Elon’s Mars Colony

Ari Armstrong is favorably impressed:

The long-term benefits of an off-world colony to our lives would be enormous. Not only would such a colony open the solar system to commercialization, reaping unimaginable wealth from the development of vast resources and energy; it would also establish a new frontier with new possibilities for human liberty. Both in terms of industrial development and political innovation, a colony on Mars could be as important as were the British colonies in America. The future of human progress, and possibly even the future of true freedom, may depend on off-world colonization. In any event, human life certainly will be greatly enhanced by it.

I wish that more people understood this.

87 thoughts on “Elon’s Mars Colony”

  1. a new frontier with new possibilities for human liberty

    It’s encouraging that he gets this.

    Musk troublingly calls for a rights-violating “collaboration between government and private enterprise”

    This I don’t quite understand. Looking at the companies history, they seem to have struck the right balance. Once people are on the surface of mars I would hope that independence would be encouraged. Frankly I’d rather the government not be involved however we need to understand the technical benefits of Pica and such.

    1. umm.. you don’t know Elon then.

      Why does he have an electric car company?

      Because the California electric car mandate was repealed and there’s no carbon tax. No really, that’s the two reasons. He supports both.

  2. [[[The future of human progress, and possibly even the future of true freedom, may depend on off-world colonization. ]]]

    That a nice warm and fuzzy thought, but warm and fuzzy doesn’t put any money in the bank or pay off any investors.

    Queen Isabella didn’t send Columbus to search for the New World because she wanted to save European civilization, she wanted the riches of Asia and when he failed to provide them he was shipped home to Spain in chains to explain where the gold was…

    1. “Queen Isabella didn’t send Columbus to search for the New World because she wanted to save European civilization….”

      A no time did Queen Isabella send Columbus to search for the New World.

  3. The long-term benefits of an off-world colony to our lives would be enormous.

    The problem with a Mars colony is that it’d be on world, back down another deep gravity well, and it’s not even a nice world.

    1. If we found mars in the habitable zone of another star we would consider ourselves, and rightly so, to have hit the jackpot. Gravity and atmosphere, two things mars has, are good things. 0.38g may even be the sweet spot, enough for health and not too much for SSTO.

        1. Olympus Mons looks to me like prime real estate for a Martian space port, peaking above most of the atmosphere. And a nice slope for a linear accelerator to launch small ships.

          1. So what you’re saying is that the most useful bits of Mars are above the atmosphere, agreed.

            Go even higher and you’ll be out of the gravity well to.

          2. Andrew, you keep ignoring that mars has resources within walking distance from any point on it’s surface. This also provides the greatest benefit to economic growth known to man, ownership. Which governments, by regulation (which is a form of part ownership reducing an owners value) diminish in every country on earth. We can avoid most of this second part on a young mars colony.

            The two biggest limiting factors of all space colonies is the great cost of recovering resources from remote locations (they may position the colony itself at great cost near a rock that has some of the resources they need but not likely all) but much more important, the colonists are not independent. Ships have captains (and it ain’t going to be you regardless that all imagine it to be so) and the crew loses a great deal of independence because of that. So if you like soviet style 5 year plans (and sadly many do) you’ll love ship life.

  4. Putting the above two comments together, Columbus never did make it to Asia, and most people decided that going half way there was actually better than going all the way to the original destination. Perhaps so too with Mars.

    Elon wants to eventually send up to 80,000 people a year to Mars, which is about a one year trip. That means we’d have spacecraft that could hold ten thousand or so people. You can’t put that many people in zero-G (especially with small children) for that long and not have it turn into an ungodly mess, so we’ll have to provide artificial gravity.

    At that point it’s like taking a luxury cruise liner for a tour of Antarctica. The snow is cold, the landscape is barren, but the ship is just fabulous! Let’s all hang out in the bar and cruise around!

    If space-minded Earthings all want to get into Earth orbit, then once you’re in Mars orbit you’re where space-minded Martians would’ve been trying to get to. Why would you go back down to the surface?

