One-Way Trips To Mars?

It’s actually the only way that makes sense right now:

The hard part, he says, isn’t subsisting in a hostile environment millions of miles from home but changing the Space Shuttle-era culture of timidity.

It would be easier to just ignore NASA than to change it. I’m working on an issue paper on risk aversion and reward, and how we have to stop fretting so much over killing people if we want to open up space.

28 thoughts on “One-Way Trips To Mars?”

  1. I’ve mentioned this before, but the the viewpoint inside NASA isn’t just messed up because of the risk aversion.

    There’s also the “our time is so valuable, we can’t do anything mundane aspects. A NOVA-like show about the difficulties of a Mars mission spent twenty minutes just going over the problem of food preservation. For the length of the entire trip.

    If we’re blowing money trying to figure out how to make Chicken Cordon Blue taste good after seven years in a flipping freeze dried state, you are doing it wrong.

    If you’re growing your powerstation “the NASA way” you’re dependent on excellent photocells that are completely out of the league of any ‘homegrown’ manufacturing. “Habitats” are ISS-like examined-to-death metal tubes – that can’t be manufactured locally for years. Or decades.

    All of that is completely bogus.

    Send people – who must be smart, educated people – but whose job is to “homestead”. That is: “We’ve sent you with enough space for -you- to live in – barely. Now quadruple the livable space. And power. And tools-on-hand.”

    Send the food as freeze-dried flour, rice, lentils, add ‘can-stable’ things – sauerkraut, pickles, jams, and frozen juice concentrates, frozen butter, etc. Adding live chickens would be awesome. Do we even know if we -can- yet?

    On ‘expanding the base’, a cheap, light hydraulic ram can turn random piles of dry dirt into highly-compressed unfired bricks. Fast. It should also work for lunar/martian ‘dust’, though you might need to wet it first, and then dry it. This does -not- get you ‘perfect airtight triple-checked habitats’. But you can get to honest -structural- integrity. Airtight takes more work, but (IMNSHO) can be done as well.

    Next item of business for me would be enough of a chemical plant to be making aluminum from the rampant aluminum oxide. For wire and pipes mostly.

    Now we’re probably running out of power. But a Brayton Cycle power system is: power (sun + Al-mirrors), turbine (which is -not- necessarily Earth-only-manufacture!), and cooling. Cooling purely by radiative effects -is- trickier than the amazing convection-based cooling towers of Earth. But a simple 1m x 1m x 1m pit – with pipes of stuff-to-be-cooled running across the bottom – are still a quite formidable method of dumping heat when you don’t have lots of the greenhouse-gas dihydrogen monoxide trapping the radiation. That is: deserts and Antarctica both manage to dump quite a bit of heat, a power-plant with the ‘cool side’ at 500C or so should be quite doable.

    I really don’t know about the state of ‘growing things in space’, but there has to be something better than “Let’s ship lifetime supplies of five-star TV dinners”.

    Yes, I am being somewhat glib. But “just” aluminum, dust, and excretions would seem to go a long damn way. Iff you’re taking the perspective that a single lathe and non-powered hand tools can manufacture every other item in a machine shop. Including another lathe.

    1. … a single lathe and non-powered hand tools can manufacture every other item in a machine shop. Including another lathe.

      That would presume a stock of metal to work. But I like the perspective of “what’s the minimal infrastructure to build everything we need from on site materials?” Any viable colony needs to aim for reaching that point ASAP.

      The means to produce and work iron, aluminum, ceramic, and glass would cover a lot. Use that to build in a greenhouse to produce food and oxygen and you’re close.

  2. Neat Bob. More reading. 😀 On a brief readthrough, I do note that they’re focused on what I’d call ‘NASA-like’ activities. Water and plaster-of-paris from gypsum is neat though. The ‘what can we -grow- section seems missing though.

    Oh, and I was thinking ‘K’ and wrote ‘C’ in the Brayton Cycle part – 500K dumps sufficient heat radiatively, and is much more useful as a cool side temperature.

  3. Before we send humans to Mars, they must have enough power to support their presence there. To have even a chance at survival if something goes wrong they will need at least a megawatt daily averaged power. and to make more than incremental hard fought progress they need 10 megawatts.

    A thorium battery would do quite nicely.

    Everything from a Mars civilization scales directly from how much power you have available.

    It would be suicide to send people there with less than a megawatt available. Maybe not right away, but it is not sustainable without it.

    1. That’s quite a bit of power by some scales. Compared to the installed per capita electrical generation capacity of the US, it would cover 2,500 Martians. However, only about 40% of US energy consumption is electric whereas 100% of Martian consumption would be electric, so 10 MW should scale to 1,000 Martians.

      Kirk Sorenson’s new company is aiming to make 20 MW to 50 MW LFTRs for military bases, and one of the early proposals for LFTRs was nuclear bombers and lunar colonies. A 20 MW design would cover 2,000 Martians and 50 MW would cover 5,000 Martians. Giving them a higher energy capacity by a factor of five, (noting they can’t use coal, oil, and natural gas for transportation or making steel, glass, and concrete) and 10 to 50 MW should easily support several hundred to a thousand people.

