which is one of the highest of any substance.

      I’d like to see responsible people with knowledge and real scientific thinking skills plus serious engineering creativity undertake the analysis and solution of as many of these problems as possible.

      This is what our species is good at. We solve problems, and the solutions make life better for all of us — most of the time. Even if we never colonize Mars, the effort is worthwhile.

      In the meantime, Anonymous Girl has taken the extreme of my position that everyone involved must be acutely aware of the problems, issues, and dangers of colonizing Mars.

      I’m not worried about someone making money. My concern is that the Mars One people are running a huge scam. We cannot tell if they are serious until they show us they have solutions to enough problems that we can see the potential for solving them all.

      The 3000 square meters of solar collectors are one example. I did not see that number on earlier iterations of the website. Now I see it, but I don’t see the batteries necessary to store that solar power. Once I see them, I must see how they will be maintained for 100 years.

      • “My concern is that the Mars One people are running a huge scam.”

        Precisely. “Fishy” is what my radar is picking up. Their short video says that, “For every component, we have at least one potential supplier.” Component of what? Has all equipment been designed? The very architecture of the camp site is 100% flawed due to radiation exposure alone.

        • The site drawings are very misleading. In another part of the site, they say that the habitat will be covered with “several meters” of “soil” (Martian regolith). It’s totally unclear how that much material will be moved or if enough is readily available.

          • Or what landing site they have chosen. Easier to dig horizontally but location, location, location – which on Mars is water, water, water.

        • You must admit though, even with such potential for disaster, just the fact that even a single human set foot on such a distant world will bring a whole new concept to the table.

          The Apollo missions are an example of how launching against time still makes big marks in the books even when everything isn’t quite worked out. 3 men died on the ground during a test, and it wasn’t looking all that great for another 3 some time later. But the show went on, assuming you follow the presented versions and don’t head off into conspiracy theory. That’s a whole different thing, and while it’s a possibility here, sure, it won’t matter, as you can bet that the popular consensus will be that man walked on mars. Even if they all die within a week, it’s a feat never pulled off before, as nobody has set foot on red soil for so much as a minute, or even gotten anywhere close just yet.

          I’m with the idea of “let them go for it”… I don’t see the harm in trying anything… There will always be problems when there are so many things that can go wrong. But if it’s all real, and the selected few that get on the bus are all fully aware and everything has been disclosed to them, there’s no moral issue. It would be no different than holding a cup of something in front of someones face and telling them “it should taste like nothing you’ve ever tasted before, and you’ll be the first one to ever taste it if you drink this, but if you do, you’ll die”… And they drink it anyway.

          For someone with nothing to lose and everything to gain, there’s nothing wrong with being in the original colony, even if it ends in utter tragedy within a few minutes time of setting foot on the surface.

          The moment that happens, history will once again have been made, and the knowledge that humans can make it there at the very least will be proven at that point. Analyzing what went wrong is a job for those back home, and anyone that signs up for the next ticket to 4th rock will already be well aware of what happened to the first crew. They may see the same fate as the first, but would hopefully have been held in waiting until a workable fix had been devised to prevent history repeating itself.

          As for money, bah, so what. It’s not like just anyone has the kind of cash to fork over to “just do it”… And you’ve got to keep research flowing back here on 3rd to continue the quest.

          The idea of it being on TV has a very “Truman show” quality about it, but wouldn’t this be like the ultimate train wreck? Ain’tcha just GOTTA watch?

          How I see it 101, YMMV ;)


          • Thanks, Steve, for you thoughtful comments. I really do understand your position. I just happen to believe that dying just after arrival will taint the entire project and set it back years if not totally scuttle it.

            My view is that you probably can, with 10 years and enough money, put four people on Mars and have them survive for a year, barring a meteor strike or something else that really cannot be planned for.

            The fab four will never have a ticker tape parade or a champagne celebration. If they have enough ingenuity, they may have some slightly alcoholic home-brewed beverage once they’ve done the work necessary to survive at all.

            The project funding depends on worldwide interest in this project — greater than the Olympics. It also depends on continuing interest. Ghastly death will enormously decrease the interest, in my opinion. The reality show will bring the colonists into everyone’s home for months while they prepare. They’ll almost be family. Seeing them die would be very harmful to the entire concept.

            If the first pod lands successfully on Mars, I’ll be more interested. If all of the serious survival problems are solved satisfactorily, then I can see the possibility of really doing the colony.

            However, four people with limited resources will be hard-pressed to survive the first Martian winter. Realize that Martian seasons are twice as long as those on Earth. Winter on Mars is no picnic. Heat will be the most crucial factor. It’s why a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) may be a good idea. It will heat one module and provide enough electricity for LED lighting in it too.

            Total dependence on solar panels is dangerous. The weak sunlight is lower in the sky, and the days are shorter in winter. Yet, winter is when you must have the most power.

            Those colonists must realize that their chances of survival for ten years are low and that they may not make it to two years. New inventions in the next five or so years could change this assessment, but that’s how I rank it today.

            They should still go for it — for now. The necessary advance planning and preparation means not waiting for everything to be worked out before beginning. Indeed, beginning means working everything out.

            Only time will tell. If the plans aren’t much better and many more questions answered in five years, the mission will not go in 2023.

  12. Water.

    The Mars colony must have water. Mars does have water and may have lots of it locked deep below the surface. New discoveries suggest that this deep water is gradually coming up to the surface in some areas.

    This water is in the Martian dirt. Analyses of Martian dirt indicate that it contains soluble salts, especially calcium perchlorate and iron sulfate. The water nearest the surface is like a eutectic mixture of water with one or more of these salts and others in lesser concentrations.

    Even if you can get the water and melt it, you still must remove the salts. It’s the old desalinization problem again but with nasty salts instead of plain old sodium chloride (table salt). It’s likely to require distillation to remove these salts, and distillation takes lots of energy.

    You might be able to drill a deep well to get less salty water, but you don’t know where to drill or how deep. Drilling is energy-intensive too.

    Water may never be readily available on Mars without virtually unlimited power.

    • Indeed, “ice is NOT water”. When I think of melted Martian ice, alka-seltzer tasting water comes to mind, but I see it´s even worse. They will need a custom-made device to work as an artificial, optimum “water fountain”. Presenting the “Martian Super-Melter-Filter Magic 2023”! This one alone might require its very own mini nuclear motor and, say, U$ 1 million in research just for the prototype.

      • I neglected to mention that drilling would produce ice and not water. You cannot pump ice. Therefore, you’d have to heat the area at the bottom of the “well.” As you drew up water, you’d very quickly deplete the warm area and have to heat an ever-increasing region. Only a real nuclear power plant could do that, although it could be one of the “micro” plants that are only about 25 meters long. After around 30 years, its fuel exhausted, the heat source would be gone, and the colonists would have to rely entirely on other water sources, especially recycled water.

        • Does Mars warm up at all as you dig? Or is Earth warm

        • Does Mars warm at all as you dig? Or is this feature on Earth solely due to a liquid core?

          • The exact nature of the core of Mars is uncertain, but is believed to be liquid. A large fraction of sulfur in the iron core may be preventing it from being magnetic. Scientists aren’t sure.

            Relatively trivial depths in the Martian crust won’t show much increase in temperature from the average values of well below freezing. For example, drilling to a few hundred meters would find no liquid water.

  13. if I remember correctly, the first waves of intrepid settlers to the New World didn’t survive either, and subsequent ‘settlers’ (perhaps including the Asians across the Bering Straight) only relocated because what they faced back home was far worse. So all we really need to make this work is some really ardent political/religious oppression somewhere …

    But seriously, since we’re talking Science here, and yes, I have no doubt there were a great many eager funding-strapped labs around the world lining up to send their gear but not their bodies (or their daughters), but seriously what sort of psychological profile would accept a mission like this, and what sort of society might arise from a colony of twenty such seriously abberant profiles? We might want to workshop on *that* problem a bit, before we ship two dozen manic-depressive zealots up to a live webcam fishbowl.

    • I touched on the psychological challenges in my column. They go deep. Monotonous terrain, monotonous food, monotonous company, and so on punctuated by extreme hazards that will happen and are probably unpredictable as to time and as to exact nature. On Mars, there will be no second chances. If one colonist loses his or her mind, either that one must be subdued and possibly killed, or they all die.

  14. The range of comments truly staggers me. We have a potential volunteer and, at the other end, an extreme skeptic who says it’s all just a way to make huge amounts of money off of the fatal woes of others.

    As a scientist, I’m interested in the scientific questions here. Can it be done? Unlikely, but what are the primary obstacles, and what is required to overcome them?






    Building Materials

    Maintenance and Repair



    The above list may not be complete, it’s sufficient to give anyone pause. Truly creative solutions to the Mars problems may help us all here on Earth.

  15. Perhaps I should clarify my previous statement. Yes I am willing to go on a one way trip but I am not willing to go on an out right suicide mission. With a set goal in mind and planned the obstacles can be overcame. Remember we went from no human spaceflight to a man on the moon in 10 years and there the technologies had to be developed from scratch. A Mars Mission has something of a head start. One has to have some faith and anyone that does makes it through the selection process and training has 8 years to decide if they can really do this. And me personally if I do make it that far I will not hesitate to drop out if I don’t think it has any chance of success, success for me being defined as being survivable. If I do go I’m hoping to die of old age, but know accidents will happen and while can you can try to plan for them, you can’t anticipate everything that will go wrong. I do not have a death wish.

    In response to Anonymous Girl, is it such a bad thing that they are looking to make money off of this? While governments and universities will do the hard science it will be corporate interests that will push us out among the planets. Frankly I hope he does make alot of money off it, it might inspire other corporations and make them realize that space based industries while expensive to set up have a bigger rate of return for that investment.

    • Bravo, Ronald. You join quite a few hopeful volunteers. I guarantee that you all are not doing this for money, which would be useless in any event on Mars.

      Hope springs eternal.

      When the first habitat pods land on Mars, I’ll give more credence to this scheme. I still will consider colonists are going on a suicide mission. Until I see a demonstration otherwise, it’s only a matter of how long the suicide requires. Barring a serious accident or a meteorite strike, I can see survival for a year if everything goes well. I’m assuming that colonists will arrive at the beginning of the Martian “summer” where they land. After a Terran year, they’ll be heading into winter. As with colonists on Earth, that’s when the real test begins.

      The power from sunlight will decline as will temperatures. It could be a cold day in the depth of winter when a dust storm reduces power production so much as to threaten survival. Now, those 3000 square meters of solar panels must be cleaned off in temperatures cold enough to freeze carbon dioxide (dry ice). Those Mars suits had better be good at keeping heat in.

      Our new Martians tumble out of their habitat with brooms and start to sweep for their lives. It’s awkward in the suits. One person may take a minute to sweep ten square meters. If all hands, four people, go at it full bore, it will take an hour and a quarter to do it all. Realize that they have to be careful where they step.

      However, safety procedures will mean that one person must stay in the habitat at all times. So, you’ll only have three sweepers who will take closer to two hours to complete their task. Will they have enough oxygen for that? Until the details of the Mars suits are released, we don’t know.

      The extreme cold will mean that more power must be used for heat i the winter just as during Earth’s winters. Less sunlight means slower food production.

      If the colony survives and if the organizers succeed in financing the second set of four colonists, the Martian spring will see four more hardy souls arriving. If the colony dies, the entire project will probably be scrapped.

      • The fact that we are having this discussion, may be the best justification for the Mars-One project.

        Could it succeed as presently conceived? Not likely. Will problems be solved? Certainly. Will ALL the problems be solved? Eventually, but probably not by 2023. Will the Mars-One project actually put people on Mars? Does it really matter?

        When President Kennedy proposed that we should land a man on the moon within a decade, current technology at the time made the mission utterly impossible. Many thought the project was foolhardy and a waste of good money that could be used to feed the poor, etc, etc. But to most, the vision was inspiring. It stirred the imagination, and kindled the fires of innovation. Virtually unlimited government funding certainly helped, but without the vision, and the energy it produced, the lunar program could not have succeeded.

        I am signing up. I am 60 years old now. I’ll be 70 by the planned launch date. If I win the lottery and actually go, hey, what have I got to lose? Even if I know it’s a suicide mission, it would be worth spending my few remaining years to step foot on Mars.

        But, I really don’t expect to go anywhere. I just want to participate in promoting the vision, so that maybe we will be inspired to move closer to someday making Mars colonization a reality.

        • Good for you, Roy! My initial response to the Mars One project was similar. When I first viewed the site, it was beautiful but lacking in content. Everything I read was marketing hype. The images were impossible concepts for Mars.

          They’ve updated their website so that it handles some of the objections but mostly in a cursory manner, although sometimes with some specificity that lacks depth. The solar cells are an example where they say how large they must be but fail to disclose how the power will be stored.

          To me, as a scientist and engineer, it’s more about solving the problems than about being on Mars. That goal clearly has the intention of generating excitement. I’d much rather see a Moon colony filled with transients as a trial for many of the ideas before actually going for Mars.

          Even if every problem has a solution devised for it, any engineer will tell you that the actual deployment will not work as planned. Even were I able and interested in spending my remaining days on Mars, I’d like to know that the systems were all tested in a similar environment first.

        • That was my first reaction as well. There are conflicts between the profile required and the profile likely to sign up. In my case, there’s little left for me on 3rd rock, and strangely enough, one of the ways I have always thought of dying would be worth everything that transpired to do so would have been to witness an “earthrise” from the surface of the moon. Mars certainly surpasses the qualifications there (in terms of dying somewhere nobody else has), so I’d put it on my list of surrogates.

          But does that disqualify me, overqualify me, make me not fit the profile required? Who knows, but I got to thinking about it shortly after realizing that it’s going to be tough to find people that have nothing to lose, yet won’t pose a problem for the survival of the project as a whole.

          Add the idea that those that go will need some cash to lay down ahead of time, and the window gets that much more narrow.

          Even if everything else gets solved, the colony participants themselves will ultimately “decide” the fate of the entire thing. For success, I’d think that each candidate would need to:

          Have nothing to lose

          Have the drive to become whatever is required of them to be a useful part of the colony

          Have the courage to leave earth knowing they may readily perish at any point, but will never return regardless

          Be tough as nails under the most stressful of situations

          Have the ability to think on their feet

          Show psychological stability

          Play well with others

          Be physically strong

          Be physically in top shape

          Have money to hitch the ride

          … .. .

          The list goes on and on. Point being, there may not even BE 4 people that fit the mold required. There are tons of conflicts in that list that would disqualify the majority of the entire world population.


          • Steve,

            I have a slightly different read on selection. I’m sure that others look at it in yet a different fashion.

            First, a quote from the Mars One website: “In the first years, the Mars settlement is not a suitable place for children to live.”

            Combine this with the fact that the goal is to establish a self-sustaining colony, which means children eventually.

            Then, there’s the necessity of being able to fix anything that goes wrong on the spot as well as the ability to get along with people you’ve known only since the training program began for the rest of your lives.

            As I put these together, I come up with not too old and not too young. Youth is impetuous. An old person would become a burden too soon in the timeline of colony. Someone in their thirties today would be in their forties at blast-off and in their fifties when the last settlers arrive. They’d reach their eighties, when their cost-benefit ratio (being cold-blooded about it) would become a drag on the colony, forty years after arrival, enough time to have made significant contributions to the colony and be deserving of the care of the others.

            They’d be old enough to have a stable, evaluable personality and enough life experience to put to use in a very challenging environment. So much for age.

            I’d not be in favor of people with nothing to lose but instead of those with more to gain than to lose.

            Courage, drive, and toughness are important and hard to measure.

            The training program will wash out those unable to get into top physical condition and get the others to that state. You only have to be healthy to start.

            Intellectual capability will be important because the training will be both physically and mentally challenging. Being able to think creatively is also important because it’s hard to teach in a short time.

            DNA testing will advance, and we’ll see people excluded for genes related to Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, ALS, and so on. If you have those things in your family history be prepared to be rejected if you happen to have inherited those genes.

            As children will not be part of the colony until it’s stabilized and its future is ensured, the earliest colonists need not be breeders. They’ll be subjected to the most radiation because shielding will take months to put in place. Later arrivals will see much less radiation. Lots of radiation reduces fertility and increases the likelihood of miscarriages and birth defects. Therefore, the first four should have already all of the children they care to have, possibly none.

            Unfortunately, there will be no room for the physically disabled or the mentally or emotionally handicapped.

            I’m too old to qualify, by the way, so that my opinions are not selfish. I’d just as soon hang around here and enjoy my grandchildren anyway.

            I’d expect that many more will be selected for training than will be chosen to fly. A training program will be designed to also be a selection program.

            You must be smart, have a low heart rate and blood pressure, a low respiratory rate, strength and flexibility, be short but not too short, be slender but not skinny, be independent in character, have the ability to improvise readily, and be social but not so social that you’ll miss having more than three friends.

        • With all due respect, the maximum age of the volunteers should be less than 40 years now. To be older than 50 years in 10 years from now seems to me like a waste. We should reduce the risk of sending people who will become weak because of age much sooner than younger volunteers. Pretend that a 75 year old fellow will enroll… He will be 85 when he leaves earth. The odds for him to die during the 7 months trip are higher than the odds he’ll ever set foot (wheelchair?) on Mars. It would be such a waste. So please, let only ‘young’ people volunteer…

          • While I understand what you’re suggesting, I think that setting a specific age limit would be a mistake. The process of checking health will remove the feeble and about-to-be-feeble.

            I’ll use myself as an example. When I was 50, many mistook me for under 40 due to my energy and appearance. Let’s say that I had been able to enroll at 40 and leave at 50. It’s been over 20 years since that date, and I still hike three miles daily over very hilly territory. At 60, I was still climbing 10,000-foot mountain peaks. That would have been ten years into the settlement. It would now be over 20 years, and I have every prospect of lasting another 20+ years without requiring a wheelchair.

            Is 40 years too soon to become a burden on the other settlers? If so, then some who are 20 and will be 30 at launch will be a burden at 70 or even sooner due to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and so on. I know such people.

            You may say, “With all due respect,” but I don’ think you have much respect for those who are just a bit older.

            These days, those without genetic problems will last until 90 years very well and be very mobile and mentally active. This is according to my physician. Between 90 and 100 years, most decline and die. In tne years, those figures may be pushed out a bit by stem cell research.

            The most important part of the testing and training will consist of a thorough DNA analysis and a rigorous physical program that builds and checks fitness. Just five years ago, I was swimming a half mile every day vigorously using free style and butterfly strokes. I only stopped because I moved and lost my pool. My resting heart rate is below 60 beats per minute. I do think that I’m too old to apply now because I’ll probably only last another 20 years and that would mean just ten on Mars, the last five may not be a burden, but they would also not be fully contributing years either. I see no problem with a healthy 40-year old appllying, none at all. In fact, a person who is 50 at launch would be a tremendous asset due to knowledge and maturity. People routinely mistake me for 50 years old.

            I suggest that you put aside your stereotypes of older people and look at the realities.

    • Ronald,

      I have no problem at all with profit. I do have a huge problem with profit through deceit if they: a) knowingly send four people to death; b) skimp on quality for the sake of profit margins leading to unnecessary deaths; c) market a reality show as a serious and responsible scientific endeavor IF it really is not. All issues contestants cannot control or be aware.

      Another point to consider is that universities also seek profit for their technology. So you have technology salesman on sales commission. Scientists write convincing papers, duly reviewed by peers before being published in accredited journals, when the academic community reaches a consensus: “Yes, this is true.” Many of such papers turned out to be not true at all. Some took years to fall and at least one that I know of, was a downright hoax uncovered by its very author. (The amazing physicist/mathematician Alan Sokal.) So… Be it known that the very tech being considered for this venture might be flawed for numerous reasons, including the downright impossibility of reproducing the Mars environment for safe testing.

      And here´s where I come from: Think of all the chipped (meaning, computerized) cars of today. Their very sensitive electronics can´t resist the salty sea breezes and extreme heat of the tropics. They will oxidize, fry and/or malfunction. Manufacturers know that. Selling expensive chips is how they decided to increase sales, neglecting safety. Someone I know nearly suffocated locked inside a car on a 140F hot afternoon in a deserted parking garage. It would not start and windows and doors would not open. She was able to break the glass, but cutting the safety plastic film between the glass sandwich was a challenge that took some time. That remained her “breathing hole” for hours, before security found her late at night. Now, picture that scenario if she was on a highway. Her breaks would not work. Picture it into the seven months to Mars… I say the stress itself is venom to the immune system, and, as Harry mentioned, keeping sanity is a huge challenge.

      • Mars One is a non-profit organization. As you can see from another of my comments, it’s quite possible for criminal liability to be placed on the instigators of Mars One not to mention civil penalties if they knowingly deceive and cause foreseeable early death. Nothing the colonists sign can waive criminal penalties. These people must take care.

        By raising real issues of unavoidable danger, we ensure that the Mars One people are aware of them and thus cannot ignore them. As a non-profit, they cannot skimp to increase profit, but may do so if their advertising receipts for their 24/7 reality show fall short of expectations. You can also expect cost overruns.

        Instead of simply saying, “Do not do this,” we must say, “Do not go forward until you have a good solution to all of these problems.”

        The marketability of their show will be very small (limited to sadists) if they do not have the solutions and do not share them.

        It’s clear to me that we should have a transient colony on the Moon before attempting a permanent colony on Mars. I guess there’s no fun and lots more cost in that.

        Did someone say, “Boldly go where no one has gone before”?

        Bold is great, but sometimes you go too boldly.

        Still, I hope that people do solve many of these problems. Many of these solutions will help us here.

        Keep thinking!

      • “Another point to consider is that universities also seek profit for their technology.” This is an important issue but outside of the topic here.

        As a former university professor, I have lots to say about how universities are run and how other profit-making organizations prey on the university system. I’ll leave all of that for another discussion.

  16. Great discussion, I was carried away by the dream until you reminded me of the cold, hard facts that I should already have known from reading science fiction like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and Ben Bova’s Mars.

    And that’s what worries me, that this program actually damages the dream, abuses the dream to create some monstrous reality show that never intended to actually put folks on Mars.

    I do want to land on Mars, and the one way ticket is not objectionable to me – but of course I am one of the dreamers, and there are two sure ways to make a profit: dreams and fears.

    My new fear is that Mr. Keller is right to bring up this considerable array of problems that we mostly unqualified dreamers were quick to overlook – or worse, dismiss.

    Although going out in an explosion en route or a decompression on the surface is probably quicker (and more glorious) than starving to death in an open boat in the South Pacific, it’s those dessicated, emaciated corpses in a tin can on a desert planet 100 million kilometers from home that is the most disheartening image I can think of for space exploration.

    Interesting site

    • Nice link.

      As a scientist (and engineer), I found the entire program too diaphanous. Bas Lansdorp and Pieter Hoogstad have made it a bit less tenuous but still have much to do. The vision is great, of course.

      Perhaps, we should consider how a Mars colony might be financed. A reality show is one approach. Is it the best? I don’t know. In this instance, the question is one of whether Mars One is real or just a way to make money. The only way to test these hypotheses in the short run is to see whether public information leads or misleads.

      Those artist pictures of the first colony were way off the mark and suggested the mislead hypothesis.

      For me, the information remains thin. I’d like to see information regarding how much food and water will be sent to Mars with the colonists. I’d like to see what the insulation will be and how much heat loss is expected in the cold nights of Martian winters. I’d like to know that plants can be grown for food under Martian conditions and will propagate. How exactly will a complete diet be attained under Martian conditions?

      Even if I know all of these things and many more, I’d like to know how the human psyche will survive in a continuously cold and dry environment. I’m talking about inside the habitat because energy requirements will mean keeping the temperature rather low and the air quite thin. On the other side of the equation, the food modules will have to be relatively (emphasizing that word) warm and moist.

      How many people will be willing to go to a place where they’ll never again see a lake or pond, a bird or butterfly, waving wheat or green forests? Where you’ll never feel a cool sea breeze on your face or the warmth of a summer day? Where you’ll never hear, non-recorded, the rustle of leaves or the splash of a waterfall?

      Instead, you’ll have a cold, dry, gritty existence without new friends, except those four that arrive every two years until 20 have arrived and whom you will not choose. You’ll never go outdoors in just your own skin or even ordinary clothing. Frequent outdoor excursions in your Mars suit (much like a space suit) will cause wear and tear on those suits. How much repair material will the colonists have with them? The food selection will be extremely limited. Meat and dairy are completely out of the question. Recent medical evidence suggests that may be a good thing.

      However, a complete mix of nutrients is absolutely necessary. Mars probably has the minerals. The colonists must get more, much more. The plants they eat must contain all of the vitamins necessary to good health plus enough of the right oils. B12 is not available from plants. Colonists must grow yeast using some of their plant produce to get that. Once you’re used to it, dried yeast is reminiscent of Parmesan cheese — not so bad really.

      I don’t expect that colonists will have lots of leisure time in such a demanding environment. They’ll constantly be seeking out water (as ice) sources and mining them — can’t just pump the stuff at those temperatures. Initially, they’ll be digging to make radiation shielding and then to maintain it.

      How will our intrepid Martians ever expand their little colony? I’ll save that discussion for another time.

      • And more on the human psyche, although it is politically correct to send up a group mixed according to gender and race, I was thinking about the pros and cons of each.

        Sexual tensions would be more of a problem for the under forty crew, and in this particular case, due to the one-way aspect, an under forty crew is not advisable. Over sixty would be preferable, some health problems related to age could be selected against.

        Dying in a remote camp with only modest medical facilities will be an interesting discussion of itself – who decides when the cyanide pill gets handed out?

        Would it relieve the monotony to have different cultures represented, or would four people (growing to twenty) be a more cohesive team if they were from similar backgrounds?

        Some research has been done, particularly with the space programs, but I think this mission ups the ante considerably. Also, judging by some of the antics we have seen at NASA, the psychological profiling at present is by no means 100% accurate or successful.

        Or at any rate politics has interfered with the psychological selection process. This would also be true if the Mars One show is to be televised: is the cutie worth more to us than the cook? the movie star prefered over the mechanic?

        • The problem with sending people over sixty to Mars is that they must all be strong and capable ten years later so as not to be a drag on the putative colony. I’m still having problems visualizing this colony becoming independent of Earth. If it is to do so, it must have members who can work hard for 20 or more years. They must be strong and flexible without arthritis or other physical impairments. They also must have no mental problems, no senile dementia of any form — e.g. Alzheimer’s. Eventually, if the colony really does develop, it will have sufficient surplus resources to afford members in old age. I’d see around age 50 as the best age for the first colonists and am willing to entertain other ideas.

          Dying will happen. The Mars One site discusses it briefly. It suggests cremation. I think not. Where will all of the energy come from? Somehow dead bodies must be recycled for their valuable water. A ghoulish suggestion of cannibalism may creep into some minds, but that won’t work as the colonists will have digestive systems fully adapted to a vegan diet and will likely sicken on ANY meat. Also, cannibalism tends to cause disease.

          One way of disposing of dead is to expose them to the Martian atmosphere, but that loses all of the water. I’m sure that some means can be devised that will allow dessication of bodies with capture of most of the water and that uses little power. At that point, it becomes a matter of whether reclaiming nutrients from bodies is worth the cost. Perhaps not, in which case burial of the dessicated corpse would be appropriate.

          Getting back to the question of colonist age, I would definitely favor age selection based on expedition number with earlier expeditions have an older age. However, the Mars One people have set up a very different means of making that choice. In a nod to the various reality shows, they’re having the audience vote!

          This approach suggests to me that the entire activity is just a hoax. With an 8-to-10 year interval between the first and last expeditions and issues of radiation for the earliest colonists, you just cannot allow the hoi polloi to make this decision. It’s a foolhardy idea that is only being done to enrich the Interplanetary Media Group (IMG), who will run the reality show and pay license fees to Mars One in order to fund it. Yes, they must make enough money to cover their costs and the Mars One licensing fees. I still think that this nod from Mars One to IMG means that Mars One is not devoid of pecuniary considerations.

          I am appalled that they would sacrifice their goals so blatantly for this grandstanding play to get higher ratings.

  17. Isn’t der a possibility dat mars one must be hiding the truth by saying dey r using current technology cuz dey certainly must have discussed all dese issues.dey Wundt boldly cum out with dis project 2 d public if dey hadn’t cum with solutions 4 d problems stated by Harry.jus think abt d criticism dey will receive if doesn’t happen!!!

  18. If only we could make Stargates a reality…sigh.

    • LOL!

      • Haha glad I could add some levity to these heated debates! LOL if only it could be that easy huh?

        • Yes, Jason. BTW, most of the heat seems to have come from Mars One itself. One or two posts may have been a bit over the top, but mostly we’re having an excellent and sane discussion.

          • Hi Harry, totally agree, they’re generating massive press with this dog and pony show lol. Currently it appears to include mostly smoke and mirrors. I’m glad we’re all having these discussions, but it behooves the Mars One staff to engage in the same discussions, as to NOT immediately put these astronauts in danger. I’ve noted on here that some of the counter arguments have consisted of “well if we didn’t have explorers come to America, we wouldn’t be here. They were brave, etc., etc.”. Well yes, BUT they also knew they could rely on the natural resources of the area for their survival. What resources will the astronauts be pooling together from the surface or even under the surface of Mars??

          • Jason, I completely agree with this analysis. The comparison with early settlers and polar explorers goes only to psychology and not to physical reality.

            As I’ve written before, Mars is devoid of fossil fuels. You cannot use oxen, horses, or any other beast for work. It all has to come from solar energy unless you can get a nuclear power plant there or somehow use the ultra-thin atmosphere’s strong winds. There’s just no vast quantity of stored energy as we have on Earth to jump-start a civilization on Mars. There’s not even wood to burn.

            Speaking of which, fire would be wasteful in the habitat. All heat must come from human bodies and electrical resistance heating. The insulation has to be incredibly efficient.

            There’s no food, either plant or animal source, ready to harvest on Mars. It’s unclear whether enough food can be grown just to satisfy the caloric necessities of four people on a continuing basis. I’d guess not but will get to the calculations later.

          • Atmosphere control within the habitat would obviously require keeping CO2 at non-toxic levels, plants being the preferred choice. But plants produce O2 as we know – could the O2 levels become too high, accelerating failures due to corrosion but more importantly creating a fire trap? Seems to me I read somewhere that even 25% O2 makes it very difficult to suppress fire. Wouldn’t want the atmospheric controls to be unreliable.

            Speaking of which, don’t want to run out of lightbulbs either. Can a 3D printer make a lightbulb?

          • Thanks, Brett. I’m enjoying your creative inquiries.

            I haven’t yet done the math, but I believe that the human respiration will outpace the plant photosynthesis by quite a bit. If anyone has data, I’d like to see it.

            We don’t have exact dimensions for the habitat modules and have to guess. I’d like to use the artist sketches despite their other errors. The artist may have the sizes right. The Mars colonist in suit is 2-1/2 grid squares high. The module is 6 squares wide with a circular base. The maximum height for colonists is 190 cm. Each square is about 80 cm. The external base radius is about 240 cm or 2.4 m. Insulation will take up some of that distance and has to be very strongly insulating. I’m guessing about 50 cm will be necessary. That leaves an internal base radius of 1.9 m and an area of πr^2 = 11.3 sq m. The initial habitat appears to devote two modules to food production (the ones with the windows in them). Allowing about 20% of the area for work space, that leaves 18 sq m for food production.

            Can four people use 18 sq m of “farm” to feed themselves? How much CO2 will plants growing in that space use? That amount is equal to the amount of oxygen generated.

            The Mars One site says, “The first four will also be carrying a device similar to a portable greenhouse, that will allow them to grow their own food.” I’ve been going entirely on the artist’s drawings, which include no such module. The “portable greenhouse” is a wild card. It must be pressurized to some extent. Details of its construction and size would help me to evaluate its viability.

            I’m sure that LED lights will be used. They’re small, light and last for ten or more years. The program would readily be able to deliver a 30-year supply. I cannot say what will happen after 30 years if anyone survives that long.

          • Thank you Harry and I’m glad you agree! Yes of course, and it makes you ponder as to just how much the psychology of this entire endeavor will affect these astronauts. They will be encountering an ENORMOUS amount of sensory deprivation, so undoubtedly it plays a major role on this expedition. Have any discussions by Mars One begun regarding this issue?

            Totally agree with your sentiments, and you must, like I do, have the feeling of these astronauts starving whilst attempting to establish their colony. What is your assessment, rough estimate, as to what the minimum threshold should be, sustenance-wise, for the colonist to survive for any sufficient length of time?

          • Hi Jason,

            I’ve been working on so many different aspects that I haven’t yet been able to do the food calculations. They claim to have 50 square meters of food growing space. Food takes time to grow, although higher CO2 (up to 3x our norm) can speed up growth. They plan to optimize the lighting with LEDs specifically chosen to activate chlorophyll. If done well, the leaves will look black because all light is being absorbed.

            Much depends on the plants chosen. I’ve already discussed that issue. I have not seen anything from Mars One. Perhaps, they don’t wish to scare applicants with the actual food list. I mean, what if you hate broccoli and see it on the list?

            Essentially all plants produce some amount of indigestible cellulose. That must be recycled somehow. Bacterial digestion would seem to be the best bet. Some space must be allocated for that. The result should be the sugar breakdown products in suitable form for yeast growth. Yeast will be essential for health (B12) without any (other) animal products available — probably ever.