    1. George,

      True, and the route to Asia for Portugal was profitable because they found economic value along the way in terms of slaves and agricultural goods from Africa. So it paid for itself while the Portuguese developed the ships needed to sail around Africa to reach the Asian sources of wealth.

  5. Oh, and this just in. There’s lots of water on Mercury. 🙂

    NASA announces ice at the poles

    Once we get ice from the lunar poles, Mercury wouldn’t be a bad next-step, assuming we had other reasons to go there. I’d be curious to know whether, for a fixed mass of solar cells, you’d actually get a greater return in fuel production on Merucry than on the moon, comparing the nine-fold higher solar intensity against the vastly larger delta-V to get fuel back out to Earth’s orbit.

  6. The liberty could be a great thing. Sadly I expect that Mars will be settled (at least in part) by people who have been indoctrinated in the Leftist perspective. How could it be otherwise, when the Left controls so much of education? Mars could end up more like a French colony than a British one; and those never go well.

    I’m also still waiting for the business case that gets us to Mars (or Ceres or Venus) in the first place. Voluntarily cutting yourself off from the larger Terran economy is a recipe for poverty. Space has to have something to sell to the folks back home if they’re going to have meaningful resources and a comfortable way of life. Eventually the off-world colonies will become self-supporting and wealthy (just like America is now), but that could be a century or two in the future. What’s the bootstrap growth model?

    1. >> How could it be otherwise, when the Left controls so much of education?

      Most of original American colonies were settled by monarcho-fascists, royalists, and theocrats. The point is, frontiers tend to self-select for a different type of young adult than mature societies. The frontier makes the libertarians, not vice-versa.

  7. Slightly off topic, but NASA has just reported water on Mercury. Given the heavy metals also present this planet could well become the “Pittsburgh” of the Solar System. And the technology developed for lunar resource development will have direct applications to developing Mercury’s resources.


    Water On Mercury: NASA Announces Discovery Of Ice At Planet’s Poles

    The Huffington Post
    By Andres Jauregui
    Posted: 11/29/2012 2:29 pm EST
    Updated: 11/29/2012 2:47 pm EST

    Given this new discovery Mars may well be a good destination for those fleeing governments since it’s economic value to the rest of the Solar System is only marginal so no one will care if they are there.

    1. I’m a big fan of developing Mercury, and with abundant ice things just started looking a whole lot more feasible. Given the geographic extent of the icy areas, there are bound to be locations that offer easy access to both ice and rich metal deposits, and of course massive amounts of solar energy.

      Near the poles, if you erected a diagonal mirror to redirect just 24’x24′ of sunlight downward, you’d have continuous access to the same amount of sunlight as an acre (209’x209′) of crops in the US.

      1. George,

        Given there are also volcanoes on Mercury I am wondering if there are also large (km or larger in diameter) covered calderas like on the Moon. If so the shelter they provide from radiation and the heat of the Sun would make them the idea location for human habitats.

        All of a sudden Mercury is looking very good for settlement 🙂

        And for the Libertarians among you its even further than Mars…

      2. Well, if you go reasonably deep you should hit rock that’s relatively stable at the latitude’s average day/night surface temperature (plus a few degrees because of the crust’s vertical thermal gradient). I think I crunched numbers on it once, and the room-temperature area of Mercury would be at 20 or so degrees latitude, not that far from some of the ice deposits.

        However the polar location might be more ideal because you can radiate heat freely to space from the bottom of any small crater, yet extend vertically from the lip of a crater to pick up as much year-round sunlight as you need for heating and crops. The poles would get around the problem of storing power through Mercury’s long nights, and given the densities of crop growth achievable in a tightly packed structure lit with either fiber optics or high power LED’s, radiating heat will be important.

        We should send a probe. Spirit or Opportunity’s solar cells only provided 140 Watts on Mars but would provide three and a half horsepower on Mercury, and one could easily carry enough batteries to venture into a permanently shaded crater and get back out to recharge.

