32 thoughts on “The Way To Mars”

  1. What people don’t get about robots: People think. Computers do not. When you see a machine that looks like it’s thinking. What you are watching is a programmers thoughts (extended as any good tool does.)

    Of course we will use tools which is all a robot is. Mars One plans to have food, water, oxygen and life support waiting for the first human arrival. All of those things will be provided by tools (controlled by the thoughts that went into it.)

    But talking about Von Neumann machines as a precursor to mars colonization is pure distraction. As the article says we’ve been working on them for decades and can expect centuries of more development. Which should not be an excuse for not colonizing mars which will have a positive economic impact on the earth… the sooner the better.

    1. Ken,

      There are no raw materials on Mars that would be worth the cost of exporting it to Earth, unlike the New World which had cod, corn, gold, silver, furs, emeralds and other products Europe had demand for and was willing to pay a price sufficiently high to cover the cost of shipping, so exactly what would be its impact on Earth’s economy?

      1. Didn’t you talk about virtual economies during your last Space Show appearance? You don’t quiet get how virtual economies work as evidenced by your answer about making t-shirts in second life. Are you backtracking from your position expressed during your appearance?

        I don’t recall Ken talking about how a successful Mars settlement requires sending raw materials and/or finished products back to Earth.

        1. Wodun,

          I discussed how virtual models of space settlements could be used to test and develop business models for space settlements. The biggest problem and barrier to space settlements is that its really an answer (we want to live in/on space/Moon/Mars) to a non-existing problems.

          Historically human settlements followed the economics. You build a camp/fort/town as a location because it makes it easier to exploit the economic wealth of the area. The problem with space is finding where the wealth is, and the form its in, and then showing how a space settlement closes the business models for developing it.

          In “islands in the Sky” Arthur C. Clarke believed that giant communication relay stations would serve the future, but smaller, remote operated satellites proved more cost effective.

      2. It is too early to tell that there is nothing worth the cost without actual prospection efforts on Mars taking place. I don’t know if space mining is inviable. With the higher gold and silver prices of today and cheaper launch costs courtesy of SpaceX it may actually begin to make sense to do asteroid mining. I’m less sure about Mars mining itself because the transportation costs are a lot higher in that case.

        1. Godzilla,

          The best option for Mars exports would be biological if life is found there. Biological prospecting is already a business on Earth. The problem of course is that if life is found there the planet would be basically off limits to humans except for perhaps a handful of scientists who would frown on making money off the export of Martians for bio tech uses. That is why I see Mars as such a dead end for space settlement.

    2. There are no raw materials on Mars that would be worth the cost of exporting it to Earth

      Correct. Now take another path and follow that thought.

  2. I remember reading about colonization of desert islands. Quite often visiting mariners left a couple of sheep or pigs or fowl in those islands as they passed by them. Years later colonists there would have a viable food supply as a result. I see these robotic missions acting much in the same way. Lets say you send a precursor robotic mission that piles up water or fuel bit by bit before the actual expedition arrives. That would make early colonization efforts a lot easier.

  3. Yes, telebotic robots will go first, which is why Buzz Aldrin, in his recent book “Mission to Mars” discusses the importance of establishing a base on Phobos that will allow humans to explore the planet first before building a base on it.

    If we had to do Project Apollo over robots would have a played a much greater role, including scouting out the first landing site and imaging/guiding the LM on its landing.

    In any return to the Moon, or venture to Mars, telebotic robots will go first and have a base already deployed for future explorers who would only need to enter it when they arrive to enjoy a hot shower, some hot food and a good night’s sleep in gravity after their journey from Earth. This is where all the sci-fi movies, and mission plans are really out of date with the modern world. There is no reason given modern technology for space exploration to be as primitive as Earth exploration, or even Project Apollo was.

    1. The Moon was imaged by Ranger satellites and Surveyor probes landed on it before the Apollo mission attempted a manned landing. The novelty being discussed is to use the probes to actually gather resources to decrease manned mission mass requirements.

      1. Godzilla,

        Exactly. The humans are now just commuting to an established work site, with facilities including fuel and consumables, already waiting for them with multiple robots operated from Earth to support and serve their needs.

    2. Phobos is in mars orbit. The ships going to mars will be in mars orbit. Telerobotics works the same in both cases. So that’s not a reason to stop at Phobos. Do they need resources from Phobos to continue on to mars? Probably not (part of later development perhaps but that’s for martian entrepreneurs to decide.)

      Therefore, Phobos is just another distraction.

      1. It seems to me that not everyone will want to live on Mars and that transporting people off of Mars will be more challenging than having a place in orbit that will still allow them to work on Mars and return to Earth. A settlement in orbit around Mars would be mutually beneficial to a settlement on Mars.

      2. Ken,

        Phobos is in a stable orbit, probably has water and most importantly, far more shielding than any ship and as a result would provide far greater protection to humans operating surface robots than if they were in a spaceship or on the service. Since its basically a rubble pile all they would need to do to build a well shielded base would be to burrow into it.

        That is why Buzz Aldrin is proposing Phobos first.