            Hydroponics may not work well enough to feed the colonists. Transforming the Martian regolith into soil should be possible with water, organic material, bacteria, and some chemical treatment, for example to adjust the pH.

            The diet will most likely consist of greens, roots, and legumes plus the yeast. Eventually, there may just possibly be room for a very few herbs and spices that will be a true luxury after hundreds of bland meals. My own experience suggests that marjoram and rosemary are quite easy to grow. You can also grow green onions and garlic. In the growing chambers, it may be warm and damp enough to grow ginger.

            The best food plants will have edible greens and roots because so little will be wasted. Some are just not feasible. Corn is one such example because it’s too tall, produces too much waste, and has too little food value.

            In short, it’s almost impossible to estimate the food production and health of the colonists without a list of plants to be grown. Which plants will provide necessary oils? Which will give them the vitamin C, which the vitamin A, which the vitamin D, and so on? Where will protein come from? Not much is necessary, but you cannot go without it. Which will be the carbohydrate providers? Does Mars have enough iodine to prevent goiter? Nutrition is complex and is not even fully understood. The diet must be varied and include everything necessary for good health.

          • Did some reading, CO2 is generally added to greenhouses as 1) it increases production and decreases time to maturity 2) natural consumption by the plants means levels will drop to a point where it inhibits growth due to lack of CO2

            Augmentation starts at 400ppm and can increase to 1200ppm which is not harmful to humans. More here:


            The regolith will require some manipulation to produce soil.

            The living constituents of Earth soil are not all known, an understatement, although you will certainly need different fungi to extract minerals from the soil.

            I do not see hydroponics as more than a temporary solution (no pun intended).

            Here is an amateur look at the problem (although more advanced than I could do, it seems to ignore radiation problems we have discussed here) that nevertheless gets the discussion about soil going:


          • Hi Brett,

            The augmentation of CO2 in greenhouses to speed plant growth is a well established practice as your nice link indicates. Going from around 340 ppm (our natural atmosphere) to 1000 ppm appears to be optimum for growing plants. Excessive CO2 can be harmful to them.

            Note that prolonged exposure to 1000 ppm CO2 for humans can cause cognitive problems. An hour or two necessary for tending plants would not be a problem. Therefore, a colony should have at least a closed door to the plant chambers and guidelines for time spent there.

            Your second link has lots of good data from unmanned Mars missions that may help to establish how to process regolith into soil. However, their conclusions are amateur chemistry at best. Some are correct; others are not. (My PhD is in analytical chemistry.)

            The most difficult problem may be the high levels of iron in the Sojourner samples. These may not be representative of the planet as a whole and also not of the Mars One landing site. Excess iron is toxic to humans and may impair plant growth. I don’t know if anyone has studied this.

            I suspect that your remark regarding hydroponics is correct. Many plants will not grow with their roots constantly submerged in water if my sources are accurate. Anyone have information on this?

  19. Venus.

    It used to be standard science fiction fodder for people to land on Venus and find a lush, warm world. After all, it’s closer to the Sun.

    Today, we know better. The temperatures, fueled by the closer Sun and an extreme runaway greenhouse effect (~95% CO2) is far above that required to melt lead. It’s so hot that the sulfuric acid rain never reaches the surface because it evaporates first.

    Chemists will recognize this as an extreme situation because very hot distillation condensers use sulfuric acid in the thermometer well when temperatures are too hot for any oils.

    The atmospheric pressure at the surface is around ninety times that of the Earth. The surface winds are slow, but the CO2 is so highly compressed that it behaves much as a liquid would. At higher altitudes, the wind speeds are extreme, 360 km/hr (about 220 mph).

    Curiously, Geoffrey Landis has actually suggested, as a thought exercise, colonizing Venus with floating cities that would sit about 50 km above the surface. The pressure there is about the same as that at Earth’s sea level. The air, being mostly CO2, is denser than on Earth so that a bubble of Earth air will float. He considered an enormous bubble, large enough for many people to live in. You’d still have sulfuric acid clouds above you.

    Imagine a giant dirigible filled with ordinary air or, for buoyancy, an air-helium mixture. People could live inside of that ship on Venus but could never venture to the surface. Even going outside of the craft would require oxygen tanks, protection from sulfuric acid in the air, and some way to avoid being blow away by mega-hurricane force winds.

  20. I don’t think the Mars One project really cares much about volunteer’s health, all they want is landing there, the rest does not matter. Dying of disease or radiation? getting killed? That is not the main concern. If the project demands volunteers living in good health, the cost would go astronomically.

    • True, but I think if you expect ESA or NASA standards this adventure will not take place at all, so perhaps the answer is somewhere between that and Mars One. There certainly are people willing to take risks that government bureaucrats would never approve, and Mars is certainly high risk even if we do solve all the problems pointed out here (and no doubt more to come). If you could promise me five years of reasonable living on Mars I would take that risk, as I would be 60 by then. A surprising number of applicants are only 19, 20, 21 and either do not understand the proposition or see it as a reality show and never expect to follow through.

      • You point is well taken. Young people tend to believe that they’re invincible, however. They believe that they can solve any problem and can show off their skills to the world with this project. They really think that they’ll be the founding fathers and mothers (assuming that some women do volunteer) of a new race of Martians.

        The reality is sobering.

        If the colony really is to be self-sustaining, then younger applicants will be preferred. But, how much younger? Old enough to have acquired skills and mature judgment but young enough to reproduce several times.

      • When I first commented on this post that was the one thing I was alluding to, I get the feeling that most of the people signing up for this are only doing it for the 15 minutes of fame and are not really aware of the risks involved or do have a death wish of sort, Two profiles that should not be on this. As I said before I am willing to go on a one way mission but not an outright suicide mission as by the time this is launched if it is on time I will be 47.

        And after some reading over the past few days I think i may have a good idea on what they are planning to use to address some of the problems. For power we are all assuming that solar is going to be the major power source, but I wonder if they are planning on launching a few self contained mini nuclear reactors. There seems to be several companies that are waiting on Approval from the US Nuclear Commission to deploy them here in the States, for a Mars colony no such approval would be needed. And from the designs I’ve seen it may not be to hard to modify a Dragon Capsule into one. Solar power could be used to supplement these, especially during the summers, where the reactors may be just about turned off and extend their life time.

        Parts and supplies can be covered with the use of 3D printers, why carry all your supplies when you can just print out what you need?
        though the Material needed for the printers would still be problematic unless suitable replacements could be found on Mars. And if martian regolith could be used in 3D printers, they could be used to make more effective radiation shielding. Bricks stack up a lot better than what loose dirt does.

        I’m willing to bet most of the food will be grown with hydroponics combined with grow lights. Which ironically we can probably thank the illegal marijuana growers for since it seems they are ones that pioneered the most effective way to do it.

        All in all I think most of the solutions to the problems are already there or area year or two away, we just have to think in new ways and try to abandon the old way of doing things.

        • My first thought was for nuclear reactors too. However, their sheer mass, the radiation issues, and the limited lifetime of perhaps 30 years make this solution less favorable. Possibly, a version small enough to send to Mars could be made. It still would have to refueled or replaced when it ran out of fuel. The colony would not meet the goal of being self-sustaining. If one small enough could be created, then it might be a way to have power while getting set up, especially power for construction work.

          Can Martian regolith (the loose covering of dust, sand, and rocks over solid rock) be used in 3D printers? Unlikely. The printers either build up or cut away material. Regolith would not be appropriate for the latter and would have no way to stick together for the former.

          The 3D printer still could play a role if sufficient raw material were included with it when shipped. It would only be creating small parts. There remains the issue of bootstrapping technological engineering on Mars. The entire Mars One concept relies on technology. Unless the colonists can build and replenish a technological society, they will ultimately fail. They cannot live on, in, or by Mars dirt.

          The regolith mentioned will probably be an important part of food production and could form the basis for making soil. Hydroponics is conceivable but must have adequate fertilizer and trace minerals to function. Also, it limits the range of plants you can grow. Many require water AND air in contact with roots.

          Using artificial illumination with nuclear power might be an idea, but you will run out after 20-30 years. If you use sunlight for power to create artificial light for growing, you immediately lose around 90% of the sunlight energy. It’s better to use the sunlight directly for such a critical operation and not waste your power generation capability.

          An arrangement of reflectors could funnel extra light to the plants to more closely approximate Earth levels of sunlight. You might have to do a very good job of designing these for the Martian winters so that you can grow all year around. Using LED lights powered by your batteries may work but will draw down power that must be used for heating and oxygen production (and waste recycling and more) during the outrageously harsh Martian winters.

          All of the solutions are not yet there. Some that seem to be will not work as presently designed. Our small discussions here represent but a small part of what must be done before even the first unmanned module leaves the Earth.

    • I’m not so sure about what you say. For the volunteer colonists to land and die of foreseeable causes would be a PR disaster and might even be criminal, depending on jurisdiction.

      Either the Mars One project will solve all of the problems well enough so that colonists can survive for some years, or they manned launch will never happen. Whether they can even raise $6 billion is in question as is whether that’s enough.

      It’s much easier to explore in theories and prototypes than actually to send people out there. At this moment, I say the prospects are grim. There may be around a dozen serious problems to solve. There must be a hundred lesser ones.

      The radiation problem can only be solved with lots of energy. Lots of energy requires a huge investment in launch mass, probably more than is currently budgeted. Any breakdown in energy production will be fatal. The colonists cannot live off the land.

      • Legal Jurisdiction:

        Crimes are tried according to jurisdiction: city, state, federal, country and international laws and treaties. There are no laws, or court able to rule over crime/death on Mars. It´s, quite literally, no man´s land. (Rather strange writing such thing, but I guess it´s a preposterous statement to go with the preposterous endeavor.) Furthermore, organizers would not be held accountable due to the release form covering all risks (would love to see it). Proving whether they were aware of sure death, but did not disclose it, is nearly impossible for it would require nothing short of admission, Martians would not survive to testify and the crime scene cannot be investigated. Knowingly or not, since organizers are not scientists, claiming scientific ignorance would be possible, feasible and reasonable. Blame would fall on suppliers. Anyway, it would be a preposterous legal case if tried through some loophole I might have missed.

        PR Disaster

        They´ll be collecting royalties for a decade during “the making of”. After that, they might call it off and it would still be very profitable.

        • I’m afraid you’re a little bit off on this. The “loophole” if it can be called that is generally taken as the jurisdiction over the location of the entity in question. In other words, for example, litigation here on earth for example is typically dealt with by the city/county/state/country of the headquarters of the company in question. This concept is used regularly as made evident by the internet.

          Piracy is an excellent example… Sites that host these activities are being set up these days where the legalities of such an operation do not impose penalties as severe (if at all) as, say, the united states. This would be no different.

          You do however make an excellent point that burden of proof and the like would be difficult, if not impossible. I hardly envision a crew being sent to investigate wrongdoing such great distances, yet society as a whole has illustrated in the past that there is no limit to the lengths we will go to find out the truth. The two concepts are clearly in conflict with one another, and pose a significant burden on the very fabric that legal systems are made of.

          It’s not a great surprise however that we would once again be encountering something like this – here in the US, the legal system is losing ground simply due to antiquity for starters, and proves over and over that it can’t deal with the issues that arise as quickly as they come up. Clearly, a system that barely works for one rock alone would be brought to it’s knees by adding another, nevermind the idea that it’s so far away.

          The more I think about this entire thing, the more I get pushed to coming to the conclusion that there’s just no way. And certainly not in a decade. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t be trying things that push the envelope, but this is more like “pushing the post office”. I digress…


          • Not being a legal scholar, I can only guess about legal details. I would imagine that the “crime” would be putting the colonists on the ship bound for nearly certain early demise. Thus, the jurisdiction would not be Mars at all. That’s just where the victims died, if they did. If you shoot someone who does not die immediately but is transported to a hospital across the border, does not the shooting location determine where the perpetrator is tried? Just my thoughts. Mars One and its directors cannot escape justice if they skip due diligence.

            If we point out flaws that they ignore, then they may be criminally liable for the potential deaths of the colonists. The only way out for them is to claim that the likelihood of death was low and accepted by the colonists — sort of like a backpacking trip to a wilderness area being guided by a professional.

            For Mars, such an example could be ignoring the dust storm threat to power or even having inadequate power. Dust storms on Mars have been measured to cut out 80% of the sunlight. In addition, they can cover solar cells sitting on the ground with dirt and block 100% of the sunlight. The Mars One site takes the former into account but not the latter. Mars dust storms last for days (sols). It would be difficult indeed to do an EVA to clean the solar panels during a dust storm. Even so, they’d just get covered again. Loss of power would result in loss of heat and death from hypothermia in short order. Even if the colonists managed to survive, their food crops would be destroyed resulting in them starving to death. Inadequate preparation for this almost certain eventuality would be a crime in my book.

            Inadequate overall power, even without storms, would subject colonists to extreme living conditions and would be tantamount to torture. Would this be a crime?

          • It would seem that making the solar cells self-cleaning would be much preferable to EVA but better yet a long-lasting and more robust sort of power – nuclear perhaps, using something other than a steam turbine technology as output?

          • Fortunately, solar cell cleaning would only have to be done every 100 sols or so, except for the occasional dust storm. Sand is only slightly blown by the thin Martian air making cleaning easier. You can’t use yard blowers, of course. Air is too thin.

            Fine dust fills the Martian air. It rains down very slowly on the surface.

            Maybe five annual EVAs (Martian years) would be necessary for cleaning and could be planned to correspond to other outdoor activities.

            However, dust storms are another matter. The center of such a storm will block about 80% of the sunlight. With so much dust in the air, it will drop onto the solar collectors and block even more light, possibly over 90%. That would be a serious crisis and would require immediate action by several colonists at once to get the dust off of the collectors.

            If the colonists have a few RTGs (radioisotope thermoelectric generators), a dust storm will not be life-threatening. They’ll still have heat and small backup electricity generation. After a few decades, the RTGs would be at half power. By then, the colony would either be a success or a failure. If the former, means for reliable power must have been found, and the RTGs would be reminders of a time gone by.

            In the short run, they would provide otherwise-expensive (of power) heat generation. I suggest that going to Mars without them is foolhardy.

          • Well you could have a r/c sweeper but EVA would have to be relatively commonplace in any event, hopefully much more manoeuvreable and resilient than space suits

            But I was thinking solar arrays ranked and racked so you could just give them a quick flip upside down and back. Adds a little to the original layout, but reasonable.

          • At $20 a gram, any extra mass is a problem. The solar arrays are flexible to save mass. Any structure would add considerably to the overall mass. At 40° N, the arrays should be tilted to the south. Initially, they’ll certainly be flat. Eventually, they should be sitting on mounds of dirt to be angled more to the Sun. Then, dust will slide off of them to a certain extent. Some cleaning will still be necessary but not as much. Depending on the angle, dust storms may no longer be fatal.

  21. Legal jurisdiction might prove interesting.

    • Indeed.

      • For all intents and purposes this is the M1 colony belonging to whom? Who has jurisdiction to try criminal negligence in another country, let alone off-planet? Even if we do have legal agreements, such as for Antarctica and the Moon, how to enforce? Are they valid if 100 people claim the entire planet and demand independence, supported by their multinational corporation or not? Possession being nine tenths of the law, let alone the practicalities of enforcement – of course someone could drop a nuke on them I suppose, but what is the point?

        • The Mars One folks expect the colonists to declare independence as soon as is practical. The jurisdictional aspects would be on behalf of their relatives here on Earth (for civil matters) and with the national, provincial, state, or county agencies with respect to criminal matters.

          Knowingly causing the death of another human, especially one not desiring their demise, is a crime most everywhere. The legal issues will probably revolve around foreseeability and negligence, but a good lawyer can probably explain much better and more accurately than I. If one does not show up, I’ll ask one of the three lawyers in my family to help us out.

          BTW, possession is nine points of the law.

          Re: the nuke drop — LOL! I really did laugh when I read that. Who would spend the money to send any sort of retribution device to Mars? I would see being on Mars as being worse punishment than many harsh prisons. It is definitely life without possibility of parole. The scenery is stark. The food sucks. You have to spend much time at hard labor. Escape is impossible — really — worse than Alcatraz ever was. The heating systems stink and so do your fellow inmates due to limited sanitary facilities. Everything is recycled so that you’re drinking your — well, you get the picture.

          On the positive side, you own an entire planet. There are no guards, but the planet compensates for that benefit.

          I’ll be surprised if the first launch in three years takes off, but I do support the virtual adventure of figuring out if you can do this. This topic should be undertaken by thousands of science classes around the world. If I had the resources today, I’d immediately set about creating a set of Smart Science® explorations around this theme. Then, everyone could examine these concepts on their own at their own pace.

          If the project continues, I’ll certainly have those resources ready for use before the first unmanned launch date.

          • “This topic should be undertaken by thousands of science classes around the world.”

            I was thinking quite the same, Harry. A case study waltzing through several disciplines and huge learning potential ahead. Thank you for the excellent article, as well as all posters for their interesting incursions.

          • Ya, the nuke comment was flippant, more of a comment on what we will spend to kill people as opposed to exploring our worlds. And I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress lol

          • Would it be possible that any colonies that are established on Mars or elsewhere in the solar system fall under the jurisdiction of the UN? From what I’ve read of the Outer Space Treaty no single country can lay claim to any celestial body or piece of that body, though it is being debated if this extends to private citizens. And that the planets within our own Solar System basically belong to all of mankind. While the UN really doesn’t have the means to police off planet colonies, maybe its time we start thinking about giving it those means. Cause even if Mars One fails how far off might the next attempt be?

          • One poitive aspect of space colonization to some individuals and groups would be independence from the bureaucratic poison that is the UN. Certainly I can’t see a Martian colonist having much use for the point of view in whatever state you care to insert. it would be irrelevant and there would be no way to enforce resolutions against the colony except to cut off supplies, and that would mean a UN with a lot more reach than it has currently.

            But this ability to cut supply might also argue for UN involvement to prevent abuse. As a colonist the ultimate aim would be independence. From a practical standpoint, I could not think of a more sure way to guarantee failure than the UN actually being in control of such an endeavour.

            As with the New World your main groups of settlers, at least after the initial exploration and trials, would be the disaffected, from survivalists to religious groups. The fact that this is a corporation (using a non-profit shell) is telling. It is too early to say what minerals will be found, or where (if?!) water will be available – without water this is all meaningless – but profit was also a huge motive for explorers and colonists in the past.

          • The colonists would be independent if they so chose. I’m not clear as to how they will truly remain independent of Earth resupply and what they will use to barter for it.

            In any event, UN membership is voluntary. There are no “United Planets” or the like. Only the threat of withholding resupply can be used to police the colonists — as a group. They have to do their own policing of individuals.

          • Thank you, Anonymous Girl. NASA and JPL should be doing something like that to support their real Mars mission.

  22. Food.

    I’m not an agriculture expert and am just using good old common sense here. If you know more that I write, please respond.

    We all know about food chains and food webs. The producer biomass is about ten times that of the primary consumer biomass. Energy is consumed, lots of it, every time you move up a trophic step in a food web. On Mars, energy is life. You cannot waste it.

    Therefore, all food will be plant based. You will have no meat, fish, poultry, eggs, or dairy. Processing food also takes energy. You will be eating whole foods. Cooking food takes energy. Because cooking can also heat the habitat, you may be able to do some cooking. Assume that much of the plant food you’ll eat will be eaten raw.

    Plants will not supply vital B12. You’ll have to grow yeast. Can you grow it is such a manner that you also obtain a drink much as brewing beer? That’s something someone else will have to answer.

    You’ll be growing plants that have maximal nutrition and minimal waste. These plants must grow in as little sunlight as possible. They may even be engineering specifically for Mars One.

    Now, I begin to stray from what I know and move into the area of speculation. I may be unaware of solutions to these food issues.

    Grasses produce lots of cellulose relative to grain and so are not great candidates for Mars even though they handle dryness and cold relatively well. I would not expect to see bread on Mars. Corn is a grass and will also not work well on Mars. Flax might be a good thing to have for omega-3 fatty acids.

    Fruits and nuts (real nuts, not peanuts) require trees. These generally are inefficient in requiring years to bear fruit, lots of cellulose to support them, and lots of space in which to grow. Midget trees do exist but still would be inefficient for Mars. Do not expect fruit and nuts in your diet.

    You can grow green, leafy vegetables. Brassicas are easy to grow and tolerate cold weather well. They grow fast and have plenty of vitamins. Expect to be eating lots of bok choy.

    You definitely must have legumes. Be sure that you’ve imported the bacteria that allow them to fix nitrogen. You might grow peas, lentils, or a number of beans. You’d be seeking the ones that grow best with least light and heat. I’m not sure which those will be. You may be eating your bok choy with fresh lentils. Drying and reconstituting the lentils may be too inefficient. You’re growing indoors and so don’t have have to save from season to season.

    Underground roots and tubers form the remainder of your diet. Which will grow best and most efficiently with the least amount of waste material? I’m not sure. Candidates are beets (eat the greens too), peanuts (lots of oil for your diet and good protein), carrots (a bit slow growing), and potatoes. Add your own favorite underground food. You may be eating lots of beets and peanuts spiced with yeast. You better have good teeth for all of the chewing of raw foods you’ll be doing.

    Speaking of spices, you will not be growing peppers (trees) or any of several other herbs and spices. They are not efficient. I would not expect to see onions, garlic, or ginger on Mars, but someone may prove me wrong on this. I suspect that your food will taste like itself.

    Food variety will be limited but most be sufficient to guarantee a balanced diet. Personally, I’d really miss a good fresh orange or mango, but some are made of hardier stuff.

    On the positive side, your diet, if it is truly balanced, will be much healthier than most on Earth. No cholesterol. No trans-fats. No refined sugar. No gluten. No hormones. No meat fat. Lots of vitamins. Lots of fiber.

    You won’t get fat on Mars.

    • I found the portion of the Mars One site devoted to food production. Nothing appears about specific plants. It claims high-efficiency food production using LED lights of correct frequencies. If perfectly done, the plants would appear to be black having absorbed every bit of light!

      The sunlight will have been used to make the power to run the LEDs at 12.5% efficiency, which is the current value for flexible solar arrays. An advantage is that the LED light can run all day and night.

      The hydroponic growing trays will be stacked to achieve a total of 50 square meters of growing area. They must have research to suggest that’s sufficient to feed four colonists indefinitely and allow for some surplus for emergencies. Does anyone out there know more?

      One nice aspect of all of this is that there are no insect pests on Mars. If sufficient care is exercised in preparing the seeds and other materials being sent to Mars, other plant pathogens (bacteria and viruses) may also be excluded.

      No mention is made of B12.

  23. Maybe they will send animal test subjects first? From the first day to space human used a lot of animals to test living environment. If a monkey in Mars could survive in an automatic feeding environment over one year, the Mars base should be proven safe enough.

    • Present CO2 levels on earth are 300 to 450 ppm but plants can go higher, even if growing chambers have to be temporarily off-limits, so the thin Martian atmosphere can be compressed and add to biomass/oxygen production.

      • The idea of compressing the Mars atmosphere has some merits but many problems. CO2 is heavier than air and could be pumped in small quantities to the plants if they are surrounded by gas-tight walls and covered, even loosely. You would probably improve food production somewhat in this manner. You’d also be making more oxygen but not enough to supply the humans.

        The sticky point here is that the pump will wear out. Compressing from around 0.01 bar to around maybe 0.5 bar (another post on that later) is not so easy. Perhaps, pumps without moving parts would be possible. Good filters would keep out Martian dust. Here’s a problem waiting for a creative solution.

        Note that we don’t have a reason to build such a pump for Earth use.

        • Thanks, really enjoying the discussion – seems to me the entire operation is going to depend on organic and biological adaptations of plantlife for specific purposes (producing stock to create plastics) and as a more efficient and elegant means of gradually incorporating Mars into the colony in the form of water, hydrocarbons, carbohydrates and amino acids – much of this is there on Mars, the issue is extraction and likely exploration for the micronutrients required.

          I am not able to calculate what size vat of what algae could produce what oil, but I think it can be done; however, 2023 seems pretty optimistic for this kind of a self-sustaining ecology. But setting a ten year target will motivate people where a 50 year target will not.

          Now what would really make it fun is a translucent material that stops hard radiation… don’t tell me that is a contradiction, physicists, tell me about gamma ray diffraction and X-ray absorption and weird stuff nobody has thought of yet. I don’t believe human knowledge is anywhere close to complete, even though any one person can grasp any more than a slice of what we know already.

          If we’re just going to live in caves or mounds, well, whole lot of Earth untouched and ready for development.

          • Mars has two sorts of radiation to deal with: solar radiation and cosmic rays. Solar radiation comes along fairly constantly until there’s a solar event. Then, it spikes. You can shield yourself from most of these readily. You’re being showered with high-energy ions (charged particles). Truly severe solar “storms” are rare, occurring less often than one every decade. Strong storms happen every 3-4 years and may be dangerous to exposed astronauts and Martians. They’re of little concern to those inside of even moderate shielding.

            Cosmic rays are a different creature entirely. Most are extremely energetic protons, the nuclei of hydrogen atoms. A few of these atoms are moving so fast that they have the energy of a macro object, such as a baseball, moving a speeds of around 100 km/hr. Most are less energetic but still quite powerful.

            A mere few millimeters of metal will not stop these high-energy particles. Those that do encounter atomic nuclei will essentially explode them and create a shower of energetic particles, making the radiation worse than if there were no metal at all.

            Fortunately, humans can travel for a few years in space without suffering significant ill effects from cosmic rays. They will see a small increase in cancer and cataracts from the extra radiation. Decades of exposure will create serious effects, which is why the Mars habitat must be shielded.

            Mars has neither a heavy atmosphere nor a magnetic field to protect surface dwellers. The Mars One project proposes using “several meters of Martian soil” to shield their colonies, both the people and the plants being grown for food. Without shielding both would succumb to the radiation in time.

            The soil, really regolith, must be heaped up over the habitat reasonably soon after arrival. Months can be allowed but not years.

            Interestingly, clear plastics subjected to enough ionizing radiation become cloudy. Only very thick layers of material can stop cosmic rays. The best shield turns out to be liquid hydrogen because of the lack of the showering effect you see with metal. Of course, liquid hydrogen is impractical on Mars. You cannot really send shielding to Mars. This is why the Mars One people have suggested using the available regolith and heaping it very high.

            It’s totally unclear whether you can move this material to the necessary thickness with the energy available to the colony and whether a landing site that has watery soil has enough to cover the colony.

  24. The extreme cost of trips to Mars prevents using test animals first. Animal cruelty groups would object strenuously in any event, and without the ability to adapt to unknown problems, an animal would not be a valid substitute for a person. We already have lots of data on humans and animals in microgravity.

    Besides, one year is not enough to test safety for a lifetime with no resupply potential.

  25. Here’s the Mars One website on a matter related to Brett’s last question, “As more astronauts start arriving it will become necessary for them to manufacture certain supplies themselves, rather than relying on Earth. Two examples are:

    A method to construct additional living area.
    A machine that makes plastic, so they can create plastic products or foils.”

    You cannot manufacture plastic out of thin air, even Martian air that’s thinner than most. ;-) Our current plastics are all carbon-based and require rather pure chemical feedstock. It’s conceivable that plant waste could be processed biologically by bacteria to create chemicals that could be used to make plastic. They’d have to be separated from the mixture first. The entire process is quite complex. One machine may not be able to make more than one type of plastic, and many types are used in creating plastic-based artifacts. Sometimes, toxic solvents must be employed. Until I see specifications on this “machine that makes plastic,” I’ll consider it just more “thin air.”

    The other claim regarding additional living area has similar flaws. How can we expect to build anything that’s airtight and have connections to the remaining habitat with stone-age materials? The equipment may be modern, but the building materials are the Martian rocks and “soil.”

    It’s important that colonists eventually be able to build such structures without any materials from Earth, only equipment lifted to the planet with them. Otherwise, the colony will be eternally dependent on expensive resupply missions from Earth.

    The raw materials of Mars are rocks. The rock may be ground down into sand, but remains the same compounds chemically. Converting even the simplest metal ores into metal requires high temperatures. Building structures requires lots of building materials. Forming the Martian sand into something usable would take huge amounts of energy, much more than the colonists can spare from the 3000 square meters of solar panels contemplated by the Mars One people. We can skip the idea of making metal on Mars for the near term anyway.

    Making mud and heating to brick also requires plenty of energy and will not make airtight shelters. Even making mud requires lots of water that the colonists can ill afford to just let evaporate into the thin Martian sky.

    Unless the colonists have virtually unlimited energy, they’ll be hard pressed to do anything but merely survive.

  26. The Mars One website devotes one page to water, oxygen, and food.

    The water part is reasonable if their assumptions are correct. Essentially, they replace water lost in the recycling process with water reclaimed from “wet” Martian soil through distillation. Surface water will be ice with lots of salts in it. These salts mean that you must add more heat that is required for pure water to get evaporation at a rapid rate. Using the near-to-vacuum pump called the Martian outdoors, you can help things along. The Mars One people expect the rovers to collect and deliver the soil rapidly enough, when they’re not otherwise busy, to maintain the necessary water supply. Extra water will be stored as reserve.

    Their plans for oxygen are short and rather thin. “Oxygen can be produced by splitting water into its constituent parts, hydrogen and oxygen.” As proponents of a hydrogen economy know, energy requirements are high. You’ll also have to have plenty of water. (See above.) They also say that oxygen will be stored in reserve. They must have transported pressure tanks and pumps for that purpose. The pumps must be maintained for a very long time, at least until inexpensive transport to and from Mars becomes feasible, if ever.

    The odd remark is the last paragraph. “The second major component of the Living Units’ atmosphere, nitrogen, will be extracted directly from the Martian atmosphere by the Life Support Unit.” It’s unclear exactly why this step is required. We can live without breathing nitrogen. The thin Martian atmosphere is only 2.7% nitrogen. Almost all of the rest is carbon dioxide. The remaining important gases are argon at 1.6%, oxygen at 1600 ppm (0.0016%), and carbon monoxide at 800 ppm. The site does not explain how the nitrogen will be extracted. I can imagine that during cold Martian nights, you’d only have to chill the air a bit more to freeze out the CO2 as dry ice and be left with the remaining gases plus some residual CO2.

    The nitrogen (N2) concentration would rise by maybe 33 times. The oxygen would also, a side benefit that would yield 0.05% O2, not much really. However, the carbon monoxide (CO) concentration would also rise to around 0.025%. Even concentrations as low as 100 ppm are considered to be hazardous to human health. In the concentrated air, those concentrations are 25000 ppm. The combination of CO and hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin is slow to reverse and so tends to accumulate over time even with low concentrations of CO.

    The Mars One site makes no mention of this problem. Some sort of heat or catalyst or both would be necessary to convert the CO into CO2 before entering the living area. Even if all the CO were so converted, the high CO2 concentration could be hazardous to colonists’ health.

    However, you don’t have to have nitrogen in the atmosphere. Except for nitrogen-fixing bacteria in symbiosis with legumes, nitrogen is inert in the atmosphere. It’s not the fraction of oxygen in the air that’s crucial to life but its partial pressure. That the pressure that oxygen would have if all other gases were removed from a gas mixture without changing the volume or temperature. For us, it’s about 0.2 bar. You could safely breathe pure oxygen at a pressure of 1/5 atmosphere and even lower.

    A low pressure would make leaks less likely and explosive decompression also less likely. Modern spacesuits use low-pressure pure oxygen.

    Why has Mars One decided on this peculiar addition of nitrogen to the habitat air? The process is costly for energy and has serious hazards with respect to Martian air contaminants that are quite poisonous.

  27. They plan to send the astronauts with their living quarters? Are they insane?! I will say this much. Human pain and suffering and slow death will make for a very popular reality TV show.

    • Thank you for joining in the conversation. Without some breakthroughs, your vision may come true. I’m not enough of a cynic, although I do tend to be quite cynical, to believe that the Mars One people will launch people to certain death.

      Therefore, if there is a manned launch, there will be a decent possibility of survival for ten years. They may be hoping that advances in technology will extend that. What is “decent”? Might be 90%. Can’t say, and I guess that Mars One will never reveal their estimate.

      BTW, I really hope that real pain and suffering, not just psychological, would not attract viewers but will repel them.

  28. A different power source.

    You don’t get much power but you do get heat. Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG) use the heat from radioactive decay to generate electricity from thermopiles. They have to dump their excess heat and, with proper shielding, produce little radioactivity. The ones made with plutonium will keep producing their 100 W, more or less, of electricity and, more importantly, their heat for 20-40 years. They’ll slowly run down. You can put the far ends of the thermocouple out in the Martian cold to get more electricity at the cost of losing a little more of the heat.

    This all is important not because of the trivial amount of electricity but because making heat from stored electricity is wasteful. Heat is the most low-down, degraded form of energy there is. It should be the by-product of other useful activities rather than their primary purpose to the extent possible.

    The Martian habitats can use as much heat as they can get.

  29. ‘We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…’ -US President JFK, 12 September 1962

    He went on to say ‘that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.’

    The same applies to Mars, there are many challenges (and Harry and the others are right to point them out) we must overcome them, but we are resourceful and can do so.

