Humanity’s Future In Space

There was a panel discussion at the Mars Society Convention Friday night in Irvine. Bob invited me to participate, but I was unfortunately in Florida, preparing for the storm.

81 comments on this post.
  1. Chris L:

    Listened to this last night. Brin didn’t seem to really want to go along with the whole upward and outward thing. He also seemed positively delighted to let everyone know Earth is moving out of the goldilocks zone. I also found his assertion that the Earth freezing over 2 billion years ago was “the exact opposite of climate change”.

  2. Chris L:

    Meant to add I found the assertion odd.

  3. ken anthony:

    Jerry Pournelle focused on the solution to living in space in his 70s book ‘A Step Farther Out.’ The key ingredient is enough power and if you read other plans it’s the main thing they all get wrong. You don’t need just enough power to live. You need enough to grow industry which includes the ability to increase capacity integrally.

    Jerry did the math,

  4. Paul D.:

    Power is necessary for the growth of industry, but it’s hardly sufficient.

  5. ken anthony:

    Nobody is saying otherwise. The difference is the basic economic truth that all resources are rare and have alternate uses. What that means is most items are not critical because a perhaps less desirable but fully functional alternative generally exists, However, there is no alternative to power. You either have enough or you don’t. In addition, enough power makes it possible to increase the quantity of things that have alternate uses.

    It is the one most critical requirement as Jerry correctly explained. He was no fool nor deluded.

  6. Paul D.:

    You can trade off efficiency of use vs. cost of equipment. So it’s not the case there’s no way to substitute for energy. In general, prices settle at the point where substitution is a wash, and energy is no different from any other input.

    You can’t eliminate energy use entirely, but that’s true of other inputs as well.

  7. ken anthony:

    it’s not the case there’s no way to substitute for energy

    Try doing anything without it.

  8. Paul D.:

    Ken: how about you try reading for comprehension?

  9. Rand Simberg:

    Paul, regrettably, you are asking too much from Ken.

  10. Rand Simberg:

    That would be an approach too novel for him, I fear.

  11. ken anthony:

    Paul, how about taking intro to physics?

    Efficiency is wonderful, but sometimes a big enough hammer will get the job done better.

    Nothing happens without energy.

    …and your argument is with Jerry.

  12. ken anthony:

    Forgive me Rand but Paul’s reading comprehension insult requires I reply…

    You can trade off efficiency of use vs. cost of equipment.

    Not the topic which is that energy either is or is not the most critical resource. Efficiency doesn’t really address that.

    So it’s not the case there’s no way to substitute for energy.

    Efficiency is still not the topic. The critical need of enough energy is. There is a limit to how little energy is required. Below that limit is criticality.

    In general, prices settle at the point where substitution is a wash, and energy is no different from any other input.

    Now you’re suggesting they buy energy rather than produce it on mars? You’re making the issue worse.

    You can’t eliminate energy use entirely,

    The textbook definition of critical.

    but that’s true of other inputs as well.

    Not all, but for those where that might be technically true, energy cones to the rescue..

    Hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements in the universe but paradoxically rare for opposite reasons. Helium is a noble gas making it hard to find. Hydrogen combines in many valuable compounds requiring a critical need: energy to get it. Oxygen is found in just about every rock but needs what? energy to retrieve. Carbon and nitrogen likewise.

    Other things have real substitutes which means: not critical.

  13. Rand Simberg:

    I understand what Paul is saying, but I find it completely unsurprising that you don’t.

  14. wodun:

    You can trade off efficiency of use vs. cost of equipment. So it’s not the case there’s no way to substitute for energy.

    You are saying there is no substitute for having power but there is a substitute for the quantity of power. True but meaningless.

    Focusing on efficiencies just ignores that any off world habitation will need abundant energy, just like we do on Earth. When energy prices are low on Earth, the economy does well. High energy prices inhibit all economic activity.

    There are diminishing returns on efficiency and expanding the available energy is more beneficial than a strategy of inhibiting growth.

  15. Paul D.:

    True but meaningless.

    On the contrary, it’s a very important point.

    Understand back when Pournelle was writing some of that, there was this idea that there’s a fixed ratio of energy use to GDP. To grow the economy, the thinking went, you had to grow energy use.

    Some people were calling this nonsense, that energy use is far from the theoretical minimum requirements for all sorts of processes, and that GDP could increase without energy use increasing in lockstep (or, indeed, possibly without increasing at all.) Pournelle, as I recall, thought very poorly of this.

    Of course, he was wrong, and Lovins and others were right. Energy use and GDP growth have decoupled dramatically since then.

  16. ken anthony:

    Your talking about two entirely different things, Paul.

    In his book (ASFO) Jerry makes no mention that I recall (I will apologize if wrong) of this idea that there’s a fixed ratio of energy use to GDP. I guess I’ll have to dig up the book?

    He certainly didn’t agree that a colony could not be self sufficient. You’re looking at our interconnected world and lacking the imagination to see other viable possibilities, A mindset that guarantees failure.

    Elon has proved the conventional wisdom wrong for 15 years. Was it Clarke that said when people claim something impossible they are certainly wrong?

