Elon’s Plans

Doug Messier has a critique, with which I largely agree. He does seem to be laser focused on solving the transportation problem (which was the first one he encountered when he tried to implement his initial Mars plans). I emailed him years ago about the fact that we have no idea whether or not we can conceive/gestate in 0.4g. His response was basically, “that’s not my problem right now.”

But this blinkered mindset may not ultimately serve him well in terms of his long-term goal. It would be tragic for him if he solved the transportation problem, but not the biological one, and his dreams of Mars colonies ended up being still born, despite the cost reduction of transportation there.

84 thoughts on “Elon’s Plans”

  1. As a consolation prize he’ll be able to transport passengers and cargo for Jeff Bezos’ space factories.

    1. Somehow I think even there Jeff has a plan that includes doing it for himself, just like he’s now setting up freight airlines, etc.

    1. Wouldn’t need to orbit Mars for that. Just build a rotating cylinder on the surface. Make it a few kilometers in diameter and spin it fast enough that the vector sum of Martian Gravity plus the centrifugal force add up to 9.8m^2 and put your people inside that.

      Of course just building such things in space in the first place would simplify everything. A nested-ring design (spinning inner ring, non-spinning outer ring to keep the inner ring from flying apart) would allow for arbitrarily large rings.

      1. And don’t forget that, by the time we can colonize Mars, we’ll have artificial wombs. So we won’t even need to put expectant mothers in a centrifuge, just the kids.

      2. You can have roller coaster tracks or train tracks at about 45 degree angle and circular track of 1 km diameter. Have train get up to speed of 50 m/s [111.6 mph] and then get 5 m/s/s acceleration [a bit more than 1/2 gee].
        Have train floor level to the 5 m/s/s and Mars 3.71 m/s/s gravity. And then get about 8.7 m/s/s of Mars and artificial gravity.
        And it takes 62.8 seconds per lap
        If go 40 m/s [79.4 mph] it’s 3.2 + 3.71 m/s/s or about 2/3rd of 1 gee.
        Takes 78.5 second per lap
        If halved the radius- 250 meter radius rather than 500 meter, the distance traveled per lap is 1570 meters rather 3140 meter, so same acceleration but 1/2 the speed:
        50 to 25 m/s [55.8 mph] and 40 to 20 m/s [44.6 mph].
        You could have such inner track that has cable connecting to outer track train. So passengers and cargo could “dock” with inner track train and be transported via cable to outer track train.

        1. You know, if we built a track on Earth that was a little more than a mile in diameter, banked at about 19.5 degrees, then ran a TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) train around it at top speed (357.2 mph), it would produce a 3 g environment in the train. Then we could have our Olympic team live and work out on the train, until they got to the point where they were as good as they are in a 1 g environment. Competing in a 1 g environment would make them superhuman.

          It would give a whole new meaning to “training for the Olympics”!

          1. OK, but you also need to pressurize the train to simulate training at high altitudes since that boosts red blood cells.

      3. Why build a rotating cylinder, just a big round tube and run hyper loop type modules around it, but maybe not so fast.

  2. Don’t need to orbit, Ken. A train on a banked track will do.
    Otherwise it’s Confinement Asteroid that the Belters organize in Larry Niven’s “Known Space”.

    1. I don’t expect him to solve the problems, but I do expect him to understand them sufficiently to know whether or not he’s wasting his time and money with respect to Mars. It wouldn’t cost that much.

      His Mars plans seem akin to NASA’s in the sense of:

      1. Build a giant rocket
      2. Then a miracle occurs
      3. Mars!

      1. As he’s going to wind up with a very useful general purpose space transport system Mars itself doesn’t matter except to the Mars enthusiasts out there.
        Mars also has two moons which could be mined for materials for a rotating space station if lack of 1 g is a problem.
        I do agree that we do need a variable g facility in low Earth orbit, not just for Mars settlement but to determine the size of the problem. Among other things this will be necessary to determine the rotational g required for long term space habitation.

        1. As he’s going to wind up with a very useful general purpose space transport system Mars itself doesn’t matter except to the Mars enthusiasts out there.