        Really its Mars that has been the distraction for 40 years. There is nothing on Mars for anyone but the handful of existing Mars scientists. The wealth of the Solar System is elsewhere.

        1. Agreed. The Martian moons are natural space stations. Deploy a few combo GPS/relay comsats ahead of each moon in its orbit upon arrival, plus some additional GPS birds in other orbits, and you have navigation and continuous contact with Mars surface landing sites. Robot industrial installations can be controlled by people burrowed into the regolith of Deimos and Phobos.

        2. The wealth of the solar system exists in one place only… people. It doesn’t exist anywhere else. That’s the huge point all the space miners seem to miss. Since it exists in people, those people have to live someplace where they have access to the resources to build upon.

          Ships captains takes away the most important resource… freedom to pursue individual dreams.

  4. I don’t believe in sending humans to Mars at this time.


    Can humans actually live on Mars? Let’s consider the ways Mars and the Moon are different from Earth. The Moon has essentially no atmosphere. Mars has a thin carbon dioxide atmosphere laced with poisons. Atmospheric pressure at ground level on Mars is about 1% of that on Earth. To walk around on the Martian surface would still require something like a normal space suit. The force of gravity on Mars is about 38% that of Earth. On the Moon it is 18%. We know that humans on ISS suffer from a significant deterioration of their bodies in that zero gravity environment. Would 38% of Earth normal gravity be enough for humans? We don’t know. What about the Moon’s 18%? We don’t know. Neither the Moon nor Mars has any life on it.

    The Moon does have one way that it is better than Mars for continued research. It is much closer. 45 years ago our nation got Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to the Moon and back in about a week. We had vehicles capable of sustaining human life for that long back then. To get to Mars people are talking of trips of around a year. A few humans have spent a year or more on ISS and survived — but, once again with their health being significantly affected by zero gravity. But the ISS is within the Earth’s magnetosphere. We don’t have to worry nearly as much about exposure to radiation as we do for trips to the Moon or Mars — especially Mars.

    Can we create a biosphere capable of sustaining life in space, on Mars or on the Moon? I am somewhat optimistic that eventually we can. Our understanding of life and the Earth’s environment is continually improving.

    Three years ago The Economist over in Britain featured space exploration in the issue of the magazine that coincided with the last space shuttle mission. They put on the cover the headline “The End of the Space Age.” That issue angered many in the space community, whether establishment or not. I wrote a reply which was published in the Metro Washington Mensa newsletter. I titled it The End of the Space Age? My blog entries are less frequent than Rand’s but much longer.


    1. Yes, Chuck, humans can live on mars. There will be issues. We can overcome. Yes, it is a matter of faith at this point, but I strongly believe in those that ‘can do.’ The right stuff is a willingness to try and it still exists in some.

      There is a huge difference between zero g and any g. Consider the variations in humans mass. Yes, those at 5′ 10″ & 160 lbs may be healthier than a quarter ton guy but they can all live for many years. Same on mars even if the life expectancy is different (and whose to say it isn’t longer?)

      So what if bones become brittle? It’ll give scientists something to focus on. It may provide relief to millions of people right here on earth that deal with that issue. It may be just the environment to learn which we can’t create here.

      Why don’t we talk about the lower oxygen or atmospheric pressure? That’s right, because we already have that issue right here on earth and people already live at altitude. I submit that many issues will become non issues for the same reason. Experience will allow us to stop guessing and just demonstrate. It’s time.

    2. “The Moon does have one way that it is better than Mars for continued research. It is much closer.”

      I wonder if the gravity on the Moon will make living there more annoying than pleasurable. It might be that people visit the Moon for various durations but don’t settle there and instead settle on a station that can support lunar operations.

    3. Chuck,

      Exactly. Because NASA has avoid doing the critical research we have no idea what is the minimum amount of gravity needed, but on the Moon, as Astronaut John Young pointed out in a speech at Earth and Space 2006, you are only three days from Earth, so if problems start developing you are able to return quickly to a normal 1 G field.

      Also the Moon is close enough that telebotic robots could provide a high level of support to humans working/exploring it, serving as real force multipliers in its development. Its hard to have robots provide true active support on Mars when it takes 20 minutes or more for a message to reach the robotic system.

      1. Earth is only zero days away from earth. So if we don’t leave at all we avoid all the dangers. I say we let people decide for themselves.

  5. exactly what would be its impact on Earth’s economy?

    I may not have enough time on this library computer to answer that question today but I’ll start…

    Whatever the value of martian resources, without moving a gram of mass off world, but just by getting humans to live there we enlarge our economic sphere. Martians will expand and build their local environment. Humans create value. Value has no mass. It can and will become part of the entire human economic sphere. Suppose some space company on earth goes public? That wealth is distributed among shareholders right here on earth regardless of where the space company has assets… on earth, LEO, mars or anywhere else. Suppose a construction company entirely on mars goes public… no difference. As they sell their services to others on mars they increase the value of their company which in turn increases the wealth of those shareholders that live on earth.

    We have no need to go to speculative income sources like intellectual property. Real property exists and will grow in value as it is possessed and developed. Whatever mars is worth, most of that value will be added to earth because earth have the money to buy it and small investors speculating with their own money will do more than any government can.