    Now we have two companies regularly recovering rockets… something the industry laughed at them attempting. I wouldn’t be too quick to call Jerry wrong.

  17. Rand Simberg:

    But the fact remains that energy poverty keeps many on the planet in poverty.

  18. wodun:

    Efficiency is important but it doesn’t do away with the need for energy or the benefits that abundant energy provides. Sure, you can use efficiencies in a current volume of energy to create growth but there are diminishing returns and ultimately you still need a greater volume of energy. So yes, your point was true but meaningless.

    TBH, there is a lot of talking past each other, straw manning, and focusing on quibbles going on. I don’t think there is as much disagreement here as appears in the comments. It’s fun though! Thinking about how a settlement would unfold really fires up the imagination.

  19. George Turner:

    It is perhaps important to remember that sunlight to grow plants is one of the critical energy inputs, below which land-based animal life ends.

    Assume an average of about a megawatt of sunlight per acre (250W/m^2 over 24 hours), and that each crop acre feeds three people. That’s 330 kW for growing food, compared to an American’s average electricity consumption of less than 1.4 kW per person.

    If you go with advanced hydroponics (50 people per acre) you cut the energy per person to 20 kW.

    But if you include range land, we currently use 1.5 acres per person to support the world’s population, which would be 1.5 megawatts per person.

    So only 0.1% (including range land) to 0.4% (good crop land) to 6.5% (hydroponic) of our energy consumption is consumed as electricity.

    By that scale, the difference in energy requirements between an agrarian subsistence economy and a massive industrial economy is not only tiny, it’s strongly negative because the industrial economy would have more efficient agriculture, and thus require fewer acres per person.

  20. wodun:

    Yes, in order to have a society, you need to have more than energy. but that doesn’t mean you would ignore energy production or how that enables a society to exist. Abundant energy helps solve many of the things you complain about.

    Its one thing to look at the big picture and throw your hands up in frustration that everything is impossible. Its another thing to look at the big picture and see the multitude of specific problems that have a many solutions.

  21. ken anthony:

    Its another thing to look at the big picture and see the multitude of specific problems that have many solutions.

    You da man. A natural Martian… and yes, that is a compliment.

  22. Godzilla:

    You can replace a lot of processes with simpler ones with enough power. But there’s a reason why we measure things by efficiency that increases the less power you use. What you need is smarter solutions to live off the fat of the land. Once you make space livable then you can grow the other structures on top of that.

  23. Paul D.:

    No, what you need are products or services from space that can be sold back on Earth, to pay for the things you will need to get from Earth. Trying to go self-sufficient from the start, to ‘live off the land’, is not even slightly realistic. Reducing the cost of operating in space by getting some simple things there, yes, eliminating the need to pay for stuff from Earth, no.

  24. ken anthony:

    [cue banjo duel]

    Trying to go self-sufficient from the start, to ‘live off the land’, is not even slightly realistic.

    Other than start-up materials, anything else is delusional.

    It may very likely be that nothing with mass can over come transportation cost no matter how much they can reasonably come down.

    In that case you’ve solved the Fermi paradox!

  25. wodun:

    No, what you need are products or services from space that can be sold back on Earth, to pay for the things you will need to get from Earth.

    You ignore that once people are there, for whatever reason, they will have a local economy. Prices are based not just on cost but on what people are willing and able to pay. Trade is a human trait. Even a scientific outpost will have people engaging in trade.

    I don’t think we can accurately predict how a local economy would unfold. The price of a good or service produced on Mars could be correlated to the price of something shipped from Earth or it might not. It depends on the good or service and the mix of products and services at any given time. No one can predict this, good or bad.

    Hopefully any activity on Mars, or anywhere else, will include the participation of people other than a few government workers. Being open or restrictive to who can be involved is a choice we make. How participation takes place is one of the determining factors in any off world activity. It is very easy to engineer a controlled market but just like on Earth, success comes from giving up control.

  26. Paul D.:

    If I’m ignoring the local economy, it’s because it’s irrelevant. Space colonists will simply not be productive enough to be able to sustain a colony with anything like current day technology. They will be beholden to Earth to provide the very machinery that sustains their lives, and nothing they trade between themselves will change this.

  27. ken anthony:

    Paul, your argument is falsified by all the places on earth where govt. has failed but enclaves still exist where people survive by local trade.

    Perhaps you need to take a trip to Venezuela where many are dying but some have figured out how to survive by keeping their heads down and trading with their neighbors. Very few are independently rich enough to import resources. Although some are eating zoo animals.

  28. wodun:

    Space colonists will simply not be productive enough to be able to sustain a colony with anything like current day technology.

    I disagree here. We have the technology but just not used in the way needed to support a settlement on Mars. There hasn’t been a need to use it this way so no one has done it.

    They will be beholden to Earth to provide the very machinery that sustains their lives

    Initially yes. Everything comes from Earth. No one is saying that you just plop down an entire civilization or that there would be no supplies sent from Earth. However, you do need to have a certain volume of people in order for a settlement to work.

    Settlement will take the combined efforts of many different individuals and groups. There are a number of things that will need to be done prior to any large groups of people arriving too.

