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Let's go to Mars

By crayz in News
Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 12:07:46 AM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

  • Can we go to Mars?
  • Is there a plan?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What will we get out of it?
  • So why aren't we going?
The answers are: yes, yes, $40-$50 billion, 10 years, a lot, and damned if I know, respectively.

First off, everyone should sign the petition, saying you support a Mars mission.

Robert Zubrin's book "Case for Mars" is highly recommended reading. And, though I haven't read it yet, Zubrin's new book, "Entering Space", also sounds quite good.

James Cameron gave a very inspirational speech at a Mars conference, which sums up why many people think we should and must begin a mission to Mars now:

"People are always saying ... we need to solve our problems right here on Earth before we go spending money out in space. It makes me want to vomit frankly.

Check back in five hundred or a thousand years. People will still be talking about all the problems that need to be solved.

We are never going to reach some utopian plateau where everything is solved so we can then, with lordly confidence, look around us for worlds to conquer as some kind of hobby.

Not spreading ourselves outward into the solar system now, when we have the capability to do so, is one of the problems we have to be solving right here on Earth.

We are really at a turning point. Go forward, or go back. By stopping, by stagnating, we go back.

I look around at the turn of the millennium and see a prosperous, powerful, technologically unparalleled society which, collectively, has no purpose but to feather its own nest.

It is a goal-less, rudderless society, dedicated to increasing security and creature comforts.

Our children are raised in a world without heroes. They are led to believe that heroism consists of throwing a football the furthest, getting the most hangtime during a slam dunk, or selling the most movie tickets with your looks and boyish charm.

This is not heroism, and these are not valid tests of our mettle as an intelligent race.

Young kids need something to dream about, something to measure their value system against. They live in a sea of mind-numbing inputs, a point-and-shoot videogame world where it is hip to not care, where death and violence have no meaning, where leaders are morally bankrupt, and where the scientific quest for understanding is sooo not cool.

Going to Mars is not a luxury we can't afford ... it is a necessity we can't afford to be without."

Here is some more info on Zubrin's "Mars Direct" plan, and the right side of the Mars Society home page has links to news stories relating to Mars.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Related Links
o petition
o "Case for Mars"
o "Entering Space"
o Zubrin's "Mars Direct" plan
o Mars Society home page
o Also by crayz

Display: Sort:
Let's go to Mars | 57 comments (57 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Better... But why do people think a... (none / 0) (#2)
by kraant on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 08:41:51 PM EST

kraant voted 0 on this story.

Better... But why do people think an article is several paragraphs worth of other peoples quotes? It's starting to bother me
"kraant, open source guru" -- tumeric
Never In Our Names...

The government keeps cutting NASA's... (3.00 / 1) (#4)
by julian on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 08:48:45 PM EST

julian voted 1 on this story.

The government keeps cutting NASA's funds. They had to drop a lot of X-33 (VentureStar) tests and just hope stuff works due to funding cutbacks. I think that even if NASA wants to go to Mars, they probably don't think they would be able to convince anyone to give them any money... But then, I haven't been following NASA news and such as much as I used to...
-- Julian (x-virge)

Re: The government keeps cutting NASA's... (none / 0) (#34)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 11:56:01 AM EST

If NASA was spending their funds wisely in the first place, they probably wouldn't get it cut all the time. NASA had the opportunity to carry on the Delta Clipper program - which in the space of 2 years, and using only $50M had managed to get a working half-scale prototype in the test flying stage. The program already existed, and had demonstrated working hardware. Did NASA go with it? Nope, they went with the vaporware X-33/VentureStar, which, 7 or 8 years later, is still not flying.


[ Parent ]

'Why aren't we going?' ... (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by feline on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 09:02:10 PM EST

feline voted 1 on this story.

'Why aren't we going?'

We are going, we're just not sending humans. <a href="http://www.jpl.nasa.govjpl has sent at least a dozen probes and orbiters to Mars. I feel that this is the first, and most important step in our Mars exploration.

Think about it, think of how much Sojourner accomplished, it was landmark.

I think that everyone should just be patient, people are eventually going to make it to the surface of mars, and possibly farther. There is much, much more research to do in the planetary science of Mars that can be accomplished much better with controlers here, on earth than if we spend your rather conservitive estimate of 50 billion dollars to jet a few astromen up over there to the red planet.

'Hello sir, you don't look like someone who satisfies his wife.'

html error (none / 0) (#18)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 01:44:06 AM EST


[ Parent ]
All we need are the Chinese to make... (4.50 / 2) (#3)
by skim123 on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 09:03:26 PM EST

skim123 voted 1 on this story.

All we need are the Chinese to make some statement about their technological superiority and how they will embarass the US by beating us to the red planet. Once that statement is made this Mars trip will be made.

It's unfortunate that politics must play a role in it all, but I guess with that price tag... it's too bad that money that could be spent on a Mars mission is spent, instead, on the military. One or two less bombers and we could learn more about our solar system...

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

Better writeup and focus than the o... (none / 0) (#1)
by Demona on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 09:16:16 PM EST

Demona voted 1 on this story.