          It certainly doesn’t matter to me. I’m just pointing out that, as a Mars enthusiast himself, it should matter to him.

      2. The difference is that NASA doesn’t let other people use their giant rocket and their giant rocket is really expensive. Also, NASA shouldn’t be a business.

        When opening up new markets, you can’t predict everything that will happen. The miracle isn’t something up to Musk, it is up to the people that will purchase his products. No one knows how much demand there is for his products. There isn’t a good precedent that we can look back on.

        Messier worries about hubris but Musk has a profitable business supporting his goal of Mars. If it turns out humans can’t reproduce on Mars, it doesn’t mean SpaceX goes out of business. If Musk can’t get larger buy in for colonizing Mars, it doesn’t mean SpaceX goes out of business. As long as SpaceX has excess cash, who cares how they spend it? The R&D needed to accomplish Musk’s dream will be useful for many other things.

      3. I do expect him to understand [the problems with colonizing mars] sufficiently to know whether or not he’s wasting his time and money

        What hard evidence do you have that he doesn’t? (All these self made billionaires are such dummies, eh?)

        1. What hard evidence do you have that he doesn’t?

          There is zero evidence that he does, and there would be no way for him to do so unless he’s managed to be doing secret experiments in a secret gravity lab.

          1. Rand, you used the qualification “sufficiently.” So you have no hard evidence even without secret experiments. Did we have ‘sufficient’ evidence to know we wouldn’t lose all our moon landers in the dust because that’s what some were predicting?

    2. He has to solve all the problems before he does anything else. We have to ignore that problem solving is an iterative process built on taking action, evaluating outcomes, and then making corrections. We have to lock him into a course of action so that he can be criticized when he deviates from his initial plans.

      There are so many unknown problems that we wont discover until engaging in activities that will get us to the end goal that is it stupid to think everything must be solved before trying. A grand Master Control Plan will not work. This is a hangup for people who want the control.

      1. The straightforward approach would be to plan to use artificial gravity and radiation protection in transit, so that there are no real biological/physiological problems to deal with.

        We used that approach for long distance sea travel, providing the crew with walls, a floor, a roof, a bed or hammock, a kitchen, and food and fresh water in barrels. That done, we could sail all the world’s oceans. We didn’t attempt to two the crew behind the ship, thinking that maybe they could survive that, nor have them eat nothing but fish, or otherwise explore the limits of human physiology and our adaptability to alien environments.

        We know we can survive in our familiar environment long term, (gravity, low radiation) and we know that environment is pretty easily replicated on a space ship. So the path with the fewest unknowns is to go with what we know will work.

  3. We seem to have no trouble creating 2g of artificial gravity on carnival rides (I tested this at Kennywood Park near Pittsburgh with my neices recently). An extra 2/3 of a g would be no sweat on Mars.

  4. It won’t be tragic for anyone. If Musk (and others) solve the transportation problem there will be huge positive economic and social effects from that achievement which we cannot even imagine at the moment.

    The Conception Problem is a small problem and I’m sure human ingenuity will solve it…if it’s something that has to be solved.

  5. I agree with most of the commenters – there are serious issues to be solved out there, but why would I criticize Elon Musk because he’s only tackling the most pressing one?

    1. –MikeR
      October 25, 2017 at 5:31 AM

      I agree with most of the commenters – there are serious issues to be solved out there, but why would I criticize Elon Musk because he’s only tackling the most pressing one?–

      In regards to Mars, it’s not the most pressing one.
      The most important aspect of Mars or the Moon is the lack of
      Space fans have been saying that CATS is the most pressing issue, but they are wrong. Plus CATS is access not just cheap.
      The cost of what NASA calls space exploration, is as unrelated to launch cost as launch cost is unrelated to cost of rocket fuel.
      Or when NASA buys launches for it’s robotic mission, the cost of the launch generally is not significant cost of entire mission cost, just as launch cost is not most of the cost of having satellite in orbit- or satellite, itself tends to cost much more than the launch cost. Nor is the launch + satellite cost and main part of the cost of running a company that uses the launched satellite.
      Now, the 20 billion NASA spent on SLS is huge cost- 2 billion a year on less than 20 billion year budget and no way in hell it’s going to recover that development cost. But NASA didn’t need to build SLS- there is no argument that NASA has and apparently will continue to waste huge amount of money not getting CATS. But exploring the Moon and Mars didn’t need SLS, and could have done by buying rocket launches from launch companies.
      And since rocket launch is cheap compared to other stuff, if NASA buys cheap SpaceX launches it will have a minor effect upon a Mars exploration program total costs- because launch cost is has never been most of the cost of any program.
      NASA spending decades saying going to Mars and not going has been a huge cost, and NASA wasting more time not exploring Mars or the Moon is huge cost, and NASA spending too much time exploring Moon and Mars [which it hasn’t actually done yet] is huge cost.