    I suspect they would know this before going. So when the time comes decades from now, there will be some solutions in place other than just thinking everything is impossible. The question is how long will this last and what is needed to be done to transition. We can all identify the problems, its finding the solutions that are important.

    The steps of getting from that first landing to the full blown society you think we need to land on Mars at one time is the mystery.

    A local economy is important. It will change what is needed to be imported from Earth. It will allow residents to earn money or trade goods that they need or desire. Are you going to ship a desk from Earth? No you would just build one there. Will building desks pay for shipping a car from Earth? No but it might get you enough to buy some food you want.

    You wont be buying tomato from Earth. You will be buying them from Mars. The cost of that tomato isn’t going to be the sunk costs of the tomato farmer traveling to Mars but the cost of what they need to survive. The price will also be dependent on what people are willing and able to pay.

    However, our economy is filled with examples of companies that started off small and grew into giants that manufacture or provide services that are vastly different than what they did starting out.

    The high costs of transport means that the colonists have a need to develop their own manufacturing base for everything, not just heavy equipment. This is an economy. That no one is there making things right now doesn’t mean its impossible.

  29. ken anthony:

    companies that started off small and grew into giants

    Which reminds me of a youtube I saw recently that said SpaceX went from a valuation of $10b in 2015 to $21b today.Amazing, eh?

  30. Paul D.:

    Paul, your argument is falsified by all the places on earth where govt. has failed but enclaves still exist where people survive by local trade.

    This is an incredibly idiotic argument.

    Ken, Earth is really easy to live on. It can be done with neolithic technology! Space is MUCH harder to live in. The base technology needed to live there cannot be made by the people living there, with current technology levels. They simply aren’t productive enough, especially at the small size of outposts that might reasonably be put into place anytime soon.

  31. ken anthony:

    Space is MUCH harder to live in.

    Wasn’t talking about space. Mars is not space.

    Second, you were making the unjustified assertion that the local economy is irrelevant which is a truly idiotic statement.

    Just because you couldn’t live in some conditions does not mean that those with the right motivation, skills and resources couldn’t.

    Humans know how to adapt their environment to themselves. It doesn’t involve terraforming either unless you are referring to one habitat at a time.

    What do they need? Energy. Energy give you…
    water (a liter per cu ft. of soil on mars)
    Water gives you oxygen.
    A heat pump gives you the right temperature.
    Carbine dioxide scrubbers un-foul the air (invented in 1800s.)
    An airlock and water bath keeps the bad stuff outside but they will hardly ever need to go outside (indoor shirtsleeve parks will provide them with plenty of nature.) Robots/rovers can easily get the resources they need after some onsite development. Rovers they can easily build themselves.

    No high tech is required for any of this. Zubrin hobby farms will make those that wish to farm, food exporters. Which is a good thing since basic economics and free trade insures plenty of variety (no central management required or desired.)

    They need a few dozen different items with everything else being a luxury that they have all the right incentives to produce. If humans can live in a capsule, they can certainly live on a planet like mars.

  32. Godzilla:

    If we could live off the fat of the land it would eliminate the bottleneck of having to depend on Earth resources and enable a wider spread settlement of the solar system. Otherwise I think you would be restricted mostly to the inner solar system because of transit times.
    Due to the cost and time lag of transportation, even if you only want to go as far away as Mars, I think it takes almost two years of transit time. Going to somewhere as far away as the moons of Saturn would be so expensive and time consuming as to be utterly impractical for colonization purposes. Given these constraints any colony which depends on a huge volume of Earth resources simply to sustain itself is nonviable in the long term. Due to their volume and weight you need to be able to produce or recycle air, water, and basic foods locally. Otherwise space settlement won’t happen.

    You are of course correct that for any colony to become economically robust in the long term it needs to produce some kind of product or service. But I doubt those will come easily. We heard a lot about space mining for example. But with 2/3rds of the Earth’s surface being ocean and those places being pretty much untouched, would it even be worthwhile to go into space for that?

  33. wodun:

    But with 2/3rds of the Earth’s surface being ocean and those places being pretty much untouched,

    Its not about shipping ore or water to Earth’s surface but to cislunar space or other locations. I think you could see settlements at Jupiter or Saturn and while far from Earth, they could have their own intraplanetary networks. I also think robotics or a long tour of duty could but used to set up water mining. Then its just shipping and some things don’t need be shipped fast, just regularly.

    In terms of land use, we have lots of open space but its already too crowded for many of us 🙂

    Living off the fat of the land is the ideal but will look different for someplace like Mars and a space station in the belt. Imaging how that plays out is a lot of fun.

  34. wodun:

    eliminating the need to pay for stuff from Earth, no

    I am not sure why this is the goal. Interplanetary trade of goods would be great. The goods traded will change over time. But since the transit of people is a necessity, there will always be some sort of cargo room to take advantage of.

    You don’t want total self sufficiency per se, just being self sufficient enough.

  35. Edward M. Grant:

    “No, what you need are products or services from space that can be sold back on Earth, to pay for the things you will need to get from Earth.”