        1. Easily. You could also run a conventional heat engine, even a cheesy steam plant using local water and running at 30% efficiency, which would provide about 3.5 KW per square meter and could scale up easily into the megawatt range. Looking over a range of steam turbines, from 1.5 kW to 160 MW, they seem to weigh about 2 kg/KW, not including the piping and radiators, which perhaps could be built locally pretty early on in the settlement phase.

  8. Elon is a smart guy but I, too can’t figure why, once having got to space, you would want to live at the bottom of a hole.
    Perhaps expansion in space will be more like sea steading. Make your own real estate.

    1. Well, as far as we know you can’t spend all of your time outside of gravity. IIRC tests of mice and so on have shown that you can’t reproduce without at least some gravity–the spinal cord doesn’t form properly or something.

    2. To make this argument, people need to advocate the advantages of not being at the bottom of a (significantly less deep) gravity well. It’s not a given. You have to say what’s up there that’s worth having easy access to, and also how you’re going to get at the materials that aren’t up there.

      1. That’s why we need to build a Death Star. They convert marginally useful planets into resource rich debris fields. 🙂

      2. Yeah, it’s all a bit swings and roundabouts.

        My way to measure which location is easier to colonize is to foremost keep in mind that a Human technological civilisation requires two principle types of inputs, those that feed and support our machines and technology, and those that feed and support us.

        On Earth we have an environment that could not be better for feeding us, and though there’s free oxygen for combustion, it’s an environment can be a little difficult for our technology.

        If we go live on Mars, what advantages are there for us, and our technology over what’s on Earth? Suggestions anyone?

        If we go live on the Moon, what advantages are there for us, and our technology over what’s on Earth?

        If we go live in free space, using asteroids, what advantages are there for us, and our technology over what’s on Earth?

        1. Andrew,

          The advantage of the Moon is

          1) That its close enough to Earth for telebotic mining, manufacturing and construction operations.

          2) Its surface contains a representable cross section of NEO resources along with other elements of value.

          3) Its surface is mostly a vacuum, so you are able to use solar energy and solar furnaces to easily process your ores.

          4) Its surface is mostly a vacuum, so launch into space using mass drivers and similar externally power systems is possible using only cheap solar electric energy as your input. And you may scale up your cross section without worrying about drag since it is a vacuum and you have all the power you want.

          Together it positions the Moon as the place to build the spacecraft, habitats, etc. need to exploit the rest of the Solar System.

  9. @Thomas Matula, November 29, 2012, 9:30 am: Queen Isabella didn’t send Columbus to search for the New World because she wanted to save European civilization

    No, she sent him for other reasons, inter alia being to spread the Christian faith. A worthy goal, no matter where we go. However, there are no natives on Mars — at least none we know about . It is truly a virgin land.

    @Roga, November 29, 2012, 1:49 pm: Most of original American colonies were settled by monarcho-fascists, royalists, and theocrats

    I’m not sure what a “monarcho-fascst” might be. as a royalist myself, I ask you: please don’t say “royalist” like it’s a bad thing.

    @Brock, November 29, 2012, 12:40 pm: Mars could end up more like a French colony than a British one; and those never go well.

    Been to the South Pacific? I have. C’est merveilleux à Tahiti.

    Space has to have something to sell to the folks back home if they’re going to have meaningful resources and a comfortable way of life.

    A frontier… and hope. That’s what a Mars colony would have to sell.

    All: I find the thought of 80,000 people a year being transported to Mars to be almost unbearably thrilling. Such a circumstance, if it were to be realized, would be literally a dream come true for me. Would I go?You bet I would. You give me a one-in-three chance of surviving the trip and I’m on the ramp with my sea bag packed. And I’m not the only one who’d take a piece of the action at those odds. Musk could find 80,000 volunteers a year without the slightest problem. He’d be turning people away at the door of the colonization office.