Better writeup and focus than the other Mars submission.

Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars... (none / 0) (#11)
by Qtmstr on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 09:20:55 PM EST

Qtmstr voted 1 on this story.

Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars describe a colinization effort on Mars and the problems that it would face.

Kuro5hin delenda est!

We can't fix our problems on this w... (2.00 / 1) (#5)
by marlowe on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 09:22:43 PM EST

marlowe voted 1 on this story.

We can't fix our problems on this world, but running away to another planet won't help either.

Aw, what the hell. Let's go anyway. It'll be fun.
-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --

"Well begun is half done." Better ... (none / 0) (#12)
by Snomed on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 10:02:40 PM EST

Snomed voted 0 on this story.

"Well begun is half done." Better for now to continue rapidly developing all kinds of technologies here on earth. Maybe in 10 - 15 years we'll apply them to manned exploration. We'll do a better job of it if we wait a decade or two and our technologies are much more mature.

This looks pretty interesting to me... (none / 0) (#13)
by Blueshade on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 10:40:32 PM EST

Blueshade voted 1 on this story.

This looks pretty interesting to me.

I'm tempted to give this a -1 becau... (none / 0) (#8)
by jetpack on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 10:47:23 PM EST

jetpack voted 0 on this story.

I'm tempted to give this a -1 because the topic has been beaten to death, but some folks might dig it.
/* The beatings will continue until morale improves */

We've screwed over Earth, why not s... (1.00 / 1) (#9)
by deimos on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 10:52:31 PM EST

deimos voted 0 on this story.

We've screwed over Earth, why not someplace else?
irc.kuro5hin.org: Good Monkeys, Great Typewriters.

Re: We've screwed over Earth, why not s... (none / 0) (#54)
by Paul Dunne on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 02:05:48 PM EST

Join The Space Marines! Travel the known universe, meet other intelligent life forms... and kill them for their fur.
[ Parent ]

It's nice to know that someone has ... (none / 0) (#6)
by End on Wed Jun 14, 2000 at 10:54:26 PM EST

End voted 0 on this story.

It's nice to know that someone has found the answer to the world's problems: a trip to mars.


Could generate discussion. ... (none / 0) (#7)
by Eimi on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 12:03:45 AM EST

Eimi voted 1 on this story.

Could generate discussion.

Personally, I really don't see the point. To summerize James Cameron's speech, as I see it: "We've got problems here. No one cares about anything. So we need to go to Mars." Anyone else see the nonsequitur there? I guess I don't see how colonization will affect us in any positive way.

Re: Could generate discussion.... (2.00 / 1) (#16)
by 31: on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 01:38:47 AM EST

I'm not any sorta econ/whatnot person, so I hope this comes off better than a typical jaded, "the system's screwed" comment... here goes
I think the point is the problems we have on earth are the same problems we've been having since humans started making economic models. Since those are set up to be most efficient for the people who have money, so the underclass that exists will continue to have problems, which aren't fixable without widespread changes, which won't happen, since the people who could most efficiently implement the changes have the most interest in preventing them (runon, sorry). So, the options presented are to either stay in a system where society doesn't grow, or we can expand. In the past, exploring and expanding to new parts of the world (form a euro perspective) may have screwed the people who's work it was based on, but after being slave labor/indentured labor, by and large their lives were able to improve (eg. irish immigrants, chinese immigrants). The people who really got messed up by the system were the people who were on the land that got taken over. At least in going to space, that problem won't be there.
I think i'm jsut trying to say having the boom of money that happening now go just into the pockets of those who are already wealthy, and then trickling through the economy, having the money trickle through the economy in a way which will help humans expand their borders would be more useful.
that's as coherent as that's gonna be, hope it made logical sense.

[ Parent ]
Re: Could generate discussion.... (none / 0) (#21)
by rusty on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 01:54:56 AM EST

Don't forget the other option: stick around here and keep having babies and burning all the forests until Ebola goes airborne and gives humanity the big ctrl+alt+delete.

Not my favorite option, but if we're making lists, it'd be remiss to leave that one out.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

alternative? (none / 0) (#14)
by Tr3534 on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 12:32:15 AM EST

here's an idea: instead of going to mars, wouldn't a few more manned and more permanent lunar missions be of some worth? im talking about them staying there for a week or maybe more. would be a lot less costwise... anyone think that it could have as much worth?
Sigmentation Fault: Post Dumped.
Re: alternative? (none / 0) (#17)
by Marcin on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 01:39:34 AM EST

here's an idea: instead of going to mars, wouldn't a few more manned and more permanent lunar missions be of some worth? im talking about them staying there for a week or maybe more. would be a lot less costwise... anyone think that it could have as much worth?

I think what'd be the best way to go about getting to Mars is to establish a lunar colony and go to Mars from there. This is my uninformed opinion, but wouldn't the major energy expenditure in a trip to Mars be getting out of Earth's gravity well? The moon has a much smaller gravity well, so even using the same amount of energy would mean you could accelerate to such a speed that the travel time would be cut dramatically. Of course I don't know how much more energy you'd need to slow down when you get to Mars though :)

I say Energy because I couldn't think of a better word, what I mean by it is whatever 'propulsion' you'd need. ie. I'm thinking not necessarily conventional 'rockets'.