    Which basically don’t exist at current transport costs. Even a highly-efficient future interplanetary transport is probably going to cost at least tens of dollars per kilo, which makes most bulk transport pointless. Software, maybe, but hiring developers in India will be much cheaper than hiring developers on Mars.

    We’re not going to be able to colonize much of the solar system until we have the ability to make the things we need from the raw materials we have access to. That probably means advanced automation and 3D printers (or whatever tech supersedes them).

  36. ken anthony:

    Edward, have you ever seen what people with time and motivation can build by hand with almost no tools at all? Martians will have both time and motivation in abundance.

    Mankind built quite a few impressive things before 3-D printers came along, but if they have them why not use them?

    Advanced automation doesn’t produce anything you can’t make without it. Automation gives you management control of quality and costs. The big jump is from not being able to make something to being able. Scaling the process up is trivial to that hurdle.

  37. wodun:

    They might not have too much extra time. I suspect that there will be an endless amount of chores to do.

    There will certainly be some low tech traditional manufacturing, like ceramics and glazing, taking place but production innovations along the lines of 3D printing will greatly enable manufacturing of machines.

    Initially, scale will be relative.

  38. ken anthony:

    I suspect that there will be an endless amount of chores to do.

    Farming is a business. The most successful one’s I know spend most of their time thinking about improving their business with sporadic bouts of high activity which usually lasts for only a few days. The one’s always busy often don’t own their farm… the bank does.

  39. wodun:

    Farmers work hard every day, they don’t just sit around day dreaming 🙂

    There is always something needing fixed, project worked on, or animal taken care of.

    It depends on what a habitat will look like on Mars but a homesteader away from any other structures is going to have a lot of maintenance to do in addition to all the farm work, manufacturing, design, or whatever else.

    I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube on RV’ers and they have nothing but problems and you can watch the bush people reality shows to see how hard it is even with many modern conveniences. Settling Mars is certainly doable but early life will be very challenging.

  40. ken anthony:

    A friend of mine and his brother inherited cattle from their father. His father had about 500 head. My friend joined the army and became a tank commander in Germany. After his service he became a college professor. His brother stayed with his father to work the ranch. His father and brother were both considered the real ranchers.

    My friend and his wife home schooled his kids and I was recruited to live with them one year to teach their kids. They’ve since all gone through college. At the time both brothers had their own separate ranches each with about the same quantity of over 500 head.

    I spent a lot of time with my friend and saw him in action. He was not considered a real rancher like his brother. He spent more time thinking than real ranching. Something he learned from a particular researcher on improving African ranches.

    The difference between the two brothers? My friend completely owned his assets. The bank owned his brothers. The bank owned most of the other real ranchers assets in the area as well.

    There were days and weeks we all did pure hard ranch work. Most of the time however, he was planning the future of his business and I often got to hear his thoughts which is what I’m passing along, from my experience.

  41. peterh:

    Automation, and advanced tools, let you produce with much less labor input. And labor, along with material and energy, is in limited supply.

  42. ken anthony:

    All true Peter, but there’s a reason supply and demand are often mentioned in the same breath.

  43. Paul D.:

    Ultimately, if demand for computation continues to increase, it will be necessary to put computation in space because the Earth has a finite ability to radiate waste heat. We are not near that point now, but we could be there in a century or two.

    I could also see cis-lunar resources being used for global climate engineering, should that prove desirable.

  44. wodun:

    Hmm off world server farms, that is interesting to contemplate. That is something that can happen in the near term and comparing costs are a lot easier than a Mars settlement that is decades away from even starting and that requires many things that haven’t been developed yet.

    I don’t buy into the climate hysteria and think it is the pinnacle of human hubris to think we can control the climate. Whenever people think they are smart enough to control complex systems like economies, people, or the climate, red flags go up. (no pun intended)

    However, I recognize that many people are motivated in a sincere belief in avoiding impact on Earth’s environment. Someone could be motivated by this belief to do an off world server farm right now, even though there isn’t really a need to. Pursuing one’s desires like this could be a good thing and far less harmful than the totalitarian impulses many of these people have.

  45. ken anthony:

    I like vacuum memory to replace long term storage. The idea is put a mirror a long way away in space. Then flash a modulated laser at it.

  46. peterh:

    Delay line memory? Simple, but high access latency, and most definitely volatile storage.

    How much distance do you figure to store a TB?

  47. ken anthony:

    distance to store a TB?

    I imagine a number of factors, more than just distance. But frequency would be one factor. Amplitude could carry more than one bit per wave. I’m not really familiar with all the techniques.

  48. wodun:

    Which basically don’t exist at current transport costs. Even a highly-efficient future interplanetary transport is probably going to cost at least tens of dollars per kilo, which makes most bulk transport pointless.

    Ya, focusing on interplanetary trade goods is a waste of time. I can imagine a number of things that could be traded but the most valuable cargo will be humans. Ultimately the success of any Mars’ settlement will be their local economy. At some point, capital trade and investment will be a good way for Earthlings to participate and profit.

    There are other locations that could possibly make money through the trade of water and ore mined in space or at locations with not much of a gravity well.