    As for Mercury: that’s where we put the equatorial, solar-powered supercollider we need to make antimatter in commercial quantities…

    1. B Lewis,

      [[[No, she sent him for other reasons, inter alia being to spread the Christian faith.]]]

      And we went to the Moon for the sake of science…

      [[[All: I find the thought of 80,000 people a year being transported to Mars to be almost unbearably thrilling. ]]]

      Especially since even during the height of the great Puritan Migration the maximum sailing to New England was only around 2,000…

      1. [W]e went to the Moon for the sake of science…

        We went to the moon in order to win World War III, aka the “Cold War”. Science was the frosting on the cake.

        Why settle Mars? So that human beings will possess another world. So that another corner of this lifeless universe will be home to life. We are human beings. It is our nature to explore new lands, tame them, and settle them. And since we have collectively decided that we won’t settle Greenland or Antarctica, we must settle the other planets if we are to be true to our nature.

        The economics of space colonization will take care of themselves. Economies do not exist without people. Once there are people living in space or on another planet, an economy will exist there. I am certain there will be useful work for all on Mars, but, frankly, I don’t care if the Mars colonists sit around all day playing checkers. To me, it will be enough that people are living there.

  10. Bah. Mercury and Venus are where we drop the von Neumann swarm for the purpose of dismantling them for building materials for a few trillion orbital habs.

    There’s no life in either place, so the ecofreaks don’t get a look-in.

    1. Mercury could be disassembled into a ring around the sun, a ring formed of solar-powered antimatter factories, but it’d be a shame to take Venus apart. How about we use the antimatter to crash two or three useless Saturnian ice moons into Venus instead? A couple of centuries of cooling later it could be a nice place.

      1. Well, you’d build a habitat so you’d be able to breathe on Mars too. Then that issue would be negated.

        1. For what it’ll cost you to built a basic habitat on Mars, the guy who picks Death Valley could build a castle – in Florida, and live in luxury for the rest of his life.

          1. Like everywhere else, it costs labor and materials. The advantage of mars is local materials are available (compressed mars brick and iron being plentiful) and would likely be less expensive than on earth because they are plentiful and common, but labor is in shortage. In a single day they could produce enough brick for an entire mansion.

            However, labor will be sufficient, even with the first dozen colonists to steadily improve the value of owned property. They will have mansions.

            Many people in Brooklyn NY live in stacks of little brick boxes with closets for rooms. When describing their homes they say it has ‘so many rooms’ which includes everything from bathrooms to closets. In the west, they tend to have much larger houses and describe them by only how many bedrooms they have. It’s a major psychological difference.

            Martian’s will want space in their homes to move around in and will make them with many large rooms, many of those rooms will probably be just empty space and have no particular use at first. The low marginal cost to prepare more shirtsleeve space from cheap local materials will insure this.

            This is what people do when they own the property. People are going to host social gatherings in their homes as one use of this space. They are going to build enormous malls to engage in commerce and community pleasure from sports to walking in gardens. They will want to and will be able to because they will have the time and liberty required.

          2. The snag is that you’ll be trying to build a human-occupied pressure vessel out of brick, which is good in compression but virtually worthless in tension. Assuming you want 14.7 psi with a safety factor of two, the force on a brick wall would be the same as an Earth sea-level windspeed of Mach 1.3, which would be a 1000 mph hurricane, a category 12 when our scale only goes to 5. For the local Mars wind to have that much force, it would have to be hitting the wall at Mach 4.6

            You just can’t do that very well with brick. So you still have to build a pressure vessel as good as a Bigelow or the ISS and then surround it with brick, or use reinforced concrete, and lots of it.

          3. George, the brick is used within a pressurized shell, not as part of it. You don’t need 14.7 either; I live in Springerville AZ at about 10.2 psi just fine. I counter your mach numbers with about a millimeter of plastic.

            You dig a trench or several. You use brick to make walls separating chambers. You lay a ceiling on that. You cover the ceiling with enough dirt, solving two problems. I leave the details to engineers and architects (that’s their job after all.)