    To clarify, I am a Biochemist and freelance science and business consultant, as well as in senior management of a small global genetics data management company. The Mars One project has the ability to encourage, inspire, and unite the world, and lead to countless innovations of benefit to all of us. I have already read many hours on the topic since hearing of it and am keen to see this project succeed, I am also willing to offer my skills and expertise to the Mars One team, who I will be contacting directly but can also contact me by replying to this post if interested.

    • And there may be Mars One biggest legacy even if it doesn’t get off the ground, a Call to Arms. Instead of endless debate about how to do it and its costs they have decided “We are going, now figure out how we will live and survive there” The names I’m seeing attached to this are giving me hope. While I don’t know Bas Lansdorp or even trust him, I do trust Elon Musk and SpaceX. And frankly Elon doesn’t seem like the type of business man to put his name or his companies name on the line on something unless he knew it had a good chance of success. And I think that could probably be extended to the rest of the Mars One suppliers.

      • I applaud your enthusiasm and can-do attitude. You’re essentially saying that you may not make it, but you’re going to go as far as you can because someday, on some schedule, it will happen.

        I have to agree in principle. We may not colonize the stars in this century, but we certainly should look at colonizing our own solar system. It’s mostly a matter of whether we’re ready. A lot can happen in ten years. We saw that with Apollo. The technology then was incredibly crude compared with today. OTOH, the challenge of colonizing Mars is some orders of magnitude greater than landing a person on the Moon and bringing that person back.

        This challenge could define the 2020’s the way that Apollo defined the 1960’s. Being the first is always difficult. “You can tell who the pioneers are by the arrows sticking out of their backs.” While stereotypical this phrase has some truth in it.

        The pioneers don’t always win. Just look at Bricklin and Frankston who invented the electronic spreadsheet, Visicalc. Their company was swallowed by Lotus, which in turn was eclipsed by Microsoft.

    • Hello Sam.

      I am with you in spirit. Big challenges are good things to have. In every job I did, I sought out the larger challenges. If someone said it was impossible, that was a magnet for me. I did many “impossible” things in my life. They were always the most fun!

      The problem with Mars One is having a large quantity of impossible challenges, not just a handful. Finding a solution to one challenge just reveals another.

      Solving yet-unsolved challenges enriches us all. Even if every challenge is not solved in time, we still benefit measurably. As you so nicely say, we also benefit in spirit from attempting this effort together.

      Despite my net negative take on this project, I feel that I am, in an odd way, a part of it now. By paying attention and applying the knowledge gained from a world-class education and the experience of decades of science, engineering, and practice, I can add some small measure of benefit to the project.

      By pointing out what will not work, we all can provide an incentive to the Mars One project either to find a way to do the “impossible” or a way around the problem. Since my humble article has been published, I’ve been privileged to have been visited by thousands of interested people in this virtual space. I will continue to write and discuss the pros and cons of colonizing Mars here.

      Sam, your background fits well with my own work on Smart Science® explorations, the online hands-on science lab system. I’d like to continue our conversation.

  30. […] By Harry Keller Editor, Science Education The Mars One project has received quite a bit of press lately. This project plans to establish a human colony on Mars in 2023 with four people. The project…  […]

  31. Forget about Mars. There’s far too little to work with there. We should be considering one of Saturn’s moons instead.

    • @Anonymous,

      Surely, you’re joking (Mr. Feynman??). Saturn is a long, long trip, probably not possible for a manned mission in the next couple of decades. Only one of its moons has any hope of colonization, and it has 14% of Earth gravity with surface air pressure of almost 1.5 times that of Earth. It’s air is almost entirely nitrogen with no oxygen at all. The temperature is about -180°C, far below the freezing point of CO2. At that temperature, no water exists in the air. High winds also are likely.

      Mars, perhaps unbelievably, is much more hospitable.

    • That has a level of difficulty that would probably make going to Mars a walk in the park. For that to happen I see the need of one of two technologies being developed. Either faster spacecraft that don’t require chemical rockets, though possibly majorly ramped up Ion engines might work for this. Or the advent of suspended animation for the crew or part of the crew since you probably want 2-3 people awake at all times for emergencies. Though I think the best way to do that would be having the crew rotate in and out of hibernation.

      • I’m with Ronald here. Even going as far as Mars is a stretch today. Venus is totally impossible to visit, although closer than Mars. Mars is at the edge of our technology for human space travel.

        The whole Mars One phenomenon is based on “It just might be possible” followed by “What are the obstacles?” The answers to that question were all in the area of “We can probably figure that one out.”

        It’s all speculative, but you must begin early. If the solutions and technology do not develop, you can just postpone everything by two years. Choosing 2023 as the human launch date has the “by the end of the decade” feel of the Apollo program. It’s far enough in the future that the “put up or shut up” date does not put too much pressure on the project but soon enough to excite people’s imaginations.

        In other words, it’s perfect for public relations. A five-year program to put people on Mars is a guaranteed suicide mission. So, we all can watch as the program to turn certain failure into success unfolds. It’s certainly exciting.

        If we do get people on Mars, and they do have a livable habitat, then they’ll probably last about a year. After that, all bets are off. So many factors impact long-term viability that it’s just impossible to account for all of them. The second manned launch window of 2025 should include resupply and possibly even scratch sending people in favor of keeping the first four alive. Eventually, we’ll have the ability to rescue them if this whole idea fails and they’re still alive.

  32. Damn all this sounds so hecticly cool. I would do this anytime. This is living to the extreme

    • I’m not even sure where to begin on this…. Though perhaps I should say you’re probably one of those that don’t really understand the risks of this. The term Technological Caveman keeps coming to mind when I think of what the living conditions will be like and actual cavemen probably would’ve had it easier.

      • Love that term: technological caveman. Captures the essence of life on Mars at least for the first there.

        What creates huge problems for a self-sustaining colony is the simple fact that the colony must depend on technology for survival but will not have the resources to recreate the technology.

        For example, it can use LED lights but will not be able to make them. It will use microchips for a number of purposes but will not be building a fab to make them. At a much simpler level, it will be using copper wire without the ability to smelt copper.

        To build a technological society, you must have very large amounts of power. The 3000 square meter solar array may be an adequate power source for survival (as long as a dust storm does not blot out the sunlight for too long) but does not create enough power for refining ores.

        Even the batteries they will use to store power come from an advanced technology that Mars cannot have even in a few decades. The batteries will be dead before they can be duplicated on Mars.

        In simple terms, the Mars colony will be dependent on Earth resupply into the foreseeable future. Shipping advanced technological mini-factories won’t work because you’ll require one for each technology. You also must find appropriate raw materials. It may be a bit difficult to just walk out and find zirconium, iridium, and praseodymium, for example. Even copper may not be found locally, and going 1000 kilometers or so to find a copper ore vein won’t work until the colonists have some serious supplies for air, water, power, etc. in a travel vehicle that can dig and load ore.

        Self-sustaining could mean barely surviving in technological caveman mode. The image of expanding human civilization in an alien land should be expunged from anyone’s mind who actually believes such nonsense. I’ve been searching the site and have found only vague references such as “At first [production] will be limited to provisions, oxygen and water, but will soon expand to everything they might need: solar panels, new living quarters and plastic components.”

        The means for producing plastics, solar panels, and airtight new living quarters is not discussed anywhere.

  33. Yes, it’s cool. It certainly is AN extreme of living but only for a few people who can hack it.

    I may comment on potential selection processes. It cannot be a simple lottery. That WOULD be suicide.

  34. For the colony to survive at reasonable cost, there must be a space elevator in Mars orbit first. Of course, another space elevator in Earth before that.

    • The space elevator concept has been around for a very long time and was popularized by Arthur C. Clarke. It cannot be done until a material of sufficient tensile strength per linear density can be manufactured. Even then, this material must be completely safe and not degrade in sunlight, heat, moisture, cold, or vacuum. Carbon nanotubes have been proposed, but the manufacturing challenges are enormous.

      Were the “rope” holding the space elevator together to break, the carnage would be incredible as it fell down from the sky.

      Only a single elevator could travel up and down at a time on a single installation, and its mass would be limited.

      Perhaps, these problems will be resolved by 2050 or around that time.

      The cost of construction would be possibly unprecedented. The savings, however, would also be huge.

      Certainly, this concept will not help the Mars One project one bit.

      • Yes, obviously the Mars One project doesn’t want to wait that long (2050). However a Martial space elevator (use Kevlar) is easier to build than an Earth space elevator (carbon nanotube) due to lower gravity in Mars. BTW, Lunar space elevator is the easiest, it could even be built with steel !

        • Yes, the materials are easier if the gravity is less. The primary problem with Mars space elevator will be transporting all of the materials to Mars and assembling it there. Once it’s done, then life becomes much easier. Because the Mars One settlement is planned for above 40° N, the elevator will not be readily accessible to them. Once again, the wait will be long (ca. 2050) unless Mars One changes their plans.

          As much as I like the adventure of figuring out how to do it, I still think that Mars One will become Mars Once or even Mars Once Upon a Time.

  35. Now to go off on a tangent with this. while milling around work yesterday and it being slow I started to think. While I still think Elon Musk would notput his name or SpaceX’s name on the line what if he was doing it for reasons we may not know yet. If we we have a colony on Mars we have loved ones, family and friends (if it actually thrives) there. Now we have a market for ships that can make the trip in weeks ( or even days) instead of months. Faster ships would mean perhaps a thriving tourist industry, the ability to ship resources from Mars back to Earth. We have an idea on how to build faster ships, but without the need there is no reason to build and test those designs, A colony would create that need. And possibly SpaceX will be poised to fill that need. SpaceX could build the ships in Orbit, A variation Spaceship One could be used to ferry people back and forth to those ships. its something of a conspiracy theory, but one I could live with and would like to see come to fruition.

    • Faster ships would be nice. Today, they’re all chemical rockets. How might they become faster?

      You cannot escape Newton’s third law. Faster means ejecting more mass at higher speed or at least more momentum per time out the rocket exhaust.

      Right now, we give the spaceship lots of velocity in a big hurry and then let it coast, except for course corrections. Instead, the ship could be accelerating constantly on the trip, either increasing velocity on the first part of the voyage or decreasing velocity on the second part.

      A nuclear reactor has been proposed by some for this purpose, and it might shoot out very hot hydrogen at very high speeds. I think that NASA’s NERVA program did something like that.

      The calculations aren’t terribly hard but probably require some calculus to get them right. Ten years is enough time to reactivate the program and make this sort of space travel possible. Does anyone have any idea of how much the time to Mars would be shortened?

      • Hello,

        In the category of electric engines, magnetohydrodynamic engines are reported to deliver a thrust of 200 to 4000 newtons per engine, with ejection speeds between 100 to 1000 km/s, and using an electric power about 2 MW. This means that with ten engines, the needed electric power would be 20 MW, and the thrust would reach 2000 to 40000 newtons.

        Please refer to the Wikipedia MHD page, (in french)

        An electric power of 27 MW could be obtained with a mini reactor such as the Hyperion model (still to be implemented), if appropriate cooling can be obtained in space. It can also be based on solar panels.

        I am not familiar with the formulas to calculate the acceleration and speed based on the ejected mass, which you can find on wikipedia. Apparently, the ship speed is:

        S= E * ln (m1/m0), where S is the ship speed, E the ejection speed, m1 the initial mass of the ship, m0 the final mass, ln the neperian logarithm.

        Can anybody confirm, and check my calculations ?

        Lets assume a space ship about 120 metric tons, including 20 tons for the reactor, 10 tons for its cooling device, 10 tons for the engines, 20 tons for the propellant, and a 80 tons payload (including a 40 tons Mars lander). A 40’000 newtons thrust would imply a 0.3m/s2 acceleration.

        With an (optimistic) ejection speed of 1000 km/s, and a mass ratio of 120/110, the ship could attain a speed of 95 km/s, including the initial 7,8 km/s impulse as an Earth satellite . This would be approximately eight times the minimum speed for this journey (the liberation speed, about 11.2 km/s). The trip duration would then be less than 40 days, with an acceleration phase of 80 hours and a deceleration phase of also 80 hours.

        With less optimistic figures, an ejection speed of 200 km/s and a thrust of 2000 newtons, the acceleration would be 0.087 m/s2, and the speed would be only 26 km/s (including the initial satellisation speed), the duration of the journey would be about three months. In order to have higher speeds and a shorter trip duration, we could increase the mass ratio, e.g. with 40 tons of propellant. We would then use 20 tons during the first part of the trip, with a mass ratio of 120/100, and a speed of 44 km/s. The trip duration would then be about 2 months.

        Maybe the number of engines is too optimistic, it changes the thrust but not the final speed.

        Of course this electric propulsion cannot be used in Earth or Mars atmosphere. There is a need to send the ship in orbit with a classical launcher, such as the Falcon Heavy (53 tons of payload), and to use a chemical Lander in order to land on Mars.

        Use of solar panels in place of a nuclear reactor could also be considered, as it would produce less electric power but could perhaps be more secure. The difficulty would be appropriate positioning of a large array of solar panels.

        By the way, if we use a nuclear reactor, when the fuel is consumed, we do not need to land it on Earth, which would present some risks. We should rather send it to the Sun for disposal.

        • Erratum. With a thrust of 2000 newtons, and a ship weighting 120 tons, the acceleration would be 0.016 m/s2. The liberation speed of 11.2 km/sec would need 59 hours of propulsion.

  36. Clothing.

    What will our Martians wear? We cannot be raiding our local department and sending stuff to Mars with each fashion change. The colonists won’t have to be concerned about black tie dinners.

    Seriously though, clothes wear out. How will new ones be made? The assumption of no continuing supplies from Earth means that the Mars clothing industry must be home grown.

    The first step in this analysis must focus on what clothing will be necessary. We don’t know until we understand the habitat environment. The greenhouses must be reasonably warm for optimum plant growth, maybe 20°C or so. The rest of the habitat must only be warm enough for human survival. It could be 15°C or 20°C depending on the quality of the insulation and the constancy of the heat source.

    Heat can be a problem during Martian dust storms when the solar generators will be at 20% of capacity. Just as with any ecological system, our technological ecology has lots of interaction between its different parts.

    I think we can safely assume that the internal temperatures will not be any higher than necessary for satisfactory plant growth and that plants will be selected that grow well without high temperatures. Higher temperatures will means less clothing required and less clothing manufacture. I’ll take 18°C as a target temperature for now.

    Colonists will not have to have shoes for indoor wear. They could have some sort of sandals, but that would be a luxury on Mars. We can safely assume that the only footwear will be some sort of socks at 18°C and would be barefoot above around 22°C.

    We can go through similar analysis for the remainder of clothing. The Mars One site does not mention clothing anywhere that I can see. The primary question becomes one of where do clothing materials originate.

    We can readily eliminate wool and silk from consideration as well as nylon, polyester, and other synthetics. The former are eliminated because of the problems with raising animals, even insects, on Mars. The latter are eliminated because of the cost of importing the machines, the lack of feedstock, and the toxicity of many of the manufacturing protocols.

    We are left with plant-based fibers. Three come to mind: cotton, flax, and hemp. Cotton is too difficult and wasteful to raise as well as awkward to turn into thread. Flax and hemp should be possibilities and have the side effect of having edible and healthy seeds. I’m not sure how difficult it will be to extract the fibers from the plants. Someone may have experience to contribute.

    Once you have the dry fibers, you must commence to spin them into thread. With wool, that would require a spinning wheel. Will the colonists have one? They’d better have something to use. After having thread, you must weave cloth. I’m sure that dyes will not be used for the first batches. Later, you might use beet juice of other natural by-products of food production to get some color into the otherwise drab environment. So, you must have a loom. Has Mars One put a loom on their supply list? They’re not saying.

    Finally, the woven cloth must be cut and sewn. Will the colonists have a sewing machine, or will all sewing be done by hand? Who supplies the patterns? Are sewing needles and scissors included in the supplies. How about sharpening stones? Are colonists being trained in sewing at all?

    I don’t expect to provide all of the answers to these and many other questions. However, I raise them to illustrate how complex this undertaking really is. You cannot simply consider heat, light, food, water, air, and shelter. That much barely gets you to subsistence.

    The list is much longer than most realize, and in every list there are artifacts that much be repaired and replaced.

    • Hello Harry and others,

      Having clothes, which seems needed, implies some washing. Otherwise cohabitation may become difficult. Water for this purpose can be spared from the 50 liters per day which is recommended by the site. Some soap can be delivered in the payloads from the Earth, as the settlers will not be fully independent from Earth, a least during the first 20-30 years (and may be indefinitely). Settlers will also need soap for their personal toilet, being able to have showers.

      Local soap production can be considered, but it implies having a surplus of oil, some chemical products (caustic soda, which can be produced with ordinary salt and the appropriate device), and probably water.

      More generally this is the question of having or not some sort of chemical industry, Harry has already explained why iron and steel production would be very difficult in the first period, even with a large supply of energy (e.g. a small nuclear reactor, such as the Hyperion model).

      We would need an idea of which minimum chemical “industry” we would need, and with what basic inputs and devices, and for which weight. Minimum means with a production of very small quantities, corresponding to the needs of the colony, and using the simplest possible inputs (we should avoid hazardous materials, as much as possible, in order to facilitate their transport).

      • It should be relatively easy (compared to live and delicate payloads) to drop raw materials nearby in the interval between landing and industrialization. A space elevator would be lovely, but the construction thereof impractical until a much advanced state of affairs (decades away).

        Initial work has to be prefabricated and machinery dropped in duplicate or triplicate: lots of redundancy to allow for landing failure, mechanical failure and spare parts. All such payloads must be retrieved, so methods for travel of 200km at a time and EVA or remote manipulation are required (both, really).

        New methods in pilot for producing aluminum, for instance, could prove useful. But a working industrial economy is not the near-term goal, so if you need an excavator, a bore, a rover, you better drop a few and not too close to your prime site either.

        • Aluminum production, just as an example, requires bauxite or some other aluminum mineral feedstock. We’re nowhere near being able to mine minerals on Mars. Out in the near-vacuum? Out in the radiation? Far from the habitat? Dangerous in the extreme!

          Who on Earth would send a production facility to Mars? Who would pay? Won’t happen until Mars can deliver value to Earth. You can only go so far on reality show ratings.

          • I don’t want to promote any product here, but suffice to say I have shares in a company currently producing and in pilot for commercial production of aluminum from non-bauxite sources at half the cost of current electricity-hungry methods. New processes that rely on chemistry rather than smelting will be very advantageous on Mars, as they have made it profitable to mine former tailings even here, at least for precious metals. Every material on Mars will be as precious as gold to Martians, at least for the first century or two. Using and recycling solvents will be an industry unto itself.

          • Aluminum is one of the most common elements (after hydrogen and helium) in the universe and very common in our solar system. According to some reports, lots of albite (NaAlSi3O8) is found in Martian soil. Significant amounts of other aluminum-containing minerals also are found there, illite, kaolinite, and anorthite.

            You still have the problems of providing chemicals for a chemical extraction process. You still have to heat whatever you refine to melt and form it. I expect both of the problems to remain insoluble on Mars for at least one and likely several decades.

            A Mars shuttle and a substantial revenue stream from the Mars settlement could change that time schedule.

            You never know what the future will bring. So, I have to limit my skepticism to the here and now. As things stand, no aluminum production on Mars. Unless things change, aluminum will continue to be seen only in Earth imports.

      • My note on hygiene crossed paths with your note.

        Local resources means mostly the regolith, which appears to be highly oxidized as well as alkaline when mixed with water.

        It may well be worthwhile for colonists who plan on indefinite residence to have a scheme for separating useful materials from the regolith. Yes, that is chemistry and would mean a miniature chemical industry. Chemistry usually requires energy and some dangers of explosion or toxic by-products. It’s conceivable to establish a separate facility for such work and to dispose as our ancestors did by just dumping somewhere nearby.

        The primary components of regolith appear to be silicate minerals, silicon dioxide, calcium sulfate (gypsum) and iron oxide (rust). Silicon dioxide is inert sand. The iron oxide may be useful in small quantities as a dietary supplement. Refining it into metal would be a stretch until power is plentiful.

        I’d like to see that all minerals necessary for life are readily available on Mars. I don’t see iodine or selenium in the analyses so far, but these may be below the detection limits of the rover analyzers.

  37. […] a rational list of all that can go wrong, check out Harry Keller’s excellent article, Mars One: Exciting Adventure or Hoax? at ETC Journal. [Keller has a PhD in analytical […]

  38. Hygiene.

    I have not seen a single word on the Mars One site devoted to hygiene and related matters.

    In the latter category, make-up will be a huge luxury. Yet, these people will be on television. I know it’s trivial, but just imagine that some people have trouble starting a day without fixing up their faces. Men shave, after all. Even if you can get some sort of razor to Mars, how long will it last? What about hair cuts, let alone beauty salon hair styling?

    At the level of mundane but important, you’ll find toilet paper. Yes, that’s a small item. How hard can it be? Well, you won’t have trees for paper manufacture. You might use some extra leaves from the food growing activities if they’re large enough.

    What about soap? We take soap for granted. How clean can you get without soap? Martians will not be taking baths. Even showers would be a problem with limited water supplies. Expect basin baths and head dunks. But, soap will be a problem. You cannot just ship soap and more soap to Mars. Making soap is not really a technological feat, but does require some oil and some alkaline material. People used to use wood ashes. The Martian soil (regolith) may be alkaline enough. We really aren’t sure. Oil would have to come from plants grown for that purpose, but the entire growing area will be for food in the beginning.

    Even if you can manage to bathe, sponge bath style, once a week, you still have to wash your clothes in as little water as possible using as little soap as possible, assuming that you can even make soap. Forget bleach. If the habitat is not humid, you can just hang the clothes somewhere to let them dry.

    All of the hair clippings and nail trimmings will have to be recycled somehow. Hydroponics won’t do. You’ll have to have real soil with bacteria for that.

    I think that you’re beginning to get the picture now. As long as Earth resupply is plentiful, all can be well. At $10000 for a pound of soap on Mars, it will be tough on the colonists who would like to be clean.

    • So… Brett’s Bath & Laundry could be the most prosperous industry on Mars? Hmm…

      I think this goes to the heart of what Mars One is about: something other than the old communal gathering of government-appointed bureaucrats, something closer to the old exploration and colonization mindset that drove the Rennaisance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Age. Not without a few disasters and slaughter, true enough.

      But am I hearing, in the guise of technical skepticism, the old arguments about dragons and falling off the edge of the Earth?

      If we set lose a number of human beings on the face of Mars, keeping them alive is certainly a big problem, with many technical difficulties. Even twenty people is research and exploration, not a colony. But if you put enough people up there and send up a rocket each month with such materials as can be negotiated, they will solve these problems.

      I appreciate all the constructive criticism, wouldn’t have it any other way, but the university and governmental institutions of our day are bureaucrats and patricians who are not willing to risk their next tee time, let alone their own skin. It is adventurers and risk-takers who will make Mars happen, even if some die in the attempt.

      The technology of the last exploration was sail and navigation, boat-building and wood-working and smithing. Obviously the technology has changed, but a colonization is, at least, hundreds of people. The Mars One proposal is far and away better than anything the US government or Europe have put forward in the last thirty years. I expect and hope it will draw the people who really want to go into space, and who are able and qualified, into this bold new venture.

      In so doing it will inspire new technologies and new solutions for Terran problems – even our many social problems, among which I might rate stagnation and litigation just as high as illiteracy and starvation.

      • Many ifs. If the “colony” survives. If travel to Mars can be reduced in cost by an order of magnitude. If television rights can continue to generate revenue. If we Earthlings are still excited about life on Mars after seeing the baldfaced reality of it. And so on.

      • On the exploration part, I know that 20 is really just an exploration trying hard to be a colony. I also know that we’re past the age of sending people off on trips to near-certain death for at least several of them. We’d like the possibility of death to be low enough for a reasonable likelihood that all will survive.

        Monthly resupply is not an option. Resupply will be once every two years. However, resupply need not be restricted to a single vehicle.

        A nice big Mars shuttle could ferry several landers at a time to Mars. (See my previous post on shuttles.)

        We still have the obstacles of money and many known and unknown technical problems to be solved.

        • I understand many westerners are terrified of death, to the point where many people will not even attend funerals, and more to the point it is bad for business. Also, from a US perspective, the lawyers are pretty much consulted on what colour of shoes to buy (a slight exaggeration, but wait for it).

          However the Challenger inquiry pointed out that engineers calculated a 1:100 chance of catastrophic failure for the shuttles (which management changed to 1:100000 what’s a few zeroes, more or less) and I believe most of the non-civilians understood this and flew anyway.

          Back to liabilities, at what odds would you forbid a sane person from attempting this flight? Especially in Europe, which has legalized suicide and euthanasia for the mere earthbound? And then there is India and China…

          • It’s not a matter of forbidding It’s a matter of public relations. Just say, for the sake of argument that each person has an independent likelihood of death within one year of arrival on Mars of 20%. Many would take that risk. Many do take similar risks here on Earth. Four such people would have a risk that at least one will die in that year of 60%. Rather high.

            It gets complicated with four people arriving every two years. Let’s just go with 20 people all at once. Now, the likelihood of a death would be 99%. It’s almost certain. In a reality TV setting, what would that mean?

            If we were to put 20 people in a room and put them on TV and guarantee them fame, but tell them that someone will shoot one of them dead while they’re all there, who would go? If they had to spend the rest of their lives in prison as well, would anyone still go?

          • No, that’s a specious argument as ‘shooting’ someone is an act of violence, not chance. Even if the odds are similar as an excercise, the perception is not. Although the shuttle disasters provoked inquiry, they did not stop the shuttle program and the dead are seen as heroes.

          • Ah, come on.

            The shooting was just an example and could be random to the participants and even to the perpetrator using dice or a random number generator. For twenty people to have a 50% of one or more dying, the individual odds would have to be under 4%. I’ve not included group disasters for simplicity.

            If you’re given this opportunity for just $38 (U.S. price) for the application and your individual chance of death is accurately forecast as less than 4%, then you might choose to do it — the other problems not bothering you. The organizers would have a 50% chance (were the situation as I posited) of everyone surviving for long enough to ensure that no one would hate them and that they might even be hailed as visionaries and heroes.

            If just one person died, then people would understand because of the dire circumstances facing these newcomers to a new world.

            Were the first four to die under unpleasant circumstances — lots of pain, maybe some gore, certainly something that those on Earth could feel — then the entire program would undergo review by whatever government has oversight. It might be shut down. It would be delayed until an independent assessment of risk had been made and corrections recommended and carried out. Those recommendations could cost so much as to end the entire effort.

            The first four must make it to Mars and survive until the second four arrive for this mighty adventure to succeed. Were the first flight to explode upon launch, the blow-back would be different. It would be more like the Challenger. Mars One would be delayed for two years and would continue with new hope. The second manned launch could not fail though, for that would spell defeat and an end to it all.

            It’s all about perception.

  39. If Mars One or any other attempt to involve Mars in continuous exploration gets going, it should have an improved method of getting from here to there and back again.

    I propose a Mars shuttle. The current method of a single-use vehicle for every single transport is wasteful.

    Several engines for deep-space travel have been proposed. Take one with good long-term prospects for reliability and a good mass to force ratio. Build your shuttle in Earth orbit. Ferry materials and a Mars lander to it in the usual manner.

    With good design and appropriate ratios of cargo mass to shuttle mass, you can shorten the Earth-Mars trip to maybe four months. (see Nicola’s remarks). The cargo would land using standard Mars lander physics. It could include people or just supplies. The unmanned shuttle would then fly back to Earth. Note that the return trajectory would not be ideal, but that you have two years for each supply trip plus return trip and refurbishing/repair time. Someone skilled in orbital analysis can work out the details.

    You’d have to lift reaction mass for both Earth-Mars and Mars-Earth trips instead of just one. The extra mass for the return trip could be less than than the outbound trip due to carrying much less mass (no cargo) and having less of a speed requirement.

    Note one benefit for the colonists. If they could get a small rocket launched to the shuttle, it could carry Mars rocks that would sell for a good price, at least initially, and help fund continuing operation of the shuttle.

    An operating shuttle would also mean, at least in theory, that Mars colonists could return to Earth in the event of a disaster that did not kill them all and that also permanently eliminated the use of the Mars base for the future. Such a rescue would take many years, though.

    • I can see you getting the Virgin and Amazon founders interested in something like that, among others.

      • LOL! Not my game. I’m a science and software person. Someone should take it up, though. From a audience point of view, the Mars colony has the excitement. From my scientist/engineer point of view, the Mars shuttle has that beat hands-down. It could cut the cost of getting to Mars by half and speed it up twofold.

  40. In a response, I mentioned probabilities. Every venture risks death or injury, even crossing the street or flying on an airplane.

    Mars One must be at least as safe as current space operations in its launch and travel phases. That way, we’re at least likely to get there.

    My issues begin with landing. They fall into categories. The first is survival, by no means certain at this date. The second is self-sustaining growth, almost impossible with what we know today.

    If Mars settlers can survive for ten years before succumbing, they would have beat the odds as I see them. They also would have endured almost prison-like conditions (minus the guards) for that time. They would be heroes and have paved the way for a future that could include expansion beyond Earth.

    I’d like to see a better future for them. I don’t with today’s technologies. Tomorrow could change that view. If you’re an applicant, then you’re either crazy or a remarkable optimist because you believe that the solutions will come soon enough to save you.

    I hope so too, but I’m not ready to bet my life on it. I’ve seen too many instances of very long delays in hoped-for technology advances.

    • I’m curious which launch site they intend to use, Baikonur is probably best for legal jurisdiction but I couldn’t find anything on the M1 site. Guiania would work, can’t see the US permitting them to launch, but maybe if enough US sponsors are involved they will clear them a spot – physically and legally.
      Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

      • I’m curious to see if and when they contract with any launch site. That will be an indication of reality, of them being for real. I’m still holding back on my opinion as to whether this enterprise will truly move forward all of the way. I still enjoy the challenges and the idea that some really smart people with deep knowledge of some of these fields will seek answers to the difficult questions.

    • Oh, they do say Falcon Heavy for lift, so that might be an indication.
      Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

    • Seriously I wouldn’t launch from the US just to avoid their legal system: you’re liable to have 347 aunts, uncles and cousins suing you if your astronaut gets the sniffles. OK slight exaggeration – but the legal and political ramifications are just as interesting as settling the New World was, and a lot more complex.

      Could this whole project be scuttled by the UN declaring all Mars development under international (ie their) jurisdiction? Doubt it, because national interests, even theoretical, would not agree to leave it in UN hands, but they might put a ten or twenty year moratorium in place.
      Sent on the TELUS Mobility network with BlackBerry

  41. First things first, there is no guarantee that the resolution and video quality transmitted back to earth is good enough. Even send a unmanned probed to mars to send back HD (1280 x 720) LIVE video requires a huge breakthrough. See how poor the interplanetary bandwidth we have now, only compressed pictures instead of live videos were sent back from Opportunity. If this remains unsolved, what the project mainly rely on is naught.

    • By 2023 or earlier, the resolution issue should be resolved. It’s only a matter of money. The current rovers have too little power to beam a signal to Earth and must beam up to a satellite with more power first. Even so, that satellite has limited power.

      With enough power on the surface of Mars, you can beam strong signals to Earth. This signal will vary (and even disappear entirely) depending on the relative positions of the two planets.

      We should all realize that “real time” with respect to Mars broadcasts means after a delay of around 4 to 20 minutes. It behooves the rebroadcast people to hold the material somewhat longer to ensure that it meets reasonable broadcast standards. Who would notice?

      High-resolution video cameras on Mars is not a problem. It’s only the signal-to-noise ratio upon reception on Earth. The Mars One people would have to build or commandeer three large high-gain antennae on Earth or do something equivalent in space. Decent video will be possible. The technology is advancing fast so that lift mass will not be an issue for the cameras themselves. Power for the cameras will also be small. Only the transmission signal requires significant power. It can be compressed and sent in a redundant fashion so that video quality should be anywhere from good to excellent.

      • Satellites 3 months before and behind Earth orbit would prove valuable for intra system communication and would give a new perspective for astral observations.

        • Not sure, but think it should be 4 months for stable orbit. Should be done before any serious exploration beyond the Moon.

      • There is a study in 2011, saying that interplanetary bandwidth could raise to 100 gigabit/second by twisting laser light.

        However, “The trouble is that beams spread out as they travel. Hemmati and his colleagues estimate that receiving OAM data from a transmitter as distant as the sun would require a kilometer-wide telescope.”

        • Great article. One problem with long-distance laser communication is the air, but satellites, including in the Earth’s orbit at stable locations, could communicate with satellites around Mars. Both could relay to and from the ground by other means. Right now, we have no real reason to increase the bandwidth to Mars. A settlement that depended on high-resolution video to earn money for its support would change that equation.

  42. Well both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are positioned to become shuttle programs, although I believe they have focused on orbital and possibly lunar flight. Bezos is quite secretive, for all I know he has already begun planning a moon base, which realistically is the next step, not Mars.

    • Interesting …

    • Brett, I agree that a base for transients on the Moon would be very logical. Mr. Spock would definitely opt for that. :-)

      The Mars effort is much more, well, inspiring. It’s more of a Captain Kirk move. Going to the Moon first will pay additional dividends and improve the likelihood of success greatly for the Mars program.

