Humans Will Never Colonise Mars

owedtojoy

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... At least, not for a long, long time .... so why send people there?

mgqzrr2woz849prdvb1a.png
(Mid-1960s view of a Mars colony)

To "colonise" in this context means to establish settlements that are largely self-sustaining. This is the vision of those such as Elon Musk ("1000 star ships and 20 years"). This is even a longer term effort than sending expeditions to Mars, which might be done by NASA.

Colonising Mars is a massive undertaking. To put it in context, humans began exploring the Antarctic continent about 200 years ago. While temporary bases were established around 1900, it was not until the onset of long-range flight that permanent bases became possible. These are purely scientific establishments, in the most inhospitable place on earth. We have not even remotely begun to "colonise" Antarctica, even though we do send tourists there.

Similarly, even undersea on the continental shelves, or the deep sea, are regularly visited by humans but not colonised. Yet undersea cities were once a common enough science-fiction trope. We have bases in earth orbit, but none are self-sustaining.

Antarctica, the oceans and earth orbit are testing grounds for Mars colonisation. Yet we still have to bring a temporary "human" environment with us to visit those places. And Mars is vastly more inhospitable.
  • The Red Planet is a cold, dead place, with an atmosphere about 100 times thinner than Earth’s.
  • The paltry amount of air that does exist on Mars is primarily composed of noxious carbon dioxide, which does little to protect the surface from the Sun’s harmful rays.
  • Air pressure on Mars is very low; at 600 Pascals, it’s only about 0.6 percent that of Earth. You might as well be exposed to the vacuum of space, resulting in a severe form of the bends—including ruptured lungs, dangerously swollen skin and body tissue, and ultimately death.
  • The thin atmosphere also means that heat cannot be retained at the surface. The average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees Fahrenheit (-63 degrees Celsius), with temperatures dropping as low as -195 degrees F (-126 degrees C). By contrast, the average temperature of Earth is ~57 degrees Fahrenheit (14C).
  • Once temperatures get below the -40 degrees F/C mark, people who aren’t properly dressed for the occasion can expect hypothermia to set in within about five to seven minutes.
This online magazine has a lot more detail ..


But here's the thing. If we are not going to colonise Mars, what is the point of ever sending people there? For centuries, at least?

Don't get me wrong. I was raised on sci-fi and imbibed films and books about expeditions to Mars since I was knee-high. I am all for scientific exploration of Mars, much as we do today with Antarctica or the sea-bed. But is it not a perfect case for robot exploration, managed from day-to-day, hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute by a combination of human and robotic systems? But what will be on the Martian surface should always be robotic for the foreseeable future. Robotic submersibles have revolutionised undersea exploration.

The humans overseers will stay on Earth, or in Earth Orbit, or on the Moon. Communication will be by radio, which will mean a 24-minute time delay. That is a drawback, but AI systems should advance to the point where machine-only systems can cope on their own with a sudden crisis.

Once humans are not involved, payloads reduce, the need for several backup systems, safety systems, for an air supply, for food supply all disappear. We can make bigger strides and use our resources more efficiently if we focus on robotic exploration of Mars. And I have no doubt we will also make rapid advances in human-machine systems that could be put to use on Earth.

Apparently, the US Air Force is training more drone pilots than fighter pilots at the moment. If drones (not just in flight, but at sea, and on land) are the future of warfare, they should be the future of space exploration also. It seems bizarre to take some genius-level human beings (men and women), then send them to Mars to lived cramped and unproductive lives, as great risk and expense. Let's do this properly, and start it right.
 
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owedtojoy

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Where though? To Mars or to the Moon (which is a part of Mars, apparently?)

fter-tweeting-that-the-moon-is-part-of-ma_hnef.960.jpg
We should be talking about scientific exploration, not colonisation.

Not clear what Trump is talking about. I suspect he wants us to start thinking about Mars in the hopes we forget how he is making shyte of this planet.

Nor do I see how exploration of Mars helps defense of the United States.
 

