Tag Archives: space

Why colonizing Mars is a bad idea

Again someone has announced a flawed plan to send people to Mars, this time the person is Denis Tito (who is famous for being the first space tourist). It appears normal these days for people to have their very own Mars programs, and unfortunately the mass media gives them more coverage than those fanatics deserve.  Because it is important that people learn about the arguments against Mars, I will give a view links to articles and youtube videos, in which is explained in plain language why colonizing Mars is a bad idea.

The following YouTube videos are from Hank of Scishow

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1aggLqdbd0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiCDQ_91Pks

The following article is from Eric Drexler:

The Case Against Mars

The following articles are our own posts on the subject:

Colonization of Mars

Mars one

Elon Musk’s Mars plan scrutinized

 

 

Elon Musk’s Mars plan scrutinized

South African entrepreneur Elon Musk announced his plan to colonize Mars some time ago. In this post I will critically review his plan and I will compare with that other plan to colonize our Red neighbour by 2023. Of course, we of Republic of Lagrangia are quite sceptical about any plan of colonizing Mars, however for a discussion of our position we will refer to this post.

The Huffington post devoted an article to Elon Musk’s plans. According to this article Musk wants that prospective colonists should pay half a million dollars for their ticket to Mars. This amount is both too low and too high. First I will explain why it is too low. We all know that (manned) spaceflight is a very expensive enterprise, for comparison: it takes 7.5 million USD a day to keep one man on the International Space Station. Actually Dennis Tito got a huge discount for his trip to the ISS, he paid 20 million USD for something less than 8 days on the ISS.

We might assume that the costs of a manned trip to Mars will be at least of the same order, perhaps a little bit more. An educated guess for the costs of a Mars mission might be 15 million USD per crew member a day. Further Musk wants to start with 10 people, most Mars missions assume a minimal mission duration of 501 days. Total costs will be 7.515 billion USD. If Musk is seeking to fund his colonization plans with the sale of tickets only, he has to raise the price enormously or he has to find additional funding.

On the other hand the ticket price is much to high. Only multimillionaires can afford to pay this without being declared bankrupt. Unfortunately the number of multimillionaires willing to pay such amount of money in order to emigrate to an extra-terrestrial desert, will be probably very low. It would surprise me, if it would be more than a few hundred (on the whole planet).

And why should the very wealthy want to emigrate to another planet anyway? History learns us that it are the poor and disadvantaged who are most likely to emigrate, looking somewhere else for better chances in life. Yes, rich people emigrate also, but mostly to places with high and expensive services, which Mars totally lacks.

The people who are most willing to emigrate to Mars are educated young people who have not much money, and therefore almost nothing to lose. How would these people be able to pay their ticket? Not at all. Of course someone else might pay for their ticket, but why? Well it might happen that the multimillionaires who are willing to emigrate to Mars, are looking for personal on their Martian estates.

In the early days of the colonization of the America’s there was an institute called indentured servitude. Under this system young people were transported from Europe to America, while their journey was paid by someone else, mostly by a ship captain. However this was not a gift but a loan, which had to be paid off. So in return for the trip, the so-called indentured was obliged to work for several years, usually seven, in order to repay the debt. When an indentured servant arrived in America, the ship captain usually sold the indenture to people who were looking for cheap labour.

In fact indentured servitude is a kind of (voluntary) temporary slavery. It’s not hard to imagine how a spacecraft is launched from Earth with a crew of ten, of which nine are the servants of the tenth person. Since 500,000 USD for each immigrant is a lot of money, even for the very rich, those who are paying someone’s else ticket will see this as an investment. And investments are motivated by return on investment, so it’s more than likely that wealthy Martians will make their indentured servants work hard.

Maybe this is what Musk really wants: a Mars covered by large domed estates, owned by wealthy terrestrial tax-refugees, on which (nearly) all work is done by contract slaves. Sounds to me as a quite feudalist society.

Of course there are other ways to fund Musk’s dreams of establishing a colony on the Red planet with 80,000 residents. Since we can safely assume that no one will pay 500,000 USD for an one-way ticket to Mars, he should think of lowering the ticket price. However this means even less money to fund his expensive ambitions.

One solution is to use a lottery system. Suppose that there on this planet some several hundred thousand to a few million people who might be willing to emigrate to Mars, but we know there is only place for ten on the first manned spaceflight to the Red planet. Now it is possible to sell lottery tickets to everyone interested, instead of winning a large sum of money you will win a trip to Mars. What would be the price of such lottery ticket? Selling one million tickets for 10,000 USD would raise 10 billion USD, which would be enough for a manned mission to Mars (this amount is higher than 7.5 billion I mentioned above, however that was a minimal estimate).