      1. It’s reasonable to believe that the amount of electricity required per person will be quite a bit higher on Mars than just about anywhere on Earth. For example, maintaining the life support system will likely take quite a bit of energy. You’ll need to maintain the proper pressure and mixture of gases, filter the air, maintain temperature and humidity and all the other things. It’ll be more like what they have to do on a submarine or high flying airplane than anything else.

    2. Dennis- are those values documented anywhere with the assumptions behind them? It seems high to me, especially if you assume that the power source is 24/7 as opposed to solar power which charges its batteries through the day and drains them at night. With Wikipedia-level research, I found that the ISS astronauts are living on 32.8*4=131kW with the need to recharge batteries. Obviously, a growing Mars colony would require construction equipment and the like, but 1-10MW?

  4. The interesting thing about this scenario is that once the infrastructure for resupply is in place, it’s cheaper on an annual appropriations basis to keep resupplying them than to develop the capacity to bring them back. It’s also the case that if you are assuming an indefinite commitment to resupply, you can do a lot of things over time to lower the resupply costs. Uncrewed missions carrying freeze-dried supplies are in no particular hurry, you could try solar sails and other unconventional technologies.

  5. Rand,

    You might want to compare the difference between governments and individuals risk tolerance.

    If I recall there were major parliamentary investigations of both the Franklin and Scott expeditions due to lost of life on them. And we know what happens when NASA loses an astronaut.

    By contrast numerous private explorers, generally sealers and whalers would just disappear with no real investigations about what happened because it wasn’t on the government’s dollar. Actually that is still true today if its not the government’s money.

  6. One needs to remember that the Antarctic expeditions were preceded by many centuries of oceanic travel.

    We need to have enough travel to space whereby it becomes boring enough that if somebody dies, nobody knows. How many people die in commercial fishing every year? I’ve not read one news story.

    Then, when the Mars expedition sets out then perhaps fails, we don’t decide to never try again – because anybody could try again.

    We need a Space Guard to purposefully reorganize national space activities and resources into a non-political commercial friendly organization. NASA can then be cut like no other. They can keep spying on the sun and building solar powered balloons or whatever (haha, low blow, no those really are good activities – I meant to say ‘space science’ + NACA like activities).

    No, really. Tracking, operating, launch – all handled by the Guard. Mainly Air Force missions will be the exception. NASA will operate only those missions outside of the national ‘space’-space (beyond HEO) – things like Cassini or SOHO. Finally, as the U.S. space ‘authority’ the guard will have no human space flight program. It will only serve to accommodate private spaceflight. Someday it might have a rescue/refuel mission, but only once the infrastructure’s there – not as a vanguard.

    And on this Mars business – it has always bothered me. I used to be very bothered by that Zubrin fellow. Fact is, setting up a science base on Mars will in no way lead to some neat-o future where we all ‘have space suit will travel’. At a minimum, it will give us science, about Mars. That science will mostly be useful for the future generations that ACTUALLY ‘have space suit will travel’ – but one presumes society has developed other priorities by that point beyond sending scientists on one way trips to places. I mean, let’s just send the lawyers, right?

    Well, I think that was what Rand was trying to say in his last – very nuanced – sentence about NASA.

  7. What is the most mass we can deliver to Mar’s surface right now?

    That seems to be a limiting factor right now. Especially if some desireable features for a settlement cant currently be delivered in one piece.

  8. What is the most mass we can deliver to Mar’s surface right now?
    It depends on whether you take propellant transfer andor depots as plausible.

    1. From what I was reading on the MSL there are limits to what we can currently deliver due to the martian atmosphere. Is that because of the velocity from a direct shot from Earth? Where would you stage a fuel depot to allow the delivery of more mass to the surface?

      1. The Viking missions entered orbit around Mars before sending the landers to the surface some time later. If you could enter orbit and rendezvous with a depot, you could refill your propellant tanks before descending to the surface. I don’t know if you’d gain anything by doing that, though. Orbital velocity is lower than direct entry so that might help. I remember reading several years ago that the Russians had worked out a plan to land people on Mars. IIRC, they weren’t going to use parachutes at all. They’d slow down as much as possible with aerodynamic braking and then use rockets for the rest of the way to the surface. It eliminated the mass and potential failure mode of the parachutes, which would’ve had to be enormous to have much effect in the thin martian atmosphere.

  9. Mars is just one potential one way destination. Would the imagination of potential explorers on Earth get fired up by a one way manned voyage into the outer solar system? I bet there would be takers to voyage in a small capsule or Bigelow module coupled with a VASIMR rocket ( and maximum fuel load) to make a quick exit fom near earth space and voyage out past Saturn? If the mass for a single occupant was optimized, how far into the void would he/she survive? If you could get them a flyby of the Moon, Mars, an asteroid, Jupiter, & then Saturn, would there be takers for that one way trip? I would think so.