Nebuchadnezzar

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... At least, not for a long, long time .... so why send people there?

mgqzrr2woz849prdvb1a.png
(Mid-1960s view of a Mars colony)

To "colonise" in this context means to establish settlements that are largely self-sustaining. This is the vision of those such as Elon Musk ("1000 star ships and 20 years"). This is even a longer term effort than sending expeditions to Mars, which might be done by NASA.

Colonising Mars is a massive undertaking. To put it in context, humans began exploring the Antarctic continent about 200 years ago. While temporary bases were established around 1900, it was not until the onset of long-range flight that permanent bases became possible. These are purely scientific establishments, in the most inhospitable place on earth. We have not even remotely begun to "colonise" Antarctica, even though we do send tourists there.

Similarly, even undersea on the continental shelves, or the deep sea, are regularly visited by humans but not colonised. Yet undersea cities were once a common enough science-fiction trope. We have bases in earth orbit, but none are self-sustaining.

Antarctica, the oceans and earth orbit are testing grounds for Mars colonisation. Yet we still have to bring a temporary "human" environment with us to visit those places. And Mars is vastly more inhospitable.
This online magazine has a lot more detail ..


But here's the thing. If we are not going to colonise Mars, what is the point of ever sending people there? For centuries, at least?

Don't get me wrong. I was raised on sci-fi and imbibed films and books about expeditions to Mars since I was knee-high. I am all for scientific exploration of Mars, much as we do today with Antarctica or the sea-bed. But is not it a perfect case for robot exploration, managed from day-to-day, hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute by a combination of human and robotic systems? But what will be on the Martian surface should always be robotic for the foreseeable future. Robotic submersibles have revolutionised undersea exploration.

The humans overseers will stay on Earth, or in Earth Orbit, or on the Moon. Communication will be by radio, which will mean a 24-minute time delay. That is a drawback, but AI systems should advance to the point where machine-only systems can cope on their own with a sudden crisis.

Once humans are not involved, payloads reduce, the need for several backup systems, safety systems, for an air supply, for food supply all disappear. We can make bigger strides and use our resources more efficiently if we focus on robotic exploration of Mars. And I have no doubt we will also make rapid advances in human-machine systems that could be put to use on earth.

Apparently, the US Air Force is training more drone pilots than fighter pilots at the moment. If drones (not just in flight, but at sea, and on land) are the future of warfare, they should be the future of space exploration also. It seems bizarre to take some genius-level human beings (men and women), then send them to Mars to lived cramped and unproductive lives, as great risk and expense. Let's do this properly, and start it right.
I think the main reason why we should send manned missions sooner rather than very much later is the time delay for radio signals between Earth and Mars. The signal time varies between 4 minutes and 24 minutes depending on the varying distance between the two planets as they proceed about their solar orbits. Double that time for the receipt of data from Mars and then the return command from Earth. So in the worst case it’s nearly an hour for two way data exchange between the two. Drones could not be operated on this basis from Earth. Autonomous robots would be required but their ability to react and respond is limited as would the ability of mission control to make inputs . The savings gained in reduced weight, size and risk would have to be considered against the limitations caused ....ie lack of flexibilty and increased time required for the overall mission to achieve the same objectives.....and the other less tangible but significant benefits of ‘human achievement’.
 

Mickeymac

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We should be talking about scientific exploration, not colonisation.

Not clear what Trump is talking about. I suspect he wants us to start thinking about Mars in the hopes we forget how he is making shyte of this planet.

Nor do I see how exploration of Mars helps defense of the United States.

Quite surprised there are still some folk reading the tweets from that AH.:mad:
 

Nebuchadnezzar

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A compromise approach would be to have a local surface mission control in Martian orbit. That would enable a more direct and flexible control of unmanned units on the surface.
 

Catahualpa

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I read a book years ago about an expedition to Mars where the mission was to 'seed' the atmosphere so that it became breathable for humans and thus colonisation.

Yes I think robotics and AI is the way to go here, at least for the foreseeable future.

Depending on lessons learned then maybe our descendants hundreds of years from now might be able to lay a line of spuds down and grow red apples on stunted trees...

Who knows?
 

Kevin Parlon

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Where though? To Mars or to the Moon (which is a part of Mars, apparently?)

fter-tweeting-that-the-moon-is-part-of-ma_hnef.960.jpg
Anyone paying attention to the plans for Mars will know a proposed Lunar base will play an integral role in the effort.