      1. I don’t agree with you. I learned better when I worked for Bell, back in the late ’80s. We were trying to figure out how to sell DSL. Who would need it? Maybe some hospitals and their doctors? – that was a popular idea we had. Or lawyers could get courthouse documents easily.
        We were very envious of France’s amazing success story, Minitel, with literally _thousands_ of apps. We knew that the US couldn’t have that, after the phone company breakup.
        Everyone knows what _actually_ happened. We sold access, and the internet grew up on its own. Millions of apps appeared, things no one ever imagined.
        Provide cheap access. Something will happen. I don’t know what.

        1. I think you made my point, US sold access but it wasn’t and still isn’t cheap. [though anything is cheaper than a stupid government monopoly].

          1. “And since rocket launch is cheap compared to other stuff, if NASA buys cheap SpaceX launches it will have a minor effect upon a Mars exploration program total costs- because launch cost is has never been most of the cost of any program.” Nope – I don’t agree with your point. If SpaceX drastically cuts the cost of space access, a whole lot of possibilities will open up that you aren’t taking into account.

          2. Yes. It isn’t just that launch prices are coming down but there are also advances in producing payloads. There is a confluence of technologies and skills that not only benefit the launchers but the things being launched.

            It’s all uncharted territory though.

          3. –Nope – I don’t agree with your point. If SpaceX drastically cuts the cost of space access, a whole lot of possibilities will open up that you aren’t taking into account.–

            A large booster opens up possibilities.
            Right now, one has the Falcon Heavy you could buy- anyone including NASA.
            I think SpaceX is increasing possibilities and it seems quite apparent that the US military and other parties are taking advantage of these possibilities.

  6. This article is an amazing disconnect…

    Musk’s career has involved carefully studying existing industries, identifying the weaknesses of his competitors, hiring away the best people from them, and proceeding to build better mouse traps.

    I understand the writer is trying to make sense of Elon, but by defining this framework of understanding he’s actually gotten farther away from that goal. His wrong conclusion, because he set himself up for it, is that Musk is following a different pattern with regard to mars when he absolutely is not.

    The correct understanding, espoused by Musk himself, is to strip away everything but fundamental truth and proceed from there.

    His goal is a multi-planetary species. But that’s not something any one person can bring about, so being practical (something many visionaries lack) he chooses a sub-goal he can achieve, then focuses on that with the provision that the moment it becomes impractical, he immediately re-accesses again from first principles.

    That this an be described (in part or whole) as something else is purely coincidental.

    How does providing a working transportation system obligate him to resolving any other problem? Problems that include societal problems that nobody is addressing? Which is the most difficult part of the book I’m working on (meanwhile figuring out how to feed myself while I’m trapped in my apartment… on the second floor with a broken elevator! )

  7. I contributed liberally to the comment thread over there. For anyone who doesn’t already know, I’m “duheagle” on Disqus.

    The Musk Mars Vision is definitely questionable in all sorts of ways, but the feasibility of low-G human reproduction seems to me to be highly likely a non-issue. Small mammals have reproduced in zero-G on ISS – mice, I think. Low-G, even if it was a complete showstopper for “natural” human reproduction, can be ameliorated in all the same ways as fertility problems on Earth are handled.

    What I find unlikely are large cities on Mars. Mars – let us speak frankly – is a crummy place to live.

