Re: A case for the eradication of unmanned Mars missions

Eugene Leitl (
Wed, 8 Dec 1999 13:58:59 -0800 (PST)

Brian D Williams writes:

> There's nothing like a retrospectroscope. When JFK commited America

Yeah, it's easy to bash pioneers a few decades downstream, especially from a comfy armchair position.

> to the moon virtually none of the technology existed to do the job,
> and yet in less than a decade, it was developed, and the mission
> completed successfully. JFK was a man of vision, nixon was not.

As I understand it, the programme was primarily driven by political prestige, and thus has been financially reckless (based on faulty assumptions) and technologically nonsustainable.

(It has also been very cool and exciting, but that's strictly irrelevant).

> The notion of "Cheap Power from space" has been thoroughly
> discredited, see Robert Zubrins "Entering Space" for details.

I haven't read it, so I cannot really comment, but I don't buy the arguments a priori. Pioneering of in vacuo technological processes can be done on Earth surface in space simulators (a lot cheaper than blasting rockets off to space). After the (small) seed is deployed on Moon surface, there will be (ideally) zero material traffic from Earth. (And even if, processed silicon is not very heavy). As the resource base expands, control can be given over to Earth-based operators (at some point even amateurs) and local or nonlocal automation, resulting in a laboratory of an unprecedented size. Spinoffs from operating such a thing will be unimaginable. Hard vacuum is a natural domain for machine-phase chemistry, for instance.

At some point a single person will be able to design and build a linear mass driver remotely. After amplification of this design, you have an essentially infinite supply of satellites (LEO, GEO, whatever). Since launch costs are negligeable, you can test literally thousands of different designs. All you have to do at the other end is to build rectennae arrays on the ground. Which are highly modular and have no movable parts. Could as well aerobrake them from orbit.

If that's not cheap, I don't know what is cheap. Terrestrial PV arrays, maybe. But a Moon encrusted with automated industry is worth a whole lot more than cheap power. Someone make a back of the envelope how many Mt/s you can launch if the entire Moon surface is yours.

> Yes 30 billion is a pittingly small amount, as I already pointed
> out we gave Mexico that amount in an afternoon a few years back.
> A shuttle flight is 600 million dollars.

Political realities make it easy to spend G$ on trifles. Do you know how much is yearly spent on spectator sports? Military operations?

We all know that the Shuttle is an abomination. Try financing these purely privately. Uh-oh.

> Our economy is three times the size it was back when we went to the
> moon, and we can use existing tech to do the job. In real numbers,
> we can begin to colonize Mars for less money than it took to
> colonize America.

By the time you get a sustainable colony going the bulk of humankind will be living in deep space -- without space suits, whether counterpressure bodyglove, or otherwise. I also honestly think that planetary surfaces are soon going to be scarce commodities. Early fixation on planetary surface living style might be counterproductive on the long run. In the worst case, it can get you killed in a resource war.

> Mars is well within the budget of Japan, China, the former soviets,
> and even the EU.

Former Soviets? Don't think so. They're floundering for basic commodities. China? Doesn't have the technology yet by far. EU? Will get boggled down in bureaucracy.

> Since your so hot on the Moon, why not start the Lunar Society?
> Lets see if your decendants, or my Martian decendants settle it
> first......

My current priorities are 1) brain vitrification 2) nanotechnology Development of space ranges somewhere around 5)

> I'd like a little bigger reserve thanks, besides most industrial
> processes use large quantities of water. Undoubtably we will devise

Industrial processes which use large quantities of water are not sustainable, inefficient, and hence obsolete. The pressure to develop new industrial paradigms is one of the chiefest lures of focusing on hard-vacuum industries.

> new processes since water will be more expensive, we can sell these
> technologies back to earth.

A lot of these processes will rely on having cubic miles of hard vacuum at your disposal. It will be hard (ineconomical) to apply these technologies to planetary surfaces shrouded in atmospheres.

> Atmospheres are good for a number of things, like blocking UV, Mars
> is thick enough to do that, making structures to grow things in

I don't think you'll have to worry about a sunburn if you stroll out the door of your habitat without suiting up first. Decompression will get you way before.

> considerably lighter/less expensive. As I've said, the primary goal

You can block UV with um layers of matter. Stress forces on a habitat do not differ dramatically whether this is Mars surface or Luna. If you miscalculate, you blow up just as dramatically as on the Moon.

> is to live on Mars.
> A much better place to do large scale industrial work would be the
> asteroid belt, easily accessable/ profitable (14 times cheaper) by
> a mature Mars civilization.

I agree. Another reason to get a foothold on the Moon first.

> >That's the good thing about it. Mars isn't a second Earth.
> I believe it is possible to transform Mars into a living world
> (terraforming)

Even if it was possible, why bother? By the time you're done there won't be no small planetary bodies in existance.

> There are less that disagree after the recent attempt failed to
> disclose any sign of water. There are other things the moon lack's

The recent attempt was based on spectroscopic observation of a debris cloud from a probe crashed into a deep polar crater at high speed. If there are no water traces, it doesn't mean there is no hydrogen. I rather trust the neutron data. Protons are protons. Whether this is tightly bound hydrate, tar or naked water ice doesn't matter overmuch as long as it's there.

> that Mars has.

Such as?

> Hey I love self-rep factories as much as the next guy, but if we
> create one, mine's going to Mars.

It is much harder to create a self-rep factory which is not to operate in a hard vacuum.

> Love mass drivers also, but water and therefore hydrogen is still
> a big if on the moon.

There are oxides (silicates), metallic sodium, and whatnot. And yes, there is hydrogen on the Moon. But probably to precious to be wasted as rocket fuel.

> I still don't get the monkey part, man didn't decend from the apes,
> man and apes had a common ancestor, totally different.

I know. I rather use monkeys because they are less dignified than apes. Gibbering nasty little brutes.

> The equipment we are developing for Mars can also be used for the
> moon, let a thousand flowers (martian flowers) bloom.

Non sequitur. Very different target environments.