  49. ken anthony:

    I understand what Paul is saying, but I find it completely unsurprising that you don’t.

    3 comments on the same point? I can see you’re really enjoying this Rand (my hope at least.) Then you support my point with your 4th… energy poverty keeps many on the planet in poverty.

    Paul’s is trying to make the argument that energy is no different from other resources and in that he is entirely missing Jerry’s point which had nothing to do with energy efficiency and everything to do with the critical flexibility to use alternate resources to survive.

    Now I’ve got to quote Pournelle.

    Pg 13: “Given the energy we can produce food.” So food is not critical. Energy is. [Summarizing 2 pages of argument.] Also indicating a half acre can fully feed a man. But before that can happen you need enough energy to make the facilities for growing.

    Pg. 18: “Wealth requires energy.” Exactly what you said Rand, but about 40 years ago. Wealth is more than riches. It keeps people alive which sounds like a critical thing to me (assuming I comprehend?)

    Pg 20: “You could make the very definition of wealth the ability to dispose of great quantities of energy.”

    Re: Paul’s point about efficiency which Jerry rants about in the prior paragraph (he could have been quoting Paul.)
    Pg 60: “low-growth world economy doom’s most people to wretched poverty” Low growth meaning low energy from the pg 20 quote. Poverty meaning death.

    Things that energy can resolve are simply NOT critical unless you have a critical lack of energy. Efficiency is NOT the point. Having less energy than you need is. Assume 100% efficiency. That leaves the issue intact even though Paul is trying to suggest otherwise.

    The resources already exist. What is THE critical need for extracting them? (I leave this as a comprehension test.)

  50. wodun:

    You can look at a lot of the underdeveloped places to live on Earth and its a problem of more than just energy. Island nations are a good example or look at the book/tv series Guns, Germs, and Steel. What prevented some humans from technological progressing as fast as others?

    There are a lot of critical needs, getting bogged down on the most critical doesn’t really matter. Let’s just say we plop down a few nuclear reactors, then what? That still leaves how to use that energy for extracting, refining, and manufacturing resources. Paul would ask who pays for the reactor and how they could make a profit on it or who pays for the mining equipment and how they make a profit.

    I think a lot of these answers would unfold naturally if there was an effort to prospect and explore Mars with humans on the ground and that all the people/groups involved were not government workers.

  51. ken anthony:

    getting bogged down on the most critical doesn’t really matter.

    Absolutely right; however, it is important to realize that every complicated machine or tool can be made from raw materials and simpler hand made tools. Anything they can produce is not critical. I saw this first hand working for Brush Wellman in my youth.

    Critical is anything they have to import from earth to survive. Enough energy makes it less likely you would need to import a thing because that energy allows alternative options critical to survive.

    For example that MIT study that gave Mars One 68 days of survival? With enough energy you don’t need to have a delicate balance to keep everyone alive. You just flush out the stale air and replace it with fresh. The beauty of having energy to waste.

  52. peterh:

    If memory serves, that study concluded that enough crops to feed everyone would produce a gross surplus of O2. Of course if you also account for the other biomass produced and the O2 consumed in converting that biomass into plant food, I expect it all comes close to balancing out. But having some extra energy to run atmosphere processing makes for a nice insurance policy.

  53. ken anthony:

    Nailed it Peter. People analyze as if talking about a closed system when it isn’t (at the local scale. If I don’t clarify somebody will call me an idiot for not saying the universe is a closed system.)

    Worst case, with enough energy you just continuously replace old air with new. We had to do that for an entire plant (about 300 employees) when I worked with beryllium oxide.

    They even buried hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of machinery after their useful life. Still it was profitable.

  54. Hop David:

    Their focus seemed to be decadal survey and that we need to look for life on Mars because it used to have liquid water on the surface. Sure, life on other bodies and panspermia are interesting notions. But sending science missions isn’t going to open a new frontier.

    We’re not going to open a new frontier unless a return on investment can be realized within an investor’s lifetime. I don’t even know if that’s possible. But if it is, the lunar poles and near earth asteroids would be the best bet. It would have been nice if they’d discussed Bezos hopes for a cislunar economy. Or Spudis and Bridenstine. Or Planetary Resources. Or Deep Space Industries.

    Will NASA ever make it a top priority to help private enterprise profitably exploit extra terrestrial resources? If not, it’s my hope NASA will become irrelevant.

    Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov inspired the early NASA engineers. The current crop of writers aren’t inspiring anyone with their rehashing of science fiction ideas from the 1970s.

  55. ken anthony:

    Still has water on the surface if the reports of flowing brine are true.

  56. wodun:

    Will NASA ever make it a top priority to help private enterprise profitably exploit extra terrestrial resources?

    That depends on whether or not the methodology behind the COTS programs is applied to continued activities. Business seems to think cislunar space can be exploited. This fits in well with ESA, JAXA, and Russia who also want to go to the Moon. Developing cislunar space also opens up destinations for asteroid miners.

    I would hope that any search for life on Mars would be supported by a space station in orbit around Mars and that the people/groups participating have goals other than what the scientists want. A station supporting robots looking for life could also support robots looking for good place to start a settlement or to exploit resources.

