Mars-Les Johnson

Mars – Les Johnson

Mars. In the heart and mind of almost every science fiction fan I know, the mere mention of the planet Mars evokes a sense of “what if?” followed by wistful recollection of the many books, television shows and movies that have been made depicting the exploration of the Red Planet.

Who among us hasn’t wished they’d heard the live broadcast of Orson Wells’ The War of the Worlds back in 1938? A few of our older kin recall the disappointment of learning that Mars is a barren dessert and not the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs. We’ve experienced the joys of reading Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and the disappointment of seeing the truly mediocre television miniseries of the same name. And then there’s Ben Bova’s sweeping novel of Mars exploration titled, simply, Mars. And Kim Stanley Robinson’s series, Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars; the list goes on. And now we get to see how Andy Weir’s survival story, The Martian, survives translation to the big screen. (I’ve already seen it – There was a special screening at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville on September 21. No spoilers here!) Almost every science fiction writer, including me, have written about Mars in either a book or short story. It’s in our blood.

Since I work for NASA and have looked extensively at the technologies required to send people to Mars, I am often asked how close we are to being able to take such a journey. [DISCLAIMER: The very fact that I work for NASA requires me to say that “the opinions expressed herein are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer.”] Basing my opinion solely on information that is publicly available, the answer is… not straightforward. Let me break it into the three areas that Project Managers and Decision Makers (the ones with the money) use when they assess the viability of a project in an attempt to explain my answer.


This is the area where engineers, scientists and science fiction fans like to reside. (Yes, I consciously group scientists and engineers with science fiction fans together in the same category!) From a purely technical point of view:

1) We have or will soon have the rockets needed to send the huge amount of mass required to keep people alive for the 1.5 to 3.5 year round trip journey to and from Mars. CHECK

2) Thanks to years of experience on the International Space Station (ISS), we believe we have the life support systems required. We can recycle up to 90% of the water we need and a significant fraction of the oxygen. We can scrub the CO2 from the air and mitigate most of the adverse effects that come from weightlessness; though providing artificial gravity for the trip would be desirable. (We can probably do this also.) CHECK

3) We have or can soon have the in-space propulsion systems required to carry people and cargo from Earth orbit to Mars and back again. Chemical rockets can do the job, but they require a lot of fuel. A lot of fuel. (Did I say they require a lot of fuel?) With investment, we could use nuclear thermal rockets to cut the fuel load by approximately 50%. Alternatively, we could use electric propulsion to efficiently send much of the cargo required ahead of the crew, while sending the people with more traditional chemical propulsion. This approach would also decrease the amount of fuel required. CHECK

4) We know how to build the lander to take the crew to the surface of Mars and launch them back into space. No one has built the lander or the ascent vehicle yet, but we know we can. CHECK

5) We also know how to build a habitat for the astronauts to use when they are on the surface of Mars exploring.   CHECK

6) There is one serious technical unknown that has split many in the community: the adverse effects of being exposed to space radiation for a long period of time. The exposure from a trip to Mars would almost certainly increase a person’s risk of getting some cancers. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a near-term fix for this problem so it might just have to be a risk they live with. Which brings me to…


Mounting a mission to Mars will take a long time.

1) You have to build the advocacy – either in governments or in the private sector. Someone has to be convinced to do it and figure out what technical solutions are the best to actually go and build. This will require a minimum of 2 years. (This is very optimistic!)

2) Once you decide to go, then you have to build the hardware. This takes more time than anyone wants it to take. Plan on 5 years, minimum, to design and build all of the complex systems described in the TECHNICAL section above.

3) Will there be an uncrewed test flight? Or will you fly these complex systems with people during the first mission in which they will be used? If you decide to have a dress rehearsal test flight, then you can add a minimum of 8 – 10 years to your schedule. That’s how long it will take to fly to and from Mars and then build the next set of hardware.

4) Finally, you fly to Mars. Conservatively, allow for a 3-year, round-trip mission.

