Re: SCI:TECH:RFC: wooing Mona

Steven T. Smith (sts@sparcy)
Sun, 15 Mar 1998 23:10:31 -0500 (EST)

Eugene Leitl writes:
> I think you all are aware of recent hints towards potentially minable
> polar water resources on the Moon. I'd like to discuss with you a couple
> of the more speculative development scenarios.
> Obviously, due to enormous transportation costs the bootstrapping must
> require minimal effort -- hence it must be done by autonomous and
> semiautonomous (telepresence) systems. Due to relativistic delays and
> human iterative-control motorics telepresence will be of very, very low
> productivty and/or to be not very accurate. Automata must do the bulk of
> the job.

I am very interested the exploitation of resources in the
near solar system. The topic of water on the moon has come
up at recent dinner parties and I have found that some
others agree with me: potential water on Mars is much more
interesting than actual water on the Moon.

Mars is closer than the Moon in terms of the energy required
to get there. From LEO to the Moon, the delta-V is 6.0km/s whereas
to get to Mars it's only 4.5 km/s! The trans-mars injection is only
a little more expensive than the Moon but the huge savings comes from
the fact that Mars has an atmosphere you can use to slow down. The
Moon requires you to haul a bunch of fuel with which to stop yourself
once you're there.

If you count the fact that fuel can be manufactured easily on the
surface of Mars using the C and O in the atmosphere with
only seed H and some simple apparatus brought from Earth,
Mars becomes even more attractive.

Now consider if a local source of H (water for instance) were
known to be in a relatively accessable form near the surface of Mars,
very little seed H would need to be shipped. The place could bootstrap
itself and make all the fuel it needed. Not only that, but a whole
host of well understood industrial chemical processes become possible.
The regolith is nutrient and mineral rich.

The Moon is a boring hunk of rock compared to Mars. Processing Moon
rocks for minerals will be expensive and extremely difficult to justify
financially. On the other hand, any raw material more valueable than
silver would be worth shipping back to Earth from Mars. There are
plenty of possible minerals which would fit the bill if found.

There are many other reasons why Mars is more suitable as a near-term
destination than the Moon. Tele-presence systems and autonomous
robot technology are a long way off from being able to establish
whole industrial sites. Any serious industrial endeavor will require
the most autonomous, smartest, most versitle and powerful machines
around, namely human beings. Mars is a far more hospitable environment
for humans than the Moon. For this reason and the reasons above,
I would be interested in discussing the bootstrapping of Martian colonies.

For more information on the above, begin by reading: The Case for Mars
by Robert Zubrin. He does an immense service in debunking a number of
the myths regarding the difficulty and expense of mars missions. He has
mostly come around to the pro-private enterprise approach but I think he
still (at the time of writing) over-estimated costs. A 100% private
venture run by seat-of-the-pants entreprenuers and pioneers could bring
costs down even more. With $/lb to LEO slipping through the $1000 mark
quickly, the next 5 years should see a lot more action on these fronts.

Is anyone here going to the Mars Society conference in Boulder this
summer? Also does anyone know of any mailing lists more specifically
attuned to these topics?