 

silverharp

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it would be much easier and more pleasant to colonise the Sahara desert, the low gravity on mars makes in incompatible with multi-generational life, the main focus will be mining the asteroid belt for resources
 

owedtojoy

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A compromise approach would be to have a local surface mission control in Martian orbit. That would enable a more direct and flexible control of unmanned units on the surface.
It would have almost all the expense and effort of a mission to the surface of Mars. All that would be left out is the Mars Lander, and you would have to build one for robotic use.
 

owedtojoy

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I read a book years ago about an expedition to Mars where the mission was to 'seed' the atmosphere so that it became breathable for humans and thus colonisation.

Yes I think robotics and AI is the way to go here, at least for the foreseeable future.

Depending on lessons learned then maybe our descendants hundreds of years from now might be able to lay a line of spuds down and grow red apples on stunted trees...

Who knows?
Kim Stanley Robinson has a trilogy Red Mars, Blue Mars and Green Mars, with an epic structure where Mars is "terraformed" for humans. But I think it is simplistic about the initial obstacles. I only read the first one, maybe will read the rest sometime.

Again, I come back to the point of the OP - there is no point in sending humans to Mars if we can explore it just as easily with robotic/ AI technology. We do not need to colonise - not while (for example) climate change is altering Earth and possibly making parts of the Antarctic as habitable as Labrador is now, in a century or so.

The idea of using Mars for surplus Earth population is only feasible in a long, long time. And to take Musk's idea that we need Mars as a refuge when the Earth's ecosystem collapses ... if we can colonise Mars, we surely can fix Earth. Maybe it would be a better idea to preserve Earth or think about re-colonising this planet in a more eco-friendly way.
 

Nebuchadnezzar

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Kim Stanley Robinson has a trilogy Red Mars, Blue Mars and Green Mars, with an epic structure where Mars is "terraformed" for humans. But I think it is simplistic about the initial obstacles. I only read the first one, maybe will read the rest sometime.

Again, I come back to the point of the OP - there is no point in sending humans to Mars if we can explore it just as easily with robotic/ AI technology. We do not need to colonise - not while (for example) climate change is altering Earth and possibly making parts of the Antarctic as habitable as Labrador is now, in a century or so.

The idea of using Mars for surplus Earth population is only feasible in a long, long time. And to take Musk's idea that we need Mars as a refuge when the Earth's ecosystem collapses ... if we can colonise Mars, we surely can fix Earth. Maybe it would be a better idea to preserve Earth or think about re-colonising this planet in a more eco-friendly way.
But we can’t explore “just as easily with robotic/AI technology” alone. A manned mission would be much more capable. An unmanned mission would face a higher probability of equipment failure. AI exploration would be much more limited in its ability to negotiate a dynamic and largely unknown environment. Equipment failure rate would be higher with that lack of immediate human oversight and also the ability to service and/or repair would be much greater with humans on the surface. If we are going to undertake a major exploration and exploitation of Mars then perhaps a fewer number of manned but long duration and robust missions would be better than a host of lower capability unmanned ones.

Also I think the risks are overstated...or at least can be significantly reduced. Local remote control of unmanned units could be very effectively carried on the surface via manned subterranean outposts....roofed craters, lava tubes....these could provide habitable micro zones with protection against radiation.

The Caves of Mars Project?

Caves of Mars Project - Wikipedia

I don’t think Musk’s notion of a refuge is totally mad. Such outposts could support a small number of people for decades if they had sufficiently stockpiled recourses. A return to a post cataclysmic Earth could be possible.
 

Nebuchadnezzar

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It would have almost all the expense and effort of a mission to the surface of Mars. All that would be left out is the Mars Lander, and you would have to build one for robotic use.
An orbiting local mission control could act for several unmanned missions over an extended period. However, that also be done on the surface in a manned outpost.
 

owedtojoy

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But we can’t explore “just as easily with robotic/AI technology” alone. A manned mission would be much more capable. An unmanned mission would face a higher probability of equipment failure. AI exploration would be much more limited in its ability to negotiate a dynamic and largely unknown environment. Equipment failure rate would be higher with that lack of immediate human oversight and also the ability to service and/or repair would be much greater with humans on the surface. If we are going to undertake a major exploration and exploitation of Mars then perhaps a fewer number of manned but long duration and robust missions would be better than a host of lower capability unmanned ones.