      It’s a emotion versus rationality decision. Mars will deliver much more money through pay TV than the Moon would. Even though we’ve never had people living on the Moon in a habitat, the Moon base would be unexciting to the average Earthling. Too bad. It’s very exciting to me!

      • I do believe one day human will land on Mars, but not Mars One. They will not go to Mars, all their doing so far is making money. If they eventually do not raise enough money for Mars, they can declare the project fail, but their pockets will already be full. If they got enough money, hey it’s even better! Since they do not have necessary technology, they could simply launch and send people to death and let the world watch how they die (money come in like waterfall) . It’s a single way ticket? yes, a single way tick to make lots of money, very brilliant.

        • Very cynical. You could be at least partially correct. The real money will come from the 24/7 reality show. It won’t continue long enough unless they send at least one unmanned supply module to Mars. If successful, that landing will bump the ratings through the roof.

          If enough money is coming in, they can send more supply modules. They’re expensive, but with billions coming in, siphoning a few millions into the pockets of the organizers would be easy. There’s no oversight, after all.

          The initial manned mission scheduled for 2023 is likely to be postponed allowing for more milking of the public for more money. Eventually, they have to put up or shut up. Once the cost exceeds the income, they’ll shut up and shut down the entire operation after having providing some unusual training to a few lucky people.

          Unless lots of things change, they will not put up because loss of the entire first manned expedition will trigger lots of investigations and could even lead to criminal charges. Mars One actually putting people on Mars is a long shot, maybe around 20-to-one. I’d make it longer, but you cannot predict the next breakthrough. In five years, enough breakthroughs could make the mission feasible but still very dangerous. You have to have time to test and engineer breakthroughs. Some only take a year or so. Others take several years to turn into reality. Unless all of the necessary technology is ready by 2021, the 2023 flight will not happen.

          Better communication, as you suggested in your last note and as amplified by Brett’s remark, is one requirement. Better battery technology in the form of nanotube lithium-ion battery electrodes is another. RTGs that can produce more power and are totally safe in human habitations are another. Better solar technology will help a great deal.

          • Yes, with all the new breakthrough in the next decade, going to Mars could be feasible, but at what cost? Mars One declare they need 6 billion USD. The Mars Science Laboratory project took 2.5 billion USD to develop Curiosity and landed in 2011. With 6 billion, I wonder what could they accomplish? If they use the money honestly, maybe they could send partial equipment to Mars, and then they run out of budget. So the volunteers could stay on Earth as would-be heroes? (phew!).

          • There’s a certain amount of arrogance in that idea: if I had the money to build a yacht, for instance, I would have it built in Taiwan or Korea, not Europe or the US

            6 billion is a lot to them – more, they can have hundreds of people living the high life for the cost of one western millionaire. Not sweatshop, good jobs, nice homes and qualified people. Certainly NASA can go through 6 billion over lunch, as so many western governments and their parasitical organizations. That don’t impress me much.

          • Yes, Brett, the idea of the lowest bidder is great, and I am also glad you mentioned the Chinese and Korean people. However it’s still challenging to build and land 40 metric tons of shipments with 6 billion USD while NASA landed 1 metric ton Curiosity with 2.5 billion USD (including research cost). Which means price per ton is 1/16 as NASA did.

          • I really like the quantitative financial discussion here. This project will crash or move forward depending upon their ability to raise money. I am not very sanguine regarding using reality TV to fund such a massive undertaking. The ratio of 16-to-1 grabs my attention.

            Certainly, a factor of 2-to-1 could be overcome. To achieve success, Mars One must accomplish two things: find more sources of funding and reduce the cost of delivering each metric ton to Mars. If they can achieve factors of two in each, there’s still a fourfold shortfall. The only way out of that problem would be reducing the mass lifted to Mars.

            Unfortunately, I think that they’ve underestimated the mass required for sustaining four people indefinitely on Mars. Each parameter of the mission seems to be set below sustainability but high enough for believability by the general public.

    • Virgin Galactic spaceship 2 will not scale up to deliver into LEO but will require a complete new system called spaceship 3 (SS3) I cannot see this being ready anytime soon,
      Elon Musk’s Spacex Grasshopper will be a game changer being able to deliver many smaller loads for less than the cost of a Falcon9 Heavy, Lower mass Mars delivery would also avoid the problem of need for hypersonic retro-rockets for landings on Mars.

  43. A new beginning.

    This discussion has been wonderful, and I thank all of those who have participated. I’d like to take this entire issue to another level. Please stay tuned, watching ETC-J for a new beginning of the discussion about Mars.

    ETC-J is working on a serialized fictional account of the first Mars settlement so that those who are not so technically oriented can participate. We’ll have plenty of science and will address those issues we’ve talked about here and many more in the context of the possible actuality of a Mars settlement. We’ll also have personalities and their reactions to crises. We’re making the assumption that it will happen with 20 years, maybe ten or so. We will use only technologies that we have or that can be predicted within this time frame to become available. Exceptions will be made to this rule only if there absolutely is no other way and we’ll still make every effort make it scientifically sound. As a scientist, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    You’ll read about some real surprises in the episodes. We’ll be as creative as possible and will encourage all of you to write in with your ideas about how to solve the problems facing the settlers in the most recent episode. Some of your ideas will find their way into future episodes and will be acknowledged in the discussion.

    If you know a science teacher, be sure to clue them into what’s going on. We’ll have special challenges for science classes to discuss. We invite science teachers to respond on behalf of their classes and to sign with your school name. I’m hoping that my own business, Smart Science Education Inc., will be able to fund some prizes, but I cannot make promises about that yet.

    While prompted by this discussion of Mars One, any resemblance to the actual Mars One program is unintended. We will use the best ideas from anywhere, including Mars One, in our narrative, but this is NOT Mars One.

    Watch for the first episode soon and be ready with your commentary on any science errors in each episode, solutions to the problems facing the settlers as narrated, and the science class challenges. I’m looking forward to a stimulating discussion.

    • This is called hard science fiction, at the opposite end of the spectrum to fantasy. Hard science fiction goes back to Jules Verne writing in the age of steam about things that were not to exist for another century at least (search ‘8 Jules Verne inventions that came true’) and continues today in authors like Bova, Pellegrino, Robinson (Kim Stanley, sorry Spider) and the late Crichton and Sheffield.

      It is not limited to technology but most important to the genre is examination of social, ethical and ecological aspects of our present trajectory through history.

      At the edge of today are cybernetics, biological engineering and genetics, nanotechnology and molecular assembly, and just maybe new frontiers in quantum computing and our understanding of time and gravity, so you can see that the boundaries between reality and imagination are not boundaries at all but merely horizons, curves in the road ahead.

      Limiting the scope to present or likely in the next decade is useful, but what is the story? Simply landing? Ten years of success despite setbacks? The first romance/marriage on Mars? The first child? Or something more dystopian – human clones banished to Mars or maybe retreating to Mars…

      • Thanks, Brett. I’ve read hundreds of S-F novels and short stories from Larry Niven to Harlan Ellison. That encompasses the range you mention.

        I cannot guarantee anything because I am only keeping about a half chapter or so ahead of the publishing. I wish I could guarantee to be as good as your favorite author, but my writing has always been factual until now. We’ll all see if I can spin a decent yarn, include some societal commentary, explore interesting personalities, and keep the science on track.

        I’ll enjoy everyone’s opinions — good and bad.

  44. Uhhh.. the Siemen (S) is a unit of conductance (the reciprocal of the ohm). The Sievert (Sv) is a unit of radiation dose. This error has been repeated several times on this page and makes me doubt that anyone here knows what they are talking about.

    • Sorry about that. I meant to correct that mistake and forgot.

      Absolutely, I use both and just transposed them in my mind. A day later I realized what I had done. Dumb dumb dumb. But really, who cares in the long run.

      You’ll have plenty of opportunities to catch me on errors as we move forward. Keep an eagle eye. I can always use a good editor. :-)

      Nobody’s perfect. ;-)

  45. This publicity stunt will obviously never happen. It does, however, bring out some interesting thoughts and discussion. Bas and his friends have found a novel way to generate public interest and put some money in their pockets – that is all.

    I’m interested to see where space exploration takes us next. It won’t be a one way trip to Mars, but should still be exciting.

    • I agree.
      SpaceX will try and launch missions in the 2016-2018 windows, The 2018 mission will most likely with their Red Dragon capsule design maybe even include “Inspiration Mars” idea for a biglow habitat module with a husband and wife flyby of Mars. Mars One may help finance spaceX 2016 test to keep the money flowing. meanwhile NASA may have solved some of the other problems like supersonic retro rockets and food supplies.

      • Another major breakthrough is Alan Bonds Reaction Engine that enables Single stage to orbit, Amazingly the Engine has now been proved workable

        With backing could be flying around 2020

        • Most people won’t truly understand the potential for such an innovation. It’s truly simple in concept but very complex in practice.

          As a space rocket/plane takes off it uses air as the oxidizer until the air becomes too thin at the highest altitudes. Then, it switches to on-board liquid oxygen.

          Because the take-off mass is much less without all of the extra oxygen, this rocket can reach orbital velocity with a single stage, reducing the complexity and cost of space missions enormously.

          The technical hurdles to achieving this goal were extreme, but they seem to have been overcome. The remaining issue is reliability of the new internal complexity that will replace the external complexity of current rockets.

          • TROY Mars Mission

            The Troy mission concept arises from a feasibility study, performed to confirm the capability of the SKYLON launch vehicles does enable large human exploration mission to the planets.

  46. Seems that there’s a loophole in general relativity.

    You cannot travel through space faster than light waves (or particles). Some physicists think that you might be able to bend and stretch space so that you can reach a distant point faster than light in normal space would. Seems a bit far-fetched, but the equations say it’s possible. No one yet knows if it’s practical, but experiments are underway to find out.

    Even if it works, the energy requirements will be immense.

  47. Dear Harry,
    Please have a look at my WordPress page and you’ll find we have similar thoughts. You’ll find it under
    I am a Dutch graduated motorcar technical engineer living in Israel since 1992. I have a lot of fantasies, do make mistakes, but share your initiative enormously. I admire your English which is your and regretfully not my mother tongue. Surely you’ll notice when you read my Mars-once project from which I am building a site now. Hope to stay in serious contact.
    Jim Hasenaar.

    • Hi Jim,

      Thank you for writing and for the compliment.

      You have some interesting ideas. Mars challenges us very strongly. I’m not going to do extensive calculations in discussing your thoughts, just indicate where I think they are likely to lead.

      On “Reliable Energy,” you suggest that the solar power arrays be increased to allow splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen for later use in fuel cells. I implied the “increased” part because electrolysis of water is inefficient due to something known as “hydrogen overvoltage.” Electroanalytical chemistry was my graduate student major and my thesis work. This one problem reduces efficiency of hydrogen (and oxygen) generation by close to one-half. Solar panels are only about 10% efficient. Fuel cells are about 50% efficient, much better than burning hydrogen but not as good as . You get maybe 2.5% of your solar energy back as electricity assuming all other parts are perfectly efficient.

      However, they aren’t. In particular, you have to compress the hydrogen and oxygen into pressure tanks. Compressors use plenty of power and will reduce efficiency even more. Your solar arrays are becoming really large now. The real problem with this approach is that compressors have moving parts and wear out. You’ve replaced the problem of worn-out batteries with worn-out compressors.

      I have to acknowledge that spare parts for compressors are easier to ship than spare batteries and that compressor technology is lower than solar cell technology. Repeated repairs could extend the lifetime of those compressors, but compressing hydrogen and oxygen to hundreds of bars is rather tough on compressors, especially the corrosive oxygen. I have no figures on the lifetime for fuel cells but believe that it depends greatly on contaminants in the oxygen and hydrogen feeds. Eventually, the catalysts in the cells become poisoned and lose efficiency. I am not aware of whether in situ regeneration is possible.

      This is not a true long-term solution. It’s less efficient than batteries but will last longer although not forever. Resupply will be required.

      I’ll ignore the piece on geothermal energy because you’ve superseded it with the fuel cell article. Deep drilling on Mars would certainly be a problem.

      I too see energy as the number one issue on Mars. The air is too thin to turn wind power generators, even with rather high wind speeds.

      I am strongly opposed to bringing livestock to Mars for rather simple reasons. In the first place, it’s totally unnecessary. Humans can live very well on vegetarian diets supplemented by yeast and are likely to live longer and be healthier as well. There’s much evidence supporting this view. It would be a problem for settlers used to eating flesh, but not as serious as other adaptations required to live on Mars.

      As anyone who has studied environmental science knows, food webs sort out into food pyramids. The energy loss at each step up the pyramid is about 90%. This simple fact means that you must grow TEN TIMES as much plant matter to obtain the same nutrient value from flesh as from plants. The Mars One people propose 50 square meters of plant growing space for their settlement. If you choose to use animals for half of your food nutrients, then you’ll have to have 300 square meters just for the plants plus space for the animals. You’ll also have the problems of providing the animals with oxygen and removing lots of carbon dioxide from the air. You have to dispose of unwanted animal material. You could just dump it outside, but that approach has problems too.

      Using animals for food is an extravagant luxury for Mars, equivalent to printing money or shipping gem-quality diamonds there. It’s very costly and quite useless. Living in close proximity with animals also promotes disease.

      Martians will be vegetarians for the foreseeable future. Those who are considering emigration to Mars just have to get used to it. Putting animals on Mars would subject them to cruelty as well.

      The Jimmy hut structure will not work because of radiation. You must shield the inhabitants from serious solar and cosmic radiation. Besides, you don’t have to have ponds on Mars, and they will be counter-productive. Water will be as precious on Mars as gold is on Earth.

      Trees will not be available on Mars for a long time due to the size and root structure. Very large structures will be necessary to allow trees, even dwarf trees, to grow. These must be shielded from radiation coming from the sky and so must grow under artificial light, which must be reserved for growing the most efficient possible food plants.

      People can adapt to a wide variety of environments. Just look at people in the Arctic regions or in extreme deserts. They do not have chickens running about. Our long-ago ancestors, before inventing the control of fire, ate mostly fruits, roots, leaves, flowers, and insect grubs. Some may have eaten some raw fish. Raw mammal flesh is rather undigestible for humans just as it is for chimpanzees. There are no trees on the tundra, and those in deserts are limited to a few odd-looking varieties near oases. Mostly, desert-dwellers and tundra-dwellers see nothing but sand or ice for kilometers around.

      The problems with life on Mars are serious. Having trees and animals around is not a requirement and actually would create additional problems. Let the settlers paint frescoes on the insides of habitat. They can plan for a future time when dwellings will be larger if such a thing ever becomes possible. Sun-powered 3D printers that use sand as raw material indicates that something could happen to provide a means for building on Mars in the future. It won’t be water-based unless we can somewhat terraform Mars. But that’s another topic entirely.

      • Have seen some indications vegetarian diet is not appropriate for women who are still experiencing menstruation, including where protein and iron supplements are used. Although this also should not be a Mars One problem as hopefully they will not be sending anyone under 55 years old.

        I see there are now nearly 80 000 applicants, which is $3 million in application fees alone.

        • You’ll find plenty of misinformation about vegetarian lifestyles. Hindus and Buddhists have been doing it for centuries and continue to have children. I know people who have been vegetarians since birth and are strong, healthy and have children. You can get plenty of iron and protein from a plant-based diet, more than anyone must have. The only failing is B12, which you can obtain in abundance from yeast.

          On Mars, efficiency will be required for survival. Animal-based food is inefficient by an entire order of magnitude. It’s that simple. Genetically engineered crops will be able to supply more than enough nutrition despite the limited growing space. Adding animals will make this proposition hopeless.

          Thanks for checking applicant numbers. That number is so large that it must include many fools. Just think, you can even enroll an acquaintance as a joke if you can find a video to include. “Happy birthday, you’re going to Mars.” LOL.

      • Brett sat in the Living Room, plucking a chicken: every tenday the four of them slaughtered and shared one the the little creatures. Transgenic they were, a few twists from a Muscovy, a few turns from some lizard that made them even more efficient than their Terran ancestors. And the meat is all dark, thought Brett, dark they were and golden-fried.

        He was chuckling to himself at this when Marien walked in with her ukelele. She smiled, dark-eyed and golden-skinned. Without asking she began to sing and strum with her two remaining fingers. Another tough old bird, thought Brett, smiling and joining in.

        From the communicator film ALIS joined in, harmonizing, and then the film rippled, showing Erik and Keisha in the rover. In 2021 quantum computing had been discovered and ALIS was quickly incorporated into the M1 expedition. The size of a walnut, s/he contained all the literature, music and technical history of mankind and more, s/he was, at least to them, a living being.

        They all sang along to the ukelele, a few of the hundreds of verses created to The Green, Green Hills of Earth.

        • Heinlein was certainly a capable wordsmith and tale spinner. I believe that I have read ever story he wrote, many as they were being published. Nutrition science in 1947 was extremely limited. People fervently believed that meat was a critical part of a healthy diet. Today, we know better, although meat-producer organizations spend millions to convince us otherwise. Meat is an acquired taste.

          • You can also live soley on meat, provided it is fresh. Since much of our meat is produced or finished with grain, it is assumed to be inefficient on that basis. However, I have eaten many a grass-fed steer that saw little or no grain on the farm, as well as wild game that of course eats only graze or browse.

            As a scientist you should not dismiss the marvel of the rumen, which is able to take fiber we could not eat, from land that would not grow much grain and certainly not vegetables, and turn that into 100% complete food for humans. I would certainly not be feeding space chickens grain but grasses and insects.

          • From where would the insects come, and what would they be eating? I can write all day about health, but the real reason for a Mars mission being vegetarian comes from the inefficiency of creating meat calories compared to creating plant calories.

            We’d hardly grow grasses on Mars due to their inefficiency, making too much cellulose and too little grain. Grain is inefficient too if you have to grind and bake it. Every bit of plant material counts, and plants will be selected and bred to have as much as possible edible by humans. The leftovers, which would be as small as possible, should be digested by bacteria and then fed to yeast that will be harvested to supplement the nutrition.

            Note that a 100% meat diet will cause scurvy. It also raises the likelihood of colon cancer significantly.

          • Many uneaten parts of vegetables grown would be food for chickens – many kinds of vegetation would provide a basis for adequate nutrition that could be boosted by insects, even something simple as fruit-flies but there are insects that would be edible for humans also.

            With regard to scurvy, while I am not recommending a meat diet but only meat supplemet, it is not true that a meat diet causes scurvy – as I said, not if the meat is fresh. Our Viljalmur Stefansson studied the Eskimo diet and ate nothing but meat for several years to prove this point.

      • Dear Harry,

        Thanks for your detailed answer.
        Concerning livestock I did not write the animals need to be for half of the food nutrients. I was talking about a few chickens, rabbits, fish and bees. I don’t believe they need so much more square meters just for the plants they consume. Remember I am also not talking about cattle. Besides that, animals also have a social function.

        Anyhow I’d certainly advice to experiment with trees and herbs in the Jimmy-hut despite radiation from the rooftop windows. The rest of the hut is pretty well protected against radiation. See how they grow and who knows plants and trees can better adapt to the circumstances than living creatures.

        In any case a solution or certain kind of adaptation against radiation need to be found not to change human on Mars in cavemen. Experience sunrise and sunset are built in human existence.

        Concerning water you write that water will be as precious on Mars as gold is on Earth. I am not sure you are right here. Satellite pictures in the past showed a release of a substantial amount of water after volcanic activity. I presume there is a lot of water underground.

        You ignored the piece on geothermal energy. Well that will be the definitive solution once deep drilling on Mars is possible. To get once and for all rid of the dependency of the sun. I don’t see why this drilling needs to be a problem?

        The day after tomorrow I’ll publish the website
        Maybe interesting to see the chapter ‘Other energy suggestions’ the right side of the page about parabolic heat, and the chapter ‘Practical ideas’ where is written how one can e.g. bring a drilling tower to Mars.

        • It will take a long time to establish the ability to drill deeply and to have the necessary technology to utilize such wells. Would be good if can be done. In short run, RTGs seem to be a way to create heat and some electricity.

  48. Maintenance.

    As Jim Hasenaar’s blog and my remarks illustrate, the greatest problem for long-term self-sustaining settlements on Mars will be maintenance.

    In the short run, it’s all about energy. Then, about air. Then, about food. Then, about radiation. Somewhere, sanity comes in. However, if you can solve all of these problems, you must address the fact that only technology can sustain you, and technology requires electrical energy plus life requires heat.

    Compressors, rovers, and other devices have moving parts. Batteries have a finite number of charge-discharge cycles. Solar panel materials may decompose due to UV radiation and high-energy radiation. They may erode due to dust storms. Oxygen and moisture inside of the habitat can attack the materials there.

    Can the Mars regolith be converted into building materials? How widely must mineral gathering expeditions range to retrieve valuable raw materials? What processes can be used to turn minerals into air-tight walls and replacement parts? Will 3D printing technology advance to the point where parts and equipment can be made without using petroleum-based plastics? It has today but still requires rather high-tech materials — except for that sand-based, solar-powered version. How long with solar panels remain efficient and functional under the unceasing ultraviolet, x-ray, cosmic ray, and solar radiation that rains down upon the Martian surface? Does anyone even know?

    Through careful selection of technologies to use along with some new technologies being developed today, settlers can get by if they have a cleverly chosen cache of spare parts for maybe 50 or so years.

    By that time, the waning interest in Mars may rekindle and new technologies for getting to space, e.g. the next generation of Alan Bond reaction engines along with new ion-propulsion engines for shuttling back and forth, could make it less expensive to resupply Mars. Occasional resupply could be the result of using the settlers to perform local science investigations. Fifty years is a very long time, ten computer technology generations, in modern terms. Completely new ideas and concepts for use by the settlers could come to fruition well before then and be sent to the settlement using research funds.

    Only with a great faith in the potential for solving the long-term settlement issues can settlers make this voyage with hope for the future. Otherwise, they face a future with ever-decreasing ability to survive as things wear out and slowly decompose.

    I believe that someday we will solve all of these problems. Setting out to Mars in ten years likely is jumping the gun by as much as ten or more years. I hope Mars One hangs around long enough to see good solutions to some of the problems so that we can all enjoy the process and the potential side benefits to us of developing new technologies. Their efforts, if in earnest and not just for money and show, could build the foundation for future attempts to make Martians a reality.

  49. UvrA

  50. “Bringing Life to Mars” by Christopher P. McKay 1999 Scientific American

    Click to access BringingLife.pdf

  51. I hate to get off of the main topic here and off onto dietary styles and preferences. The problems of animals on Mars are so extreme that I have determined that our first Mars settlers will be vegetarians, even vegans. With a very limited amount of growing space and light energy for plants, every square centimeter of growing space and joule of energy must be used as efficiently as possible. Each step up in the food chain loses about 90% of the energy input from the previous level.

    Plants will be carefully chosen to grow fast, have high nutritional value, including fiber, and have little waste (eat it all). What waste material is unavoidable will be recycled through bacterial decomposition by carefully selected and bred bacteria and then that digest will be used as growth medium for yeast. Both the digest and the yeast can be used to supplement the Mars diet. The yeast are critical because they provide the B12 only available from animal sources. Fortunately, our requirements for B12 are very small indeed.

    The settlers may eventually choose to import animals if interplanetary commerce develops and they have a sufficient surplus of food. Animals each carry with them many problems, among these are the different gut bacteria than humans use and that are required for health. The Mars habitat should not be contaminated with unnecessary bacteria that may also harbor viruses.

    The preparation of materials for Mars will involve extensive sterilization. The people will also have to undergo careful treatment before leaving Earth. Even so, it’s unclear that the efforts will succeed. Until Mars looks more like Earth, care and efficiency will be required to live there.

    • I think diet will be a large part of the conversation once on Mars, so I don’t know that it is irrelevant or off topic. Anyway, humans certainly need living things around them, but perhaps a first effort should stick to plant life alone. I understand the Anarctic research station requires each individual to spend three hours a day minimum in the green room with plants, running water and solar-spectrum lighting.

      I understand every kilogram costs, yet I would not be looking for anything like minimum requirements for such an endeavour – extra room, parts, propagation material and power would be the best, at least the 50% over minimum that is standard engineering.

      A good segment on CBC The Current this morning included two Applicants, a discussion with a Psychologist who is part of the M1 selection advisory and a conversation with Canadian astronaut Julie Payette (who has such a beautiful voice I would listen to her read the phone book) who was also quite skeptical, not about going to Mars but of this attempt.

      • Hi Brett,

        You’re right on top of this issue. Yes, food is critical. It’s just that I consider personal food preferences beside the point, which is how to provide a constant and nutritious food supply. With a limited area for growing things (stacked racks of plant growing trays) and limited energy (Mars One plans for ONLY solar), animals will drain critical resources. If a Mars settlement does happen in the near future (within 25 years), it will begin with a plant-only food supply. Assuming that frequent resupply does not occur, the plant-based diet will continue for a while. Any animal addition, even insects, will have to be very carefully evaluated. Any creature with a short reproduction span can mutate and suddenly fill the habitat with unpleasantness or worse.

        The first life forms, aside from humans, in a Mars settlement must be carefully selected plants, bacteria, and yeast. One set of bacteria are necessary in human guts for health. Another set will be used to digest plant “waste,” the undigestible plant parts, which will be minimum. The yeast will turn this digest into food supplements for the settlers.

        Plants will be chosen and even genetically engineered (good genetic engineering, not RoundUp-style engineering) to grow fast, be as nutritious as possible, and have few inedible parts. They must be also selected for variety. You wouldn’t like eating nothing but beet roots and beet greens three times a day for years. They will have to be pollinated by hand as required unless nano-robotic insects can be programmed to do that automatically.

        Nano-engineering could change a number of features of a Mars settlement effort. I expect nano-electrodes to make batteries lighter and longer-lasting long before 2023, for example.

        A Mars settlement will be very high-tech. Sustaining that level of technology in an environment that would make the meanest American West frontier look palatial may be the greatest challenge of all. Even if you can find a solution to every problem to making a settlement on Mars, you still have maintenance and repair to handle. The 3D printing technologies won’t handle the task today, except for minor repairs using a limited supply of consumables. Mars must have lightweight printers that use local materials.

  52. well , seems truly a hoax, or commercial fraud, you could say

    “The project organizer said in an interview last week that the complexity of the project has far exceeded the company’s imagination, adding that it would be hard to stick to the original plan of sending one person to live on Mars by 2023.”


      “Meanwhile, a Xinhua reporter found that the Mars One company was registered on June 23, 2011, in the Netherlands with one employee. Its office, is in a rented apartment in the city of Amersfoort, with “simply some tables.” ”

      I don’t know why a Chinese reporter exposed the fraud instead of a Netherland reporter.

      • With $3 million in the bank from this venture, Mars One should be more visible. Lack of a substantial office proves little. The reporter is so vague that it’s hard to believe the investigation was thorough.

        Most observers agree that the project is too complex to be completed in just ten years when FOUR people (not one) are supposed to go to Mars. Without lots of money, they will not even come close. Much of that money must go into research and innovation.

      • With all due respect to most Chinese people I wouldn’t exactly put a lot of stock into stories coming from a state controlled Chinese paper, they have been know to reprint The Onion articles thinking they were fact and not satire..

        • The article left much to the imagination. Somewhere under the words, there may be some truth, but it’s unclear. I suspect that both items of interest were taken out of context.

          It is true that non-profit Mars One also has a for-profit sister company.

          I believe that the discussion remains an important one and wish Mars One well in at least getting to a rational plan for putting a settlement on Mars. Just that much will require more than the $3 million already received from those who wish to be on the first manned flight to Mars.

          • This report may help clarify the position so far:

            So far over 78,000 people from 120 countries have decided that going to Mars would be way more awesome than staying at home. According to a Mars One press release, the US (17324), China (10241) and the UK (3581) have the most applicants.
            78,000 applicants simply means the number of people who have signed up with their email address, date of birth, and country of residence. The number of people who have actually gone beyond that free step and paid an average of $38 (£24) to complete their registration could be anywhere between around 600 (the number of online videos) and 78,000.

            “It is only logical that many people are still working on their profiles,” says Lansdorp, adding that “Mars One chooses not to distinguish between people at different stages of their application”. He argues that not paying the fee doesn’t necessarily mean an applicant doesn’t want to go to Mars.

          • Thank you for the update. Considering the Chinese report indicated that 10,000 Chinese want there money back and that only 600 have uploaded a video, far fewer than 78,000 must have paid their fee, and the Chinese article is even more suspect.

            It appears that Lansdorp has not so precipitously abandoned his project as the article indicated. It’s far too early for him to throw up his hands and declare the project too complex.

            That might happen if no one pays a fee. ;-)

            It could happen if he cannot get the reality show started.

            We have much more time before these events might happen. If he gets a few thousand paid applicants, phase one will have been a success. I’m sure that the initial selection will be automated. People will look at the videos for how these people will look on television. It’s a TV show, after all. Some large number will be chosen for the final processing through the mechanism of the show, and a large audience will wait to see who is “fired.”

  53. Everyone, please visit Would love to have your feedback as we move forward. Expect one chapter/episode per month — faster if I can manage it — to review, remark on, and analyze. Let’s continue this conversation in a new way.

    • Well, I replied over there, but my name appears to be Anonymous, so see if you can figure out which one is mine!

  54. I have a question about the required user agreement needed to be accepted prior to applying. Essentially, you are giving up all of your privacy rights. I understand the need for this while on the mission but what about those who don’t go on the mission, they have still given up all of their privacy rights. There are other concerns about that agreement, as well. has anyone looked into the legal ramifications that those who do not go on the mission, may be subjected to?

    • Thank you for your comment.

      I think that the privacy rights are being forfeited due to the reality show business. Millions of people will be watching you. There’s also the necessity for the producers of the supposed trip and the reality show to investigate your background. While the show producers may care a great deal, the trip means that you’ll be isolated with just three other people. Every one of those people must be secure in sharing this activity with the other three. The depth of the background check required means that you have to release everything including medical and criminal records.

      If you do not end up on the mission, then some of this information should not be shared outside of those with a need to know. I have no idea as to the laws respecting this issue.

      If you are on the reality show, then you’re giving up lots of your privacy during the video recording but should not have to divulge background information to the world. Again, I’m not the legal person to ask. Even were I knowledgeable in the law, it might be the wrong law. I could be a U.S. attorney, but the show being produced in the Netherlands would make me totally incompetent to judge these things.

      I don’t expect to have a good answer to this question because we don’t have the final word regarding jurisdiction as far as I know.

  55. Thanks, Harry. I agree with your interpretation and as far as being one of the final contestants, I fully understand the desire and need to have those people to be fully exposed for many of the reasons you mentioned plus others. This endevor is being broadcast to help in raise the funds, therefor, they will want to exploit everything the applicants do. (This is not being said in a negative manner, it’s just a necessity to promote the program) Although the eliminated applicants information shouldn’t need to be divulged, I saw nothing, in writing, saying that it wouldn’t be used down the road for whatever reasons “the company” or any of its subsidiaries chose to use it for. There was even a clause about them being exonerated for moral inpropriety, or something to that effect. Before I sign away all of my future privacy rights,I would like to know that I didn’t just give up thiose rights for life, should I not be selected.

    • I would feel the same way were I to apply. In some jurisdictions, you may be covered by the local law, but we don’t know that, or at least I don’t.

  56. I found this other site with an article posted on may 1st 2013(?), and written by a person named Stuart Debar. At least the last 3 paragraphs are directly lifted from this article. There is even more plagiarism through out the article. As well as both articles’ titles being identical to one another. So who’s plagiarizing who?
    Here’s the url to the other article.

    • Thank you for letting me know. The last FIVE paragraphs are word-for-word from my work. Seems that this is not just a blog but an online magazine that may even pay its authors.

    • I have sent a polite request for adding appropriate attribution to the article.

    • The article has been withdrawn with apologies.

  57. I wonder… if there are some nice lumps of ice out in the Belt or, failing that, orbiting the Sun (ie comets) that could be, with some effort, steered into a decaying orbit around Mars, to leak methane, water and whatever else into the atmosphere. That seems to be the cheapest and quickest way to raise the pressure, only…

    It’s a lot easier to do it before you have colonies on the ground that could be accidentally impacted (even a near miss or ejecta)

    Methane is really not the best – water is obviously prefered, followed by ammonia. But even methane would raise the surface pressure and cause some warming. It’s really the only way you’re going to get that kind of atmosphere on Mars in any time-frame shorter than centuries.

    You would want it to end up in the warmest region possible, to speed evaporation – even better, have your steering motor detach in front of the incoming payload and use the exhaust to slow it/melt it for the last several hundred orbits.

    Sure it sounds far out – the whole project is far out – but I think this is a more reasonable way to ‘improve’ the atmosphere of Mars than diddling around with lichens and pixie-dust (to melt the existing polar caps, which are unlikely to be more than dry ice)

    Further out you find one of these, smaller engine it takes to nudge it into the right orbit. Multiple, semi-automated attempts on smaller targets would be preferable.

    Let me pose it like this: Given a billion dollars, could you intercept a 500m diameter ball of ice within the orbit of Saturn and a time-frame of twenty years and put that into an low, decaying orbit 3km above the surface of Mars?