If Musk managed to collect enough funding for his Mars program, he has only enough for sending people to Mars and setting up a colony. However he lacks any idea how such Mars colony would survive economically, the colonists should still need to import stuff from Earth. This is especially true if the colony only has a few dozen members, but also in case of just 80,000 colonists. This means that the Martians should have to export stuff to Earth in exchange for the necessary imports. The only suitable economic activity we can think of on Mars, at least in first decades after the first landing, is mining. (Transit time between Mars and Earth make space tourism very unlikely.) However mining on Mars would never be able to compete with Asteroid mining.

Our conclusion is that Elon Musk’s plan for the colonization of Mars is just another heavily flawed proposal for a manned mission to Mars by private “space” groups. Musk shows no sense of realism, either in regard of the total mission costs or what people are reasonably willing to pay for a ticket. Actually we believe that Musk suffers from what is known as planetary chauvinism, a very dangerous condition.

Dealing with piracy

My own country, the Netherlands, happens to be one of the few countries which do not allow private armed security guards on ships faring under Dutch flag. International law states that if a ship is in international waters the laws of its flag nation applies on board, in words such a ship is part of the flag nation’s territory.

A very big problem these days, are Somalian pirates who are threatening global shipping. Since a large portion of all cargo transit between (Western) Europe and Asia, goes through the Suez channel and subsequently come close to Somalia, this is an issue for almost every nation on Earth. It’s therefore not without reason that many nations has sent their navies to Somalia in order to combat the pirates. The Dutch navy is one of those.

Only the problem is that on the oceans there are huge distances between ships, commercial and navy. If a ship is attacked by pirates, it may take a few days before a navy vessel can come close enough to take action. Further there are far more commercial ships, and thus potential targets, than navy ships.

Since most Somalian pirates are operating in small groups and are relatively weakly armed, an effective remedy against pirates is to employ private armed security guards. Because these guard are on board of the ship they are protecting, this solution is much cheaper than relying on navy support. We, and many others, believe in a right of self-defense.

Of course, private armed security guards do not make navies unnecessary, they only help navies in combating piracy in international waters. That the Dutch government still refuses to allow them is something we do not understand. Fortunately a famous Dutch think tank on foreign relation and military policy, Clingendael Institute, has published a report urging the government to allow private security guards on Dutch ships.

You might ask why I address this point on this blog about space colonization. I do this because I strongly believe that when the humanization of space has become a reality, it will only be a matter of time, before space pirates will arise. In all societies there are criminals, Settlements in outer space will prove not be an exception. Some criminals will only operate within some space settlements, other law-breakers will try to exploit the advantages of outer space.

Virtually all space advocates agree on that the distances between space settlements will be large and that there be a lot of trade between space settlements. These two facts provide a perfect opportunity for space pirates. Since it may take weeks, even months, before the armed forces of any space nation may come to help, inter-settlement transport of both people and cargo is extremely vulnerable for criminal actions.

It will be clear that the crew of cargo spacecrafts cannot rely on the assistance of the official armed forces in case of any hostile attack. The only thing that is realistic option is to allow arms on these spacecrafts, so that the crew can defend themselves. Of course, the armed forces will do anything to combat these outlaws, actually the very existence of space pirates may be the prime raison d’être for the militaries of space nations.

Public transportation in O’Neill cylinders

In a previous post I discussed the spatial planning of the interior of O’Neill Cylinders. In a note I promised to make another post about (public) transportation inside O’Neill cylinders. For the sake of the argument, I will assume here that the chosen spatial planning is either the Broadacre cityGarden city or Colombia design. Further I want to recall that a O’Neill cylinders has a length of approximately 35 kilometers and a diameter of 6 kilometers (specific dimension may vary among different sources, however the difference is usually only a few kilometers).

A key feature of the design of the O’Neill cylinder is the alternating arrangement of “valleys” (stripes of land) and windows, three of each. It follows from the given dimension that each valley is approximately 3 kilometers wide and 35 kilometers long. Gerard O’Neill himself proposed that there would be parallel to the valley’s heartline a subterranean maglev line. This would function like most subway systems on Earth and would enable (long distance) rapid transit in an O’Neill cylinder. However this system, would not quite suitable for short distance travel, therefore a second transportation system is required.

While the maglev subway will serve as the core of the framework of intra-habitat transportation, there will be finer second network. What requirements do we look for? Ideally we would like an on-demand service, great amount of privacy and the ability to choose our destination. However do not like to waste a lot of time for searching for parking lots. Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) is a proposed idea which would combine the best of private and public transportation.

In order to show what a PRT system might look like, I have selected two YouTube videos about personal rapid transit systems. The first YouTube video (of 8.45 minutes) is about the personal rapid systems as designed by Swedish company Vectus.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1rf_lOb3b0&list=PL4229DA20757B7CD6

This second YouTube video (5.55 min) is a promotional video of Vectus, in which they explain how their product will work.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5W3OSZu9oA

Yes, I do realise that Vectus is a commercial company which seeks to sell its concepts. Nevertheless, I think that this “sales man videos” give a clear picture how PRT systems would operate in practice.