Also I think the risks are overstated...or at least can be significantly reduced. Local remote control of unmanned units could be very effectively carried on the surface via manned subterranean outposts....roofed craters, lava tubes....these could provide habitable micro zones with protection against radiation.

The Caves of Mars Project?

Caves of Mars Project - Wikipedia

I don’t think Musk’s notion of a refuge is totally mad. Such outposts could support a small number of people for decades if they had sufficiently stockpiled recourses. A return to a post cataclysmic Earth could be possible.
Obviously, I disagree, and I am sure the engineers will be arguing it out. Sure, the romance of manned spaceflight and trips to Mars is very enticing, but if you take the romance out of it, the mission is much more prosaic.

For one thing, there will be losses on manned missions, like it or not. We had Apollo 13 (a lucky escape) two Space Shuttle disasters, and I remember 3 Soviet cosmonauts dying on re-entry. Better accidents happen to unmanned vehicles, plus removing the cost of designing, building and testing multiple safety, supply and backup systems that will be required extras to carry humans.

I am assuming significant advances in AI, and in human/ robot hybrid systems. In fact, the space programme would be an excellent proving ground for these.

Humans could take over planning and anticipating, outside of a 1-hour gap for signals to arrive and get sent, whereas the AI systems would manage unexpected events within the 1-hour, and continue its required function.

Caves or no caves, a base on Mars would need to be re-supplied, just like a base in Antarctica, but at enormously more cost and effort. Even to build such a base, we should be thinking about how to do it with robots.

Robots and drones are increasingly being used in the military sphere, and the space programme is a natural partner.
 

Nebuchadnezzar

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Obviously, I disagree, and I am sure the engineers will be arguing it out. Sure, the romance of manned spaceflight and trips to Mars is very enticing, but if you take the romance out of it, the mission is much more prosaic.

For one thing, there will be losses on manned missions, like it or not. We had Apollo 13 (a lucky escape) two Space Shuttle disasters, and I remember 3 Soviet cosmonauts dying on re-entry. Better accidents happen to unmanned vehicles, plus removing the cost of designing, building and testing multiple safety, supply and backup systems that will be required extras to carry humans.

I am assuming significant advances in AI, and in human/ robot hybrid systems. In fact, the space programme would be an excellent proving ground for these.

Humans could take over planning and anticipating, outside of a 1-hour gap for signals to arrive and get sent, whereas the AI systems would manage unexpected events within the 1-hour, and continue its required function.

Caves or no caves, a base on Mars would need to be re-supplied, just like a base in Antarctica, but at enormously more cost and effort. Even to build such a base, we should be thinking about how to do it with robots.

Robots and drones are increasingly being used in the military sphere, and the space programme is a natural partner.
Habitable caves/craters on Mars may be able to sustain a degree of self sufficiency.....and not just talking Matt Damon growing potatoes in poo here either.......

“Researchers at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands have produced crops in Mars and Moon soil simulant developed by NASA. The research supports the idea that it would not only be possible to grow food on Mars and the Moon to feed future settlers, but also to obtain viable seed from crops grown there.”

Soil on moon and Mars likely to support crops: Mars soil simulant comparable to soil on Earth
 

Nebuchadnezzar

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.....

Wageningen University & Research, cultivated ten different crops: garden cress, rocket, tomato, radish, rye, quinoa, spinach, chives, peas and leek.
 

silverharp

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can test the 'auld vegan theory I guess. 3 generations max :unsure:
 

The OD

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Anyone paying attention to the plans for Mars will know a proposed Lunar base will play an integral role in the effort.

Absolutely. Except Trump. He still thinks Mars is the one without peanuts.
 

Dearghoul

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Totally viable planet until the Eighteen Hundreds.

Earth.

Radically reduce our bithrate and we won't have to seek out an arid alternative.
 


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