    Okay we need fifty of those.

    • Interesting thought. Some theories say that most of Earth’s water came from asteroid bombardment.

      Methane is fine because it’s not toxic. Ammonia is bad because it is toxic. Once enough oxygen is in the atmosphere, if ever, both will be broken down.

      The only way that asteroids could help Mars is if we found some that were going to pass close by. A robotic craft could fly out and nudge the asteroid into an intercept course. It’s the opposite of what we’d do if one was headed to Earth. Calculations would have to be precise to avoid destroying our settlers. If not too large, asteroid would burn up in atmosphere despite it being so thin. Not sure of what that size would be. If asteroid were large enough, it would impact ground and possibly awaken volcanic activity — a long shot, I know. Volcanoes do spew gases and would help with the atmosphere. More air is better no matter the composition.

      As we go through the novel, some ideas will surface that are wild but not as wild as cowboy asteroids.

    • Many of those asteroids are very icy. If so, they would break up in the Martian atmosphere and dump a bunch of water onto the planet. There may be plenty of water underground. Methane would be an addition to the greenhouse effect. Not sure that we can find that on asteroids.

  58. Forgot to add this

    Students Exploring the Universe with Radio Telescope
    A new program is giving middle-school-aged youth the chance to take remote control of a large, research-grade radio telescope and expand their cosmic explorations beyond what the eye can see. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s (NRAO) 20-meter-diameter telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, is joining a global network of telescopes bringing the excitement of hands-on research to young people via 4-H, the nation’s largest youth development organization.

    Anne Nealon, a student at Broadway High School in Rockingham, Virginia,
    remotely operates the NRAO 20-meter telescope from her school library.
    CREDIT: Russ Kohrs, NRAO/AUI/NSF
    The program, funded by the National Science Foundation, will provide some 1,400 4-H youth with access to robotically-operated, research-grade telescopes. They will use the telescopes to survey galaxies, track asteroids, monitor variable stars, and learn first-hand how scientific research is done.

    The telescopes are part of a world-wide network called Skynet. In addition to the NRAO 20-meter radio telescope, the network also includes a 24-inch optical telescope at the University of North Carolina’s Morehead Observatory; the 41-inch reflecting telescope at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin; six telescopes in Chile; and six more under construction in Chile and Australia.

    When the telescopes are not performing their primary scientific mission of observing gamma-ray bursts, they can be used for educational purposes. The new program, called Skynet Junior Scholars, will train 140 4-H leaders and other informal educators in West Virginia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. These leaders will then assist their 4-H club members in observing cosmic objects with the telescopes. Along the way they will be mentored by Skynet Junior Scholars staff and the scientists who use Skynet telescopes for their own research.

    The NRAO 20-meter telescope is the only radio telescope in the network, providing a unique capability for the young observers’ research. “Much of today’s professional astronomical research is multi-wavelength, with scientists using combinations of radio, optical, infrared, or other telescopes to gain a complete picture of the objects they study. Adding our 20-meter telescope to Skynet gives students the same ability and provides them with a better understanding of modern research,” said NRAO astronomer Glen Langston, who serves as the 20-meter telescope Project Scientist.

    The NRAO 20-Meter Telescope
    “Students really get jazzed when they experience the role of being a scientist first-hand. The 20-meter telescope allows us to provide that experience to anyone, anywhere,” said NRAO Education Officer Sue Ann Heatherly. “When a student realizes that he or she can successfully do science, it can be a game changer. Students are actually more likely to pursue STEM careers. 4-H recognizes the need for more scientists and engineers in the U.S. and so does NRAO. We want to do our part.”

    Heatherly is one of three principal investigators for the Skynet Junior Scholars program, along with colleagues from the University of North Carolina and The University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory. Under the program, which formally began October 1, 4-H club leaders may complete free professional-development workshops at NRAO in Green Bank, at Yerkes Observatory, or online through the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

    The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

    Skynet Web Site
    NRAO Education Programs

    • This is great stuff. The only problems are limited numbers of students who can use it and the amount of supervision required so that students do more than just look.

      You certainly can find ways around these problems given enough time. For example, access can be expanded by forming teams across the country. The preparation time requires trained coaches, and you can train teachers in what sorts of research can be done. You also can record sessions and play them back for other students so that real-time access is no longer a problem. That’s what my business does for science education.

  59. Thanks for a solid dose of (actual, not TV as Mars One intends) reality. I think ultimately you’re being kind and your article nicely objective; as far as I can see, Mars One is nothing but a publicity stunt intended to make a few people rich at the expense of others. I do believe in going to Mars, but half-baked promises based on a highly speculative funding model simply sound like the mid-late 19th century canal mania; of course we built the Panama and Suez Canals, but there were plenty of mad schemes that never got anywhere, and this sounds too much like those.

    • You could be entirely accurate. I just think that we should fully air the issues of going to Mars.

      I’d love to see us on Mars in my lifetime. However, I also tend toward a more conservative path to going there. A Moon base for transient occupation could test out many of the ideas for Mars with much less danger, although not anywhere near zero.

  60. It’s quite interesting that the Mars One project is unlikely but possible. It’s that hint of possibility that makes the whole thing so engaging. Protestations to the contrary, they are working right now with smoke and mirrors. I sincerely doubt that the people running this program would consider going themselves.

    Who will be first on Mars? Will it be NASA, an international consortium of nations, or private enterprise?

  61. I was just reading the BBC about lab-grown burgers, maybe this will be a good way forward to feed those living on mars, but again 10 years is optimistic maybe 20 years ideal for NASA in 2033

    • I too noted that.

      You may have read the rationale for this development was to reduce the environmental impact and having to raise and slaughter millions of animals daily. More greenhouse gases are emitted by raising cattle than by all of the automobiles in the world. Vast quantities of water are required as well.

      The technology for creating Petri-burgers is likely to be beyond the scope of what can be done on Mars. Meat, even raised in dishes, is unhealthy. This particular research is being done because people become used to eating meat, and it’s hard to get them to change even if it’s proven to be harmful to them. It would be easier just to have everyone stop eating beef, pork, and other mammal meats. We know that won’t happen. So, we’re seeking an alternative that has less negative impact on the planet.

  62. Another point is about Tooth Ache, there will need to be some very clever developments to be able to provide it. On Mars will there need to be some sort of Medical AI Robot and full Medical database?

    • In answer to your last sentence, an AI medical robot is a very unlikely development. A full medical database is almost certain to be included on suitable media and would take very little space or mass.

      Settlers must be self-sufficient and so will certainly be trained in medical procedures. These will include tooth extraction as well as the obvious bone setting, suturing, infusing of saline solution, use of anesthesia, sterile conditions, excision of lesions, and so on.

      Dentistry is making large technological strides of late. It may be that in 10-15 years, properly trained people will be able to fix ordinary dental problems without years of study.

  63. The 2 biggest problems I see about the proposed plan is the scale and water.

    first the scale. According to their site, they plan to send ahead 2500kgs of supplies. so in 2023 you will have a crew of 4 with anough food, water,air,tools,machinery etc. that would fit into a large moving van. and those figures do not include the proposed solar cells or batteries as you pointed out in previous posts would blow the 2500kg figure off the map. so you have 2 men, 2 woman and a van full of equipment and food on a planet with sparse energy and their only resorce being dirt. outside the pages of a sci-fi novel I cant see how they could do anything other then huddle in the dark and hope to live one more day.

    and those days would be very limited because aside from the radiation the one thing Mars One has been very good and side stepping is the issue of water and air. Both of these will need to be shipped in massive quantities, the proposed figure of 2500kg of supplies cannot possibly include air and water because even if that figure ONLY accounted for air and water it would not be nearly enough to sustain them for 2 years. so that leaves us with attaining water from Mars itself. The website does a good job of mumbling something about getting water from the soil but this is 100% untested and a complete wildcard. and again stretching the realms of sci-fi to think that they could extract enough water from the frozen soil to maintain all 4 of them for 2 years. The only confirmed source of water is at the poles, thousands and thousands of Kilometers away. So in order to make this venture work you cannot send 4 people and a box of hand tools and some seeds, you would need a massive venture, dozens of men and woman with a ship loaded with generators, building equipment, earth movers, and kilometers of pipeline. essentially your first priority would be to send enough crew and equipment to build a mining and processing plant at the pole. oh and a very very large nuclear generator to provide the energy because again as you pointed out solar energy alone barely gives them candle light and enough warmth not to freeze to death…..maybe.

    so can it be done with existing technology? yes I believe so…if it was a national or multi national venture stretching into the trillions of dollars then yes I believe without enough manpower and enough money we could gain a foothold on the planet but this pump up aproach of sending two couples, a hammer and a box of seeds is foolhardy at best.

    And that’s assuming they survive the landing because aside from shelter and resources the other issue they are very tight lipped on is actually landing there. in 2012 NASA was over the top with back patting and joy at the fact that they landed something the size of a small car safely on the surface. by comparison the supply ship and colony ship will be the size of a house. That feat alone will take more then our current level of engineering.

  64. Assuming the 4 man crew does not invent replicators to turn rocks into food,air,water and holly movies then you will have to grow the colony by feeding it supplies. this turns into a logistically nightmare because you want the colony to grow, so you send supplies with 4 colonists, 2 years later you send 4 more colonists only this time you need twice as many supplies, then 2 years later another 4 colonists only this time you need even more supplies. and this supply train would continue to grow and grow. the website says they plan for the colony to be self sustaining within 10 years but even if the colony survived and had some breakthrough by then that would allow them to become self sustaining, getting to that point is beyond realistic, at the 10 year mark we would be sending a supply ship that would rival a trans Atlantic freight ship in size. Even if the reality show took off, there is no way they could generate enough profit to maintain a supply mission of that scale.

    • The colony must be self sufficient within a few weeks to months in four life necessities: food, air, water, and energy. Without those, the entire mission is hopeless. Given sufficient energy, they can manage the others if a source of underground frozen water is close by. You can make oxygen from water. You can scrub the CO2 from the air with energy. You can grow food with light energy, water, CO2, and some basic nutrients that will be recycled: nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and trace nutrients that are available even on Mars.

      The supply problems the remain are more prosaic: clothing, toothbrushes, machinery, and the like. These wear out and break. With no organic resources, settlers will have to be capable of repairing or replacing all of these.

      As you imply, some of these are short-term issues while others are long-term. Clothing can be patched until new clothing arrives from Earth in the short term. In the long term, settlers must grow fibers to turn into thread, yarn, and cloth. The first four settlers would not be expected to have that capability. The necessary skills and equipment would come later.

      They’ll have 3D printers. Thermoplastic feedstock will have to replenished for quite some time as will other feedstock as more advanced printers arrive. Eventually, Mars will have to find a way to refine raw materials, plant and mineral. That will be a challenge.

      Freighters will not be necessary, but good planning will. A more important sustainability will be Earth-bound funding. Keeping the cash flowing for ten years will be another large challenge.

  65. Hi Don,

    Well, we assume two men and two women. The first colonists will, by the organizers’ admission, not be allowed to reproduce. The environment will be too harsh for infants and small children. Having one of these die on their reality TV would destroy ratings.

    WRT huddling in the dark, they will very much be living from day to day in a cold, dim environment but not as stark as you suggest.

    The planners have a plan for radiation that turns the habitat into an above-ground cave. They’ll heap three meters of lovely Martian regolith over it. This effort will take many months, but radiation can be tolerated for up to three years before a lifetime exposure is reached — with the expected levels.

    WRT water, there’s good evidence, although not proof yet, that water still flows on Mars. It’s just in one small area very specially situated and depends on the fact that highly contaminated water can stay liquid down to very low temperatures, almost to dry ice temperatures.

    Nevertheless, you are right about no proven location with water. Realize that much of the water will come with the settlers on the initial modules and will be recycled. They will only have to add to that supply to replace water lost to oxygen generation, leaks, and so on. They may only have to make a liter or so each week from local sources.

    They will certainly have to have a better source of heat than solar cells. I have some ideas about that in Martian Rhapsody.

    And, you’re also right about the habitat modules being the size of a very small house. Most of these won’t have to land as softly as Curiosity, and the final crew module can be softly landed by a good pilot. The first ones have to work independently and so won’t necessarily be able to land so softly but won’t have to.

    We can put four people on Mars in 10-15 years with enough supplies and know-how to last for about a year. Some good fortune along with incredibly great planning will be necessary for that. Due to the unexpected problems and even the expected ones being worse than we thought, the one-year milestone is crucial. They have to make it to two years. That will be tough. Just one serious problem will leave them with no backup. They’ll have used up extra supplies and/or cannibalized equipment just to survive. Another serious problem before the two-year resupply will spell the end of these brave and/or foolhardy adventurers.

    Recall that many of our early explorers from the fifteenth to the twentieth century lost their lives on what many considered foolhardy escapades. What happened to Amelia Earhart?

    If we can put people on Mars successfully for two years and then piggyback that success with four more — and so on, then the real issue will be making Mars itself livable. Martian Rhapsody explores this issue too.

    The unexpected may lurk on Mars, something no one thought possible. I’m not talking about aliens or ghosts real scientifically rationale dangers that are not be considered. Martian Rhapsody takes a pass at that as well.

  66. As you point out, the mission is theoretically possible but everything we have discussed in this post so far puts an enormous emphasis on the theoretical part. the mission MIGHT succeed if they are infused with a fantastic streak of good luck. As you pointed out. a single single mistake or piece of back luck (bad leak, decompressed modual) will endanger them, more then one accident may doom them. as you also pointed out the first settlers in any grand exploration mission met with sickening fatality rates but while many have compared this mission to previous historical missions I would like to counter that all of the previous explorations in history had a huge advantage over the Mars One colonists: they all had air and water, even if the land was harsh there was still rain and they could all live off the land because the land could grow crops. these are all advantages the Martian colonists do not have.

    The other major difference between past settlements and this proposed one is the scale. South America, The west, Australia, each of these were explored by large expeditions so the fatality rates could be absorbed. Lets assume you have a colony of 100 people and you loose half your crew in the first few months due to accidents and illness. you still have 50 explorers, the mission is viable. If the Mars One suffers a 50% loss they are down to two people and the odds are overwhelming that they will die shortly thereafter.

    all of this aside, Probably the biggest hole in this plan is the fact that they are doing a blind drop. they will send a rover to look for a good spot but a rover can only tell you so much, then they will drop 4 people with no way back. I think this is a stroke of hideous negligence on the part of the planners. I think in order to make a successful colony you absolutely need advance scouts. It is a must that you plan for a team with a return trip to scout out the environment for a few months first then report back. As you pointed out there are no doubt unforeseen dangers.

    This fear of unforeseen danger is emphasized by the fact that we only recently discovered that the soil on mars is covered in toxic chlorinated salts. Until this point we had no ready to think the dirt on Mars was fundamentally different then our own but now we know that the soil posses an extreme health risk. The idea that we may encounter another deadly surprise is very high.

    • Don, you hit on the biggest hole in the plans. The settlement location must be known more thoroughly, especially with respect to water resources. We know that they’re there somewhere under the surface, but no one can look deeply enough to estimate the volume available. We can only send so much water in the modules. Enough to last for two years, even with recycling, could scrub the entire mission.

      While perchlorates (not exactly chlorinated salts) are not your normal Earth salts, they are very soluble and are readily removed from the dirt. With some clever chemistry, they could even help produce energy. Heating them produces oxygen, another useful resource. They are strong oxidants and would not be something you’d like in your greenhouse soil or food, but they’re not toxic in the sense that arsenic, lead, and cyanide are. Upon decomposition of sodium perchlorate, you have ordinary salt and oxygen.

      Your remark about the unexpected is on point, nevertheless. In ten years, we can expect to know much more. Will it be sufficient to guarantee success? I doubt that we’ll ever be able to guarantee success. Will the likelihood of success reach the point of success in crossing a busy street or flying around the world? Perhaps. How about comparing it to scaling Everest? Lots of people spend lots of money to do that despite very strong risk of death. If going to Mars can have that low (or high depending on viewpoint) of a risk factor, then it will happen.

      There are many factors that can cause failure before or shortly after landing on Mars. They can all be minimized (but not eliminated). It’s survival past one Earth year that concerns me the most. So much can go wrong in that first year including insanity.

    • Don,

      You mention the ability to grow crops etc. that other pioneers had. To me that’s no big deal. What those earlier pioneers did have was a large energy resource in trees. They also had building material in wood.

      On Mars, there are no buried or living energy sources. There’s nothing you can use as a building material. Even if there were, it wouldn’t be airtight. You could not breathe the air even if you could compress to breathable pressures. Both the CO2 and CO content are toxic.

      No, you won’t see a Martian settler sitting on a porch whittling Martian rocks.

      Only by injecting lots of oxygen into the air can the future of Mars become viable for people. Only by having really good solar power can a modern society become possible there, although higher air pressure would make wind power feasible due to the very high speed of wind on a planet without a large moon.

  67. On we had discussed possible colony solutions (assuming a blank check budget) and several had suggested landing in a crater and sealing off the top and installing solar cells over the sealed surface of the crater. this would give you an enclosed environment where the geology did most of the work for you in excavating the earth for your settlement (is it still earth if you are on Mars?).

    Do you think sealing off the top of the Crater would be enough? would the walls of the crater keep an airtight seal?

    I have doubts that solar panels over the top of the crater would be enough, unless solar energy becomes a magnitude more efficient in the future I maintain that the colonists would need to rely heavily on nuclear energy.

    • Of course sealing off the top of the crater doesn’t do much good for radiation unless you formed the seal out of a massive network of tubes and filled those tubes with liquid hydrogen. to keep the hydrogen refrigerated would take even more energy.

      • Water would work but would freeze. The Mars One plan of 3 meters of dirt seems the least awful of all alternate schemes. However, the task of covering a crater would be overwhelming on energy-poor Mars.

        As far as the highly theoretical issue of airtight crater walls, the surfaces are not smooth and would pose a problem where the artificial cover met them. You certainly could find a sealant if you decided to do this, but it’s too much of a mid twentieth-century science-fiction approach. Covering a crater is way too ambitious for early Mars missions.

        For long-term Mars life, two things are crucial. One is air. The other is energy. If those can be fixed, then Mars settlements are feasible. Eventually, you might even see plants growing on Mars.

        I have to add that air on Mars (above the 0.01 bar there now) would be a curse and a blessing at the same time. With maybe 0.1 bar of 90+% oxygen, you could breathe the air if you adapted long enough. Having 0.15 bar or 0.2 bar would be much better. However, denser air would mean stronger winds. Given that the wind speeds reach 200 mph today, what would a more dense air do at those speeds?

        It would do two things. Firstly, it would be able to drive wind power generators for lots and lots of power. Secondly, it would blow down most structures and unprotected plants, especially trees.

        I have to assume that engineers can solve the problems and that air on Mars must happen to use the planet for living. It’s an enormous undertaking that I’ve considered in Martial Rhapsody along with many of the other things were discussing.

  68. I believe the minimal stable pressure for a human to breath in is .53 bars. I think .1 bar is still way to thin.

    I agree with that that the key to all of this lies in energy. with enough energy anything is possible and while the crater idea is far fetched, the reason we were considering it was based on the idea of starting off with a large enough space for a colony to grow rather then Begin with a small modual and having to expand out. but again this would be dependent on vast energy supplies.

    The Crater Idea not withstanding, and assuming access to a powerful energy supply I think Liquid Hydrogen would be a better solution for radiation protection then using water or soil. first it would be more effective then water and its 14 times less massive then water so you wouldn’t have nearly the issues of strain and stress on the modual walls. but again this all comes down to energy because solar panels just wouldn’t do it. the Hydrogen would have to be kept at -253C to be stable. Using soil walls is far more energy conservative but opens up a can of worms when considering structural integrity .

    One final advantage to using Liquid hydrogen shielded walls is that they could be transparent and allow sunlight into greenhouses and such.

    • I did some quick calculations a while back that fit with what my gut feeling was. Three meters of sand produces a pressure of about 1/5 atm. Given the necessary internal air pressure, it should come close to a balance. Structural integrity would be better without the air pressure constantly threatening to explode the habitat.

      People live now at altitudes that have a pressure of around 0.75 bar. You cannot go much lower without oxygen supply issues. However, that’s at about 1/5 fraction of oxygen in the air. Having 100% oxygen would be toxic at 1.0 bar. Our space missions, I believe, use 100% oxygen at around 0.2 bar. I’ll have to check, but if so, then we could drop to the partial pressure of O2 at altitude, maybe 100% oxygen at 0.16 bar would even work. Someone must have studied all of this for space flight long ago.

      Liquid hydrogen is just too exotic for a primitive situation such as the first Mars settlement.

    • The following article details how people have adapted to living at extremely high altitudes and subsequently, very low pressure but no human has adapted to the point where they can survive at 25,000ft above sea level (aprox. .37 bars).…evolution.html

      • Of course the article I am citing is talking about Earthbound respiration of typical Nitrogen/Oxygen air. As you stated, using pure O2 would alter the pressure requirements but I am still skeptical of going as low as .16bars.

  69. this conversation is beyond expectations.

  70. thank you for all the information leading to the conclusion that i don’t want to be apart of the mars one mission.

    • James,

      Thank you for visiting. My personal preference is being a part of the conversation but not the actual mission.

      There were those who attempted to reach the South pole. They knew the risks were severe and many perished. I’m simply not THAT person.

  71. I am all for the idea of exploration. I think exploring Mars and even setting up an outpost would be a tremendous scientific milestone. It is just this particular approach to that mission that I have doubt and criticism for. If NASA announced they were going to Mars in 2023 I would believe it. But as we have pointed out the many holes over the last few months, Mars One has a very noble dream but unfortunately not a lot of reality behind that dream.

    • With Inspiration Mars aiming for 2018 and NASA looking at a round trip in around 15 years, Mars One is merely pushing the envelope. Well, not merely. They have money on their minds too.

      I maintain that 2023 is just a magic number that’s too far to discount entirely the possibility of new inventions and lots of money making it possible. It’s simultaneously soon enough to capture people’s imaginations. Any slip would have to be around two years. IF they stay in business, I’m betting on a double slip to 2027 (give or take due to two years being imprecise). They probably know that that’s a more reasonable date but would not have 100,000 people ponying up money to be considered if they told the truth.

      This sort of show person always stretches the truth and sometimes tells outright lies. Why not 2023, you can imagine them saying among themselves, it’s POSSIBLE. Sure, it’s unlikely in the extreme, but after around five years, we can just announce that unexpected engineering problems force a delay of two years. So, it’s 2018 and the date is now in 2025, only seven years hence. In 2021, they make another similar announcement for a launch date of 2027. Gee, only six more years, but now they’re in the soup because they have to send their first unmanned supply modules six years before manned launch.

      This simple fact makes the above scenario a joke. The real drop-dead date is six years before launch or 2017 for the 2023 launch date. That’s when the first supply launch must happen. Only magic will get us there from here, IMO. OTOH, ten years to first supply launch is entirely possible. Even eight could be made with some luck and lots (and lots and lots) of sweat and money. That logic puts them pretty much aligned with NASA’s schedule for the first landing and return.

      Oops! NASA getting there at the same time would take lots of wind out of their sails.

      Finally, I just think that going it alone is a losing strategy for a program of this magnitude. Now that they’ve made their splash, they should seek partners such as NASA to help make the entire program of Mars exploration a reality and not just a reality show.

  72. the very fact that the majority of the mission was being funded by a reality TV show put me on the offensive right away.

    The many technical issues and engineering and logistical problems not withstanding let us look at the reality TV portion that is set to fund this whole operation.

    They have announced that the reality TV program will begin right away and take us from the beginning, starting with the initial pool of applicants then follow them through training and selection until we have the final group of colonists, which the audience will ultimately choose.

    This is a 10 year process (assuming they don’t postpone like you predict Harry…which I am inclined to agree with you) so this show will go on for 10 years following the rigorous training and selection processes….. I am doubtful that it would capture people’s attention for more then a season. As evidence I submit a reality TV show many years ago that followed Cirque du Soleil, the selection of various applicants and their training to join the troupe. it was fairly low on drama as reality TV shows go and as such it lasted I believe 13 episodes. That brings me to my main point: Drama. reality TV shows are fueled by drama, its a staple and very much expected ingredient. those shows that have lasted many years have mastered how to milk as much drama and back stabbing as possible out of reality TV casts. This same formula would spell disaster for a real life mission such as sending people into space. If the mission is to have any chance of success you want your crews to work together as well as possible and have the absolute minimum of drama. But no drama would mean no interest and thus no ratings.

    Even assuming that the show manages to limp along for 10 years, we then have the catch that the audience picks the crew, again this spells disaster in more languages then I can speak because a random selection based on who seems more glamorous or more devious or more exciting (as interpreted by Joe public) is NOT the crew you want to send on an extremely dangerous and sensitive mission.

    Then the crew lands on Mars and the show is broadcasting their exploits 24/7 (according to the website) again technical issues of streaming live video from Mars not withstanding, The audience on this planet will not stay glued to their seats day in and day out to watch 4 people sitting in pods and not moving much or doing a lot of anything exciting (because in a limited environment you want to conserve as much energy as possible) so the audience decides after a few months that they have followed the show for 10 years, they know the crew, they watched the crew get there, the crew doesn’t seem to do anything so they get bored and turn off their sets (or tablets),


    Now what? This was your whole plan to keep these 4 men and woman alive, this was your cash cow. This was how you were going to fund a steady stream of supplies to Mars….but the show goes off the air so what do you do now? how do you get supplies to your crew? will the government step in and fund emergency relieve? which government, this was an international hodge podge….. and as we all know international co-operation is an effortless and speedy process right?

    Even if the show stayed on the air, sending a supply ship will cost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. That in and of itself should raise enough red flags to keep this plan from making it off paper.

    So Engineering and science aside I think The first responsibility that Mars One has is to come up with a realistic model to properly fund and support the colonists before they build some much as a single seat for the ship.

    • Hi Don,

      You have explained very well one of the three major problems with this effort. The first is the obvious technical issues. The second is having settlers maintain sanity in the face of an unending, dull, and hostile environment outside the habitat and a dull and monotonous internal environment the same four people for at least two years. The third is raising the money and keeping it flowing over the continuing two-year cycle as you have explained.

      Without the threat of giant insects or other Martian life, the reality show quickly becomes very dull. Little changes. Instead of 24/7 live streaming, weekly digests of the best moments may work. Only about 43 minutes are required for an hour show after all. Also, only about 22 episodes are required per year to make money so that you can skip around. The summer especially can use some decent programming.

      Still, without some sort of “hook,” the show will have only the most Mars-loving viewers, perhaps not enough to generate the requisite viewership. I think that Mars One is foolish and not really very creative to limit themselves to this funding mode. If they attempt to do so, then the first manned launch will simply not happen, either because of insufficient funds for the various launches or because it will be obvious that they won’t be able to continue and so will be launching a suicide mission, albeit a very slow suicide on Mars without any resupply or additional people.

      Having the audience involved in picking the crew is very foolish unless there’s really not much difference among the final choices. Even so, the audience vote must not be decisive.

      I have ideas about solving these problems. I hope that Mars One does too or will just admit that the entire idea was folly. Without more ideas, better ideas, and not so much of a Pollyanna attitude, this plan will fail.

      • I agree with you that there is a very high probability that this endeavor will fail. there are just too many question marks. Mars One seems to be taking an overly optimistic approach that unfortunately is unwarranted due to lack of preparations. Years ago there was article stressing the proper preparations when trekking in the wilderness. The article stemmed from a local story in Alaska where a young out of towner hick hiked his way into the rural country with the dream of back packing through the hard country, wanted to recapture the spirit of the great explorers. the last town he passed through ( I forget the name as its been 15 years) the locals warned him that it was foolish because he had no prior experience with camping or any wilderness training at all. he optimistically insisted he could do it and set out of town. he was found dead from exposure two weeks later. I get the same feeling when I read about Mars One.

        I stressed in my last post all the problems with the idea of funding through a reality program but the biggest problem is that its not permanent. in order for this to work the need to plan for a continuous source of income for supplies and unfortunately that is the stopping point, greater then all the technical hurdles because the one thing as a race that we have not achieved is a guarantee of continuous funding for anything. call it a weakness of our economy but nothing lasts forever. Forever is what you need to plan for in this case because you have no return trip. Even if the Mars reality TV becomes the Truman show of real life and it brought forth a river of funding….nothing lasts forever. no show in history has lasted forever(not even the Truman Show). No government sponsored program has lasted forever. Even some of the most successful companies in history eventually fade.

        Mars One gives no worry to the lack of continuous funding because their plan hinges on the flawed premise that the colony will be self sustaining in 10 years. But that will not be the case. As we explored earlier here, it will take a tremendous effort. a staggering amount of manpower and machinery and mind boggling amounts of power before the colony can provide for itself. that wont happy in 10 years with 20 people and a handful of pods and solar cells.

        The only two ways this could work is if The colonists had a lock in for continuous supplies and manpower, not just 20 colonists and 10 years of supplies but an ever increasing chain of supplies and people and many decades, perhaps centuries before they could produce everything they need. The other way would be for a huge nationwide or planet wide shove in the beginning. trillions of dollars and a massive push of factories and landscape altering. Mars One offers neither of those approaches. thus their plan is doomed from the start.

        • Hi Don,

          Good analysis. I am also not sanguine but not quite as gloomy as you.

          On Mars itself money is, of course, useless. Getting supplies from Earth for a new trips will be very important for survival. The big trick will be transitioning to self-sustaining. It’s not impossible, just super unlikely with today’s technology.

          The settlers can grow enough food to survive. They can have enough heat and electricity for maybe 100 years. If they can get enough additional supplies before Earth cuts them off, they can last longer.

          One hundred years is a long time. By the end of a century, self-sustaining Martian colonies may well be very possible. Even the gloomiest of pundits would concede that.

          So, it’s all about the next year, the next two years, the next decade, etc. after first landing. I see a number of critical milestones that can spell success or death (and failure, of course).

          First off, let’s all agree that living conditions will be harsh, physically and mentally. That harshness (no medical facilities, no picnic parks, and so on) will grind into the beings of the settlers and may unsettle them sufficiently to doom the entire enterprise. “You mean you REALLY meant it when you said no return?!”

          Assuming that the more direct technical problems can be overcome (getting there, radiation shielding, water sources, electrical sufficiency, air leak prevention, and so on), the settlers will soon be living a dull and spare life. Spare supplies along with good planning will allow survival for about a year, assuming no catastrophe.

          The second year will be a huge challenge. Things will begin to wear out. Some may not have been planned for adequately. Settlers will have to cannibalize one machine to repair another and may run out of options before the two-year mark. If the funding continues, then two years on, the relief column arrives. Also, if people are turned off by viewing the setters’ lives, recruitment could be a serious problem.

          With four new settlers and more supplies, the surviving original settlers have a better shot at another two years. If funding and volunteers can continue for the entire five-launch sequence, then they have a small chance to go to twenty years. (Lots of ifs here.)

          The long-term survival of a Martian colony depends heavily on altering the atmosphere. Without a plan for that, it’s all futile.

  73. I am not gloomy about the prospects of a martian colony….just the prospects of a Mars One Colony. :)
    If I honestly thought they were serious I might give them more support.

    I agree that if they can make it to the century mark they will have good odds but getting to that point in the manner currently laid out will take a lot of innovations and a much beefier funding plan. Its entirely possible that if they can make it to the century mark then they could conceivably constructed facilities to manufacture batteries and solar cells as well as other synthetics such as 3D printer stock. getting to the point where they can construct those facilities will be really amazing but I wont say impossible because a century is a very long time for us. In the last century we have transformed our society to a degree that would be difficult for the average person from 1913 to comprehend. so I am willing to believe that if we set up camp on Mars and can keep the colony maintained for the next century who knows what will be around to assist them.

    • Yes, it’s a great deal about how and when to start. It’s also about what to do about air.

      Currently, manufacturing on Mars is not a possibility but it must be someday.

  74. In the short run, technology can probably allow a subsistence sort of living on Mars for a time. Repairs will be a major issue, and spare parts must be available as well as spare raw materials. Three-D printing will be very advanced in ten years and could be an important part of the repair system. The design for a given part could be sent from Earth for the printers. At least one printer might use solar power directly to fuse Mars “sand” to make parts. We cannot know exactly where 3-D printing will be in ten years and so cannot make better predictions. It could be the savior of a future Mars settlement project.

    True manufacturing of larger objects requires raw materials. Currently all such operations require refining of ores or of petroleum feedstock. The latter will not be available on Mars. Vegetable feedstock from farming will be to small to use for organic-based manufacturing. Refining of inorganic materials requires lots of digging, which must have plenty of energy. Then, the actual refining of, for example, iron oxides to iron metal takes lot more energy. Energy is in short supply on Mars. Currently, only solar energy is available. In ten years, the technology could be better, more efficient and more robust, but there’s an upper limit to efficiency of solar cells and we’re already about 1/5 of the way there with no real hope of reaching 100%. The same is true of battery technology. For batteries, nanotechnology holds the hope for much better batteries with higher energy density and longer life.