    But there are a lot of people in the science community who don’t want humans to leave Earth in any meaningful way. I think they would push for really expensive one of a kind missions that don’t support anything beyond what they want to accomplish in those missions, just like they do now.

  57. gbaikie:

    “I would hope that any search for life on Mars would be supported by a space station in orbit around Mars and that the people/groups participating have goals other than what the scientists want. A station supporting robots looking for life could also support robots looking for good place to start a settlement or to exploit resources.”

    Well I think a search life on Mars is wrong focus.
    And think a good argument not to explore Mars- or let’s explore Mercury. I would say that exploring Mars from orbit could be a way to explore for life on Mars.
    Now in obit, begs question of where in orbit.
    Low Mars orbit, moons of Mars orbit, geostationary orbit, and high orbit.
    One has two basic problems, gravity and radiation.
    In terms gravity, it seems you want to make artificial gravity- and we have not done this yet. So one might want to do that before building one for Mars. I would suggest putting it in Earth/Moon L-1 or 2.
    II also think it might good idea to put ISS into high earth orbit, and then building the artificial gravity space station.
    One might even have artificial gravity space station with a space station like ISS. And could commute between the stations- one could do daily or shifts of weeks or months.
    The emphasis of artificial gravity station, could lowest possible maintenance needed for the station. And/or could act as a lifeboat- long duration stays allowing enough time for a rescue.
    Or roughly speaking, it’s program adding to ISS program.
    I don’t think Mars fans are going to be happy with that, but I think learning how to space station which can operated for more than a century is a good thing to do.
    But in meanwhile, let’s explore the Moon.

  58. wodun:

    Well I think a search life on Mars is wrong focus.

    I don’t disagree but it is something that will happen. It can take place at the same time prospecting for suitable crewed outposts takes place.

    Now in obit, begs question of where in orbit.
    Low Mars orbit, moons of Mars orbit, geostationary orbit, and high orbit.

    I don’t do orbital mechanics or have a good enough memory to recall what people who do have said on the matter. I think the primary concern should be hosting a station within the cognitive horizon for real time control over robots. After that there are a lot of pros/cons for different places to host a station.

    I agree with you on a variable gravity station closer to Earth. I go back and forth one the question of what should be done first. It is a tough call because we can do a lot right now without developing new tech but we also need a lot of new tech in the long term. Hopefully whatever course is charted allows for groups/individuals to do what they think is most important rather than locking all activity into one track.

  59. gbaikie:

    –Hop David
    September 17, 2017 at 10:11 AM

    Their focus seemed to be decadal survey and that we need to look for life on Mars because it used to have liquid water on the surface. Sure, life on other bodies and panspermia are interesting notions. But sending science missions isn’t going to open a new frontier.–

    NASA should explore space and send humans to make exploring space
    faster.
    First step of exploration of space is to determine whether the Moon can be exploited in the near term. Or does the Moon have minable water in the polar regions.
    Or we know the Moon has many advantages, but in the near tern, it seems to me, that Moon has to have cheap rocket fuel.
    And cheap rocket fuel means rocket fuel less than 2000 per kg- not rocket fuel cheaper than $20,000 per kg.
    Or in terms price of lunar water, less than $1000 per kg.
    The price of lunar water depends upon how much can be sold.
    So less than $1000 per kg for volume of about 1 million kg per year.
    Or 1000 tons per year or gross value of 1 billion dollars per year.

    This simply not something NASA could possible do, and it’s rather challenging for a free market to do.
    Any fool could make it work, if one could sell water at $1000 per kg,
    if they could sell 100,000 tonnes of water a year.
    And quite simply NASA can never sell 100,000 tonnes of lunar water per year, but a free market could.
    The general way a free market could get to selling 100,000 tonnes of lunar water, is it start by selling 50 to 100 tons per year and double it’s production per year: 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 5000, 5000, 5000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 20,000, 40,000, 100,000, 200,000. Or within 20 years producing somewhere 1/2 million tonnes of lunar water per year and selling it for less then $500 per kg, and perhaps less than $100 per kg.
    The price of water in first few years is whatever one can get someone to paid for it. And someone who sign a contract to buy all you make will get [or should get] a lower price. Or someone who will buy all you make- is basically your banker or the owner- who in charge of finding customers and delivering the water [or rocket fuel made from water] on time, when they agree to pay for it. Or someone who buy a portion of what you make, is one customer who is essentially bidding to against other customers for an on time delivery.
    Or largely about managing time or time is money.
    So $1000 per of water is about 10,000 tonnes of water over time period of 10 years is environment of assumed economic growth and it’s not really about the price of water, it’s about the business of mining lunar water- what it can do in the future. Or when will it be 10 billion or 100 billion dollar company, which people who know what they are doing.
    As said, impossible for NASA to do.
    But NASA can explore the Moon and assess how much water might be mined in various areas. And areas of interests are about 1 square km region which about 100,000 tons of water could mined in decades of time. Or 1 square km has 1 million square meter, or 1 million cubic meter in depth of 1 meter, and if 10% is water, that is 100,000 tonnes of water. Though it might only be 5% water- which might also minable.