            Compression works just fine for building lots of things some of which have stood for thousands of years. Once they have the industries (not that far down the road) they can include tension (15% of the soil is iron after all and they will need to remove most of that anyway to make soil plants can thrive in.)

          4. Compression works fine, but unfortunately Mars’ lower gravity makes it tricky, and unsaturated, compacted soil sheer strength probably means your walls need to be 15 to 30 feet thick to keep from sliding. You’re basically building a variation of an earthen dam to hold back signicant pressures (like a 30 to 50 foot deep reservoir) without much mass to provide normal force. A trench makes a lot of sense in that case.

          5. unsaturated, compacted soil sheer strength

            I imagine you start with a trench deep enough to allow two stories (or more) with the top of the regolith cover flush with the sides of the trench (no mound.) Martian concrete with iron rebar would be standard to finish off where needed once production of that occurs.

            A Zubrin hobby farm would be on top of that (in which case the regolith cover is below flush with the surface) using a half cylinder rather than the 50m bubble he proposes in his book but with the base secured as he proposes. The ends would still be quarter spheres.

            Shirtsleeve access from the trench habitat to the hobby farm is assumed. Light to the farm may be indirect by way of mirrors although I understand a plastic may have the properties or coating required for protection. They may mostly work the farm at night and I’m not sure about the requirements for cosmic radiation protection.

    1. Surface ownership will end up degrading into a government. On a ship if someone bothers you, you just move on 🙂

      1. Government is unenviable where there are stable groups of people. Not all governments are equal in respecting individual rights.

        1. They are not equal, but one thing they all share is that they are all, to some extent, tyrannies. They are tyrannies because consent of the governed is a fiction.

  11. Here is a related article about elements in critical supply that are needed by the American economy.

    Michael Silver

    CEO, American Elements

    5 Endangered Elements That America Needs
    Posted: 11/29/2012 11:21 am

    The elements are Niobium, Antimony, Strontium, Platinum and Yttrium.

    Dennis Wingo has done a good job analyzing the potential of the Moon to supply Earth’s Platinum needs. I wonder what the potential of the other four are on the Moon and perhaps Mercury.

  12. There are any number of services that could be provided offworld. How many software engineers would want to work at EM1? Maybe a google or apple will build a campus. At some point there will be a significant population and your accountant might reside on the Moon or your ad agency mighty truly come up with out of this world campaigns.

    Commerce isn’t always about physical materials but products and services that can be transmitted.

    1. What advantage does EML1 have for Google over a campus on Earth? Even if central has political independence, they need to operate within Earthbound jurisdictions to sell their product.

  13. Statements like this really bother me:

    “The long-term benefits of an off-world colony to our lives would be enormous. ”

    Who lives are “our lives”? Terrans? Colonists? Both?

    “Not only would such a colony open the solar system to commercialization, reaping unimaginable wealth from the development of vast resources and energy; ”

    Unimaginable wealth from where? From what? AFAIK, there has been zero discovery of a raw material, resource, or product that is commercially viable. What energy? Energy for who? This sort of wild talk falls into the same category as “Man has an isatiable thirst to explore…”

    “….it would also establish a new frontier with new possibilities for human liberty. ”


    “Both in terms of industrial development and political innovation, a colony on Mars could be as important as were the British colonies in America….”

    Again one must be really careful about applying historical context. The reason the North American colonies were “important” to the Brits was, of course, money and strategic materials. For example, England would take the raw materials form the colonies, make finished products and sell those products back to the colonies.


    This was gradually ending at the time of the Revolution because we started to build factories over here. Ax heads are a good example of this: until we smelted local ore, got decent capacity iron works going and then got an ax head manufactory going, every ax was imported from Britain.

    Strategic materials; England had run out of tall, straight large diameter pine trees used for masts for the Royal Navy. Importation from the Baltic was possible but dodgy. The colonies supplied this extremely important strategic material as well as shipbuilding materials (oak from America and mahogany from the Caribean).