    If solar cell and battery technology advance rapidly enough, then a Mars settlement in under 20 years becomes less of a subsistence venture, and the hope of huge solar arrays creating large amounts of energy could presage real manufacturing, but there’s a catch. The solar cells and batteries would have to be capable of being made on Mars — a bootstrap operation.

    The other major change on Mars must be air. Current space suits use 100% oxygen at 1/5 of atmospheric pressure (if I have my facts right) to get the same partial pressure of oxygen as we have here. You can reduce that to 1/6 atm and still function well. How much oxygen would you have to generate on Mars to reach that level across the entire planet? Where would the oxygen come from? How much energy would be required to release it? These are important questions for the long-term future of Mars. Lichen won’t do. They’d take millenia.

  75. Recent Advances in both Battery tech and solar cells make the future of Mars habitation look a little more realistic. There is currently an untested design for a new cell that if it pans out will double the efficiency of Solar power generation. 3D printing has had a huge impact on battery tech as well, I just read an article on it and it seems with 3D printers they can produce cells that are truly tiny yet no less efficient so you get a battery of the same size but with much higher density. If both of these designs take hold it would greatly improve our prospects.

    As for Terra forming, that’s a distant prospect. I agree one that is needed if we are ever to truly thrive on Mars but large scale alteration of a planet’s biosphere takes unbelievable amounts of energy and time. As you pointed out as well, where would the O2 come from? everything comes from somewhere. currently and even in the near future we don’t have anywhere near the technology or energy to produce a planet wide amount of O2. If Mars had Oceans and we have an unlimited energy supply we could release the O2 from the water over a course of many generations. But that would take more water then Mars currently has, even at the polar caps.

    If we look into the very distant future, if we branch out and gain the capability of our entire solar system (what Dr. Michio Kaku refers to as a type II civilization) then it becomes possible because we could tap the raw materials of other bodies in the system. Transport the water from Europa and Nitrogen from Titan and you could construct an atmosphere like our own. But currently this is the purest of Sci-Fi talk, we are easily a thousand years from such an ambitious plan.

    Any currently permanent facility on Mars will have to remain a closed one, with enough time an energy I would think moving the living facilities underground would be best but again this is going to take generations of excavation.

    stay tuned for the next 100 years.

    • Thank you for the continuing dialog, Don.

      Yes, we must have nearly unlimited energy for Mars. May the fusion projects bear fruit!

      An interesting side note. Mars above the permafrost level is strangely devoid of hydrogen, the most common element in the universe — by a huge margin. This lack may have important consequences for the future of Mars settlements. Can’t say for sure how much. On Earth the surface is saturated (in a sense) with hydrogen.

  76. Harry its always a pleasure to have someone you can hold an intelligent conversation with.

    I actually had no read about the lack of hydrogen but I am very curious, do you have a citation?

    • Sorry, Don. That’s merely a surmise based on evidence accumulated during my research. The air has none. It’s mostly CO2. The rocks are not hydrated, at least not on the surface. There are no hydrocarbons (surprise! haha).

      Any hydrogen is buried. How deeply? Can’t say. Could be just a meter or less.

      Water not only sublimates at the surface but is broken into oxygen and hydrogen by the strong UV and other ionizing radiation strafing the surface of Mars. Once H2 forms in the Martian air, it has the highest velocity of any air molecule. I’s also the least dense and so rises naturally to the heights of the atmosphere where its high velocity readily overcomes the weak pull of Martian gravity and it’s off to space with the hydrogen.

      Reading analyses of Martian “soil” shows no hydrogen-containing minerals. It’s fairly certain now that Mars has water frozen beneath the surface where the regolith is sufficiently deep. Where else might hydrogen reside in more than trace amounts?

      You won’t find any LiH or BeH2 or boron hydrides on the rather oxidized surface of Mars. It has perchlorates! Any CH4 would be long gone as would any NH3. Too volatile. We know about H2O. HF? Forget it. That’s the first 8-element period. As for Na, Mg, Al, Si, P, S, and Cl, well, those are mostly oxides where you find them. I haven’t see any suggestions of NaOH, Mg(OH)2, Al hydroxides, or even H2S.

      It’s just something that caught my fancy.

  77. If Hydrogen were more plentiful it could have been a real boon to the colonists. assuming sufficient energy and easy access to hydrogen you can extract alot of resources. Mix the Hydrogen with with CO2 we exhale and you can synthesize water and methane, store the methane and you now have another energy source. consume some of water and use the rest to break it down to hydrogen and oxygen. breath the oxygen and exhale CO2, mix the CO2 with the Hydrogen and repeat.

    • Not quite so simple. CO2 + H2 -> C + H2O (not balanced). Further reduction of C to make methane will not happen so readily. While thermodynamically favored, this reaction has a very large activation energy. Even heating carbon in hydrogen to rather high temperatures produces C2H2 (acetylene) instead of methane.

      Four people will produce a relatively trivial amount of CO2 in any event. I say relatively because in terms of water and carbon production, it’s not very useful.

      Note also that H2 is a nice fuel in its own right. I imagine the ships to Mars operating on H2 + O2 and having some left over in the tanks to use for burning more slowly for heat and water — maybe even to use in fuel cells.

      If any hydrogen were available on Mars, it would not be in the free form of H2 gas. It would be bound up in compounds, mostly water, and would be unavailable. OTOH, generation of oxygen in the habitat would most likely be by electrolysis of water, and that would create H2 as a by-product. It would take energy to compress it for storage. How to use it afterward is unclear. Making water would use up precious oxygen.

      The key to Mars is oxygen. Would be interesting to calculate exactly how many metric tonnes of O2 would be required to create a pressure on Mars of 1/6 bar. Not exactly sure how to make this calculation. Perhaps, assume the end result. Treat air as though all at same pressure. Calculate mass of column of O2 at that pressure to get pressure. Shouldn’t be too hard as a rough estimate. Multiply amount of O2 per unit area by area of Martian surface. O2 is 32 g/mol. STP gives us 22.4 l/mol. Multiply by 6 to get Martian end result desired: 134.4 l/mol or about 1/4 g/l. The pressure we seek is 1/6 bar or 16,666 N/m^2. Mars gravity is 38% of Earth. Earth’s acceleration due to gravity is 9.8 m/s^2; on Mars it’s 3.7 m/s^2. F=ma. One liter of O2 at 1/6 bar on Mars weighs about 0.25 g/L * 1 l * 3.7 m/s^2 = 0.93 g-m/L-s^2. That’s 0.00093 kg-m/L-s^2 = 0.00093 N/L. One square meter of Mars surface must have 16,666 N of force from air pressure. That’s 16,666 / 0.00093 L = about 18 million liters. Mars surface area is about 144.8 million km^2. Call it 1.5×10^8 km^2 or 1.5×10^14 m^2. So we must make 2.7×10^15 liters of O2 (at Mars pressures) or around 6.7×10^14 g = 6.7×10^11 kg = 6.7×10^8 metric tonnes, 670 million metric tonnes of O2.

      The number is huge but not astronomical.

      I just realized that I could have done the calculation in a much shorter way. Sigh.

  78. Those figures are assuming a 1/6 bar atmosphere of O2 but I think you would need to increase the figures because a pure O2 atmosphere would not be advisable. I did a little research and NASA no longer goes the pure oxygen at 20% pressure route anymore. the current atmosphere on the ISS is 101.3KPa with a high concentration of Nitrogen similar to Earth air. the pure O2 mixture was abandoned due to safety issues. apparently the solid O2 mixture resulted in a disaster for the Apllo 1 crew. (I actually didn’t know this, learn something new every day)

    A solid atmosphere of O2 would have lots of complications, flammability being one of them. I would also think that free O2 would be highly reactive and readily mix with other compounds , including the gasses that the inhabitants would exhale. wouldn’t carbon monoxide begin to build up? correct me if I am wrong on that.

    • The Grissom et al. tragedy of Apollo I was due to a number of factors. One was 100% O2 at a pressure above atmospheric. Such high pressure oxygen causes otherwise inert materials to burn violently. The inside of the cabin was filled with velcro, which is such a material.

      Reactions in gas phase have equilibria dependent upon partial pressures of the gases. We depend on our air having a partial pressure of oxygen of about 0.2 bar. Whether that’s 100% O2 at 0.2 bar, 50% O2 at 0.4 bar, or 20% O2 at 1.0 bar makes little difference.

      Reaction rates are more complex, depending on numbers of collisions per unit time and the energy of those collisions (temperature). The lower pressure would tend to compensate for the higher concentration almost completely. The primary difference for fires is that the inert case might siphon off some of the energy and make a fire a bit less violent, but not markedly so.

      While terraforming Mars would require more than just air, the air is crucial. It’s also the largest factor I see. The less of it you have to make, the better. Using pure O2 at partial pressures of high mountain villages is the best way to go. The advantages are huge. There’s nothing flammable on Mars, except what we bring there. However, flammability is not really an issue any more than it is here on Earth.

      I cannot speak to NASA’s decisions regarding ISS or space suits. The space suits operate at 0.29 atm.

  79. Thats good to know, thanks for clarifying. I didn’t take into account the lower pressure and also much cooler ambient temperature of Mars would help to stabilize things.

    as to the space suits, I should have been more specific in my last post, it is only the ISS that keeps a full pressure near Earth Mix. the suits are still kept at low pressure pure O2 in order to allow flexibility, at a full bar of pressure the poor astronaut would be stiff as a board with his arms and legs jutting outward. personally I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the early testing of the space program to see them figure that out through trial and error :D

    I get the feeling that the ISS is kept at 1.01 bars for the comfort of the astronauts and cosmonauts. considering they spend 6 month tours up there, it makes for an easier transition back to earth if their bodies didn’t adapt to 1/5 pressure over the time there.

    • The expeditions up at the ISS also spend their time performing expermiments. most of the later expiditions have been concentrating on the effects of micro gravity on the body. from an experiment point of view, if you are looking for the effects one stimuli(or lack of stimuli) has on the body you would want all other conditions to be earth like to rule out contamination of the experiment.

      that is my thought anyway.

    • I’m sure that you’re right about that. Have to wonder what the impact of lower pressure would be on long-term living. Also, what happens when astronauts don a space suit and leave the ISS for EVA. Won’t sudden lower pressure cause the bends as saturated N2 comes out of solution in blood. It works. So, they know what they’re doing.

      Interesting side effect of having an entire module at low pressure is much lower boiling point of water. At around 0.16 bar, it’s something like 56°C. That’s far below 100°C. Couldn’t boil eggs. Good thing it’s well above body temperature, though. It’s near to the usual temperature of water heaters. Enough for a mild first-degree burn.

      Re: 2nd comment. Could be right but at quite a price in equipment and heavier walls to keep in higher pressure. I guess you can test impact of pressure right on Earth but not microgravity.

  80. Re: The bends. most people don’t think about that I bet. Decompression sickness is typically thought with deep sea divers but you are right on the money that its an issue for astronauts too. Space walks are not the instantaneous events that the movies portray, on the ISS (starting with expedition 12)the preparation for an EVA is an overnight stay in a special modual to normalize their bodies to the low pressure of the suit, during this preparation they pre breath pure O2 to help flush nitrogen from their bodies. that is also one of the reasons they breath pure O2 during their walks, flexibility of the suit is one, but breathing pure O2 further reduces the issues of decompression.

    Back in the late 80s NASA build a Hard shell suit that used ball bearings for the joints. this design allowed for the occupant to be kept at full pressure. I never heard any follow ups on the design however and as far as I know it is not in use today so I guess they ran into issues with reliability of the joints staying flexible.

    • Keeping the Station at full pressure could also be for operational efficiency. If the station were kept at 1/5bar then any new crew coming onboard would have to sit in the airlock for 8-10 hours before boarding the station. By keeping the ISS at 101KPa, a crew can dock then come onboard right away.

    • Thank you, Don. Excellent contribution to this discussion.

      Second comment is especially apropos. Good reasoning!

  81. How about making a satelite which travels to ice asteroids and or other asteroids and then steers those asteroids to mars to increase gravity and water on mars to terraform it?

    • Hi Nick,

      Very creative!

      I’m not convinced that a greater gravity on Mars is necessary. It took millions of years, maybe tens of millions, to remove the atmosphere. If we can replace it, it will hang around for quite a while. Then, there’s the problem that an asteroid large enough to add even 1% to the Mars gravity would wreak havoc on Mars when it impacts the planet, sort of like the extinction of dinosaurs on Earth. I guess that wouldn’t be a problem if no one is there, but the times required to seek, find, and steer asteroids to Mars would be on the scale of many decades. I’m sure that we’ll have habitation on Mars by then. We have to find a faster way.

      Assuming that you could make a robotic vessel with enough fuel to travel around the asteroid belt, find suitable asteroids, and nudge them toward Mars, the result could add to the water on Mars. Indications are that there is plenty of water on Mars to support human habitation. Possibly, additional water will not be necessary. The dangers to life on Mars, once it’s there, are too great to pursue this approach unless we delay settlement for a century or so.

  82. Other challenges to using asteroids, would be the power and complexity of the craft needed. Right now our probes are amazingly complex yet extremely delicate and light weight objects. Currently NASA has plans to capture an near Earth asteroid but it will be an extremely small one, last reports I read said they were looking for an object a few meters in size. To re direct an asteroid that would have sizable amounts of water(likely hundreds of meters in size) would take tremendous amount of power to tug said object out of its path and precision direct it to land on a specific spot on Mars.

    capturing asteroids might be a good idea for down the road, maybe not slamming them into Mars but parking them in Mars orbit so the colonists have ready access to water and other raw materials on the asteroid but this would have to be very far down the time line because our technology is just not there yet.

    • I agree that the technology for bringing asteroids to Mars is not fully developed. The theory is simple enough. Find asteroids in the right orbits so that you can “nudge” them out of orbit. It will take several years for that nudge to result in an encounter with Mars.

      The precision simply does not exist to make that encounter result in an orbit around Mars. You’d have to meet the asteroid on its way and make some adjustments. I really don’t see that happening. It would also be quite difficult to pinpoint the “crash site” of the asteroid.

      The whole scheme is extremely perilous and would produce only minute improvements in either gravity or water supply. In time, the low gravity may prove to be a boon. Fewer backaches, for example. :-)

    • Capturing primarily water and gas asteroids for Mars terraforming needs to be a priority, due to the potential for accidents once any kind of permanent infrastructure is established. It will be beneficial activity as the intercept must be made some distance away (and therefore detection and analysis even further out) so that it can be nudged into low Mars orbit with the least energy possible (we don’t want to land them, we want them to disintegrate 5 to 10 km above the surface). This operation requires precision rather than brute force with current technology – although we are capable of nuclear explosions, the most energy with the least mass that might be conceived of, that would be imprecise…

      Although a nuclear charge that broke up an asteroid at the correct velocity and proximity might produce a very nice distribution of smaller pieces… At present I don’t believe it’s legal under space law to lift a nuke into orbit, so unless we have some way to assemble them off-planet (and even that would make a lot of folks very nervous) it’s not even an option. My preference would be fast, light intercepts at great distances where even a small nudge could have huge effect.

      Now if I gave you an enormous chunk of frozen methane and water, could you convert that into fuel in situ?

      • Does anyone have an estimate of the fraction of asteroids that contain significant amounts of water versus those that are mostly rocky? Might be a needle in a haystack.

        The final tally is not yet in on the amount of available water on Mars. Before spending lots of effort on the asteroid solution, we should know it’s necessary. There’s evidence of a large sea on the early Mars landscape.

        The Martian atmosphere is thin (1% of Earth at surface) but strong enough to burn up high-speed small meteorites. What is the largest size that will burn up before hitting the surface? I don’t know. It’s certainly much smaller than on Earth.

        Not sure about nukes to break up asteroids and send pieces to Mars. Being rocky, they’d have some elements that would become radioactive. Most half-lives are reasonably short, but the debris would be scattered all over the planet.

        The time required for a nudged asteroid to reach Mars would be years.

        A large chunk of frozen water and methane is unlikely to be found. If it were, it would have lots of sand and rocks in it. Heating those materials would jettison them into space unless confined. That means mining, transporting, sealing, heating (with solar electricity?), electrolyzing water to get H2 and O2 (with more solar — don’t need methane if you do that), and then funneling to rocket nozzles to burn. My take: beyond all hope.

        • What about a massively parallel effort?

          Cheap erector vehicle accompanied by fourteen sensor vehicles; primary solar sail, secondary gas jets

          X 10000

          Erector sets up a mast, sensors rendezvous, whole thing turns into a solar sail and start to slow that puppy down.

          Destination: near Mars orbital path.

          It would be overly optimistic to aim for a breathable atmosphere, although it would be nice to at least grow edible crops out in the open.

          Early goals would be to warm the planet and lower surface radiation (I can’t remember how much of our protection is due to atmosphere and how much to magnetosphere).

          • It would take decades for solar sails (if you could build and steer them remotely) to move even a small asteroid to Mars orbit. It’s all about momentum and inertia.

            I would certainly aim for breathable atmosphere or at least an atmosphere that did not require Mars suits. Maybe the equivalent of scuba gear. The poisonous nature of Mars air would have to be changed and must oxygen added. Too much CO2 and CO in current atmosphere, if you can even call 1% of Earth an atmosphere.

            I think it can be done within a generation, maybe faster IF we choose to do so. Getting the pressure up to at least 17% of Earth would be the major issue. As I’ve commented here, it would take 670 million metric tonnes of O2 to do that. This number is not astronomical. It’s not even mind-bending. It is, however, huge.

            Blocking radiation is another story. The O2 would help with UV because of the O3 formation in upper atmosphere. No possible amount of air will stop cosmic and solar radiation of the high-energy ion type. We have lots of air PLUS magnetic field to deflect and stop ions. Outdoor activities on Mars would be limited — forever. We cannot get that core magneto going on Mars. There is the possibility of generating local magnetic fields to shield colonies IF enough energy can be found.

          • No remote steering – completely autonomous. Knows only what it’s looking for (less than 500m diameter, greater than 50% potential liquid and gas) where it is, where Mars orbit is and how to achieve a reasonably gentle meeting of the two by dragging its butt. Decades is probably the time-frame we need to look at for terraforming.

            Main drawback is that it interferes with any human activity in the vicinity until the operation is over, although it would take several years for incoming to begin. They need a self-destruct, something that detects an hourly ping from Earth within some time frame – six months maybe – and failing that is armed.

  83. That and you would feel like superman, at least until your body
    acclimated to the lower gravity.  but when you first got there you
    could impress your friends by leaping over the habitat in a single
    bound :)

    I agree that the technology and mathematics to use Asteroids in the
    manner we were speaking is way off, its not feasible for anytime in the
    foreseeable future.  Crashing them into the surface would not only
    endanger any settlement there, but if you *coudlnt* pinpoint where the
    asteroid crashed it would be useless to the settlement because
    realistically if the rock was rich in water and metals but landed even
    100 miles away it might as well be a world away as far as the early
    settlement is concerned. point in reference: your scenario for the
    colony on Mars

    • I don’t think anyone *knows* what the long-term effects of 38% gravity would be except for a certain measure of osteoporosis and some muscle atrophy. I doubt that it’s quantitative at this time.

      Given that P.E. = mgh and that your jump effort puts a certain amount of energy into it, you should be able to jump about 2-1/2 times as high as on Earth. At my age, I can jump about a foot. :-( So, leaping over the habitat is not in the cards for me. Some volleyball players I know can jump three feet or more and would be able to hit the 8-foot mark on Mars. Wow! Imagine volleyball on Mars. Imagine basketball where even the weak players can dunk with ease — until their muscles atrophy. Imagine football where you can pass the length of the field readily (as a pro quarterback) and ends can jump up and reach to 15 feet to snag a pass. Soccer would not change all that much except that kicking the ball in the air would more often result in out of bounds. Baseball would be impossible because nearly every fly ball would become a home run. Water sports would mostly be the same, though.

      On the other topic, distances would be a huge problem early on. Eventually, a long-distance rover would have to become available. I see NASA and NSF funding such a development so that settlers can range far to do science for them. It’s one export that Martians can provide — Mars science. Nothing physical can be exported from Mars to Earth at anything close to a rational cost. You could send back Mars “trophies” (rocks, for example) for millionaires though.

  84. I agree that any sort of physical export from Mars inst likely until a much more efficient transport is invented. So Far the Orion Project is the only feasible rapid transport I have see that had possibilities. It was developed back int he 50s but it relied on a Nuclear pulse propulsion system and fallout was a major issue. the VASIMR engine claims it is theoretically possible to get it Mars in 5 months but that’s just on paper. in reality they don’t yet have a power source that could sustain a trip that far.

    But even at our primitive level of transport I feel that return trip is a necessity before we start putting anyone on Mars. The idea of a one way trip I feel just isn’t realistic. cheaper perhaps but even if the crew understands the risk I don’t think any responsible organization would strand 4 people with no hope of return.

    • “I don’t think any responsible organization would strand 4 people with no hope of return.”

      Well, we have no shortage of irresponsible people here on Earth.

      Mars One is intent on stranding not just four, but four, then eight, then twelve, then sixteen, then twenty people on Mars. As though, somehow, twenty is a magic number for self-sustaining.

      I think that they KNOW that they’re not going to Mars in 2013. With three supply trips before the manned trip, we’ll all know the real date when the first supply mission launches. Only four years to wait for that schedule slippage.

  85. yeah I tend to agree that the likelihood of Mars One following Through is slim, I would be more optimistic if they seemed serious about it, like not basing it on a reality TV show for starters. actually having though though many of the technical issues such as power supply, reliable water, replacement parts, radiation just to name a few.

    When NASA gives us a date for the first manned mission I will believe it, not that NASA cant be bogged down in bureaucracy and politicking but for no other reason then the fact that they are true experts at putting things and people into space. Mars One on the other hand has no experience or any real expertise in any sort of space travel.

    To that end, Mars One’s travel plans hinge on Space X as their Taxi but as of this Date Space X claims that not only do they not have a contract with Mars One but the organisation has not even contacted them yet.

    • First of all, no matter how ludicrous Mars One may seem to us, it has put a spotlight on Mars as a place to go. I give them that much credit.

      WRT the technical issues, they have give broad outlines of the solutions to water, power, and radiation. They ASSUME that they can get the details worked out. I don’t see replacement parts on their list but haven’t visited their updated site.

      What I have not seen is them truly addressing the self-sustaining part of their mission. So far, it’s all been hand-waving. Some really deep thinking must go into this area before we send anyone on a one-way trip as a part of any operation.

      Two areas must be considered in detail. The first is how to survive on Mars for generations assuming that planet remains essentially as it is. The second is how to make the planet more hospitable to human life, which requires some atmosphere modification as a crucial first step. If you can generate 670 million metric tonnes of oxygen, then you can imagine a future on Mars. Otherwise, people on Mars will literally be troglodytes, underground cave dwellers.

      I suspect the energy required to build extensive settlements underground on Mars will rival that required for the oxygen.

  86. I suppose there is truth that they are raising Mars awareness, I tend to think of it more that they are getting false hopes up but as we established, I am more gloomy then you are :)

    Re: Mars One and replacement parts: I believe I read something about using 3D printers because that is the buzzword right now. though I don’t recall if this was directly off their website or mentioned in an interview somewhere. either way its not a valid solution currently because 3D printers don’t make things out of thin air (though many people seem to have that impression) so you would need printer stock which would need to be shipped from earth. It is possible that at some point, they will figure out how to use martian regolith as printer stock but that will require boots on Mars first and lots of experimentation with the local materials before you knew if it was a viable idea.

    Even if they do figure out a way to use Martian Regolith as printer stock, they will need a far more robust energy source. Solar power would need to be at least two magnitudes more efficient before we could rely on it for a self sustaining colony. What we have now would be sufficient for a temporary base, keeping a science team on the surface for a year. but to live and grow we need a power source that rivals that of fossil fuels.

    • You’d be quite interested to know that there is an operational 3-D printer using beach sand as feed stock and sunlight as the energy source. The sunlight runs solar cells for the machinery and focuses on the sand to melt it. Clearly, this printer operates only during sunny days and only in the middle hours of the day. It’s merely a demonstration model but shows that the future may include things we’re not thinking about much today.

      Having said all of that, it’s more than obvious that melted sand (or regolith) cannot form many replacement parts. How many can be made of glass, after all? No, we must have organic feedstock similar to thermoplastic for many uses. While I can imagine recycling cellulose discards from the farm, that hasn’t reached the level of practical application yet. Genetically modified bacteria anyone?

      Regarding false hopes. In some sense, that’s what all hopes are until realized. When John Kennedy spoke of being on the Moon by the end of the decade, he didn’t know that. He was raising hopes in the expectation that by so doing, he was enabling that which would not otherwise happen. (I hope that wasn’t too convoluted.) In other words, you cannot succeed without trying. You won’t try unless you believe that you can succeed.

      I think that Mars is possible. I know that it’s outrageously difficult, more so than the Moon by orders of magnitude, especially for colonization. If only a few thousand smart people focus part of their attention on it, problems will be solved.

      I cannot see today how a colony on Mars can truly be self-sustaining, but I can imagine ways that aren’t technically feasible yet. So it is that I’ve begun my own odyssey that I call Martian Rhapsody.

    • Re: Terraforming Mars, I think underground settlements or (assuming a more efficient radiation shielding becomes available) Domed cities. will be more feasible in the foreseeable future. To give Mars a breathable air and pressure will take More air and water then I think we could spare from Earth. It would need to be harnessed from elsewhere in the system.

      • Yep, Don. Air is a tough one. The surface minerals of Mars are hyper-oxygenated. It’s only a matter of releasing the O2. ;-)

        The ordinary means to do so will not suffice. Oxygen-generating plants of the magnitude necessary would dwarf most Earth industrial operations. We don’t have the energy or materials to build them on Mars. A bit of out-of-the-box thinking is required here.

        See Martian Rhapsody for one idea that is no more hare-brained than any other.

  87. I agree with you on holding onto an idea that is just out of reach and I agree that Mars is not only possible but very likely that we will put boots there before the century is up. Mars One just leaves a sour taste in my mouth. However in the spirit of big dreams I will go along with you and say that they are doing some small amount of good by generating awareness. they are making Mars Hip I suppose so that will bring more eyes to it.

    • Thanks, Don. I too see the sour side of Mars One, especially the for-profit part that’s rarely mentioned in articles and never in press releases. That’s life. You work with what you have and discard the pits from the olives after eating the flesh. I’m sure that the first plans for reaching the South Pole were equally incomplete and that the first expedition never left Europe. (Don’t know that but expect that people are always the same dreamers.)

      I don’t expect to live to see the first settlement on Mars. Were the Moon the target, I could see that, but a Moon settlement would have only temporary residents.

  88. Re: Sand 3D printing: you are correct, I am very interested to hear that. I wasn’t aware that was a thing yet. I will read up on that.

    Re: Moon settlements. I know you are very excited about this idea and all things considered equal I tend to agree with you. Mars is the target because it is new and exciting and hasn’t been done yet but I feel an outpost on the moon is far more practical. it can serve as a way-station for future missions and the habitat on the moon would be a very interesting testing ground for all sorts of experiments. Tests in lighter (but not micro) gravity, tests in telecommunications ect…

    It is a far more realistic idea because it is within easy supply range and crews can be rotated out like the ISS. Energy is less of an issue because it receives the same amount of solar energy that we do. If we add a little surplus with each supply mission we can build up the facilities over time.

    But the Interest just isn’t there… Why cant they Come up with Moon One? ;-)

    • Moon has *more* sun that we do because no air, no weather.

      I’m not so much excited about the Moon as simply rational. Your arguments are correct. But, we’ve been there. We haven’t **lived** there, but no one cared so much about living at the South Pole as much as going there either.

      I suspect that the primary problem with the Moon is that we won’t really ever colonize it. You cannot terraform the Moon. Living an entire life there is not a great idea for a number of reasons. A Moon colony could not be self-sustaining. It has even less water than Mars (lots less).

      It’s a pragmatic step. Since when was pragmatism exciting? It’s a costly step and a useful one but not entirely necessary. The Mars shuttle could even lift off from the Moon after the settlers had spent some time there preparing.

      However, no one can see financial benefit from Moon base, not even NASA. That’s too bad. It’s a challenge that would reap rewards for future generations who will be going to space in greater numbers.

  89. The Troy project has had some resents boosts from ESA and also from the UK government investment.
    This YouTube presentation last year by Alan Bond is intresting

    • Great flick! Bond has taken the Skylon concept a step further. The price tag for three missions (at the same time) to Mars and back … $100 billion.

      I like the nuclear power plants that convert CO2 to O2 + CO, which then become fuel for use on Mars and for ferry back to return vehicle that’s been orbiting all along.

      If only Mars One had this level of planning (and intelligence), they might have a chance. The date for supply launch: Nov 2026. For manned launch: Dec 2029. For arrival back on Earth: Aug 2031. Time on Mars for 18 explorers: 14 months.

  90. For any of these things to happen we need a Major shift in our priorities as a civilization. Currently we invest 0.5% of the annual budget into NASA. and even then the government is still trying to shave their budget. but more depressing is how many individuals sneer at NASA like it is a colossal waste of money. In order for us to branch out into the solar system we need as a society to redefine our budget in terms of education and exploration. Perhaps this goes back to our conversation earlier in the day about Mars One serving a need by generating buzz about Mars. Maybe something good will come of it.

    • NASA the idea is not a colossal waste of money, but NASA the organization is encumbered with the weight of many bureaucrats trying to protect their little bit of turf (as with any government organization) and it seems like the actual launches are accomplished despite the inefficiency.

      There are limitations on group think as well as benefits: the underlying socialist ideology of any corporation or government department is to thwart innovation and risk-taking: it interferes with the smooth functioning of the bureaucracy – a bureaucracy which need only produce results in moments of panic (minor, we’ll cut your budget; major, the _____ will beat us to the Moon, Mars, whatever).

      During World War II the English-speaking world engaged all kinds of scientists, engineers and just plain crackpots to attempt whatever cockamie scheme they thought might, just might, have a chance at beating the Axis. After WW II this continued, to a lesser degree, with the Cold War and the Moon Race.

      Now… well, what is our goal? What is the cause?

      Yes, we need to feed, clothe and shelter the people of the world – and find better ways, even fun ways, to do so. But I think the political leadership of our time has no real goals other than to come out on top personally and culturally (and nationalism ranks so low in the culture as to be trivial or non-existent in many cases)

      • I can only suggest not voting for them. Political leaders must win elections if they are to lead.

        NASA has trimmed down quite a bit. The bureaucrat-technician ratio has to be lower. NASA bureaucrats are engineers (AFAIK). NASA is less bureaucratic than State or ED. NASA uses so little of our money that it should not be a scapegoat for waste in, for example, DoD.

      • PS: Guess why Microsoft has trouble innovating. Guess why Apple could do so in the past but not any longer. Guess why we should support small companies.

    • Because the greatest likelihood is that nothing will come of Mars One, I do hope that this at least will.

      Compare the NASA budget with that for just one new “Cold War” weapons system.

      • Directly that point Harry: The U.S NAVY has just ordered 52 LCS-1 warships at a total cost of $38 Billion dollars. And that is by far not the majority of their budget, that is a single project design to boost their fleet in the Pacific. so that is more then double NASA’s entire yearly budget for a single project of one branch of the military.

        If they ordered 50 ships instead an donate the change to NASA it would add 1.2 Billion to the space agency’s cash flow. that’s a lot of science.

          • In fact just working off the publicly released numbers, in 2011 the US spent 683.7 Billion dollars spread out over the various military branches.

            so IF we diverted just 2% of that total to NASA it would literally double their budget. and that doesn’t even include the CIA,FBI and NSA’s budget. but they are not as forthcoming with public records of their spending….go figure ;-)

  91. Nasa is talking about using a 3d printer to build a moon base using moon materials . Could we not do the same on mars to at least build the protection from radiation and maybe even bigger structures?

  92. Harry mentioned that we currently have 3D printing tech that can use sand and sunlight to make 3D printed items out of glass. I do not think our currently technology could make use of Mars Regolith, its very different from Earth sand and Lunar dust. In addition we do not have any to experiment with and Mars is much further away so a solar powered 3D printer might not work out so well..

    It might be an option further down the road but right now our current technology cant make use of it.

  93. To build a Moon base with a 3D printer would require a REALLY big printer. :-)

    Protection from radiation depends on number of nuclei per unit depth and on depth in direction of radiation — more or less upward and down to the horizon. Liquid hydrogen and lithium hydride are very good shields but almost impossible to use. Mars One was fine with three meters of Martian “dirt” aka regolith. I have not done calculations but assume someone in a university provided this number to them. Note that three meters is typical height between floors of a building.

    The more distant Mars also has less atmosphere to interfere with sunlight but some dust in air to attenuate it somewhat. There certainly is enough sunlight if you make the mirrors that concentrate it a bit larger. It’s merely about getting enough energy on a small area. Every time you double the distance from the Sun, you have to double the mirror diameter, ignoring atmospheric effects.

    The composition of Mars regolith is certainly very different from beach sand. Both have in common lots of silicates. Desert sand is probably closer to Mars in terms of amount of impurities although not in their identities. Some impurities would decompose at the high temperatures involved, especially the hyper-oxidized compounds such as the perchlorates. Potassium perchlorate melts at 525°C and decomposes at ~600°C. Silicon dioxide (quartz) melts at above 1600°C.