    The significant thing how much water within a small area, and not a guess that somewhere in lunar pole there could be millions of tons of recoverable water, as question is where do you mine your first 10,000 [or less] tonnes of water. Or the first 10,000 tonnes is the hard part and you want to know where the easiest place to do this, is.
    So NASA finds better areas, then starts, Mars exploration.
    And one of things to do in regards to Mars is find the first billion tonnes of water which is minable.

  60. ken anthony:

    You don’t look for water on mars; you look for water ore which according to our rover is just about any shovel full of dirt.One liter in every cubic foot.

  61. gbaikie:

    One liter in every cubic foot.

    A cubic foot has 28.3168 liter
    Or 10% of cubic foot is 2.8 liters of water.
    That may or may not be minable on the Moon.
    Plants could die [wilt] in soil with one liter of water per cubic foot.
    Or anywhere plants are not dying have more water in the soil.

    Or moon water is worth at least $1000 per kg- but water on Mars costs $1000 per kg, why have human settlements on Mars?
    Or $1000 per kg is a good price anywhere in space if one needs less than 100 tons. Or if there less than 100 tons water that needs mined to extract it in space, it’s not worth mining it if buy it for $1000 per kg.
    Or related to idea of water test payloads, 100 tons of distilled water in tanks, which require opening a tap to get, is marginally profitable “to mine” if in LEO. Or free water in water tanks in LEO could be profitable to split and turn into rocket fuel- assuming one get more water in the future, when you use up the 100 tons and sold it as rocket fuel. Or 1000 tons of free water in LEO, is easier to profitably “mine” and make into rocket fuel.

    I would say the Moon requires the least amount of water to mine and where one can get a high enough price to be minable.

    Mars is different story. For exploration purposes- you mine water from Mars atmosphere, but for settlement one needs cheaper water.
    A settlement on Earth is “made” by having access to cheap water and abundant water. And if you picking a place on Mars to have a house, you should select a place which has abundant and cheap water. Cheap water near term, but lots of water available means a potentially larger settlement [higher real estate value].

  62. gbaikie:

    Another way to look at it, say someone has more money than they know what to do with. And they want to control where areas in space are explored.
    So they will pay to launch and land 10 tons of water somewhere in space. So they can land it on the Moon, Mercury, or Mars, and they could pick someplace “reasonable”. But point is they want to influence where some space agency or other party will explore. And they allow anyone going to use the water for free.
    Or if going somewhere on the Moon, Mercury, or Mars why wouldn’t take advantage of it- use it make rocket fuel for sample returns or operation use in that area.
    But say motivate wasn’t to direct exploration, but instead you wanted to start a mars settlement. How much water would need to land to make someone choose that site to have settlement. Say have a condition, that you have the water if you stay there for 1 year. Or water is for settlement purposes only.
    Any amount could be useful, but it seems if knew of other areas of Mars that had easier to get water it would diminish any interest.
    Or put it different way, say you put water at Lunar equatorial region. As compared to lunar pole. It seems to me one needs less water at poles than if put in equatorial region.
    Or you get more water after using up the free water, so your infrastructure needed to use the free water can used for addition water that you pay for in the future.
    Or with Mars, why build a house if it’s going to be a ghost town?

  63. ken anthony:

    That may or may not be minable on the Moon.

    As Zubrin points out… If they found cement on the moon they’d mine it for water.

    Plants could die [wilt] in soil with one liter of water per cubic foot.

    That’s a bit of a non sequitur. Obviously you’d mine and store the water to provide whatever the plants need.

    For exploration purposes- you mine water from Mars atmosphere

    They could, but there is no need. Mars has more water than they will need for a long time (my prediction? Wackos will refer to peak water!)

  64. wodun:

    Or with Mars, why build a house if it’s going to be a ghost town?

    Some Mars settlements could be mobile. I suspect that there would be locations chosen for settlement that turned out to not be ideal choices in the long term as conditions change.

  65. ken anthony:

    Or with Mars, why build a house if it’s going to be a ghost town?

    Your premise that they would use up a site, so then move, is mostly faulty. Moving always involves a trade-off. There is no reason, in most cases, to abandon the infrastructure they will build. More likely, one town will split into others.

    Most ghost town’s exist because of mining out a single very valuable item. When that item is gone the same infrastructure could be found in many other places creating a disincentive to stay.

    A martian town is going to be based on a variety of materials, many of which they will have to transport back to their town, meaning they will build infrastructure not just for the town but also for transportation between towns. Iron, being in really abundant supply at every location, suggest a railroad to quarry towns may be very common.

  66. gbaikie:

    –ken anthony
    September 18, 2017 at 7:04 PM

    That may or may not be minable on the Moon.

    As Zubrin points out… If they found cement on the moon they’d mine it for water.–

    Exactly my point- on Mars you wouldn’t mine cement for water.
    Or 5% water on the Moon might be minable, it’s not minable on Mars.
    There are few reasons for this, but since you seem a bit focused on energy- the Moon has more solar energy than Mars.
    Mars would have more solar energy than a lot places on Earth- Germany, Canada, and etc. But Moon has a lot more solar energy as compared anywhere on Earth surface, and the Moon has more than Mars.