    That said, there will be people who live on Mars. But I expect most of them to be termers on contracts working for resource extraction and processing outfits. Over time, a modest permanent population of hermits, crazies, malcontents and religious fanatics are also likely to adopt the “desert rat” lifestyle in the Martian outback. Personal failings and merciless nature will limit their numbers quite ruthlessly. At times, their numbers may fall all the way to zero.

    Most people who live, long-term, in space will do so in manufactured habitats that spin to create artificial gravity. These will range from modest to very large in size and cover the gamut of terrestrial housing in terms of luxury and comfort.

    As for those who criticize Elon for not coming up with an entire Master Plan for Marsopolis, get real. Colonizing a planet – even assuming, as Musk does, that such a thing is both a good idea and even possible – is going to be more like war than anything else humans do except war. And, as the old saying goes, “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.”

    Elon has taken on two connected problems – transport to and from Mars and provision of ISRU propellant on Mars to optimize the latter. I think he, quite correctly, wants to engage a lot of other minds more focused on the myriad other issues of Mars colonization than his is. As authentic geniuses go, Musk is quite modest in his notion of his personal role in all this. He wants to get the ball rolling. Where it rolls and what it does along the way Musk intends to leave to others. The good and sufficient reason for doing so is that those others will be much more intensely focused on problems that interest them than would a dilletante Musk who, frankly, isn’t that interested in a lot of nitty-gritty civilization-building issues.

    1. “I think he, quite correctly, wants to engage a lot of other minds more focused on the myriad other issues of Mars colonization than his is. ”

      This is an important point.

      1. Ya, he has been pretty upfront that he can’t do Mars by himself and that it will take a lot of other groups/individuals. Not sure why Messier had to question that.

        It is also good to point out the larger questions but pointless to think they should all be answered before any activity takes place. Any Mars settlement is decades off. Much will change during that time.

        1. Doug questions it because he is a left statist. He believes in Plans and Oversight. What he doesn’t really believe in is the market and the wisdom of crowds. Musk’s Mars plans are deliberately minimal because Musk does believe in those things.

    2. duheagle, clever nick if I may use it. Let me pick of few nits from your as usual great comment.

      Mars … is a crummy place to live. Which is almost always true when humans arrive anywhere… including some tropical paradise where food goes straight from tree to mouth.

      Most People… will live in manufactured habitats to whatever comfort level they choose. Public spaces will be at the comfort level the community paying for it chooses. There are no limits. The resources to make it happen are already there.

      All it takes is allowing mars assets to be used for mars benefits. If colonists are not denied a certain amount of personal mass they will arrive rich and the cost of resupply disappears. Let it all be paid for by not denying land speculators. This solution is no cost to any govt. on earth. By itself this pays for establishing industry on mars. This in turn makes mars profitable exports to LEO and other places possible.

      Trying to do everything insures that nothing will happen (as has been so far even though the assets have existed to pay for everything long before pet rocks… and for the same cost. How much money did it cost you for your neighbor to buy a pet rock? Imagine if that pet rock then had resale value?)

      1. Imagine the possible scenarios?…

        We know land value will go up when colonists live nearby. So a clever speculator outbids everyone for plots in the same area… then they pay a colonist to build a house and live on one of there plots?

        Or a govt. decides to just buy their own country on mars. But the plots are auctioned 1/5 hectare at a time and other countries get wind of the plan. So they outbid that first country for a similar number of plots. Then other speculators cash in on the bubble.

        Free market chaos rules!

        1. Just like on Earth, it would make sense for investors to buy land and make improvements in order to sell plots. Do you want land with no power or water or land with utility hookups?

          1. I’d be happy if there were actual prospecting taking place in ten years. It’s doubtful but it might be the beginning of the beginning by then.

          2. Well, that’s because we are so used to seeing things move at the pace of the planners. Colonists are going to be living on a planet where the next arrival happens in 26 months. Not NASA personnel with every minute of their time scheduled, but colonists following their own desires.

            What will they be doing during those two years? Building their own personal wealth and comfort. That’s not going to be just mining. It will happen incredibly fast.

            There will be so many paths to follow than no colonist will just sit on their ass and let time pass without making great gains. Even if they are retards, not everyone will be and those will set the example for others. There will be no welfare state. Don’t work to make life better and those that do will out-breed them.

