Mars vs Rice (was Re: v2.5 vs v3.0)

From: Elaine Walker (
Date: Fri Oct 13 2000 - 10:57:17 MDT


Sorry for the lengthy answer...It was hard to keep this short.

I'm certainly not going to argue with you, because you do feel
that we should eventually go into space. You're an extropian,
after all...

The main point I want to make is that the "humans in space budget"
is already there, and being used (shuttle, ISS, SLI is next). NASA
is not competing for rice money. It just needs to be redirected.
It comes from a totally different budget. No more, or less, are
people going to starve if we go to Mars. NASA is going to damn
well make sure they keep that money tied up in SOMETHING, in
case they REALLY need it someday - in case of war, or whatever.

It would be nice if low Earth orbit could be commercialized
(a long shot nowadays - there are no markets yet) and the money
redirected to an area that needs a hell of a lot of research, like
you say. NASA should be doing research, after all, not operations.
We don't want to spend our tax dollars paying an overly expensive
landlord for the ISS, watching our tax dollars circle the Earth,

We've already sent people to the Moon several times, and could go
to Mars today if we only had a Saturn V. But you're right, if we want
to make it a sustained presence from the beginning, we need a hell
of a lot of research. The Mars Society, with private funding (no
rice money here) have built a Mars Arctic Research Station in the
Canadian high arctic and are living in Mr. Zubrin's first "tuna can".
No all out simulation yet, but over the next few summers it will
become more and more of a real simulation with spacesuits and
recycling. It's just as much about learning how people will actually
work together in that situation, as the actual details of "staying
alive" are contemplated as well.

The team leader, Pascal Lee, just spent two days at Hamilton space
suit company trying on a more flexible suit to take to the island.
Hamilton is actively working on a brand new "Mars" suits, and
Pascal demonstrated to them last week, that in the current version
it is impossible to even pick up rocks. It would be hard to make
rubber skin space suits, as you say, because remember, a space
suit is actually a mini space capsule, not just warm pressurized long
johns. But anyway, they do need a lot of work, for sure. Plus,
space suits only last for several days on the Moon - they weren't
built for long durations. There are lots of problems with them,
and with the rovers too - intelligent rovers are being designed
but are certainly not there yet.

Probably one of the strongest links in the chain is the art of making
breathable air and fuel from local recources. We know how to
turn the Martian atmosphere into oxygen and fuel - it's pratically
chemistry 101. Basically, a small amount of hydrogen would be
brought to Mars, and then through what's called the "Sabatier
reation", methane and water is produced from carbon dioxide
(the atmosphere) ane hydrogen. The reaction is endothermic
and will occur spontaneously in the presence of a nickel or
rutghenium catalyst. Thank goodness they're finding more water
on Mars because it is extremely difficult to extract water
from rocks, like you said. Water is probably the weakest link
in the chain, unless these supposed water/ice deposits are real,
and big.

The zillions of other technical difficulties that need to be
researched are going to take some time, which is exactly why we
want NASA to initiate a human to Mars program now. Then maybe 10
or 20 years down the road, we can actually go. Initiating a human
to Mars program doesn't mean getting in a tuna can and GOING, it
means initiating a massive research program that needs to be done,
with the goal of getting there. Why now? The United States has
never been better prepared to do this, and if we wait too long, you
never know what the situation with this country will be. (I realise
some of you are not from the U.S., bear with me). There is no
cold war to help justify such a program, and no kingship - so we
can't just do it for glamour, and we're not going to convince the
president to do this because we feel it's a good "social cause", or
that we are "explorers" or any of the REAL reasons we want to go.
The only reason I can think of that might fly with the congress is
to send humans there to do some hardcore science - Learn about Mars
in order to understand more about the Earth - Possibly find Martian
life and then learn whether or not it is related to Earth life
(probably so...). And we DO need the delicate touch and intuition
of humans to find fossils and the best possible rocks to study. We
cannot, to this day, find dinasaur fossils with robots alone.

Oh, believe me, most space activists are not so optimistic. They
argue amongst themselves like you wouldn't believe. Most actually
have common sense. The visionaries - the leaders - the ones that
activists follow like army ants, probably do have common sense,
but only stick to the more positive scenarios in order to rally
their troups. They are by no means PRACTICAL, however, which
was my whole point to begin with.

I assure you, none of these people want to take rice away from
children. They want to inspire children.


For once, since I became a space fanatic, I have noticed that the
highly disjointed excuse for a pro-space movement suddenly fits
together like a slightly awkward, funky looking puzzle. But at
least the pieces sort of fit together now, unlike before. For
instance, now that there are five or so commercial Moon missions
being planned for the next several years (a miracle, no less...but
we'll see if any of them actually happen; TransOrbital, LunaCorp,
Applied Space Recources, and then the secretive ones) to send
simple but functioning spacecraft to the Moon, and the Artemis
society has a 'commercial' humans to the Moon plan...and all of
these folks have joined under a blanket society called the "Moon
Society". It seems the "moon folks" don't want the US government's
money anymore. In fact, they hope that by the time they send
cameras and rovers to the Moon, NASA will be out of the way.
These companies are going to need to sell their pictures and
services, and if NASA keeps giving away new pictures for free,
it won't work.

So, even the Moon people want NASA's money to be diverted to
Mars - if for nothing else but to get NASA out of their way. A little
sarcasm there, but still...Moon and Mars activists are no longer
competing for that big sum of money. For once, in a long time, we
can all come together on capital hill and at least "pretend" we are
a gigantic pro-space movement, but in the public eye, it will
inspire kids and educational institutions to think more about our
opportunities and future in space. That's what our March for Space
is about I'm leading this venture,
and I have already traded my heart in for a stone in order to pull
this one off. It's extremely idealistic, but I know it can work.

One day out of the year we can stand side by side - no one has to
kiss or hug, just stand there and look proud. If anyone wants to
help with my March for Space venture, please make your voice heard.
We have some prestigious sponsors already, but will need a lot more
volunteer help. It's an ongoing thing, that will hopefully develop
into a bigger and bigger march every year. We'll have actors
there, and bands, and famous will be fun. Fun, fun

Sorry to leave the asteroid and O'Neill folks out of this
discussion, but that just gets too complicated.

Onward and outward,

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