    Regolith samples so far indicate substantial amounts of the following:

    Al2O3 (corundum) M.P. = 2072°C
    MgO M.P. = 2852°C
    CaO M.P. = 2613°C

    Lots of other compounds show up as well. These are not minerals but seem to be their constituents, e.g. SO3. The three listed are refractory. The could make decent material if you can heat them sufficiently to melt them. The quick cooling would mean that you would get glassy substances that would probably be fragile in the same sense as ordinary glass.

    It’s interesting that no carbon-containing compounds show up. That may be an artifact of the analysis methodology. It’s odd considering that the atmosphere is 95% CO2. Nitrogen is also missing.

    The regolith contains lots of silicon and iron, modest amounts of magnesium and aluminum, and significant amounts of sulfur, sodium, and calcium.

    The most common mineral on the surface appears to be albite, NaAlSi3O8. Some minerals contain hydrogen, e.g. serpentine.

    Martian regolith may contain large amounts of water (up to 60%) in some areas.

    Glass made from regolith would likely be colored due to the large amount of iron present.

  94. Let’s make it clear that living on Mars has three enormous problems, both long-term and short-term.

    The immediate problem is energy. We cannot do much without it. The only serious energy supply is from the Sun. Nuclear energy will probably be an absolute necessity for the initial settlement of Mars. Only it’s exact nature remains to be determined. Much solar energy also will be required because we won’t be able to build a society on Mars dependent on just nuclear energy.

    A mid-term problem is radiation. This is a very serious problem that can only be reduced by going underground — digging or burying.

    The long-term problem is air. Without breathable air, colonies on Mars will be stuck with a troglodytic existence. Air will reduce the radiation problem but not eliminate it. Martian regolith contains massive amounts of oxygen. The power to turn that into 670 million metric tonnes of gaseous oxygen is immense and not available through solar panels unless they can be manufactured on Mars in large quantity, a prospect that is quite dim due to the energy required for manufacture.

    I have addressed all of these problems in Martian Rhapsody.

    To me, all other physical problems are solvable. Psychological issues remain.

  95. I feel Nuclear energy will be vital to jump starting a Martian colony because it will deliver a large amount of sustainable energy in the beginning when solar power alone will not be able to fill all the power requirements of the colony. In order to build a real outpost we will need factories and that will require huge amounts of energy. but as you pointed out Nuclear energy will be a temporary solution because Mars cannot provide the fuel itself so Nuclear fuel will need to be shipped from Earth. But in the beginning it can maintain them until they have enough solar arrays to keep them growing. There are already designs that will double a Solar panel’s efficiency if the design turns into a working prototype. However considering the currently solar panel provides 12% efficiency, that still isn’t saying much. If Solar energy continues to grow however, when Solar panels can provide say 90% efficiency, then Mars Colonies have healthy chancy of self sufficiency.

    Air of course is another big one, if the colony has access to sufficient water and reliable energy they can make as much O2 as they need. Building a pipeline to the poles will be needed for permanent settlement. This of course means decades of work, perhaps centuries before Mars becomes a self sustaining settlement. 10 years is woefully unrealistic.

    The psychological problems have been a concern of mine from the beginning. and I feel they may be a hurdle even more daunting then the engineering challenges. Our technology will continue to improve over time but human nature remains the same. I think any colony that does not offer a way home will be faced with some pretty severe dangers with their crew. Humans do not respond well to isolation and abandonment. Even though the Crew would be volunteers I feel the physiological triggers would be the same. left on a desolate planet with no way home and the realization that they will never see their world again, Crew members might think they are ready but when they cross the point of no return all bets are off. Crews on Mars will need the reassurance that if something goes wrong they can always go home again. If not then I think you would be facing unpredictable physiological responses. The crew could be fine….or one of them might not be able to handle the idea of being stranded. I don’t feel physiological screening would be sufficient either because the crew ill be facing a scenario that no other human on Earth has ever faced before. Compared to those challenges. sustainable energy and air seem simplistic.

    • I’m not sure a cosy little team, whatever the selection method, is the best way to go. Yes, yes, I’ve taken the seminars where we ‘proved’ that teams do better than individuals.

      But I’m not so sure that a crotchety old bastard who can’t get along with anyone might not be your best option, especially one with extensive experience making electronics and plumbing work. A settlement colony with warm, clean air wafting out of the hydroponics module and everybody sitting around the mahogany table in lab-coats planning Phase IV would be much nicer for television audience, of course, but I think the grubby, grimy old hag in coveralls is probably a better bet…

      Sure won’t get the ratings though. This whole aspect of making the project into a reality show is the weak link that would worry me. Nobody wants to watch a reality show – they want to watch a bunch of narcissistic, provocatively dressed soap actors pretending its a reality show.

      At many points the presentation of a ‘show’ is going to conflict with the realities of operation – this is a problem.

      • while I agree with your comments in regard to the reality show and its tendency to be based on drama and sensationalism more then reality and pragmatism, I do not think an individual is the best way to go. reality show aside, a team has many advantages to an individual, redundancy being one of them. What if the sole crew member broke his leg during the landing? what if he got sick on the flight there and was incapacitated when it came time to land the ship? injury aside there are many tasks that would require team work. not to mention my concerns on what effects isolation would have on the crew, those effects would be magnified if there was a single person with no other human contact.

        • Yes, you really cannot expect a single person to have all of the requisite skills and knowledge — even with the help of Earth-bound experts. Some operations will simply require more than two hands. Four is probably a good compromise. Even so, serious problems remain with respect to psychology.

      • The “show” is one of the real problems. While 24/7 may work for a while, it’s not sustainable. Edited weekly hour-long segments with narration are more likely in the long run. You can still make money off of this for the continuing support of the colony. Every two years, you add to the cast until you reach ten years. By then, everything is different.

    • Don,

      Thank you for your contribution.

      Using the current best technologies, the highest efficiency for a solar panel (theoretical) is around 33% according to something I read a while ago. Using mirror backing and layering of junctions with different wavelength sensitivities, you might get close. The best lab solar cells are at around 20%, but they aren’t flexible — yet. The efficiency of a flexible panel is around 12% as you suggest, but solid cells are up around 16%. We cannot expect 90% when plants are only at about 0.2% by the time you convert their output into electricity. Still, getting 1/3 of photonic energy into electricity would be very good.

      Allowing for return will ensure lots of takers. It will be very tough on Mars. Living “underground.” Eating a limited and not spiced diet. All cooking in microwave ovens — water boils at hot water heater temperatures and flames are inefficient. Darning socks. Unchanging landscape that you cannot visit except in a pressure suit. Facing the possibility of death every day. Mostly, though, having no real future, nothing that you’re building for, no expectation that your children or grandchildren will live a “normal” life, only a slim possibility that many generations in the future might have the ability to build and expand. That sense of working together to make a viable future is absolutely necessary. If a depression hits the Earth economy, the Mars people will feel abandoned (because they will be) and will have to avoid suicidal tendencies.

  96. The 24/7 concept has been tried before. I believe the website is called
    The founder of that site rigged a webcam to his hat, hooked it up to a laptop in his backpack and proceeded to record his life 24/7. he rounded up a few others who broad casted off his website offering similar 24/7 feeds. It was a novelty at first but later it died out. the website is still there but the format has changed considerably. from what I can tell the main focus these days is a web cam broadcasting nature scenes and interesting weather. If there are still 24/7 broadcasters, their ratings have dwindled and they are very hard to find.

    This is because there is only so much a viewer can take of 24/7 anything. unless the action changes every day the viewer will get bored. there would likely be tremendous ratings during the launch and landing but after a few weeks after the landing the routine would settle in and there would be very little to see. At least as long as everything was going well there would be little to see and that is the problem, Reality TV shows thrive on Drama and Drama is the very last thing you want if you want a successful off world mission. Mr. Lansdorp wistfully compares his prospective show to the Olympics. I have read more then one interview with him and he always brings up the Olympics. and the fact that they brought in 4 billion dollars for the London games. unfortunately much like the technical aspects of his mission I feel Lansthorp has been undeservedly optimistic. The Olympics. are not a fair comparison for several reasons:

    -The Olympics. have been around for decades and are an international sports competition. they have an established following.

    -The Olympics. only come on once every 2 years and only for a few weeks, not 24/7.

    -The Olympics. is a sports competition featuring many nations. The majority of our civilization is obsessed with sports and everyone wants to cheer for their country as part of national pride.

    Mars One has almost none of those things going for it, there will be a multi national aspect to it and I am sure viewers from the prospective Astronaut’s countries will tune in initially in great numbers to cheer them on but the broadcast does not have sustaining power. not everyone is interested in science and exploration, If Space exploration and planetary science and settlement held the same grip on our attention as the Olympics. then Mars One would not be a thing because if we globally held science in that regard then NASA wouldn’t be working on a shoestring budget and we would likely have established an outpost on Mars long ago. NASA has been planning a manned mission to mars for decades but the one thing holding them back is money. Their last estimate for a return Mars Trip was 100 Billion and nobody wanted to pick up the check.

    Even if the Show had Olympic ratings it would not last, interest would wan and unfortunately if this show will be the Martian’s life line to supplies, a dip in ratings could be deadly.

    • A successful Mars show has to have edited versions once or twice a week, with narration. The 24/7 idea will only work for a few very intense periods — pre-launch through launch, pre-landing through landing, and anything else similar. Continuous coverage of the settlement set-up may be interesting to enough people.

      The edited shows can include clips from training, narration, and much more and could attract many viewers if the producers and ‘writers’ are good enough. They probably would have enough interest for twice a week (plus repeats) for the initial months and then dwindle to once a week. I expect that most audiences with any interest at all can sustain it at that rate.

      The program will require additional funding. The budgeted amount, $6 billion, is too small, and the planned funding sources are insufficient. They are sufficient, however, to make Lansdorp quite wealthy as he siphons off funds from his for-profit production company before they reach the non-profit Mars program.

  97. Thats gorgeous. I have never seen Mars in such rich detail. Thanks for sharing that.

  98. Re: Lansdorp becoming quite wealthy.
    This is really my first wall in believing that Mars One is serious. all the technical challenges aside, Its very easy for Lansdorp to put up a show and document groups being selected and trained without the costly investment of building anything. when the ratings dip or when the launch date of the first supply ship is delayed beyond the point people will find acceptable, I suspect the show will go away and Mars One will quietly dissolve.

  99. Since the atmosphere is 96% CO2 why can’t you just use scrubbers to retrieve the O2?

    • Scrubbers are chemicals such as CaO (CO2 + CaO -> CaCO3). They don’t create oxygen. CO2 can be electrochemically changed to CO and O2 (2CO2 -> 2CO + O2). This reaction takes power, of course. You’d have to arrange to vent the CO safely. It is rather toxic. With a nuclear power plant or lots and lots of solar panels, you could arrange to make O2 from CO2. However, this approach is useless for terraforming. You’d change the 1% (relative to Earth) CO2 atmosphere into a 1% O2 atmosphere.

      Alan Bond’s own Mars program (the Troy project) uses the CO and O2 as fuel for rockets to take off from Mars and return to Earth. Carbon monoxide replaces hydrogen as the fuel; oxygen remains as the oxidizer. He compresses the CO2 in the Martian air into appropriate water cells and runs an electrical current through it. It’s a bit more complex, but that’s the basic process.

  100. Thanks Harry

    So breathable oxygen can be made from the the atmosphere. I wonder if there are plans for this in mars one?

    • I would think Mars One has no such plans to convert the air as Harry Describes. Mainly because it would take an obscene amount of energy and other resources. What Harry detailed looks very simple on paper but in reality it would be a monumental undertaking. The other problem would be as Harry mentioned, you would only have 1% air. At the end of the day you would really be no better off because you still couldn’t go outside, you would still need a pressurized environment.

      Having a such an environment would actually be more trouble then its worth because the Oxygen, while too thin to breath would still be good and slowly corroding the metallic components of your gear.

      The big problem on Mars is that it once had lots of air but it slowly lost it over billions of years. so now you need to add air back, you need to get that air pressure back up to levels we can stand. sadly there is no technology that makes something from nothing. any time we are creating something like O2 all we are doing is converting one substance into another. There is lots of Ice on Mars, if you could get at it and if you had energy to spare you could make plenty of O2 from the melted Ice, whether it would be enough to bring the planet up to 20KPa(the level we would need to survive without suits) remains to be seen. However, even if you did have a Total Recall like reactor that melted and converted all the ice, then you have another problem: you still need water and you just used it all for air.

      The only way to truly terraform Mars is to import a tremendous amount of material. This is not a realistic option given our current space program, for now we will have to be content living in structures and creating small amounts of O2 to support select groups.

      • It appears that people can survive on Earth at 16 kPa partial pressure of O2 and so that should be enough for Mars. We don’t know how low you can get if you adapt over generations, but it’s probably not much lower than 15 kPa. That means we must generate about 670 million metric tonnes of O2. If we did not remove the CO2, then that would be toxic until reduced. You’d have to breathe through a filter that removed some of it, but you could walk about on Mars without pressure suit or O2 tanks.

        As I explain in Martian Rhapsody (unpublished chapters), Mars has the O2 required. No imports are necessary. However, you do required vast amounts of energy.

        Mars One plans to electrolyze water for O2 in the habitat and has NO plans for terraforming.

        The very low pressure of O2 means that corrosion will go at around 5% of the rate on Earth. Many corrosion mechanisms use water as a catalyst and would not operate rapidly in the extreme dryness of Mars.

        If and when Mars gets that 15+ kPa of O2, people will also have to use lots of lip balm. :-D

        Electrolyzing massive amounts of water to make air has a very significant side effect. Where does the hydrogen go? You cannot let it out into the air unless you have a spark-free planet. :-(

        You’d have to use up around 700 million metric tonnes of water. The water on Mars, according to most recent estimates amounts to at least 1.6×10^17 kg or 1.6×10^14 metric tonnes, more than 200,000 times as much as required. At least, you’d have plenty of water left if you chose that route. The problems are time and energy. Even if you could make a million metric tonnes of O2 per year, it would take 670 years, and that’s rather ambitious. And you still have to get rid of all of that hydrogen. No, you have to find another way.

    • No, Mars One uses electrolysis of water.

  101. On the same line would a space suit life support system create enough breathable oxygen just using batteries or would/could it be a supplemental form of O2 supply in the LSS unit?

    • The real problem with enclosed breathing is removal of CO2. You start with 20% O2 on Earth. If you’re in a box, you reach 1% CO2 when O2 is just 19%. At that level, you begin to feel symptoms. About the time that CO2 levels reach toxicity (7%), O2 levels have also dropped to non-sustainable levels (13%). Oxygen or air tanks add to the oxygen and push out air that has excess CO2 in it. If you merely added oxygen, the volume of air would increase and slightly dilute the CO2, but you’d die from the CO2 eventually. Space suits remove CO2 AND add O2.

  102. I think they should send at least 4 Radio Isotope Generators to start with and not totally rely on solar, that way they would have guaranteed energy for two years using maybe two and having backups. That may be enough power to run jackhammers and other tools to break up hard regolith and make it easier to shovel.

    I wonder if they could design a lightweight bobcat for moving large amounts of regolith to cover inflatable habitats or maybe some other lightweight foam that hardens that can be pumped over them before placing regolith to add some rigidity to the structures which would also probably guard against leaks .

    One of these habitats should then be used as the greenhouse for growing food which would give a larger growing area, and once the first one is done start on a second to serve as a secondary grow area. Then others can be used for larger living areas.

    • At least one RTG will be a requirement for each small living area because of its heat byproduct. Heating solely from solar panels is just too dicey. A month-long dust storm would freeze the settlers to death without that backup. It also frees up electricity for other, more valuable uses. This concept is covered in Martian Rhapsody. The larger inflatable areas should have two apiece. The initial settlement may have one or two inflatables.

      Because the “greenhouse” will have plants on shelves, it doesn’t have to be huge. Other factors are involved in optimizing growing conditions. Those are also considered in Martian Rhapsody.

      The Martian regolith consists of rocky sand and dust and should not require jackhammers. Those would be necessary only upon reaching bedrock. The initial landing site must have deep regolith and lots of subsurface water.

      The “bobcat” would not look very much like one because it must be a multi-purpose vehicle. The first landing cannot afford much in the way of special-purpose larger items. It will be operated by a couple of RTGs to give enough power to move slowly and push things. It must be remotely operated to save on oxygen, suit wear-and-tear, and radiation exposure. Again, I explore this topic in Martian Rhapsody.

      We have to face the simple fact that the first four (or however many) settlers will be operating on a bare subsistence level for two years and may come perilously close to failing often. Only that second manned flight will relieve the danger and monotony somewhat. Each subsequent flight will provide more people, more space, and more advanced technology until a reasonably sustainable colony develops.

      Long-term sustainability still requires technologies we don’t have yet and a short-term (decades at most) way to get 15kPa of O2 in the Martian air. I view these problems as being solvable and explore them in Martian Rhapsody, albeit in a fictional setting. Reality may not be so friendly.

  103. How difficult would it be to send a small kubota tractor to aid in the regolith moving?

    • Impossible because of incompatible fuel mechanism. Packaging is also an issue. Mars vehicles will be specially built. They cannot just be tossed together out of steel and ICEs. Steel is too heavy. Titanium may cost lots more on the ground but will cost lots less upon delivery due to “shipping costs.” An ICE is no good on Mars. Inflatable rubber tires have more problems than I can enumerate. The seat, steering wheel, and more will be jettisoned as useless because these vehicles must be remotely piloted. And so it goes.

  104. sending heavy lifting equipment will be vital to forming the colony for the reasons you pointed out but as of yet I do not see any plans to send such heavy equipment. I have seen small forklifts that can run on battery power but for the larger earth movers that they would need to make underground structures or to cover the structures, those I have only ever seen running on diesel power. I have no area of expertise here so maybe someone could help, can you run a combustion engine in an Oxygen free environment? If you can then its becomes a matter of not only sending the equipment but shipping tons of fuel for the earth movers. This would be impractical to say the least.

    If you cannot run combustion powered vehicles in the near vacuum of Mars’ surface then that would limit the kind of gear you could even use. Special Units would have to be designed that only ran on battery yet had enough power to fill their excavation needs.

    • To run a combustion engine, you must have something to combust. Mars has no fossil fuels. It’s more efficient to use electricity directly than to convert it into hydrogen and oxygen or to CO and O2. All equipment on Mars will run on electricity. No free oxygen; no available fuel.

      Except for the battery problem. You could run ICEs on hydrogen and oxygen or on CO and O2. It would be inefficient and would require compressing the gases into tanks. But you would not be dependent on batteries.

      So, I’ll amend my comment to say that INITIALLY all equipment will run on electricity. The energy density of tanks of H2 and O2 may favor using them for larger equipment until new battery technology arrives on Mars.

  105. If the project gets as far as the second set of colonists landing then I feel strongly that more private industry and possibly also international involvement and maybe NASA involvement all cooperating to make it a success, perhaps business sponsors will get involved for the publicity. The longer the mission continues without major mishaps, will I feel increase the odds of continued success. Then maybe Elon Musk will get more involved since he already has his own plans for a colony at $500000 per person and build upon the structure that is already in place. Perhaps it will drive mining industries to set up and start to mine a moon of mars and mars itself, or they will have a shorter distance to the asteroid belt.

    I hope Mars One at least gets the funding to get started and has success with the first wave of settlers, and hope they alter plans to send up at least a couple of nuclear power generators to guarantee some dependable power source to backup solar power.

    • Ultimately, the real players here will join together. This effort cannot be sustained by one group alone. Whether Mars One will remain in the mix is unknown at this time. It’s a bit on the vapid glitzy side for me to endorse it. It does make for good fiction stories, however. :-)

      With the interest of Elon Musk and Alan Bond on the private side, it can go somewhere. NASA and ESA also have an interest. At least 100,000 of the world’s citizens have an avid interest. That number has to multiply by 100 to include those who might donate five dollars to the effort.

      Corporations will vie for sponsorships of a true mission to Mars.

      I expect that it will take $10 billion to place a colony on Mars, possibly more. Ten years is a tight schedule. Twelve or fourteen makes more sense, but I’d love to be wrong on this one.

      I also note that competition may make sense for the initial lifter design and other engineering innovations but that we cannot have two separate mission-to-Mars efforts going on simultaneously past the design and initial testing prototype stage. Everyone can contribute ideas, but the best ones must win.

      We can be on Mars and can do so long-term. Really long term requires oxygen, however. I can imagine ways to get 30% out of solar cells that will make power a non-issue for Mars. There’s more than enough water. Living underground by digging or piling up will reduce radiation to acceptable levels. (We’re being radiated here on Earth constantly, a problem that may ultimately limit lifespan despite any medical advances — or not.) Food can be grown efficiently for a modest population and augmented by growing single-celled lifeforms that are more efficient than ordinary plants but not as tasty. You can even have robot insects pollinating plants within a few years.

      I’ll repeat myself. Only 670 million metric tonnes of O2 stand between us and real Mars colonization. Mars One has shown that finding colonists is not a problem. If you could breathe on Mars, their number would soar and you would be able to charge, as Elon Musk suggests, to get there. Don’t know that $500,000 is a sustainable fee. Maybe for the first dozen or so?

  106. Add Richard Branson to the mix. Space Ship Two is proving to be more than many expected. It’s second powered flight was perfect and paves the way to next year’s first commercial space flight.

    Buy a ticket now before the $250,000 price tag goes up again.

    I haven’t heard any Mars talk from him, but his path to space could be how we get ready for Mars.

    • You seem to be forgetting that the FAA as not yet granted the Commercial License, and most likely won’t for years to come. And, going 69 miles up for a joy ride and a few minutes of weightlessness proves nothing. Many will be killed in this adult Disneyland for the wealthy. Space is for trained astronauts, not Lady Gaga. After the first death or crash, they will be shut down, most likely forever.

      And, Virgin Galactic just lost the contract to take astronauts to the ISS – International Space Station. The Contract was given to Russia through 2016. Virgin Galactic or SpaceX has a very poor performance record. I don’t see how Virgin Galactic can survive without contracts with NASA.

      Space X’s concept of reusable rocket stages has failed, at least on the 3 unmanned missions to the ISS. On the third mission, the Dragon had to saved by the robotic arm.

      The reason NASA never wasted billions and huge amounts of time and effort on reusable multistage rockets is because of the the huge amount of thrust that is needed to leave earth’s orbit, especially with heavy payloads. That thrust usually damages the the first two stages beyond repair. And, the idea that those stages then could come down to earth safely using left over rocket fuel in each stage is bull. It works at very low speeds, e.g., the SpaceX grasshopper where it goes up 900 feet at a very slow speed, 32 mph; but it does not work at very high speeds, e.g., 5,000 mph going miles up, e.g., 50 miles and more before entering outer space with a million pounds of thrust. The first and second stages of all three of of SpaceX unmanned missions to the ISS have fallen into the ocean and were not reusable.

      Anyway, Space X has proven nothing with its reusable multistage rocket. And, if it were not for funding from NASA, Space X would not exist.

      • The point of the SpaceX Grasshopper technology is landing, not taking off.

        Private business will participate in one way or another in space exploration. We’re in the early phases now. Suspend judgment for just a while and let things sort out.

  107. Instead of thinking all the applicants are loonies and have a death wish we should be optimistic that there are some that are capable and have what it takes given the right training that there chances and desire to succeed will drive them to do just that. Think of them as true trailblazers willing to put themselves at great risk to succeed at great accomplishments. There must be a handful that have what it takes and hopefully the weeding process will select them and even if the public picks who gets to go first it wont have any effect on outcome because they will all be capable to the same degree.

    I also hope that the originator is not in it for money and is truly in for the success of the mission, and I don’t think the world would leave people stranded on mars and not come together to try and save them or come together for the continued success of the mission. I believe this because nations all have some plan for colonization or trips to mars and if something were to occur I think they would pool resources and get involved.

    Once the colony is proving that it can be self sustaining and no one is dying, and more people and industries get involved then more and more engineers, chemists, doctors, scientists will not be so skeptical as taking the trip to join the colony. Only when more and more people and industries get involved then the chance of major failure decreases. This will drive the creation for new quicker rocket technology to speed the trip, make it easier for people to go on excursions and not stay for the duration. There could be literally thousand of colonists on mars in as little as a hundred years all contributing to its increased expansion and building habitats that can sustain a greater amount of foodstuffs and industry start-ups creating plastics and metals being used for stronger and more durable habitats. With the success of creating a livable environment on mars will give new hope for setting out to other planets in the solar system. I think everyone who becomes aware of the Mars One endeavor should not let the fact of reality TV show make them skeptical and pessimistic but create enthusiasm and optimism for its success, and an enduring success this will be key to a greater involvement, once it appears a great number of people back it then it will be easier for the space industry to jump on the bandwagon and fuel a faster growth and more diversified population that starts to grow on mars.

    Then mining companies would be that much closer to being able to mine the moons of mars for possible platinum and this would certainly get business rolling and start an whole new era of space engineering and mining once large profit margins were involved. Next would be the relative close distance to mars of the asteroid belt which would offer short distance travel times from a mars base or even a mars space station outpost.

    All of these things and more are cause for a successful outcome to Mars One or any Mars colony plan.

    • Mining asteroids, moons, or Mars for Earth consumption will not become a profitable venture in the foreseeable future. The transportation costs are overwhelming.

      I don’t think that the applicants are loonies — well, at least not all of them. Many considered the explorers of years gone by to be nuts. Some died. Some became famous. Some luck was involved, but careful planning and full awareness of the dangers were critical factors for success.

      The first efforts could result in death. That’s happened with previous ventures. Success will breed success once it happens. I hope it happens the first time out. I see very limited prospects for Mars One being successful. They did, however, bring lots of publicity to the concept. More people thinking about it will result in more and better ideas.

      By 2100, we will have thousands on Mars.

  108. Spaceworks Engineering, Inc. just received a phase I grant from NASA to develop a suspended animation system for long term space flight. the company has a very promising concept an if it works out it would be a short cut to long term trips until we can develop faster propulsion systems.

    I was skeptical at first but this company is not talking cryogenics, instead they lower the subject’s core temperature by 10 degrees and put them in a mil state of hypothermia, the body shuts down to preserve heat and metabolic functions slow to a crawl. This solve the roadblocks of how to pack enough air,water and for for a year long trip as well as concerns about crews staying mentally active and healthy. it would also be a boon for radiation protection since you could concentrate your protective materials to the sleeping chamber or even enclosed around the stasis chamber itself. when the crew arrives the system brings up their core temperature and awakens them. They have already used this technique on subjects for up to 10 days and are now testing to see how long they can go.

    • Good grief! Who are the subjects and what if they don’t survive?

      I feel like I’m reading a science fiction novel from 1960 sometimes here.

      The mass savings in food, water, and air could indeed be used for shielding. Another possibility would be magnetic shielding if a superconducting magnet could be used. A bit tough in space, of course. The entire ship would have to be non-magnetic — no steel anywhere. Wonder how strong the field would have to be.

      Just imagine a group of “sleepers” in their sleep pods heading out to somewhere (Titan?) surrounded by a strong magnetic field (along the ship’s longest dimension. Only the ends of the ship would have to have actual shielding.

      Upon arrival at the destination, they awaken and have food, air, and water for their mission, maybe a month or two. Then, it’s back in the pods for the return trip.

      Because they haven’t been totally suspended, they will age some but not as much as we back on Earth. Their six-year adventure might age them for three years. Does anyone know the aging effects?

      We won’t overcome the speed of light anytime soon, but we can have faster ships. It’s all a matter of power and reaction mass. For Mars, the trips only take place at two-year intervals. That means that a shuttle must be faster than two years making the round trip. Right now, it’s about eight months (varies depending on exact configuration of Earth and Mars). Better systems could cut that in half. The big benefit would be less radiation exposure. The return trip would not have to be so fast as long as the shuttle gets back in time for refitting and provisioning.

      If one works out well, then I can see another as well, both heading out within a day of each other every two years on a regular schedule. You too can go for just $500,000 (hehe). In Alan Bond’s concept, return trips are optional and cost nothing extra. You get to stay or return as you choose, just no choice of specific return dates — only once every two years.

      His colonists (in the Troy Project scheme) can come back if they don’t like it after two (or four or six or …) years.

      But what’s not to like? No crowds. Less sagging of body parts from gravity. Only healthy foods. No crime (at least not at first). All of the health benefits of hypo-pressure (whatever they may be). And you get to start a new civilization. Forgot, no courts, no lawyers, no income taxes. Libertarians must salivate at the thought. ;-)

  109. Considering all the interest it is generating, the One Way ticket seems less and less of a drawback – even the notion that you could go back to Earth in the case of drastic medical or equipment malfunction makes a huge difference to the psychological aspect. However I feel that many of the more suitable candidates will be turned off by the reality show aspect – I know that, for me, is more of a drawback than the prospect of a One Way ticket. I have no interest in making a spectacle of myself or having my personal life dissected by the media, and I suspect I am not alone.

    The $500 000 price tag is about right – millions of first world candidates could come up with that kind of money by selling everything they have. As a fee for leisure, it is still cheap – even the Russians have drawn several customers at $20 million just for a few dozen orbits of Earth. I’m guessing at $500k a pop you could take a couple dozen people a month up to something like this for a long, long time without running out of customers (as you can see the idea is not particularly new and is a lot easier to effect than Mars One).

    I think all the worrisome aspects are technical, as this discussion continues to show. 3D printing shows great promise, and more technologies will come to bear (as well as originate from) on Mars settlement. Technologies that can leach CO2 out of the thin atmosphere for organic chemistry but without requiring photosynthesis – or maybe a photosynthetic organism (a simple relationship between lichen, mold, genetically engineered mites) that can occur, however slowly, at -90C

    I have observed spiders moving about at -35C when I disturbed them in the bark of a tree, though for how long they survived after my rude awakening I do not know – they sure were sluggish though!

    To me, Mars is the place to fool around with nanotech and genetic engineering of the more extreme sort – for instance a process that soaked up CO2 too efficiently could end life as we know it on Earth (which is why the folks who would meddle with climate change make me more than a tad nervous with their evangelism – I digress).

    • Thank you for this comment, Brett.

      Were I on Mars, I’d not wish to see experiments of that sort taking place. If it’s too dangerous for Earth, it’s too dangerous for Mars. That’s my view.

      Regarding the rest, one-way tickets, hotels in the stars, and so on, I think you’re fairly correct, except that I suspect that the numbers of people ready to pony up 1/2 million dollars for a few nights in the hotel is a bit shy of millions. It’s probably more like thousands or tens of thousands, but that’s plenty to sustain the development. The hotel probably won’t house more than a thousand or so a year anyway.

      The wealthy, high-tech visionaries seem all to be thinking about Mars these days. Wonder what those whom we haven’t heard from think.

  110. The physiological effects of no gravity then low gravity for 3 years ie. 2 year stay plus round trip time can’t be determined until human bodies are actually subject to that amount of time in space. Only when we have someone who is capable of surviving it can any outcomes and effects be determined.

    I wonder if a miniature capsule could be designed that could house mice or some other life-form to perform the required trip length and landing and see some effects.

    Even the planned expedition to the ISS by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko scheduled for 2015 will just be scratching the surface of a Mars trip. Astronauts returning from 6 month stints require long recovery times on returning to earth and require help getting out of the return capsule, not to mention other effects. . It remains to be seen what a year long stint will require for recovery.

    Without these knowns of physical effects on the human body a Mars landing may be doomed from the moment of landing. Only when it actually happens can we see what will happen. Whoever takes the first trip will have to be in top physical shape and try and stay close to that shape by exercise in the cramped space capsule for the outbound journey. They may find they are partially incapacitated upon landing and not be capable of performing the simplest functions of survival at that time and be left in dire straights from the get go.

    If the first landing ends in failure it will let future travelers know that some form of artificial gravity will have to be developed before any future manned trips can be made.

    In any event someone has to take the chance to make whats unknown known about the human bodies ability to cope, hopefully with success on the first try.

    • Jason,

      You raise a very important issue. The lower Mars gravity makes the issue less severe but does not eliminate it. We know that mere exercise does not prevent the loss of function due to lack of constant gravity on our bodies. It only reduces it. I don’t know of any study that shows what the effect of eight months of weightlessness followed by 38% of Earth’s gravity will be. With extensive exercise during those eight months (or suspended animation), might a few days acclimation on the Martian surface be enough to prepare for activity? Initial activity will not be all that strenuous. You will have to stand and walk but not much more.

      It’s a good question that should have a better answer than any we’ve seen before heading out to Mars.

      We also can hope for faster transport systems ten years from now and reduce that eight-month transit somewhat.

      We also have no idea as to the long-term effect of 0.38g on our bodies.

  111. Re: Aging in suspended animation: I have not seen any data on the effects of aging. It is not Cryogenic so the body will still age, since metabolic functions are slowed by up to 70% I do not know if this will slow the body’s aging as well. Considering this has never been done fore more then 10 days and the cases where it was performed were for medical treatment and not intended as a means of space travel, I suspect no one has paid any attention to the age factor yet. Now that space works Inc. is under a NASA grant to develop the technology for just that function I imagine effects on aging will be documented.