      2. Mars is still crummier than any tropical paradise. No trees. No food. In fact Mars is still crummier than any tropical hellhole.

        Other than that, we seem to pretty much agree. Property rights are crucial, even for a thinly populated place mostly given over to resource extraction and processing. Come to think of it, especially for such a place.

        1. Just reread what I said and it could be interpreted as if I didn’t consider this one as among your great comments. Thank-you for not taking it that way (I don’t have a first language because apparently English is my second?)

          No trees. No food. In fact Mars is still crummier than any tropical hellhole.

          Yeah, today. How long before they have trees? My “no plan, plan” means they will have them as soon as anyone wants because their ticket includes personal property that the passenger (not some planning committee) chooses.

          They will always have food and the varieties will come from the invisible hand.

          The key is for colonists to arrive rich which only requires two things.

          1) The cost of transport is high. That’s a given.
          2) Mars assets, not the colonists, pay the ticket price.

          Mars assets for martians. Why should it be any other way?

          1. I don’t disagree at all about the future role of anarchic self-interest, serendipity and such. I just think that, for an equivalent amount of effort, would-be Martian colonists might prefer to be asteroid miners in the Belt and build their homesteads in free space. There’s a lot of land on Mars, but there is an unimaginable amount of volume in which to build habs between here and The Belt. The mass to do so is The Belt itself and is subject to exactly the same value-added economic forces as Martian land would be.

            It’ll be interesting as hell to see what actually does happen. Bog willing and Elon keeping to anything even reasonably close to his aspirational schedule, I’ll still be around in my dotage to see at least the beginnings of it.

          2. It’ll be interesting as hell to see what actually does happen.

            Yep. I expect we will go to asteroids as well, but mining them will not be as easy as some imagine and the delta-V and trip times will often be a problem.

            The community will be bigger and more diverse on mars which is extremely important for industrialization. Utilizing an asteroid will require focus and dedication where doing something else on mars will be trivial.

    3. Elon has taken on two connected problems – transport to and from Mars and provision of ISRU propellant on Mars to optimize the latter. I think he, quite correctly, wants to engage a lot of other minds more focused on the myriad other issues of Mars colonization than his is.

      Right. If he can lick those two problems, that really should be both a necessary and sufficient condition for generating adequate outside interest in some sort of serious Mars base/settlement. He can get you (and your stuff) there affordably and provide you with fuel, oxygen, water. Those really *are* the biggest problems, and Musk has reasonably chosen to focus on just them.

      There *are* risks. But it has become evident that there are enough people able and willing to spend the money to run those risks. Adventurers. Scientists. Eccentrics. One of them is Elon Musk himself. They will get there, and find out the hard way how difficult it is. They might even solve it.

      And even if the worst case scenario happens, and Mars just isn’t colonizable on any reasonable cost, there will *still be some sort of human presence on Mars – at least small scientific stations. And in addition to that, Elon will have a capability and market presence he can use for all sorts of other space endeavors.

  8. Just being able to move a hundred people into orbit at a time opens up a whole vista of opportunities. That Musk has intentionally scaled down BFR to a multipurpose mode of transportation is an enhancement that will lead to a lot of expected and unexpected developments in space. Clearly orbital, LaGrange and Lunar expansion become much more doable, as would asteroid mining. All but the zealots see that Mars as a permanent destination is much farther out in time.

      1. Well, Mars as a destination provides the capability to do a lot of other things. We could pick Saturn as a destination and enable many other activities because a vehicle that could go to Saturn could go to many other places too.

        1. I didn’t say otherwise, but if you choose a destination the closest earth analogy in our solar system is best.

  9. Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids
    In fact it’s cold as hell
    And there’s no one there to raise them if you did

    1. Reportedly hell isn’t cold but Mars is except during the day in the summer near the equator. A pressurized habitat need not be cold.
      Not having kids until there are enough people to help if you die is a good idea even on Earth but especially off Earth.