The prospects of personal rapid transit systems are bright. They will enable to establish the first car-free society in history without sacrificing the individual freedom of movement.

Space settlements and foreign policy

Introduction

When space settlements are reality, they will have to interact with other human communities, whether these are other space settlements or terrestrial communities. Especially in the early days of human space colonization, almost every space based community will be dependent on both the Earth and other space settlements, since it will be highly unlikely that one (small) space colony can be entirely autarkic. Therefore space based communities are required to maintain international relations and so they are in need of a foreign policy. In this post I will, for the sake of the argument, assume that space settlements will be sovereign entities, which are free to manage their own affairs.

Relations with terrestrial nations

Basically we have to distinguish between international relations with terrestrial nations on one hand and with other space settlements. This reason for this distinction is simple, for the next few decades, and probably for the next century, Earth will be the most populous entity in our Solar System and for obvious reasons it will also serves as man’s center of culture and civilization.

The first space settlements will depend on trading, especially mineral resources, with Earth for their economic survival. Additionally, the early settlements will have to rely on the importation of many specialized goods from Earth, at least until the moment these can produced in outer space. This means that the Earth as a whole has huge potential of power on space settlements.

It is easy to imagine that Earth will demand low prices for the resources they buy from Space Settlers, while asking for high prices on the goods they sell to Space communities. If terrestrial parties are able to play out space communities against each other, the Earth will probably be able to achieve its aims. One way to counter this is for Space Settlements to develop their economies as fast and as diverse as possible, in order to weaken their dependency on importing goods from Earth.

Another way is for Space Settlements to organize themselves and to act as a unity in their relations with terrestrial nations, much like how organizations as OPEC operate. This strategy is especially advantageous if space settlements are able to play into the differences and conflicts among terrestrial nations and to exploit them to their own advantage.

Relations between space settlements

Inter-settlement relations differ fundamentally from terrestrial-space relations in certain aspects. Trade between settlements will, at least during the early years, be limited. The abundance of mineral resources in outer space (recall that we believe in colonizing the near earth asteroids instead of, for example, the Moon), means that most Space Settlements will be self-sufficient regarding these. The most likely goods to be traded among Space Settlements are agricultural products (because this will be much less expensive than importing these from Earth), and when Space economy became more developed there will be a shift to more specialized goods, which will replace importing from Earth.

A complicating factor in inter-settlement relations are the great distances between space settlements. This will reduce the chance of escalating conflicts, but also hinders cooperation between Space Settlements. The abundance of resources reduces potential for conflicts, therefore war between (coalition of) Space Settlements is quite unlikely during the early decades. Most Space Settlements will probably tend to avoid interference with the domestic affairs of other Settlements.

Suggestions for foreign policy

How should Space Settlements shape their foreign policy? Our advise is basically: avoid meddling with the internal affairs of other communities, both terrestrial and space-borne. As we have argued earlier, Space Settlements shouldn’t join the UN, a statement we want to repeat here. A policy of strict neutrality regarding conflicts between terrestrial powers, will improve the reputation of Space Settlements as peaceful and non-threatening political entities.

Also should Space Settlements abstain from purely terrestrial questions, such as global climate change. There is absolutely no reason for Space Settlements to join, for instance, the Kyoto-protocol or similar treaties. By avoiding getting involved with purely terrestrial affairs, Space Settlements will avoid irritation by terrestrial governments and this will subsequently reduce the emerging of hostile sentiments among some terrestrial groups.

Further we of Lagrangian Republican Association, believe that Space Settlements should also refuse to act as mediators in conflicts between terrestrial nations/parties. If Space Settlement are able to get known as peaceful and neutral communities, some will be tempted to ask them to mediate in purely terrestrial conflicts. However this would be a violation of a strict non-interventionist foreign policy.

Also by acting as a mediator, Space Settlements risk to lose their reputation as neutral states, especially if negotiations are without result or if one of the conflicting parties believe that the results are not fair in some way or another. Since it is almost impossible to determine whether such party is right or not, this risk is in our opinion to great.

Mars One

Recently much attention has been paid to the Mars One initiative, a Dutch “space” organization devoted to bringing humans to Our Red Neighbour in 2023, by the blogosphere. As any regular visitor of our site will know, we of Republic of Lagrangia are very sceptical about any plan involving the colonization of the Moon or Mars. In this post I will discuss why we believe that Mars One is almost certainly deemed to be a failure. However, I will not touch the question whether Mars One is a hoax, which would imply that the people behind this group are deliberately pursuing a fraud, a sever accusation. Instead I believe it will be sufficient to deal with the relevant arguments only.