Anyway, my two cents.
[ Parent ]

Re: alternative? (none / 0) (#19)
by rusty on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 01:52:12 AM EST

But ultimately, you still have to get everything off Earth and up to the Moon first. Unless you're planning on mining there and building in place. Which may be a possibility, I suppose.

The question, to me is, can we terraform Mars? Could it be made habitable, and how? And would that ultimately turn out to be a Really Bad Idea? Think Agent Orange, but for a whole alien planet. Could we do it without drastically screwing something up?

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Re: alternative? (none / 0) (#25)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 07:07:29 AM EST

This is a subject that interests me, so I hope you'll take all of this with a grain of salt. ;)

Could it be made habitable, and how?

1). Add volatiles, mainly water, carbon dioxide ( for biomass and oxygen ) and amonia ( for Nitrogen ) in the form of comets. This will thicken the atmosphere and warm the planetary surface.

2). Increase the amount of sunlight that the planet receives - build thin film reflectors in orbit around mars.

3). Add the appropriate micro-organisms to convert the atmosphere into something human breathable.

Over all, it's pretty simple ( in theory ). In practice, it would be a lot of hard work and that's what most of the terraforming arguments boil down to.

The more conservative members of the scientific community are of the opinion that the whole process would take about 100,000 years from start to finish.

I tend to be regarded by such people as a "hopeless optimist", because I'm of the opinion that with large scale collection of comets from the Kupier belt ( ~ 10,000+ comets ) and enough reflectors ( with a surface area equal to ~10% of the martian surface area ) that we could probably trim that to under 2,000 years and maybe as little as 1,200.

The reason why I mention this is that currently , KS Robinson's Red/Green/Blue Mars series is very popular and unfortunatly, it tends to gloss over a number of important issues. As a point in case, the RGB series assumes that almost all of the necessary volatiles ( except nitrogen ) are already available in the martian regolith.

This is something that we aren't sure about and if it turns out to not be the case, then it's all too likely that the publics current enthusiasm for the concept will turn into an excess of pessimism.

This is an unfortunate aspect of human nature. If people develop unrealistic expectations for something, their disapointment also tends to be excessive.

This was one of the problems with the space race of the 60's. The excess of enthusiasm became an excess of resentment when the bubble finally broke and in many ways, space advocates are still picking up the pieces in terms of the publics negative attitude to the whole subject ( for an alternative 'what might have been', you might want to have a read of Arthur C Clark's 'Prelude to Space'. It's pretty dated by todays standards, but it gives a clear idea of how a lot of people thought that we would go to the moon in the 1950's, and how we would stay there ).

So while I approve in many ways of Zubrin's Mars direct strategy, I remain sceptical of the whole matter simply because I feel that it is better to wait until we know for sure that we can not only do the job, but that next time it will be done right. In other words, I don't think that humans should go to Mars until they are ready to go there with the intention of staying there.

You might be strangling my chicken, but you don't want to know what I'm doing to your hampster.

[ Parent ]

Re: alternative? (none / 0) (#39)
by Marcin on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 07:09:00 PM EST

The question, to me is, can we terraform Mars? Could it be made habitable, and how?

Haven't you seen Total Recall?! There's an Alien atmosphere processor under one of those pyramids they found!

I don't know, i'm sure there's a way.. maybe with genetic engineering we'll be able to produce some little bug which eats dust and makes breathable air.. who knows what'll happen in the next few decades. I personally think that our technology will continue to increase at exponential rates and so anything could be possible by the time we actually get to Mars.

Imagine how much of a hassle it'd be relocating to another planet! :)
[ Parent ]

Re: alternative? (none / 0) (#37)
by Alhazred on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 02:19:42 PM EST

Personally I agree with you.

I think the whole "go to Mars" idea is based on a combination of faulty perceptions in the mind of the public, and a lack of imagination on the part of much of the scientific, engineering, and what I would call for lack of a better term "futurists".

Look at the Solar System. VAST quantities of easily mined materials are already available in the form of asteroids and comets. Energy is plentiful in the form of sunlight, disposing of waste is a trivial consideration, and transportation problems are minimal.

Lets look at the economics. Exploiting the resources of a planet, such as Mars, requires travelling there with enough fuel to land. It requires extracting metals and volotiles from the regolith (dirt, rock etc) which is mostly made up of low-value materials (silicon and aluminum). We have rocks on Earth that are just as good as the ones on Mars. So Mars has NO economic value whatsoever.

In fact compared to an asteroid Mars is horrible. It requires a MUCH higher "delta-V" (measure of total energy requirements) to get stuff back from Mars to Earth than it would to get it back from the moon or especially an asteroid. Plus you have all the problems of being on a planet (hard to get rid of waste, more limited energy, dust and dirt and other hostile environmental considerations).

Even as a place to live Mars is no better really than the Moon. Its atmosphere is almost non-existent for practical purposes (1/1000th as much as the Earth has). A vacuum like the Moon is easier to deal with than that. The Moon is MUCH closer, 3 days travel vs 2.5 YEARS travel time! Mars is simply not WORTH messing with!