    I don’t see either of these two situations existing with regard to solar system colonies.

    1. On Mercury you can grow far more plants than on Earth, due to the increased sunlight (even correcting for the smaller surface area, and accounting for Earth’s oceans, Mercury comes out way ahead). Trees could grow much taller with enhanced sunlight, boosted CO2, little or no wind and only 0.4 G’s to stress their limbs, creating an obvious busines model of exporting naval timber back to Earth for military applications.

      1. Ok George, but you have to do the cost benefit analysis:

        Is it more profitable to have Mercurial Farms, than Terran Farms? Even if you have to do some land reclamation on earth to expand the farming acreage, you might get more bushels per dollar spent if you grow it here.

        If you grow it on Mercury who does it benefit? You’d have to ship it from Mercury to Earth (out a a gravity well) to put it on Ethiopian dinner tables. Is that more cost effective than growing it here?

        1. The real problem with exporting agricultural goods is that you are also exporting rare and valuable water.

          The natural exports from Mercury will be refined metals and alloys of various types in either raw form or in the form of electronic components. Cheap energy and an abundance of metals is what will make it the Pittsburgh of the Solar System.

          The deep gravity well is not the same issue as the deep gravity wells on the Earth and Mars because you will be able to use mass drivers to launch export goods into space. The problem with the Earth and Mars gravity wells is that you are basically limited to chemical rockets due to their atmospheres and the sharpness of the gradient of the gravity well.

          Once in space solar electric powered tugs, using ion or plasma drives, perhaps even magsails, would be waiting to haul the goods up the gravity well to the rest of the system. It may be a long voyage, but robots won’t mind and as with Super Tankers, its the cost not time which will be the deciding factor.

      2. Energy is the primary requirement for colonization. Everything else is secondary. This gives mercury a huge advantage over mars until we factor in cheap nuclear power which greatly diminishes that advantage (and transportation issues.) Near term, mars is much easier to colonize. Since we haven’t any colonies yet, easier is a significant factor. Easier would favor the moon except ownership will be much harder to establish on the moon than anywhere else and the moon requires costly importation of elements that mars does not.

        1. Ken,

          The problem with nuclear power is first locating deposits of radioactive ores, then mining them, then refining them, then building the reactors to fuel with them. The mining and refining especially requires a very advanced industrial base and access to cheap energy which is why so few nations are nuclear powers. Its not a cottage industry and is something you are unlikely to find in a Mars settlement.

          So on Mars you will be basically dependent on nuclear imports from Earth, which given the regulation of nuclear materials make it a high barrier to overcome.

          Its also another reason why a lunar industrial base is a necessary prerequisite to any serious martian settlement, or any settlement in the outer Solar System. There are evidence of radioactive ores on the Moon and you have a better chance of creating the lunar industrial based needed to mine and refine the ores on the Moon than elsewhere because you are close enough to Earth to use teleoperated systems for most of the tasks. Your lunar workforce would be basically limited to maintenance and research staff.

          Also governments on Earth are likely to be less sensitive to a lunar nuclear industry since it will be far easier to prevent and control exports from the Moon to Earth of bomb grade material than between nations on Earth. So when the time come for Mars settlers to buy nuclear reactors they will likely have “made in lunarbase” on them than “made in the USA”.

          1. No Thomas, they will not require imports of nuclear materials from earth.

            The problem with nuclear power is first locating deposits of radioactive ores, then mining them, then refining them, then building the reactors to fuel with them.

            Finding radioactive ore is easy. It gives off a directional signal.

            They don’t have to refine Thorium, they just have to concentrate it from the soil where it will be found in abundance. They will also have a better appreciation than the childish reactionaries on earth on what pragmatic steps to take to advance their interests. Although they may have one import from earth, guns; but only to shoot the lawyers.

          2. Ken,

            You don’t need to import guns, that are what 3D printers are for:-)

            Finding Thorium may be is easy, perhaps even digging it out and crushing it, but chemically isolating it and then developing reactors to use it is not something you are going to be able to do in your backyard on Mars. Your best bet will be recovering as a by product of rare earth mining which is how most is produced today and again, why the Moon will be the logical place where Martians will buy it from.