    1. Maybe he just wants to hear your take on it or is just trolling you. He agrees with what you are saying despite his question.

    2. Ken,

      But that general statement is true of any place humans may settle in the Solar System, many of which are easier to reach and settle than Mars. So what is the unique value of Mars that makes it worth the extra effort required to settle it? Especially when there are opportunities closer like the Moon, NEOs and even Venus?

      1. Mars, and no where else outside the earth, has all the raw materials within walking distance (and less as the atmosphere and dust are both highly valuable resources.) The economic power of independence is not something to ignore (Capt. Asimov?)

        The moon has possibilities but not anywhere near what mars offers. Venus and NEOs? Forget it for now. Clouds girls of venus aren’t near term.

        Every martian can establish their own ranch providing goods and services to a free enterprise community with the laws of economics ensuring that supply and demand stay within reasonable bounds. Specialization promotes efficiency. Competition, even among the first dozen colonists, will set the proper pricing. People will be able to focus on the things that interest them insuring that more gets done than from some top down five year plan from people that aren’t local.

        All will be able to provide their own life support needs since all properties will have power, food and water. What they trade will be things beyond that as they each pursue their own individual happiness for the fastest growth track. Ranchers make plans and implement them to make their next year better than their last. New colonists will add to that mix.

        1. Ken,

          Mars is not Earth. Its far more harsh and those resources are not as easy to get as you think they are.

          1. You’re right. It’s far easier to get those mars resources than I think because a lot of people are smarter about it than I am about it. The fact that a dummy like me can figure it out is one of the major selling points.

            Let’s talk about harsh. It’s colder. So you have space suits for outside and most of the time is spent inside in heated malls. Inside, lighter gravity makes work easier but otherwise you wouldn’t know any difference from working in a building on earth.

            It’s toxic. So is beryllium oxide but I worked with hundreds of others in that environment. Mars toxic air and soil also happens to be a valuable resource: Abundant methane and oxygen (just add water or water’s hydrogen component.) But that’s for the minority engaged in that work. Most martians will not give it a thought because it will not impact their daily lives.

            Radiation? Ask those on nuclear subs which have to turn down the sensitivity of detectors when they surface because the natural background radiation on earth sets them off. Humans rise to these challenges so they become second nature.

            The thing you refuse to acknowledge is the political environment. Freedom only comes with liberty of action and resources to exploit them. This freedom does not exist on any ship for any but the captain (and not even then because the captain has other responsibilities as well. Even the captain is not as free to pursue their own happiness.)

            Space is a vacuum.You can vacuum up valuable resources on mars. Iron is a building material. Brick is a building material. It’s just about free on mars. In space you must first get fuel (at great expense) then use fuel (in great quantities) to get any resources other than energy. The infrastructure required to grow in an environment where you can’t even go anywhere without great expense and must go other-wheres.

            Getting to mars is hard. Once there, the cost to grow is almost nothing and every individual can take advantage of it (unless we are so short sighted to hamstrung them in a form of slavery plan.)

  6. Robotic precursors and adjuncts to major manned pushes into space seem certain. Before SpaceX puts people on Mars, for instance, it will likely put down a robotic industrial facility to extract water from Martian regolith and combine it with atmospheric carbon dioxide to make and store LOX and methane, that being the propellant base upon which future SpaceX vehicles will apparently operate. Many other equally obvious applications of patient, precursor robot labor suggest themselves as part of the “ground plowing” preceding human presence at many points in the Solar System.

  7. The problem with space is finding where the wealth is

    Exactly right and as long as you miss the point that wealth exists in people you will forever be stuck in earth orbit.

    Apparently I need a bigger crowbar to shift mindsets because it keeps going back to the wrong ideas.

    It’s not about mining. It’s about living.

    1. Ken,

      Exactly and its far easier to live in a large space habitat than on the surface of a planet, even Earth. That is the key point – space habitats, not planets or moons are the future home of humanity.

      If there is a library near you request the book, “Islands in Space” by Dandridge Cole, 1964 from interlibrary loan. It discusses well why space habitats are the future of humanity. He understood the issues far better and so produced far better arguments for moving beyond planets than Dr. O’Neill did in “High Frontiers”.

      Dandridge Cole also discusses why space habitats will offer the only true freedom for humanity as all planetary surfaces will eventually be ruled by government that become more powerful as limits to resources emerge. By contrast there are no limits to resources for a space habitat.

  8. Thomas, I’ve probably read it about the time it came out. I used to breath in books back then. But my swiss cheese memory isn’t helping much. I will look it up.

    But the fundamentals are still the same. Space habitats do have some obvious advantages but they don’t overcome the disadvantages in the near term. Putting them in LEO is because of those disadvantages.

    I believe LEO habitats have profit potential near term (right now) but are stagnant growth because they are not colonies, they are tourist destinations. Until getting to the larger versions which is not near term, they are ships not colonies.

    The time between now and viable space colonies can be most beneficially used by giving thousands of people and opportunity to grow their own private visions in a place where that’s possible. That’s mars (which could still be screwed up by the top down base mentality that prevails.)

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