A Lunar base would be much easier to set up, have much better economics, and would be a useful way point, assembly station, manufacturing location, and habitat for people. Mars is none of that. I seriously doubt if we DO build the capability to colonize space that by then anyone will even be interested in planets. Living in space habitats would be so much more sensible.

I think Mars is attractive only because people THINK it is "a lot like the Earth" and they somehow have the mistaken impression that it would be "easier" to colonize Mars. No reasonable technical analysis of the situation can bear out these misconceptions.

As a purely exploratory effort in the spirit of adventure, I do however completely agree with the original poster (even if all he does is quote other writers...). Unfortunately most people lack the imagination to get excited about it. Sad really.
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
[ Parent ]
Basic Physics Research. (4.30 / 3) (#15)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 01:14:34 AM EST

The fundemental problem with space travel at this point in time is the available energy sources, not only directly but also in terms of the engineering implications.

Why are our current rockets so expensive? Because they must basically be built 'by hand' and then either discarded or refurbished.

The energy required to reach orbit as such isn't that great, but because we don't have it in a compact enough form, we must use multi-staging to achieve the desired result ( and everything that that implies ).

The development of anutronic fusion with reactions of the type
Li-6 + H-1 --> He-3 + He-4
B-11 + H-1 --> 3 He-4
would dramatically change that. The creation of 100% re-useable and easily maintained single stage to orbit heavy launcher would be child's play and because these reactions produce neither gamma rays or thermal neutrons, there would be no environmental issues to worry about.

On this assumption, we could not only go to Mars, we could initiate the large scale transfer of comets to Mars to thicken it's atmosphere as the first step to terraforming it.

What many people have missed is that one of the great goals of the 20th century - nuclear fusion - has techniclly been achieved. Not with a bang, but with a wimper.

The Japanese ITER facillity techniclly reached the break even point earlier this year ( or it would have if it had been fueled with deuterium/tritium instead of just being put through a test run with deuterium ).

This event was totally ignored by the mainstream media. It received minimal coverage in an issue of "Scientific America" earlier this year. Currently, most researchers are fairly gloomy about the whole thing ( because of cuts in funding ) and it's currently expected that it will be at least 50 years before the first commercial fusion reactors are in operation.

The reason for this is simple - the USA isn't interested in the development of fusion and doesn't regard it as a priority. The powers that be are of the opinion that between existing fossil and fision power sources, the USA has more than enough to meet it needs.

Yes, we can use our existing technology to go to Mars but only as a 'plant the flag' stunt. For large scale human transport, we need fusion and there are currently far too many vested interests who want to slow that down as much as they can for as long as they can.

You might be strangling my chicken, but you don't want to know what I'm doing to your hampster.

Re: Basic Physics Research. (none / 0) (#26)
by CodeWright on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 07:30:54 AM EST


Do you have any links for that?

A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
Re: Basic Physics Research. (none / 0) (#41)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 11:26:52 PM EST

Sorry, no links. But I did manage to locate the issue.

Scientific America, March 2000, page 10, "Burning times for Hot Fusion". If you check your local public library, they will probably have a copy. In fact, it might still be on the news-stand in some places.

To quote from page 11 of the article, "if the JT-60U could use the energy rich mixture of deuterium and tritium rahter than just deuterium, it would have achieved breakeven".

I'm too busy at the moment, but you might want to run a searchy for JT-60U, the Japanese facility that's working in co-operation with ITER. I tried that about a month ago - you'll get plenty of hits but most of them are specific research papers on what their doing rather than anything that gives a general overview.

You might be strangling my chicken, but you don't want to know what I'm doing to your hampster.

[ Parent ]

Re: Basic Physics Research. (none / 0) (#47)
by CodeWright on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 06:50:48 AM EST

viele danke, mille gratzi, spacibo bolshoi, domo arigato, many thanks, etc!

A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
Re: Basic Physics Research. (none / 0) (#53)
by Paul Dunne on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 02:04:59 PM EST

I think too much is made of the time and expense it seems to take to get to Mars. In the heoric age of Western exploration, men were prepared to dispatch sailing ships on voyages of discovery that lasted for years. Zubrin's scheme sends space craft on a similar time scale. Are they expensive? Sure. But the more we build, the more the cost will come down. And Zubrin's plan is exactly not a flag-planting exercise. His program is specifically designed to lay the basis for colonisation of the Red Planet.
[ Parent ]

What would you do with 50 Billion (for humanity)? (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by FlinkDelDinky on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 01:54:25 AM EST

Would I like to see humans go to Mars? Yah, sure. It'd be exciting. Do I want to spend 50 billion over a decade at this point in our history to do that? No.

And this is why:

I'm not going to spout off about the poor, we're always going to have poor people (I'm one of them in fact). Nor am I going to talk about all the people dying of diarrhea, malaria, and other controllable diseases (because those deaths are taking place in countries with corrupt governments and therefore have no clean solution).

Instead I'm going to talk about our energy crunch. My info comes from this show on PBS, I direct you specifically to this section.