    I’ve read estimates that a VASIMR rocket could get a significant payload to mars in 40 days, and that is with nearly half the voyage being used to deccelerate for a Mars capture. If the trajectory just accelerated out into the outer solar system, the max velocity of the vessel could end up being around .05 to .10 AU per day. Jupiters orbit would be reached in another 50 – 100 days, and the Saturn System in maybe another 90 to 180 days. ( back of the napkin calculations here) A total trip time of 1 yr. would most likely enable this type of “Grand Tour” depending on the optimal alignment of the planets and the exact trajectory needed. The Apollo astronauts photographing our planet rising over the limb of the moon was inspiring to humanity, how would a human voice broadcasting from Jupiter and Saturn affect humanity? Once past Saturn, Earth may not even be a pale blue dot to the human explorer. We may be lost in the glare of our Sol before his/her last transmission. Sagan’s voice echoes here. Every person who has ever lived or will live will at best be a speck of light dancing by our sun.

  10. A government-funded one-way mission seems an oxymoron to me. In today’s hyper risk averse inward-looking political environment, the probability of a one-way manned mission occurring seems about the square of the probability of NASA launching Orion to do the 24 million ton 1948 Von Braun mission.

    1. On the other hand, a government-funded round-trip is always going to be out of the question. To plan such a trip, the first thing you do is figure out how you’re going to land the crew safely on the Earth — and you ultimately wind up with two staggeringly expensive planetary missions. When the mission and its price tag are described in detail to Congress, even they are smart enough to realize that if your goal is to ultimately wind up with a bunch of astronauts standing on the Earth, you don’t need to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to do so. In fact, you don’t need to spend a penny; whoever you might have picked to go is already here. Mission accomplished.

      1. I don’t think our government would ever fund a one way trip, for obvious political reasons. When little kids start asking when the astronauts they see on TV are coming home, parents aren’t going to like the subsequent discussion and screams of outrage. Secondly, such a mission requires constant resupply missions into the indefinite future, at great expense and gaining them no votes back home. Yet once the mission is underway they can’t change their mind because then all those kids at home would have to watch the astronauts die, and that’s just unacceptable.

        So for anyone in Congress, a one-way mission is a lose-lose proposition, and all they can do is choose between the astronauts dying quickly and publicly or slowly and publicly, with nobody around who can adequately explain why we did such a stupid and expensive thing in the first place.

        Since the outcome would be obvious to anyone in Congress, they’ll never support the idea, much less fund it.

  11. There are no voters on mars… so NASA may talk about putting scientists on mars but that’s a total dead end. We need to send settlers immediately after the first ISRU researchers (not scientists per se) figure out ISRU water and the much easier problem (already solved) of methane fuel to run simple small engines. Note that those settlers can come from an abundance of volunteers that aren’t credentialed with the right stuff science or otherwise. Some of those are going to die. Some are going to become rich celebrities (see settlement charter.) We need to send machinists and chemists to make replacement parts for those engines. If I remember correctly, 550 watts is a horsepower.

    So the Dragon, with it’s solar array supporting 7 passengers, operates on less than a 10 hp engine.

    The Dragon lander proposes to put ten tons on the surface of mars (I expect that capsule to have windows, ya think?) More than enough to provide indefinite supplies for a few dozen and emergency supplies for thousands.

    We need to quit twiddly fingers with speculation and go with a settlement charter that guarantees financial success for the next hundred years while we develop those settlements and others.

    This is the horse… everything else, including fuel depots, are the cart.

    The cost is within the reach of a single company in the next ten years. All we lack are guts, not of the volunteers, but of the financiers (which done properly promises an excellent and fairly quick ROI… and low risk… yes, low risk.)

    Let volunteers have informed consent of the dangers. Then let them go.

    We should oversupply then with supplies waiting on the surface including abundant power whether solar or nuclear. We can certainly do that. Don’t forget the most amazing thing of all… seeds, as wide a variety as we can manage.

    But what martians need most is 19th century know how and things they can fix themselves which you would think the entire 21st century earth would be able to provide (in training and supplies.)

    Mars will need people that know how to use their minds and hands to solve problems pioneers everywhere solve regularly without end.

    I live in NE AZ where temperatures are cold. One blanket keeps me warm enough to sleep with no heat. So we figure how much a martian needs to keep warm and provide them with more than that.

    Is that too big a challenge?

    We send everyone that wants to go using a financial plan that pays for everything and is sustainable for at least a century (actually forever.) After that they can figure out new solutions.

    1. Suppose they need aluminum stock. How do they get it?

      Provide enough power to two or more competitors to produce it for sale to others. They sell it to buy the power from two or more competitors that produce power.

      True competition insures the best price and quantity as it will everywhere in the universe.

      How badly have we been indoctrinated with marxist BS that we don’t all know this?

    2. BTW, I have a small 2250 watt generator on the back of my truck and know people that could build it from scratch. Send them.

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