  10. “Whatever the case, the lack of details about the colony raises a lot of questions. Who will pay for the enormous amount of infrastructure needed for a large colony on the frozen plains of Mars? Will this be a commercial venture? How much government money might go into a martian colony? What would be the returns on investment?”

    I think Musk imagines NASA will pay for the costs to colonize Mars, because he think the barrier of mars colonize paid for by US government has been the launch cost.
    His experience has been the US pays for solar energy and electric cars- so why something more exciting like a Mars colony?
    But it doesn’t work that way.

    1. I see no evidence Mr. Musk believes any such thing and considerable evidence that he, emphatically, does not. The whole BFR presentation in Adelaide is pretty much Exhibit A.

  11. The colonists on Mars may resemble those in Allen Steele’s SF stories. The main industry was making rocket fuel IIRC.
    See “Live from the Mars Hotel” and “Zwarte Piet’s Tale”

    1. I believe so. “Vacuum” optimized nozzles don’t expand as much as they could for a hard vacuum because such a large nozzle gets heavy.

    2. http://mathscinotes.com/2012/10/earth-altitude-with-equivalent-pressure-to-mars/

      Average Mars surface air pressure = less than the air pressure at Earth at an altitude of 100,000 feet above ground level. Close enough to a vacuum for rocket engine purposes!

      Interestingly, the air pressure on Mars varies tremendously depending upon the season of the year and the elevation of the ground. Which could be important for aerobraking and even more important for in situ resource utilization.

  12. Musk’s rockets, spacecraft and cars have been constrained by existing safety regulations and the demands of organizations like NASA that are funding development.

    With Mars, we’re seeing Musk’s ambitions unbound and unconstrained. There is no existing Mars human transportation system to study. No competitors to best. NASA’s plans for Mars are vague at best; the agency has nothing on the books about constructing a large colony there. The space agency has no program like commercial resupply or commercial crew to drive requirements or limit the scope of Musk’s ambitions.

    Having no constraints on your dreams can be a liberating thing that can lead to amazing advances in technology. The lack of limits can also lead to hubris, overreach and disaster.

    The real problem here is the lack of government imposed limits, people engaging in activities based on their desires, and solving problems on their own as they arise rather than relying on the government to solve everything for them.

    Does Musk really think he can do something that NASA hasn’t done first? Doesn’t he see how dangerous it is to create a business that funds the realization of his dreams? What we really need is for the government to step in and stop this before Musk wastes our resources.

      1. I get the fear of uncertainty, the desire to mitigate risks based on planning, and the urge to control others but I am not in the industry and don’t have a fortune tied up in it, so I have no fear and I don’t care about what other people do as long as it doesn’t harm me.

        All of this is great for speculating, daydreaming, and discussion but the big picture process of solving problems is the same here as it is in other areas. We can analyze costs but no one has the numbers for accurate analysis. As we learn more, the analysis gets better.

        The best rebuttal to Messier’s fear of Musk being Virgin Galactic is SpaceX. Musk knows his dream is only achievable with a viable and profitable business that can fund what he wants to do. He selected launchers rather than some other technology because it enables other people that will help Musk solve problems he can’t solve.

        Even though Musk’s plans keep changing, he put a lot of thought into how to make all this happen. The thing that hasn’t changed is using commerce to fund desire. Until that changes, there isn’t anything to worry about.

        1. The thing that hasn’t changed is using commerce to fund desire. Until that changes, there isn’t anything to worry about.

          Bull’s eye. Although I’d still like to be around to see some of it.

  13. Safe Is Not an Option, Rand.
    I’m concerned in several regards about the BFR. Mostly about implementation, planning, and the economics of the thing. But human fertilization in low-g? We’ll think about that when it needs to happen. It’s not like we can’t have an artificial gravity environment in case we really need that either. Or we can just do like salmon.

    The comparison to the railroad is a hard one to make, at least in interplanetary terms, like the article does. It’s not like you have a nation on both coasts with nothing connecting them together this time. There’s NOTHING there in Mars. Or should I rather say there’s NO ONE there. This is more like the colonization of Australia or in fact even worse than that. At least places like Australia had natives. In fact I would say it’s more akin to the exploration of the Pacific in the Polynesian expansion. I would say we need similar technologies to be able to successfully pull it off. Unfortunately it’s not like there are a lot of written records of that.