It seems pretty obvious to me that any deep and broad funding should be geared toward discovering a solution to our energy crunch. We will not suffer a massive die off if we fail to go to Mars. We will if we don't get this CO2 problem in check and develop some kind of fusion electric/fusion hydrogen world wide power system. And if you read that last link I gave you you'll see that there are some reasons to go the asteriods, gas giants, and back to the moon too.

Not only is the energy problem do or die! It's damned exciting too. Personally, I think the Mars crowd is missing two important things, a sense of humanity, and imagination. And, if at this point in our history, they think Mars is more important than energy, I'd say they're missing a brain too.

Mars someday, Energy now!

Re: What would you do with 50 Billion (for humanit (1.00 / 1) (#22)
by rusty on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 02:00:40 AM EST

The thing though, is that actually undertaking a mission to Mars, to *stay*, for keeps, would involve one massive problem right from the start, and that's the energy problem. It's been mentioned elsewhere in this discussion that the energy to get there is a big issue. So think back to when have we made the greatest technological leaps? They've all come during times of war or national united purpose. Just before World War I, the US Army was training with broomsticvks because we didn't even have any guns. By the end of WW II, we had computers and nuclear bombs, no sweat. That's less than 50 years elapsed time.

What better way, perhaps, to get some serious money into solving the energy problem than by tricking the government into handing it out to people it thinks are just trying to pull off a stunt to make us look smarter than the Chinese? I think this is the overall drift of the pro-space travel argument: you never know what the benefits are going to be until you sit down and build the stuff. However, that seems like a really likely candidate for "benefit", right off the bat.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Re: What would you do with 50 Billion (for humanit (none / 0) (#23)
by FlinkDelDinky on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 02:42:46 AM EST

The energy crunch is a national need, hell it's an international need. The problem with solving Mars's energy problem is quite a bit different than a world wide energy network.

You're saying that Mars will solve lots of problems beyond the Mars problem. But that's even more true for the energy crunch problem. Did you read that last link? Your response is a bit frightening if you have.

[ Parent ]

Energy on Mars (none / 0) (#32)
by jabber on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 10:41:46 AM EST

I don't think it's that big a problem.

A small Nuclear reactor, smaller than that found on a Trident sub, would MORE than suffice for a long time.

Yeah, those things are pretty big - but it can be launched piecemeal, and assembled on site.
An orbiting microwave/solar collection system would tide them over until they got the Nuke constructed, and then thay can either mine for their own Uranium, on Mars and the Asteroids, or have it sent from Earth as a regular supply.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Re: What would you do with 50 Billion (for humanit (none / 0) (#28)
by crayz on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 08:45:41 AM EST

rusty makes a good point, and it's one that Zubrin makes, and that is that energy is going to be such a valuable commodity on Mars that it would create enormous pressure to develop new and better ways of creating it. I could be just the kick-start that fusion needs.

Also, Zubrin says in the book that Mars has some unique minerals that could be used in energy creation. I don't remember what, if you read the book it's in there.

Lastly, Zubrin also makes the case that Mars could be used as a good launching base to mine nearby asteroids.

[ Parent ]
Re: What would you do with 50 Billion (for humanit (none / 0) (#29)
by crayz on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 08:47:37 AM EST

One last comment, and that is that that article must be very uncomfortable to read for people who love espousing the greatness of capitalism. To see that practically every major technology in use today was created by the government. I do think it's a serious problem that businesses don't care a whit for anything that won't turn a profit in 3-5 years.

[ Parent ]
The solution is Nuclear - but people are fearful a (5.00 / 1) (#31)
by jabber on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 10:37:40 AM EST

There, a title that sums up what could otherwise have been a huge, monstrous post. But why stop at a title... :)

Nuclear energy is virtually inexhaustible, at least when compared to Fossil technologies. Fission is so potent that it can serve all of our energy needs far enough into the future that Fusion will have been attained by the time we run out of easily splitable atoms.

Nuclear technology is clean. No, it is. Don't drag Chernobyl or Three Mile Island into it - those were malignantly mismanaged projects. The first was more than the ailing system could handle (Graphite as a Uranium moderating material?? Yeah, it's POSSIBLE, but so are many irrational things), the second was brought to you courtesy of conflicting interests of management, engineering, science and government. Don't drag waste into it either - the only reason there is nuclear waste is government mandate. Waste is a natural product that can be enriched and reused, until it is inert, and then we can just add it to concrete mix, since it's totally harmless - the coal ash that comes out of Fossil plants is more radioactive by it's very nature than the final waste material of completely spent nuclear fuel.

Nuclear energy is safe. A single flight from NY to LA will expose you to more radiation than a lifetime of living next door to a Nuclear Plant. There is more radioactivity leaching out of your basement in the form of Radon than has ever leaked from a properly managed Nuclear facility (mismanagement is a matter of cost cutting, the solution to it is to make nuclear power production into a Federal concern - they rarely underspend. Expensive you say? Feh! Divert the funds that are currently used to subsidize Fossil Plants into running Nuclear ones, zero sum difference, but the country will have a solid energy baseline).