    The one thing Suspended animation does neglect is the effects of 0G on the human body. Currently we combat those effects on the ISS with very intense workout regiments. Since the occupants will be sleeping for almost a year it is a concern that their bodies will suffer more then active astronauts would. This is however something we are capable of testing if the project continues and eventually moves into phase III. I would imagine final testing might involve putting a subject in suspended animation on-board the ISS. this would allow the subject to be tested both for long term sleep and sleep in a 0 G environment. The subject would also be monitored by the crew of the ISS so if any problems arise they can assist. this will give us a true acid test of seeing if the technology is viable for long term travel.

    If it pans out and they actually do successfully use this technology to travel to Mars, it would open the doors for the rest of the solar system. Time is the major roadblock between us and most of the solar system. Manned travel to Titan is out of the question because at our current propulsion speeds it takes 7-9 years to get there, it would be exceedingly difficult to subject an occupant to that kind of isolation, not to mention 14-18 years worth of supplies. However if we had a reliable method of suspended animation then it becomes at least possible to send men and woman out to the further reaches. There would still be plenty of hurdles such as long term 0G exposure and the cost of supplies (even in suspended animation they would still need air and intravenous foods) as well as a power source that could sustain the ships’s systems for 2 decades. but all of those concerns (except for the 0G) are a matter of money. throw enough money into a project and supplies and power are not a show stopper.

    It wont happen next year but it at least becomes something we can think about with a strait face.

    • Hi Don.

      A 70% reduction in metabolism should be accompanied by a similar reduction in bone loss etc. Perhaps, the limbs could be at an even lower temperature to reduce bone loss and muscle atrophy even more.

      Biological systems are very complex. It’s possible that suspended animation could accelerate aging.

      You’re right about air and intravenous feeding and hydration. Still, a reduction in air, food, and water of 70% is not to be taken lightly.

      Radiation damage would proceed at the same rate in suspended animation, but the repair mechanisms in the body would be impaired. This fact makes some sort of shielding imperative. Heavy enough shielding to make a difference is just not feasible. Only magnetic shields would be an option, IMO. The North and South poles of the shield would be open to ion radiation and would have to have thick shields.

      It’s a tough call here. Should you use suspended animation without shielding? Is sufficient magnetic shielding even practical? Power for the magnets could come from a fuel cell operating off of the hydrogen and oxygen propulsion reserves.

      The risks of radiation damage increase without shielding. How much is this increase? Does anyone even know?

      This is an excellent engineering challenge that requires deeper thinking than I have time for right now.

  112. The idea of Magnetic shielding is very exciting because if we managed to make it work, it opens up a universe of possibilities. Such as manned exploration of Europa, which currently is impossible even if we had the methods to get men and woman there. Europa is in the middle of Jupiter’s radiation belt and it kicks off 540Rems. 400-500 is an instant lethal doze. However if the Keller-Mark II magnetic shielding was employed then they could protect a small group on the surface for a short time. :)

    It also solves yet another problem for propulsion. Even if Nuclear pulse engines were a thing right now, one of the major setbacks is still radiation. even though you are cutting down timed exposure by going faster, radiation unfortunately becomes exponentially more lethal the faster you go. so if you were going a fraction of c, the radiation would be hitting you like a bullet. solid shielding would be ineffective.

    I wish they would get on with this suspended animation already, I would love to go to sleep and wake up 100 years from now to see if we got these things to work :)

    • Don, I really like your example of Europa. There may never be a reason for people to go there, but there might be.

      Cosmic radiation comes at us from all directions at nearly the speed of light. Our puny speeds make no difference to its effect or impact. Einstein explained it all with his special theory. Adding two velocities in relativistic terms yields:

      s = c^2(v + u)/(c^2 + vu)

      Where v an u are the added velocities (speeds if along same line).

      Consider a cosmic ray particle traveling at 0.9c, might be faster. Consider space ship at 0.1c, very fast for a space ship. The relative speed cannot be c, that’s impossible unless the particle is traveling at c already (a photon).

      s = c^2(.1c + .9c)/(c^2 + 0.09c^2) = c/(1.09) = 0.917c

      That’s about a 2% increase in speed and a 4% increase in energy.

      You’d also have the rays coming from behind with speed of -0.9c.

      s = c^2(.1c – .9c)/(c^2 – 0.09c^2) = -0.879c

      That’s nearly a 2.5% decrease in speed and a 5% decrease in energy.

      You’d net out ahead of the game if my calculations are correct.

      Solar radiation is much slower. The outward trip would have less solar radiation impact, while the inward trip would have more.

      • Sort of straying a little, but maybe not too much: what happens to the momentum of mass when that mass is converted to energy via radiation? Would that explain the acceleration of the “universe” presently attributed to Dark Energy?

        Just a thought that occured while I was listening to how Lord Kelvin underestimated the age of the Earth considerably using heat calculations because he failed to take account of the heat due to radioactive decay, treating the Earth instead as a solid, cooling ball of mud.

        And since we’re on the topic of radioactive decay, I have never heard that it is reversable: can mass be formed from energy, or does this violate the rules of entropy? I would guess that if mass could be formed from energy it would happen in a Black Hole…

        What I’m getting at (from my uneducated musings) is that we need some better source of propulsion than chemical rockets and that there is an enormous amount of energy around us in the form of mass – present nuclear generation seems a tad clunky, both with the radioactive waste and with the need for a thermal interface to produce energy in a form we can use.

        • Momentum, both linear and angular forms, is always conserved in every interaction. Photons carry momentum. When, for example, an electron and positron annihilate, the photons carry off the momentum. When you jump, the Earth recoils so that the total momentum of the Earth-you system remains unchanged. Unlike energy, momentum does not have lower or more degraded forms. Force is equal to the time-rate change of momentum, F=ma if mass is unvarying. Otherwise, it F=dP/dt, where P=mv is momentum.

          The equivalence of mass and energy is one the cornerstones of Einstein’s theory (as in E=mc^2). They are interchangeable — in both directions. Entropy (third law stuff) always increases in every reaction (unless perfect, but nothing is perfect). Usually, this means that some energy is lost to heat. Heat is the most low-down degraded form of energy and exhibits itself as molecular motion — more randomness = more entropy.

          Even empty space is creating matter from its intrinsic energy fluctuations all of the time. Particle colliders make particles from the kinetic energy of the colliding particles. Mass from energy.

          Nuclear decay makes heat the same as burning coal does. We use the heat in a similar fashion. You can make a nuclear reactor very hot indeed if the materials containing it are sufficiently refractory. Add hydrogen, and you have a very hefty push for your rockets. You can do even better using ion propulsion systems that require electricity. Not being a power plant engineer, that’s the furthest I can go without lots of research.

          It doesn’t look as though fusion will work on a small enough scale for space travel. Solar sails are too slow for manned space travel. Thus,we are left with fission and chemistry in space.

          Getting to space is a different matter. No one has tried a rail gun for the initial acceleration, meaning that chemical boosters much be less expensive. Too bad.

          • Fusion power seems to me not unlike trying to run an ICE on gunpowder – love to be proved wrong. But thanks for answering – is the sum of energy and mass in the universe always constant then? I always thought particle colliders were just trying to smash things into smaller and smaller pieces, but the energy involved in something like the LHC must create some interesting states, if only for an instant (I recall some discussion of creating black holes and even propagating black holes – assuming that didn’t happen hehe).

            Then some fellow tells me there is no such thing as ‘matter’ in the sense of ‘stuff that is there’ but that it is a manifestation of gravitational fields… and there we get way over my head – but I sense the answer to some very difficult problems, and technology that will make the present look simple.

          • Three important physical system quantities are energy, momentum, and entropy. All are made up — means of keeping score. You cannot ask for a bucket of energy, for example.

            As for these quantities in the universe —

            The total energy (and mass, which is the same thing) of the universe is a constant.

            The total momentum of the universe is a constant.

            The total entropy of the universe only increases and is not constant (unless there are absolutely no reactions taking place).

            These statements are also true for a closed system, which is a physicist’s ideal model. There’s no such thing in reality.

            The universe must be defined as growing in all directions at the speed of light if considered finite or must be considered as infinite for the statements strictly to be true. However, relativity puts bounds on the size of an expanding universe — not really the “size” in our usual sense but on its contents being in the same space-time existence, accessible to each other. But that’s beyond this discussion.

            The recent creation of the Higg’s Boson in the LHC is an example of creating matter from energy. The earliest cyclotrons and synchrotrons were also known as “atom smashers” because that’s literally what they did. Some smashes resulted in unexpected (at the time) particles such as anti-matter. We’re far past that day now.

            People constantly worry about creating black holes in high-energy colliders without understanding that a black hole’s lifetime is outrageously short if its mass is very small. We would have no proof of its existence because it would last less long than those fleeting particles we’re creating. It’s only a theory anyway and not accepted by all scientists.

            Some study the concept of matter and come up with theories. That means little to us. Matter is mostly empty, the space between nuclei is vast compared to the size of the nuclei and contains just a few errant electrons (relatively speaking). Those electrons are what make matter solid, however. Despite their wave nature, they keep us from putting our hands through walls by electrostatic repulsion of the electrons in our matter by those in the wall’s matter.

    • Don,

      On the suspended animation thing. It would reap a fortune for those who can do it well. One hundred years is too extreme because you’d age 30 years (or more) and lose your best years to sleep (depends on age, but you understand). You’d also have one hell of a time adjusting to the new world 100 years hence.

      I can see lots of takers for a ten-year sleep, beginning with those diagnosed with incurable illness. Next would be the wealthy who, like you, have an avid interest in the future. With proper investments, they’d wake up even wealthier. You may have some problems with family members, of course.

      It’s a long way from ten days to ten years, but we’ve seen comatose patients (aging normally) wake up after years in a coma. It’s possible.

      Just think of jumping a year ahead with only a four-month aging penalty. What might you gain by this? What would it all cost?

      Except for the ill and thrill-seekers, I’m not sure we’d have lots of takers. It’s too expensive for ordinary people.

      Most important cures for illness will come about within ten years — many cancers, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s (maybe), Huntington’s, diabetes, and so on. If you’re diagnosed, get the best estimate for a cure date and go to sleep. Bad news is that the disease will progress at 30% of normal rate (possibly less in some instances such as cancer where vital bodies result in more rapid spread) so that you have to calibrate well.

      It’s quite possible to find ways to reduce metabolic rate even further. At 10%, much is possible and more use is likely.

  113. So I just found this blog trying to find if Mars One will actually work out of curiosity! I have read a lot of comments in the beginning and in the end (sorry too many comments to read :o) )

    I agree that a short trip is possible but making a colony in a short span of 10-20 years is not sustainable, even if feasible. I think what should happen is:

    1. Have a permanent settlement on Moon. It can be an international effort when a lot of countries like US, EU, Russia, Japan, China and India have active space programs as well as lunar missions. The costs are low and learning will be great. A lot of money can be made from sponsorship rights,grants and maybe bringing in some “rocks” and sell them as jewellery items.

    2. What we have not discussed yet is the advancements in Artificial Intelligence. The best rover on mars moves only a few centimeters a day – what if the machines are able to make their own decisions? We can have a lot of machines working in parallel and doing a lot of work.

    3. Start work on genetically modified plans that can survive on Mars and I believe a lot of technology can come from our experience of settling on Moon.

    • I like Moon settlement in the spirit of the ISS. Much valuable information for future space exploration can be learned, especially for living on Mars.

      The Rover slow pace is not due to lack of autonomous software but to lack of power. The RTG produces precious little of it. The speed is below what could be handled, however. It should be able to manage about a kilometer an hour, more of a slow walk than a crawl.

      How to modify plants for Mars? You cannot build in radiation shields or deal with the dessication of the 1% atmosphere. Martian dirt has some unpleasant compounds in it that would probably wash out with water readily. The best modifications are already being done, as with golden rice. Plants must grow faster, put more energy into edible parts, grow in a more compact fashion, and be more nutritious. My best example of an effective food plant is the beet that delivers the food value of a root along with edible and nutritious (and tasty) leaves. The only waste is in the skin of the root and the stems, but they can be eaten for fiber and some additional nutrition. No waste at all that way. They’re not very tall either making the ideal for shelf gardening. Make them grow faster with genetics and optimized growing conditions (temperature, humidity, CO2 concentration, and lighting) and you have a great food. Turnips also have edible roots and leaves.

      Nuts grow on trees and could not be grown in trays. However, peanuts (not at all real nuts because they grow underground) might be tried. The temperatures may be all wrong because they’re a hot weather plant. Flax seed is highly nutritious and provides plenty of Omega-3 oils. The stems can be processed for clothing fiber (linen).

      Plums, oranges, peaches, and so on are tree fruits and would not work in a tray garden.

      You might get grapes to grow, but they’re mostly water and so not very efficient. Drying them to make raisins would be nice if you can use the seedless varieties.

      Tomatoes are a vine and can produce a good fruit to leaf-and-root ratio.

      Cereal grains would probably be a problem to grow. They would have to be dwarf varieties.

      Garden compost can grow mushrooms, which can provide flavor and nutrition.

      Onions may be difficult but bunching onions (scallions) may work and provide necessary flavor to meals on Mars along with their nutrition.

      Small potatoes might be grown. You cannot eat the leaves, however. The same goes for short carrots. Getting any root vegetable to grow faster will be important.

      You may be able to sustain low-bush blueberries. They’re perennial and so will permanently occupy some area, but they can be moved aside when dormant.

      Beans add fiber and protein to the diet. They are low-growing. I have to wonder if quinoa can be grown on Mars.

      You get the idea by now. Planning for food on Mars will be a very high-tech operation.

      • You are very right about what you said. I am inclining more and more towards thinking that we can visit Mars with the existing or close to be “ready” technology but having a real sustainable colony is a bit distant dream and probably the reason other big national space agencies are not pursuing.

        I think it requires a lot of planet engineering i.e. a source of sustainable energy and effective radiation shielding. Say if we solve the problem of energy via nuclear reactors would it not be possible to create a local magnetic shielding? This reminds me what Dr Michio Kaku once said, the planet engineering is a task of Type 2 civilisation while we aren’t even Type 1 yet.

        If I could control things I would opt for setting up a base on moon as its less pricey, the gains are huge and meanwhile work on making the mars more “habitable”. I read somewhere that scientists were working on creating a GM bacteria that can convert the rock into soil and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

        • The surface of Mars is most certainly sterile due to heavy constant UV, constant cosmic and solar radiation, extreme low temperatures, and strong dessication over billions of years. While UV doesn’t penetrate far, the rays will reach down to a few meters. The cold reaches far down.

          For these reasons, no bacteria, no matter how engineered, will not thrive or even survive on the exposed surface of Mars.

          Most native bacteria, were there any to begin with, have degraded over the eons and are no longer viable.

          Of course bacteria can remove CO2 from the atmosphere. cyanobacteria have been doing that for millenia. As to breaking down rocks, that depends heavily on the rock type. Quartz won’t work. Limestone and marble will.

  114. here are some interesting reads on nuclear power for space that I have found.

    Click to access lecture23.pdf

    It seems we have had the potential to generate power for space flight and energy generation for some years now.

    If only everyone got behind a mars mission and the funding was there we would see bases on both the moon and mars in record time.

    • I’d like to see a Moon base manned by transients. Living there permanently makes little sense, but we should be there. It’s a bit more difficult than the ISS, of course. It should be the testing ground for going to Mars.

      • Totally agree with that. If we can’t do this sort of things on Moon what’s the possibility of our success on Mars?

  115. @Harry re: the Raiation: at normal speeds the scenario you laid out would work out however once you start moving at a fraction of c you need to take into account that anything in front of you will be blueshifted. the radiation behind you would be redshifted and its effect would be negligible however anything in front of you will be magnified to many times its original levels because the blueshifting will cause its frequency to increse as its wavelength decreased.
    The blueshift/redshift/time dilation/relative mass increase/Lorentz contraction (or relativistic effects, in short) can be calculated with the following equation:
    γ = 1/sqrt(1-v^2/c^2)
    γ = Lorentz factor (the factor of relativistic effects)
    v = Relative velocity
    c = The speed of light

    This is near meaningless to us currently because as you pointed out our puny speeds don’t even touch a fraction of c. But once we do start to employ engines that can move us at .1 c and up we will need to also be aware of the radiation. Hopefully by the time we have figured out the secrets of generating and safely employing that kind of power we will also have figured out a method of shielding us from the dust and radiation.

    re: Hibernation: like I said Hibernation can open up a world of possibilities. I love what you said about disease management, we have seen that theme in sci-fi for years with cryogenics, the show stopper for cryo-sleep however is that no one has figure out how to thaw you out yet. with this new method however you are not frozen, just put into a deep sleep. I totally agree with you that the effective uses with amplify if we can refine the process, right now they are aiming for a 70% metabolic reduction but in a few decades who knows how more efficient it will be. If Hibernation proves successful then you bring other players get into the game and competition is always good for innovation. Since Allen bond started working on his single stage engine, he has over the last few decades refined the efficiency of the engine by 400%. So I am sure if Hibernation becomes a thing we could expect very low and stable metabolic rates.

    @ Anirudh: I agree with you on setting up a closer base first to see if it can work before moving further out. a Moon base is a goo idea. Personally I think we should set up a fully sustainable habitat in Antarctica first. if we can master living out there then it would really paint a bright future for the Moon, and once we proved THAT worked, I think we would have real support for Mars. the biggest problem with Mars is that most educated people are doubtful that anyone can pull it off right now, there are too many holes in the plans proposed because we cant even make a self sustaining biosphere work on Earth and we have 0 experience with outposts beyond low Earth orbit. If we established a working Moon base it would prove those same ideas could work on Mars.

    • I’m with you on the Moon base. Don’t we already have Antarctic bases? But, they’re not fully sustainable as you’d like them to be. It’s not a fair comparison because of air pressure, sunlight, etc. differences. Besides, it’s not as “sexy.”

      Strictly speaking, blue shift and red shift apply only to light.

      With cosmic rays moving near the speed of light, the extra energy imparted by the ship’s speed would not be significant until that ship was speeding above 0.1c. At 0.1c, it’s about a 10% increase from particles in front of the ship. For those behind the ship, an essentially equal number, the energy decreases by a bit more that the increase of the others.

      At those high energies, it all makes little difference. The rays coming from the sides are just as serious as those coming from the front.

      If your ship could reach 0.9c, then things change. Your speed relative to the particles and vice versa would be

      s = c^2(.9c + .9c)/(c^2 + 0.81c^2) = 0.994c

      Now, the energy is about 5.8 times as great. But, you’re already encountering cosmic rays at 0.994c even if you’re standing still. You just have more of them from the front, fewer from the back, and the same from the side.

      What this all truly indicates is that your magnetic shielding must be strongest at the front. You cannot have either pole of the field in that direction. You might also try electrostatic shielding, but I’m not sure how you’d develop such technology. You also should put your hydrogen fuel tanks in front of the crew compartment.

      In a suspended animation ship, it may be much cheaper to shield each pod separately.

  116. Yes Self sufficient bio-domes are what I was going for on Antarctica, There are a number of research an weather stations bur as far as I know they receive resupply shipments every 6 months.

    Indeed all the conditions are not the same, you have unlimited air and water but it as as close to Mars as we can get. but I think you nailed it when you said it wasn’t as sexy.

    as far as magnetic shielding, I was thinking along the same lines, instead having your poles face the front and rear, the generator should be positioned much like earth’s field so your poles are up and down so yours shield would envelope the ship like a teardrop. but having a second layer of shielding around the crew pods is just goo planning because radiation will still get in wherever your poles are. though I do like the idea of the fuel cells doubling as shielding. I have read that waste matter can also be compacted and vacuum sealed then used to line the interior of a habitat or hull of a ship. it would serve as another layer of shielding.

    another thing to consider would be the computer systems. for short trips (relatively) to Mars you would not have as much of a problem but if you were going on longer journey to the outer solar system then you would need some serious AI to take care of the sleeping crew. However computer science is where we are strongest as a society and I don’t think advanced AI capable of making advanced decisions for long flights is more then a few decades away. if that.

    • I agree with Harry here. There is not much merit setting up a base in Antarctica as it just does not push us to the limits of technology and is not sexy enough. All the communication systems are in place and help is not that far away if needed, which means there will be less drive to succeed.

      Not to mention, the question is not about technical feasibility, the technology can be developed and improved, but with will power. Here is a very interesting article from BBC which tries to answer the question “What if Russians had gotten to the Moon first?”

      Any mission such as colonising Moon or sending humans to Mars requires will power which our politicians don’t have. Politicians need votes and so only implement popular policies. Advancing humanity and making lives better for generations to come is not something that you will find in political parties manifestos. A lot of people still question India and China’s space programs when they have millions of poor people. So without a public support governments around the world wouldn’t do anything and space is not commercially viable yet for private companies to take matter in their own hand. I think we are still a century or two away before space means more to us than just a “thing” to support our communication and navigation systems.

      • “Any mission such as colonising Moon or sending humans to Mars requires will power which our politicians don’t have.”

        Amen to that, my friend. It’s become a sad world in which pandering to voters (often to their worst instincts) substitutes for real leadership.

        China and India are merely attempting to prove that they belong to the elite among nations. For them, it’s about status, not their people.

        “I think we are still a century or two away before space means more to us than just a “thing” to support our communication and navigation systems.”

        I don’t share this dour view of the future because innovations are coming at us at breakneck speed. The possible becomes the probably much more rapidly than anyone expects. The probable then becomes the ordinary soon enough.

        I do agree about the second part of the statement, though. For now, space is, as you say, just another thing to support Earth-bound technology and aspirations, such as seeing more of Kim Kardashian. How can a species that can do such incredibly mind-blowing thing also do such demeaning ones? When will we ever learn?

        It’s a bit off-topic, but this discussion has me pondering world peace. You know — that thing that every beauty contestant espouses. Here is my short list of necessities for world peace.

        1. Population control: too few resources for too many people is a recipe for conflict. If only we could go back to four billion people readily.

        2. Universal education: the more educated you are, the more likely you’re going to have fewer children and make better decisions — such as not using war as a solution to your problems or allowing others to do so.

        3. Open worldwide communications: The Internet has the promise to deliver on this. The more we know about others, the less likely we are to demonize them and wish to kill them.

        The exciting part about being a part of this online journal is that it focuses on the last two items. The Internet can bring the world closer together and make conflicts less likely. It also can bring education to every person in every country.

        Too many simply seek to abuse the Internet as with porn sites, computer viruses, and other ways to harm others for your own benefit. The rest of us must work against such practices tirelessly. We also must work to keep the Internet open and not bend to giant corporations that seek to enhance profits by tilting the playing field in favor of those able to pay more.

        • I dunno… Google Translate can result in a LOT of misunderstandings.


        • Sorry, I probably went overboard with my century or two remark! You never know how events will unfold in next decade leave alone a century. However, I do have different viewpoints to the points you mentioned above.

          1. Population – I don’t think population is a problem. We are not a vulcan society as we aren’t very logical in a broader sense. In a world where we have enough resources for everyone there won’t be any desire or motivation to go the extra mile.That explains why most of us are happy watching Kim Kardashian’s body than doing anything meaningful. We will eventually reach a tipping point where it will be more profitable to mine asteroids than tunnelling the Earth miles deep. Same is the case with energy. Our energy demand is increasing exponentially so in a not very distant future it will be cheaper and sustainable to venture outside than looking inwards.We can use this forum to discuss how we can tap the endless supply of resources in space. I work in financial sector and a firm believer in the theory that no invention is a great invention unless it has a commercial use.

          Also, India and China aren’t running their space program just to be part of the club, they have real reasons behind it and reaping the benefits too. Indian IT industry wouldn’t exist as it does today if they hadn’t put their communication satellites in orbit back in 80s. Same can be argued for China, although, I have a feeling that China’s space program has more to do with showcasing might than India’s. So population can be a good thing too!

          2. Wars – Its a tragedy of human history that only two things push us to the edge of our capabilities – starvation and war. We would still be happy fighting wild animals if tectonic plate movement hadn’t turned large parts of Africa into deserts. There would be no GPS is there was no cold war and a little space program to speak of! While no one can predict how things would have look like if there were no wars but if our history is of any indication, there will be no major advancements without wars (Internet was also something that was developed to support military communications!).

          Happy to be corrected.

          • What you say is pretty much true and very depressing. Both human history and evolutionary history prove that no progress takes place without pain.

            However, I would suggest that you may understand, being in the financial section, that gain is another motivator. The iPhone did not come from war. Although you might call the fighting of large companies for dominance a form of war, it’s not the bullets and bombs sort.

            Perhaps, you might amend the war remark to include any conflict, not just the warring sort. Larger conflicts create larger impetus toward innovation and change.

            In the future, we may well see serious economic wars among nations. We’re edging toward that already. The “hot war” mindset in my country (U.S.) inures many to the real war being fought every day mostly behind closed doors as the giants of industry seek ever larger revenues and small fry look for chinks in the big guys armor.

          • I should add that even economic wars have casualties. They’re not measured by flag-draped coffins and swelling wards in veterans’ hospitals, though.

            Right now, enough people are starving that I would also not be so sure about enough resources for all. Malthus may have been mistaken about the numbers, but I don’t think that he was wrong conceptually. It’s not just food, either. There’s water, a serious problem in parts of my country. In parts of Africa, enough clean water is not available. Mineral resources have limited availability. Then, there’s good old energy, to which you allude.

            It’s a certainty that we won’t be getting fossil fuels from space. Asteroids won’t provide us with fuel either even if we could mine them at reasonable cost. The only energy from space would be solar. A polar satellite might be in sunlight all of the time. You’d just have to have a way to get all of that power back to the surface. So far, suggestions I’ve seen have been rather dangerous. High-intensity microwave beams could become misaligned and fry people and other things the errant beams hit. Yet photonic energy transmission is the only feasible approach to date. It’s not as though you can ferry batteries up and down to be charged up their and discharged down here.

            There’s real hope for 30% efficient solar cells here on Earth. (That’s about as good as they’ll get.) At double typical efficiency today and 50% greater than current viable cells, much energy can be collected in any area that is mostly sunny. We have vast deserts answering to that description in many parts of the world. Just a fraction of the total desert area of the world could theoretically supply all energy needs of the entire world today. If the population were to stop growing, then only the expanding industrialization of societies would fuel more energy requirements.

            Expanding technology is delivering more energy-efficient devices of all sorts, including motors. Consider what a radio circa 1950 used in power compared to today. Compare early mobile phones to those of today. How about televisions of the 1950s and today’s LCD devices?

            The energy per person will peak and drop as we find better ways to deliver a decent living standard with less energy and better ways to create and transmit that energy.

            However, the mindset of bigger is better has to be countered. Where I live, houses cost over $1 million. (I don’t own one.) Quaint beach cottages are being torn down to make way for 4,000 square-foot mansions (and even larger ones) because the land alone costs around $1 million. Those may be occupied by a single couple, sometimes on a part-time basis. This is real energy waste. It’s the same with automobiles and many more things. In some places, Veblen’s “conspicuous consumption” shows up starkly. Here, these mansions contrast with near slums just a few miles away. This is not healthy for a society.

  117. It is my opinion after reading multiple online documents relating to both mars and moon missions for colonization that the technology for ISRU, Life Support, Energy generation, Water and Air production, radiation protection, food production and other factors have been well thought out over the course of the past 50 years. Ongoing technology advances only increase likelihood of success.

    I believe that colonization and earth return missions are both possible at present and any time in the near future.

    The only problem I see as having to be overcome is human physiology being capable of overcoming the travel effects of long term weightlessness and then enduring the reduced gravity environments while trying to stay healthy enough to perform the required functions.

    And secondly financial and political backing of the missions.

    Once unlimited financing is ensured the only other factor will be human capability to function.

    What are your thoughts and opinions?

    • The basic thesis of Mars One is exactly as you state it. By making it a private venture, they avoid the political angle. Then, they focus on the financial.

      Despite their sanguine views about the technology, they admit that the technology has not been developed yet for the mission. They say that the basic underlying technologies are all there. However, engineering must take place to make them into a Mars mission. Even such mundane items as growing soil must be figured out. No one has yet set up a list of plants that will provide long-term food. I’ve been working on this problem for Martial Rhapsody and have only partially solved it. The plant growing technology is rather well developed now, but we must know which plants and why.

      It’s also clear that new technologies, such as new versions of SpaceX and Skylon, are coming along soon. Right now, RTGs appear to be the best bet for heat and backup electricity on Mars. I have used them in Martian Rhapsody. Newer ideas may supersede these. For example, a super-capacitor technology could revolutionize the energy industry and make electric cars the default instead of ICE-based cars.

      Breakthroughs in solar cells could give Mars cells with an incredible 30% efficiency with ultra lightweight super capacitors to store the energy in. That would be a game changer. I still have reasons for shipping the RTGs to Mars, though.

      So far, ISRU has seen limited application. Alan Bond suggests returning from Mars to Earth using CO and O2 from the CO2 in the atmosphere. In his scenario, it’s nuclear reactors that supply the energy to split the atmospheric CO2. The solar-cell/super-capacitor future system above could reduce the mass of Mr. Bond’s Mars missions considerably.

      This is a deep topic involving a multitude of technologies spanning a wide variety of disciplines.

  118. How much shielding would a 1 inch lead lined pocket covering just the top half of a habitat, the pocket being capable of holding 12 inches of water. So it would be 12 inches of water sandwiched between lead of 1 inch top and bottom?

    How would tungsten in place of lead compare?

    The water compartment could be filled from ISRU generation.

    If this isn’t enough then regolith could still be used although not in the 5 m depth but somewhat lesser.

    • You have to shield all sides except the bottom. Cosmic rays coming in horizontally are just as strong on Mars as those coming in vertically — well very slightly attenuated due to some atmosphere. More air would help reduce horizontal cosmic and solar radiation.

      Merely shielding the top is not sufficient.

  119. I forgot the thickness of the habitat material which would most likely be aluminum would be included in the protection.

    • Pb would have to be lifted at $100000/kg so anything using native materials is better engineering.

    • The habitat material might be an aluminum alloy or titanium alloy. The latter should provide more strength per kilogram. Purchase cost must be a low consideration compared to the amount of mass required to deliver a given functionality. Due to the enormous number of alloys available, I cannot say which will win out, but I’d bet on titanium more on a hunch than on hard data.

      The thickness may be a centimeter, give or take. It is not an important factor in shielding.

  120. Click to access 06-Raumtransportsysteme-Kosten.pdf

    page 6 launch costs per kg

    I think its only $2000 per lb launch cost and the liner would only add about 6000 kg or 13 pounds to total habitat weight, tubular habit sections about 12 ft long by 10 ft that would be about $26000 extra per habitat 12000 kg or 26000 lb for aluminum total of 18 kg so it would be about 38 t per habitat 38000 kg about $76000000 for launch of habitat as opposed to all aluminum 24000 kg $48000000 so a difference of 28 million if my calculations are all correct.

    Then the liner could be filled with water created from ISRU, and would do away with processing between 5 and 15 meters or regolith covering witch would use a lot of man hours and heavy equipment usage.

    • Launch costs are all over the map. Getting a pound of matter into space used to cost over $10,000. New technologies, such as SpaceX, claim to reduce that cost to under $1,000 per pound. However, that’s just low-Earth orbit. Going to Mars costs at least ten times that much. Today, it’s around $100,000 per pound if you take what NASA has done as a guideline. Soon, in a few years, it should drop to $10-20 thousand per pound.

      It’s best to be conservative in our estimates and assume that going to Mars in 2023 would cost more than $10,000 per delivered pound. For each pound that must return from Mars, the current estimate is about $500,000 per pound sent to Mars and returned to Earth safely — as in an expedition. Again, that number should decline by as much as tenfold in ten years or so. Getting a single lightweight person to Mars and back would cost $50,000,000 without any capsule or gear. Obviously the capsule would add a ton or so and jump the cost to around a billion or more. More people would add on more.

  121. Yes, Mars One is choosing to use regolith as shielding for that very reason. I’m not sure what the angle of repose of regolith is. They claim that they’re going to heap regolith up to a depth of three meters (about ten feet). That’s a lot of regolith! This is probably a reasonable number for shielding. Liquid hydrogen, not lead, is supposed to be the best cosmic ray shielding. Cryogenics are out of the question for the near future on Mars, however.

    The shielding does not have to be in place instantly up arrival. The settlers have been essentially unshielded for months in space. It will probably take a month to shield the sleeping quarters, after which the remaining habitat areas that are often occupied could also be buried. You’d leave a machine room and airlock alone. This is another topic that I explore in Martial Rhapsody.

  122. So could a gap in the upper half of the habitat be filled with hydrogen instead of water as opposed to covering it in regolith?

    What about constructing the habitat in some form of carbon fiber of carbon fiber aluminum composite to reduce the habitat cost?

    • Cryogenics are not feasible on Mars in the near future.

      I expect that composites will not be used because of their organic content (plastics of one sort or another, e.g. epoxies). Strong ionizing radiation will break down the bonds and weaken the materials rather rapidly.

  123. How about hydrogen impregnated foam?

    • Foam isn’t a good choice because of lack of density. You could use something like polyethylene because of its high number of hydrogen atoms. However, the density is less than liquid hydrogen, and you’d have the problem of transport. Using ISRU is definitely preferred for everything possible, especially bulk items such as fuel, food, and shielding.