    But basically: the Polynesians knew how to build boats using local resources than could get them to the next island, they had nautical charts (stick charts) for navigation, they spread breadfruit and sweet potatoes around the islands they settled in, so they would have a source of food and building materials for boats and houses.

    The problem is we just don’t have the ISRU for this yet. So I think Lunar exploration at this time would be a lot more viable because of travel time concerns.

    1. The Polynesian expansion is a much better analogy. Musk’s plan is much like that. The first couple of trips will send the ISRU equipment, test the landing technology, etc. We have the navigation. And we have the communication channels, something the Polynesians didn’t have. We even know where the next island is and have already sent ships there.
      What we need is a big enough ship to take the breadfruit. The guy who builds the ship gets to pick the island to go to first. I suspect one of the test flights of the BFR will be to the moon especially if the ship is ready when the window to Mars is not open. One problem with the moon is there is no good way to test the ISRU equipment he plans to use to make rocket fuel.

    2. The problem is we just don’t have the ISRU for this yet. So I think Lunar exploration at this time would be a lot more viable because of travel time concerns.

      Why not both?

      You are right about the ISRU. Figuring these processes out might not be too hard but it will take time. Along with prospecting, this pushes the timeline out before any real colonization can take place. Both of these activities though, would go better with people on the surface. Unless robotics catches up and we can have avatars while we kick back on a space station.

  14. Personally, if I could go to Mars with a minimal habitat and enough supplies, I’d do it in a heartbeat. And I’d do so without expectation of ever returning. The reason is simple. Everything there is something no human being has ever seen first-hand. The pictures from all of the landers and rovers are great, don’t get me wrong. And I devour them regularly. But in every case, when I see a picture of, say, a rock, I study it thoroughly, but then am consumed by the desire to see what is on the other side of the rock. It may just be the other side of the rock. But it may be something even more interesting. One can only satisfy that desire one rock at a time, and only in person. And there’s an entire planet of rocks to look at. The opportunities for discovery are endless.

    That would be the motivation, I believe, for the first people to go. I don’t think the transcontinental railroad is a good analogy for the rest of the people who would eventually go. The analogy which is more likely is that of the Pilgrims and Puritans – people who came to America to escape religious persecution. With the death of the American Constitutional Republic under Obama, the likelihood of there being a haven of freedom anywhere on earth has dropped to zero. I believe that going to Mars would be much, much easier than trying to fix the disaster that is statism.

    There would be no time or place for statists on Mars. And if a group of people volunteered to impose communism on themselves, as did the Pilgrims of Plymouth, they would quickly be dispatched by reality. In an environment where there’s no fat of the land off of which to live, no surplus wealth to loot from others, and no practical chance of rescue, Political Darwinism would reign supreme. And that would make such emigration well worthwhile.

    1. There would be no time or place for statists on Mars.

      But isn’t building new cities and transportation systems from scratch very appealing to statists? It’s a public planners wet dream.

    2. I have thought about the logic of your first paragraph, and good news, I have a money-saving suggestion!

      You could stay at home and find rocks, split them in half, and then look at their newly exposed interiors. By doing so, you would see something no human being has ever seen first-hand — no one has ever looked in that particular rock before, and, as a bonus, you would be looking at rocks all day, which clearly appeals to you!

      After you split the rock in half, you might be “consumed by the desire to see what is on the other side of the rock”, and by “side” you might mean the inside, now that you’ve seen the outside, so instead of moving on to the next rock, you could just stick with one rock and split it into increasingly small pieces, always discovering what is on the other , more inner, side of the rock.

  15. Mars colonization is simply impossible at the present time because there is absolutely nothing on Mars which can be produced and shipped back to Earth and sold at a profit in order to *pay* for all of the manufactured goods the colonists will need merely survive, much less have simple comfort, and no, they can not produce everything they need in situ. Computers, light bulbs, and toilet paper are all made by machines which are made by machines. Nonetheless, the BFR will be an absolute revolution in space transportation which will open up cis-Lunar and even interplanetary space to human exploration and exploitation. The next twenty years are going to be exciting.