Nuclear energy is proven. The French derive 75% of their electricity from Nuclear sources, without fear or 'incidents'. They realize it is a powerful technology that must be treated with respect. They manage it right, and it pays of in spades. The Germans get 30% of their power from nuclear sources, and are shutting them down (in the next 20 years) for POLITICAL reasons - lobbyists get paid by OPEC, and push the government away from alternatives to Oil. Extrapolate the trends and see who will be making global policy in a decade or two.

Nuclear energy is expensive at the beginning - a 1.3GigaWatt plant costs $4 Billion from start (contract, ground breaking, plant construction, reactor, fuel rods) to finish (connection to power grid and commercial operation). After the initial hit, the plant can run for two years (or more) on a single load of fuel. Refuling is relatively cheap, compared to the cost of hundreds of tons of Coal and millions of gallons of Oil burned EACH DAY in a conventional Fossil plant. Excavating, refining, processing and loading (and re-enriching spent fuel) of Uranium is CHEAP by comparison to the hassles of Coal and Oil.

Nuclear energy is not alone. It is a phenomenal baseline, a great anchor for national electric power needs. When supplemented with Hydro, GeoThermal, Solar and Wind; where each of these is available, and Natural Gas - and to a lesser extent Coal and Oil; energy is not a concern at all.

The US has adequate energy resources to be totally self-sufficient for hundreds of years. I wish I still had my links on this subject handy. About 3 years ago, NightLine did a great expose on Nuclear power. It addressed all, or at least most of the FUD about Nuclear power. If interested, inquire with ABC about getting your own copy of the show.

We all need to give some thought as to WHY we do not use our own resources. Why are we catering to OPEC's greed (they have nothing to offer anyone besides Oil, yet they have the world by the short-hairs; buy gas lately?) and why are we so insistant on polluting our atmosphere, when alternatives are readily available, and need only a little education to be accepted?

Nuclear power makes radioactive mushrooms grow when it's used in bombs - but it makes perfectly good electric power when used in humanitarian ways.

Please, do your own research - get in touch with a local University Engineering department for reliable references - the opponents of Nuclear power yell loudly, and try to drown out the truth, but they are fearful, ignorant and closed minded. Nuclear power is good and safe, it just needs to be managed properly, and handled with respect.

Thank you.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Re: The solution is Nuclear - but people are fearf (none / 0) (#38)
by FlinkDelDinky on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 04:51:12 PM EST

Pretty much we're in agreement. Except in the PBS article I linked to they state that if we (the whole worlds projected energy needs) did a total conversion to nuclear power using conventional power plants then the Earth has a supply of ten years of uranium. They say plasma reactors can boost that a bit (I think a 100 years, not sure). Then we'de have to go to the asteriods.

As far as fusion goes they want to use helium-3. Not much here, some on the moon, lots in the gas giants. Anybody want to go harvest dome Helium-3 at Jupiter? After we're done we can take a swim at IO.

[ Parent ]

Re: The solution is Nuclear - but people are fearf (none / 0) (#42)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 11:39:27 PM EST

There still remains one overriding problem with fision. The proliferation of nuclear wepons.

Common use of fision translates into wide availability of fissile material, which in turn means that it's a lot easier for the likes of Idi Amin or Saddam Hussain to get there hands on the stuff.

In the best of all possible worlds, this would not be a problem and the peaceful use of fision would enhance our lives.

Unfortunatly, we don't live in that world. In this world, politics and technology are firmly bonded together. That has certain consequences.

In comparison, fision avoids these political problems. The wide availablility of fision fuel is useless to any would be world dictator without a *fision* device ( or anti-matter ) to create a portable explosive device ( at least for the foreseeable future ).

You might be strangling my chicken, but you don't want to know what I'm doing to your hampster.

[ Parent ]

Re: The solution is Nuclear - but people are fearf (none / 0) (#49)
by jabber on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 09:16:46 AM EST

Fission and Fusion are different worlds. Fusion requires a huge amount of energy to make it happen - while by comparison, Fission needs little. The ideal solution would likely be using Fission produced energy to power Fussion plants, as the amount of energy produced in Fusion is HUGE.

You are right about proliferation of fissionable material though. My proposition of making Fission power a Fereral franchise would solve the problem of terrorists, but it would make other countries afraid of the US a'la Cold War all over again.

People are people, and trust does not come easily - nor does good will. Shame that.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

High Level Waste (none / 0) (#45)
by Dacta on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 03:05:43 AM EST

Sorry, Nuclear power isn't perfect either. There's this little problem called waste, and no one wants anything to do with it.

The best idea anyone seems to have for it is to bury it realyl deep for 20,000 years.... To me, that isn't a real good idea - there are just too many things that coudl go wrong in 20,000 years.

I'm not saying it should be discounted, but I'd much prefer to see a little fusion in my house, myself ;-)

[ Parent ]

Re: High Level Waste (none / 0) (#48)
by jabber on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 09:12:30 AM EST

Read my message again, WRT waste. It's a solvable problem, and regulations are the cause of it NOT being solved.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"
[ Parent ]

Re: What would you do with 50 Billion (for humanit (none / 0) (#52)
by Paul Dunne on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 02:02:53 PM EST

We need to get industry off-planet. Thats the solution to the energy problem. Automated orbital/moon-based factories powered by solar energy.