  67. gbaikie:

    –Or with Mars, why build a house if it’s going to be a ghost town?

    Your premise that they would use up a site, so then move, is mostly faulty.–

    No they would move because there was better places on Mars- though they could die or leave Mars.

  68. gbaikie:

    “Some Mars settlements could be mobile. I suspect that there would be locations chosen for settlement that turned out to not be ideal choices in the long term as conditions change.”

    It seems that Mars exploration could/might be mobile.
    But generally I think for exploration one focus on making bases which are temporary.
    Or before having base, one finds best place for a base, build base, then look for better places for bases and/or future settlements.

  69. wodun:

    Researchers create first global map of water in Moon’s soil

  70. Ed Minchau:

    “we need to look for life on Mars”

    We already found it, back in the 1970s. Gil Levin deserves a Nobel Prize.

  71. ken anthony:

    Actually, I can put it in a simpler way that even Paul can understand: Assume you need to make a metal tool and half a dozen materials (iron, copper, bronze, aluminum, steel, etc.) are suitable. Only if all do not exist would they be critical.

    If even one of those materials exists, none of them are critical. What is critical for extracting and processing whatever material is handy? (It starts with the letter E and it’s not efficiency.)

    What does efficiency change? Rate of production, not whether you can do the thing or not (which defines it as critical. Changing rate does not.)

  72. wodun:

    That seems to be getting down in the weeds. Whether or not something is the most critical isn’t important because so many things are needed to produce that metal tool or even the energy.

    There is a whole series of interrelated problems to solve. Its not that they are unsolvable or that any one person has to solve them but that each one needs to be tackled.

  73. ken anthony:

    There is a whole series of interrelated problems to solve.

    Exactly right. Which is known as an industrial ecology. The principles found here can be adapted to mars (some already have been.)

    My brother can do almost anything mechanical with his hands since he was a child. He once went into a job interview where they showed him an intricately machined part and asked if he could make something like that. He told them the truth, “I made that one!”

    I can’t find anything in OSE that my brother couldn’t build (and likely improve upon.) Now add a few more people with diverse skills and just a few dozen could kickstart a full economy.

  74. Paul D.:

    Here’s an exercise for you: how many different materials go into making a space suit? It’s a lot more than half a dozen.

  75. ken anthony:

    Ask the bra company. What part of alternate uses do you not understand?

    Will they have fabric? Yes.
    Will they have metal? Yes.
    Will they have plastic? Yes. (You do know that ‘rubber’ tires are actually a type of plastic, right? So that takes care of having seals.)
    Will they have glass? Absolutely.
    Can they make portable batteries? Yes.

    Do they have to make exact copies of the suits they bring with them? No.
    Will they be able to maintain their suits with alternate materials? There is no reason why not.

    Will they be using their suits all the time adding to their wear? Not likely. Those suits will be one of their most valuable possessions. They will care for them.

    Shoes wear a lot, but I know people that have shoes they’ve kept in good condition for over fifty years even with weekly use. Good quality to start with of course and they wear other shoes for more rough activities.

  76. ken anthony:

    Paul, I just realized you’re thinking like an ancient astronaut theorist.

    “Humans could not have cut and moved such big stone so alien high tech must have been used.”

    But those granite blocks and the quarry sites contain all the evidence required to show that low tech humans did it. No alien god’s required. They cut the stones with toothless metal saws and sand. Sand also used for polishing. We still use this technique today as any rock hound would know.

    Then, OTOH, you probably believe in evolution which both the fossil record and DNA provides counter evidence.

  77. Rand Simberg:

    Ken, if you imagine that arguing against evolution somehow makes your Mars theories more credible, you’re even more clueless than we thought.

  78. ken anthony:

    getting down in the weeds

    Of course it is, but the point is the principle can be generalized and the answer is always the same. Enough energy is central to alternate means and is scale-able. Efficiency is not scale-able past 100% and usually not even close to that. Efficiency is not a solution (but of course a good idea.)

  79. A. Nonymous:

    Somewhat tangential, but what about the “improved” magsail that was announced, that can sacrifice a degree of propulsion for significant power generation? Promising or vaporware?

  80. Jim Davis:

    Rand,

    This thread is an excellent example of something I’ve been meaning to bring up. I found your unthreaded blog of a few years back easier to follow for three reasons:

    1. The threading breaks down after a few levels in any case.
    2. I could always scroll to the end of the comments to read the new ones. Now I have to look at the entire comments section to find new ones.
    3. About 50% of the time, I mistakenly add to the end of the comments instead of directly replying to another comment. I notice that this happens to others as well.

    Do any other long time Transterrestrial readers feel this way? Or am I a minority of one?

    Sorry to hijack the thread. I just thought this was a good place to bring this up.

  81. Rand Simberg:

    Not sure that’s a setting I have easy control over. I’d have to look at comments configuration.

    [Update a while later]

    OK, I can both turn off threading, and enable deeper levels. Not sure what to do, absent other input. I’ll start a new post on the topic.