          3. You’re mistaking history for current knowledge Thomas. Isolating it for the first time is already done. We know the formulas needed. We know how much heat a reaction requires or produces. We even know the mechanical processes that reduce the need for chemistry. The only difference between a large industrial process and a bench top lab is scale. So yes I (even a non chemist) could do it in my back yard with the proper instruction.

            The whole point is that thorium doesn’t require separating isotopes; It’s just chemistry.

            The martians only need a few ounces of thorium to replace entire rolls of solar panels. So the incentive is certainly there.

            I’m funny about guns; I want to trust them. I’m not sure how much I would trust a printed gun. OTOH, guns are like any other thing made by machinists from raw materials. Whatever tooling they need they can make as well.

          4. “every cubic meter of rock on Earth, Moon & Mars has 12 grams of Th232.”

            You do need some electronics to make thorium useful. That is something 3D printing could be very good at. Laser diodes to excite the thorium are required. Lasers can be light, small and cheap. Ideal for importation until locally produced. Actually, the whole power pack is small, light and cheap. You’d just have to replace a few ounces of thorium every 20 years or so, but you’d start by importing a charged powerpack (about the size of a cigarette pack) from earth.

    2. You really can’t tell people where profit can be found. You can only show them other people making profit. Actions speak louder than words. It will happen soon enough, then we will hear from everyone about how they knew it all along. Success is often like that.

      The solar system has a lot of valuable rocks floating around. Mars only has 144 million sq. km. of surface area which is nothing in terms of the entire solar system although about equal to the earth’s 148m.

      But you can only lead a horse to water…

  14. I imagine people looking up into the starry sky and knowing that there are people like themselves out there, living, and playing and working and loving.

    That’s all the “profit” I need.

    1. “You really can’t tell people where profit can be found. You can only show them other people making profit. Actions speak louder than words. ”

      Agreed. And if it were profitable to get materials or finished products off the Moon I see no technological reason why we couldn’t do that right now. So I think if the profit were there, we’d be doing it.

      The reason you don’t see those actions is there’s no perceived profit.

      Finding a different route to the East Indies (Columbus) was financed ONLY because the market was already established and there needed to be another geographical path to effect the exchange.

      Britain only knew there were strategically useful raw materials in America because guys like Hudson did the recon and reported the results. And there was a profitable way of obtaining the material. The technology to harvest and transport large pine tree trunks was well established and had been happening for many decades.

      1. if the profit were there, we’d be doing it (…the market was already established…)

        Exactly right. This is why establishing a colony on mars with migration to it provides the market for lunar oxygen and water.

        That migration only happens if the cost is negligible to the colonists. Which in turn means you need to provide a profit motive to the transportation companies based on each colonist transported (that also doesn’t turn the colonists into slaves once they arrive.)

        This is a big challenge which my settlement charter is proposed to meet.

      1. I acknowledge your point. My point is that intangibles like hope and frontiers have value, too — value people recognize, and will sacrifice for.

        I must also point out that “the market” no longer bears any real relation to an actual economic exchange. It’s simply a high-stakes casino gambling operation.

  15. Mr. Matula – All of those elements are present, in good supply, on certain of the asteroids. And nobody has to fight gravity down a hole and then back out again to get them.

    IMHO the only one of these bodies that is worth exploiting in the short to medium term is the Moon – and that only to get the real colonisation effort started.

    Mars is another dead end, at least in the next century or so. Even terraforming isn’t going to address the main difference, which is the low gravity. For the foreseeable future, any Martian colonists are going to have to live in a sealed environment. That being so, why not do the same much closer to Earth (for safety in case of disaster, for one thing) where it’s actually quite easy to get the gravity right? (Effectively, that is, to satisfy the purists among us.)