As I said Mars One aims to send four human beings to Mars by the year 2023, that is ten years from now. The idea is that those people will stay on the Fourth planet for the rest of their lives. Some people will be shocked by this idea, but it makes perfectly sense if you are really interested in colonizing outer space; in this case there is no real need to go back to Earth. This is a big difference between Mars One and projected manned missions to Mars of, for instance, NASA. After a successful first manned landing, they intend to launch four-men crews each two years. In fact the whole scheme as pursued by Mars One is not originally, it has essentially copied from Robert Zubrin’s Mars Direct proposal.

Unlike other space settlement initiatives, Mars One will be entirely funded though private means, e.g. no government involvement and no tax money for this project. This raises of course the question how to fund this program. Essentially Mars One intends to collect money from the public, however they realize this will not be enough, therefore they have thought about a source of revenue for funding their project. One of the “theorems” of space colonization is that the creation of a source revenue is essential for space colonization, because investors wants to make profits (see also this post).

How does Mars One plan to generate revenue? Well, their idea is to use the whole thing as the subject of one great reality TV show, and to sell the broadcasting rights in order to fund the entire project. You will not find another suggested source of revenue, other than just begging for donations. Actually this “business plan” is just silly. Why? Because the team of Mars One grossly overestimate the total revenue what can be collected this way. There are many reasons to be sceptical whether this finance strategy will generate enough money to fund the whole mission. First we have to ask how many people are actually going to watch this reality show, whether they will watch the entire series, at least whether they will watch regularly instead of just watching a few episodes. Since the trip to Mars will take some one or two years, during this time the astronauts will be locked up in their space craft and almost every day will be much the same, it is reasonably to assume that a lot of prospective TV viewers will become bored after just a few episodes. Also we have to consider that a lot of people will only watch the launch and landing of the crew, while ignoring the intermediate episodes.

Even if the first mission to Mars could be funded through this reality show, we have to ask whether the subsequent missions can be funded in the same way. Normally TV series, including reality TV, are cancelled after a few seasons (if not earlier because of declining rates) and only a very few shows manage to survives more than five seasons. And if manned Mars missions are becoming more common, more people will lose their interest to follow the whole mission, with the exception of a few die hard fanatics. While series like Deadliest catch can survive with a relatively small base of hard core viewers, Mars mission cannot.

Not only Mars One does not have a sound business plan, their very schedule is in our opinion quite optimistic: a manned landing on Mars in 2023. That’s in ten years from now. This may seem as no big problem, a closer look at their entire schedule, however, reveals another story. They plan to launch a supply mission in 2016, just in three years from now. Such supply mission is necessary (and is again derived from Zubrin’s plan), and any delay will also delay all other dates. Due to the orbital periods of the Earth and Mars, there is every two years, a so-called launch window for mission to Mars (whether they are manned or not), so if you miss the first you have to two wait at least two years. Of course you can launch a spacecraft to Mars at any time, but then you have to take into account a much longer travel time, and additional fuel costs and so.

According to their own schedule, Mars One has to start in 2014 with the preparations of the supply mission. If there will be a delay in this phase, then they will miss their 2016 launch window and subsequently miss their “2023” target. Whether they will get their preparations finished on time, is partially depended on whether they will be able to get sufficient funding for their enterprise. Our conclusion is therefore that the schedule of Mars One is too ambitious and too optimistic. Its rigidity will ultimately be the downfall of Mars One.

Smartphones in space

A few days ago I read in my newspaper an article about the use of smart phones in satellites. According to the article, engineers of NASA during a brainstorm session were contemplating that an on board computer of the new generation of small satellites, the smart spheres, should be small, efficient with energy, should have integrated sensors and a usual operating system. The story goes that at a certain moment someone, while the engineers were checking their email on their cell phones, came with the suggestion that modern mobile phones just fit the requirements of said on board computer.

In order to make the smart spheres, of which three are now on board of the ISS, the engineers removed the GSM chip (there is no need that they should be able to make phone calls anyway). The smart ones selected by NASA are based on the android operating system of Google. Because this platform can easily be connected to external components, building a functional satellite is in reach of almost everyone. Another advantage of this approach is that there are tens of thousands people who are android app developers.

The question is whether this “break through” is beneficial for space colonization. The answer is simple: yes. Because smart phones are mass produced, they are relatively cheap. According to the article, the production of the phonestat 2 (a related project, also build around a smart phone computer), costed only 8,000 dollar. Further, this approach is fully in compliance of our policy of using off the shelve components as much as possible. The philosophy behind this policy, is that  by using off the shelve components space colonization will not be only cheaper, it will also be faster. This because we do not have to waste our time be developing every part we need, and why reinventing the wheel over and over again?

Modern smart phones, especially those with an open source  operating system (this also will help to lower costs), will help to make space colonization reality.

More information:

http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4403998/NASA-to-launch-4-in-cube-comms-satellites