Isn't there a limit to how much energy you can expend on earth without fucking up the ecosystem due to "heat pollution"? I have no idea what the limit is, or how close we are; but planets are for living on. Large-scale energy expenditure, as in industry, belongs on space.
[ Parent ]

Re: What would you do with 50 Billion (for humanit (none / 0) (#56)
by CodeWright on Mon Jun 19, 2000 at 02:29:10 PM EST

My God, Armageddon must be imminent -- I agree completely with Paul Dunne.

A: Because it destroys the flow of conversation.
Q: Why is top posting dumb? --clover_kicker

[ Parent ]
Re: What would you do with 50 Billion (for humanit (none / 0) (#57)
by Paul Dunne on Tue Jun 20, 2000 at 11:17:52 AM EST

Ah well now, for all you know I might agree with you on guns too...
[ Parent ]

A Cheap way to get to mars (none / 0) (#24)
by Rich on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 07:06:30 AM EST

Why dont we just stuff a midget into one of the probes they keep on sending... or better yet a whole lost of midgets in a whole lot of Probes so that the success rate is higher ;) No midgets where harmed in the making of the comment.
I Expect history will be kind to me as i intend to write is. Winston Churchill
Why we quit. (4.00 / 1) (#27)
by Neuromancer on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 08:21:35 AM EST

What irritates me, is the reason that our space program is where it is today. When the Challenger exploded, it marked the end of the era where people were excited about space. Investigations that followed really looked for someone to blame in order to appear to cut that link and save the program. The bigger problem is with people these days. They don't like that there is some risk (tm) associated with adventure (tm). Look at us. We drink bottled water, in air conditioned offices where we complain about radiation coming from everything from the monitor on our desk to the overhead lights. When we fight wars, we do it from our cubicles in our offices, sending about 6 people out, miles above the ground, shooting missiles at targets that can't see us. Yes, this is all part of things getting bigger and better, that can be argued about most of the things that I am mentioning, but our society feels the need to live and work in completely serene, sterile environments. There was a time when the drive to go to space simply because it is there would have been enough to get us there by now, but people no longer wish to do that because somebody chipping a nail is now a medical emergency.

Just my $.02

Re: Why we quit. (none / 0) (#35)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 11:59:32 AM EST

People were bored with the space program as soon as Armstrong and Aldrin set foot on the Moon. Nobody cared about Apollo 13 until it looked like someone might die. Most people didn't pay any attention to the later lunar missions. The first shuttle flight might have got some publicity, but it's been "business as usual" ever since.

Not that NASA helps. If you've ever watched the NASA channel, you'll know that NASA manages to make going into space look like about as much fun as watching paint dry.

[ Parent ]

Re: Why we quit. (none / 0) (#44)
by Didel on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 12:14:07 AM EST

So instead of spending $40-$50 Billion on a space program, why don't we use that money to help people, the people in need of food and shelter. Just a thought.

[ Parent ]
Re: Why we quit. (none / 0) (#50)
by Paul Dunne on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 01:58:39 PM EST

Perhaps if Spain had taken the same attitude to its cold and hungry, Columbus might never have got the funding to sail West. In which case, the USA might still be a place where the buffalo roam. Better than what we have? Kirkpatrick Sale & co. might agree, but I think most people would not. Zubrin deals simply and well with this point in his book: if we defer all exploration and adventure until the arrival of some utopia, we'll never go anyplace.
[ Parent ]

What will we get out of it? (none / 0) (#30)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 10:16:43 AM EST

"a lot" and "something for our kids to dream about" would not justify me spending 40 50 billion dollars.

And why should everyone heed your demand and sign the petition? Give us some better reasons, ones that are your own, and I might pay more attention to you.

$50 B is chump change for the US govornment. (none / 0) (#33)
by error 404 on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 11:10:41 AM EST


$1B is less that $5 for each US citizen.

And the project is spread over a decade.

Those bozos are going to spend the money anyway, so do we want to go to Mars or build a couple more sports stadiums? Maybe finance a few more ads to sell Pepsi in Azerbaijan? Finance the rise and fall of another Noriega?

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]
answers (none / 0) (#36)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 12:43:12 PM EST

What do we get, or how has space exploration helped us?

-mylar (you know, the foil stuff that is really hard to rip and EVERYTHING is packaged in)
-matrix metal composites (really strong stuff)
-an understanding of quazars, black holes, antimatter, gravity, time, light, heat, biology, ecology, geology, meteorology, evolution, genetics, drugs...
-knowledge that there is a gigantic hole in the ozone layer
-the ability to read this post
-the ability to talk to someone in hawaii, tahiti, alaska, in a plane, on a boat...
-the ability to know where you are to an accuracy of several inches.
-high force/low weight linear actuators
-the ability to kill a russian in 30 minutes.
-the ability to kill everything in an hour.
-the ability to predict where storms will land
-a motivational movie

I could go on trying to list material gains due to space exploration, but I agree with the author and many space evangelists who are of the opinion that being in space isn't the goal, going there is.