    1. Fletcher,

      I agree that NEOs are a great resource. Their two disadvantages is that most of the time they are too far for effective teleoperation being more than a few light seconds from Earth. The other problem is that the orbits are often inconvenient for low energy transfer to the Earth except for very short windows separated often by years. Even Earth’s co-orbital moons 3753 Cruithne, 54509 YORP, 1998 UP1, 2002 AA29, 2009 BD, and 2010TK will be difficult destinations with travel times varying greatly. And all are out of effective teleoperation range.

      The Moon by contrast is always 2-3 days an 1.5 light seconds away. And those are its real core advantage for the near term and why it will indeed be the first step to space industrialization. At least until someone figures out how to cheaply place a NEO into a EM L4 or EM L5 orbit 🙂

  16. terraforming

    I wish they’d just stop using that term for now. It’s not going to happen in this century. Terraforming will happen the same way it happens now on earth, one habitat at a time.

    any Martian colonists are going to have to live in a sealed environment

    Which can be large and owned by the individual. Ownership in a space ship (no matter how large) is going to be like living in a gated community where others will rapidly diminish your ownership rights and value.

    Why not do the same much closer to Earth?

    Many will. But there are many reasons some may not want to. Liberty will require distance from earth. Nanny state Julia is opting for ‘safety.’ Others may opt for freedom.

  17. Spices, silk and precious metals are available by the traditional land and sea routes. Instead of pouring thousands of reales into Admiral Coulombe’s fanciful “deep sea exploration” project, we should be spending it to develop more efficient carts and wagons for land-based trade. Any resource that we might find in the so-called “East Indes” can be developed much more cheaply here at home, and it’s not as if the good Admiral is going to come across new spices, vegetables, or drugs other than the ones we know.

    I realize that the idea of sailing west to go east has a certain appeal among the sea enthusiast community, but the markets don’t care how cool sailing ships are.

    As for the settlement of “new worlds”, the very idea is preposterous. There are no new, habitable “worlds” beyond those we know. The environment on every Western land we know of is unsuitable for European life. Even if a “new world” with habitable climate were to be found, it’s not as if the same plants and animals we know here in Europe wouldn’t be found there. The markets only care about profit and unless profit is guaranteed they are not going to risk capital in any “new world colonization” venture.

    Sea exploration is a romantic idea, but it will never happen. Scienific investigation of the Ocean Sea is best left to clockwork “sea probes”, not human beings.

    1. B Lewis,

      The problem was not the technology of transportation, but that after the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453 all of the trade routes East were under Muslim control, mostly Ottoman, and they greatly raised the cost of doing business to finance their war against the West. The rise of the Ottoman Empire is why the search for a ocean option started in the 1400’s.

      1. So Thomas, had there not been Muslim interference, the new world would suddenly ‘unexpectedly’ have had no value? (Yes, we acknowledge the adjusted difference in value per this scenario.)

        1. Ken,

          Nope, not that it had no value. Just that it would probably have been a couple hundred years or so before Europeans got around to discovering it. After all what reasons were there for venturing away from Europe? Especially given the increasingly bad weather on the North Atlantic resulting from the “Little Ice Age”.

          And in the process you would probably have seen the Industrial Revolution delayed by a similar amount of time since England wouldn’t have had the timber shortage which resulted from building ships, both merchant men and for the Royal Navy to exploit it and the rest of the new global trade routes. So there would have been no reason to use the alternative energy source of coal in any great amounts.

          History is a very complex web, pull one strand and its difficult to predict what else will happen.

          For instance imagine where the space program would be if Richard Nixon had won in 1960 instead of President Kennedy? Probably no project Apollo but perhaps in its place a joint U.S.-Russian Moon base with no war in Vietnam to divert funding.

    2. B Lewis,

      The difference between space and the ocean is that you have no major time delay in teleoperations for ocean systems. You do in space beyond the Moon. And it a lot more difficult to commute to the Moon to fix busted robots than it is to fix a busted ROV. That is why you will eventually have space settlements but not ocean ones.

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