    1. But with the BFR, we can take a look at the cost of shipping goods back to Earth, even if we don’t know what those goods are. That is a big step.

      One cargo launch needs four support launches and they want to land 50 tons on the surface (at least for the Earth to Mars leg).

      Musk wants ships to go both ways, so there will be some trade right away even if there isn’t enough trade to pay for a dedicated flight.

      But people are getting too hung up on shipping things back to Earth. Mars needs its own economy. Earthlings engaging in activities on Mars would profit by Martians selling goods and services to other Martians. Rather than shipping things to Earth, the question is how long it would take to have a Martian economy and how many people would it take to make it possible.

      For a colonist, would they want to make a profit off of the money it takes to travel and set up shop on Mars or would they just want to make enough money to support themselves once they get there?

    2. Since when is toilet paper a necessity. You know you can simply wash yourself and dry afterwards right? I’ve seen systems like that. There are even more ghastly methods than that.

      I would go into even more basic things than that. Wires. We can’t even make those there. Let alone something like a lightbulb.

      I think I’ve said this before, but when the Portuguese started their expansion, they colonized the Azores and Madeira islands, which were uninhabited, and only a couple days travel (a week maybe?) away from the mainland first. There they tried out a bunch of things to try to create a business model for the islands including growing wine and sugar cane. Eventually sugar cane became a main driver for Madeira. Those sugar cane plantation techniques, and tools, were later spread to Brazil when that was discovered and became the main export there as well. Only much, much later did they discover the mines in the interior of the country. First they followed the rivers in search of precious stones and gold dust, and eventually they found the mines.

      That’s one of the reasons why I think the Moon isn’t a waste of time at all, unlike some planetary fetishists. It’s kind of in-between a real planet with an atmosphere and one of those asteroid rocks. Plus it’s real close too. It’s an ideal place to try what works and what doesn’t work with plenty of local materials to play around with. The composition of the Moon is also highly similar to the Earth’s, and it’s probably not that different from Mars either (except for the atmosphere). Having CO2 in the atmosphere does make some things easier I suppose.

      I would say that farming will likely come before mining. But I’m kind of surprised people haven’t tried to do more things with the lunar regolith so far. I think so far I’ve heard of hybrid LOX/aluminum rockets and ways to use the regolith as a kind of base material for construction but that’s about it. It’s probably a better idea to use the caves in the Moon as an initial habitat though. They might even have water.

      1. Godzilla,

        Have you ever made anything you say others can’t? Have you worked in manufacturing?

        Just because you personally can’t do something doesn’t make it impossible. It doesn’t even make it difficult.

        Things are not produced by magic. They are produced in progressive steps, usually by a worker with no great skill, just experience.

    3. Mars colonization is simply impossible at the present time

      Until the moment it isn’t which appears to be about five years. I’d like to still be around.

      How did humans possible survive before Edison? It’s an unsolvable riddle!

  16. One of the business plans I’ve seen is basically to make the Moon the gas station on the way to Mars.

    1. I wonder what happens to the economics of lunar propellant production if the BFR reduces launch costs as much as suggested. Terrestrial propellant doesn’t require invention of lunar mining and processing equipment, and at BFR prices there’s less savings to amortize the cost of developing that lunar equipment.

  17. In some important ways, building a place to live on Mars is quite similar to building a good bomb shelter on Earth, one that would protect you from anything less than a direct hit (available shelters have 5psi overpressure blast valves). It’s an airtight building with a life support system. When I looked into it, recently, founding I could get a little one (100sf) for only $18,000, including setup and burial 6 feet under my backyard. This was about the same as it would cost to have a basement put under my house. But when I looked into getting one, it turned out truck freight from the factory to my backyard was $77,000! When it comes to colonizing Mars, Musk is simply betting he can get the truck freight way down. Then the infrastructure setup costs on Mars will be much more reasonable. No one is going to fly to Mars and build the Manhattan of 2017. It all started with Pieter Minuit…

  18. The BFR has no use for a fuel station on the moon. Other rockets might so the business plan could still be viable.

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