I personally have been motivated my entire life by space exploration. (i was brought to tears watching a taped launch of a saturn V) I think there is no greater goal than to keep exploring the place we call "home". For it is true that if we don't keep pushing foward, we can only fall back. We have to work towards space so that humanity has a chance to explore again. We have to colonize mars so that we can colonize venus, so that we can colonize neptune, io, aegeis, alpha centari and alpha proxima.

otherwize the human race will remain on earth waddeling in it's own waste.

anyway, that is my take on it. I won't go into space, but I hope my children will be able to.


[ Parent ]
Re: answers (none / 0) (#40)
by fizgig on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 08:51:45 PM EST

I'm certainly not against space-related research, but I've never heard a particularly good reason that it would be better to spend $50B on sending people to Mars than spending the same amount of money sending 200-something probes. Your reasons don't seem to be manned-mission-specific either. I suppose there is the problem of radio delays, but I'm certain it'd be cheaper to invest in some good AI and take things slowly than to spend all that money sending actual people to Mars.

[ Parent ]
Re: answers (5.00 / 1) (#43)
by Anonymous Hero on Thu Jun 15, 2000 at 11:55:14 PM EST

I suppose there is the problem of radio delays

*Grin*. That's one of the reasons why a lot of people prefer the idea of an Earth-Demios-Mars mission. Rather than going straight to Mars, the mission lands on Demios and sets up shop there. This has a number of andvantages.

1). The crew can launch and control a large number of robot probes close to mars. This means they can get a lot of information in a short time without the problem of radio lag.

2). If your going to land on the martian surface and stay there for at least six months, your going to have to play it safe. If your going to use a small shuttle to go from demios to mars and back to demious that's only going to be on the surface for a short time, you don't have to be quite so conservative in your choices. Also, since your not landing the main ship, this reduces the amount of fuel that you need for a round trip ( since you would leave the shuttle behind when you return ).

3). Anything that the crew leaves behind on demios will be preserved in vacuum for use by later missions ( so a *large* demios base could be constructed over the course of several missions ). The long term viability of any equipment left on the martian surface is another matter.

The thing about an e-d-m mission is that it doesn't need to be regarded as an alternative to Zubrin's original plan, but rather instead as a logical extension of it.

If the fuel generators on the martian surface work, then the shuttle vehicle can make multiple landings all over the martian surface and the mission can be greatly extended.

If it fails for some reason, provided the ship has taken enough fuel to get back home, then that just means that the shuttle can't make as many landings.

You might be strangling my chicken, but you don't want to know what I'm doing to your hampster.

[ Parent ]

Re: answers (none / 0) (#46)
by Mad Matt on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 06:04:47 AM EST

I think Fizgig's frowning stems from a general philosphy towards money that imbues it with some kind of intrinsic value. I don't see it that way. I feel that money is nothing more then a unit of social exchange - a mechanism by which people cooperate and exchange what ever it is that they want to exchange.
The human activity comes first - the money is a result :)
The money we have now is the product of previous activity, and the money we have in the future will be the product of __what we do now__

So if you think going to Mars is a cool and __worthy activity__ then it must, ipso facto, be a good way to spend money.

In a nutshell spend your money on anything that is productive - i.e. anything but lawers and corporate managers. Spending money on anything relating to Mars will surely be a good thing in the long run. Or so say I :)

Mad Matt
Give a man a beer and he will waste an hour.
Teach a man to homebrew and he will waste a lifetime.

[ Parent ]
Re: answers (none / 0) (#55)
by fizgig on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 03:24:22 PM EST

No, I think that learning about Mars is a worthy goal; I'm just not convinced we have to send people. I see money as a way to buy that information. Assume we're going to spend money on learinng about Mars. My question is what do you gain from seding one manned mission that you couldn't gain from sending 200 probes with the same amount of money. While the cool-factor would certainly be higher, the scientific knowledge would probably be much lower and the risk higher.

[ Parent ]
A few thoughts (none / 0) (#51)
by Paul Dunne on Fri Jun 16, 2000 at 02:01:38 PM EST

Hmm, funnily enough I was thinking of doing a little piece about this after I read about NASA's plans for a "space sail" recently. I'll write more about this, and about the distance between expectation and reality in this year 2000, some other time, but for what they're worth, here's my thoughts on a trip to Mars.

  1. we should already be there. 'nuff said.
  2. It isn't that expensive. The US, though now the unchallenged leader of the world, still spends ridiculous amounts of $$ on "defence"; such expenditure is just as useful from an economic, "pump-priming" point of view, when spent on space exploration.
  3. unmanned exploration ("what, quite unmanned in folly?") won't cut it. We need men (er, humans) to get up out there.
  4. Our society is based on expansion. I don't know that I'd like to live much on a world that has turned its back on the final frontier. I suspect it would be rather like China was for centuries prior to the 2nd half of the 20th: slowly decaying, with a great history behind it.

Let's go to Mars | 57 comments (57 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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