The total time from the moment you decide you want to go until you return the astronauts home is 18 – 20 years with a test flight and a minimum of 10 years without. Ouch! And you have to keep your sponsors excited, with the money flowing, for the duration.


Someone has to pay for this mission and it will either be the tax payers, investors or a wealthy patron. Realistically, the project will cost somewhere between $10 Billion and $100 Billion. Now there are a few billionaires out there, but very few are willing to bet their entire net worth on a first mission to Mars. A consortium of billionaires could do it, but is this going to happen?

A corporation could certainly pay for it. The annual profits of Exxon, Coca Cola and Apple certainly put them in the category of ‘they have the money.’ But recall that corporations are in business to make money and a first mission to Mars is certain to be a money loser. How will they be able to convince shareholders that betting the company on a Mars mission is a good investment when there is no real economic benefit to be gained, at least in the near- to moderate-term.

That leaves governments and the taxpayers. There is precedent: Project Apollo, various 19th century colonial empires, and the American Louisiana Purchase and exploration. For you and me, $100B is a lot of money. But on the scale of what the United States government spends in a year, it is so little that it might as well be a rounding error. In 2015, NASA’s budget was ~$18B. The Department of Defense spent ~$598B. Medicare cost the taxpayers ~$522B. And the total spending of the United States government was ~$3.9 trillion — that’s ~$3900 billion, or enough to sponsor over 39 Mars missions.

What do we conclude from all this?

1) We want to go to Mars.

2) It is technically feasible to go to Mars.

3) It is logistically possible to go to Mars within a decade of deciding to do so.

4) A trip to Mars is affordable.

Why, then, aren’t we going to Mars?

Because it isn’t a priority. We, as a society, don’t want it badly enough.

Priorities can change. So get busy. Mars awaits!

Les Johnson

Les is a physicist, a husband and father, a science fiction author for Baen books whose latest novel, Rescue Mode, is to be released in paperback September 29. You may learn more about Les, his work and his writing by visiting his website at, on Facebook and on Twitter (@LesAuthor).

251 responses to “Mars-Les Johnson

  1. c4c

  2. I usually tell people that if they want to get to Mars, they need to be patient and push for policies that promote economic growth. The rule of 70 says that if we can maintain a GDP growth rate of 3%, our GDP will be 16 times larger than it is now in 92 years.

  3. I know that this is going to be an unpopular question, but why would we want to pay to send people to Mars? I know I don’t. Granted, I have to pay for a lot things that I don’t want to pay for, but why this particular project?

    Just to say it’s been done? I’m sorry, but I don’t think bragging rights are a sufficient reason for that kind of expenditure.

    • Misha, NASA historian gave 5 rationales for space flight. These would apply to a Mars mission:
      1) Human destiny/survival of the species.
      2) Geopolitics/national pride and prestige.
      3) National security and military applications.
      4) Economic competitiveness and satellite applications.
      5) Scientific discovery and understanding.

      The rationales are given in Chapter 2 of _Critical Issues in the History of Spaceflight_. It can be read in its entirety here:

      • Don’t forget:
        6) It would be better that certain individuals were on Mars, rather than still here on Earth where they can cause trouble for the rest of us. 🙂

        • Then we get into the fight about which “troublemakers” get sent to the new Botany Bay.

          At least if you send them to Mars it’s more difficult to drop rocks on the people who sent them there…

          • That was why I preferred it to the moon.

          • I was hoping NASA would announce the discovery of intelligent life, because the Democrats would push to have them registered before November, 2016.

            Be that as it may, baring political or economic incentive, there’s not going to be a big colonization push. With economic incentive, a group of Christians could convince investors to fund a colony. Without it, it’s an impossible sell.

            • If it’s intelligent life, would it vote Democrat?

              • The Other Sean

                Let us not confuse intelligence and wisdom. I’ve met a number of brilliant fools.

                • What do you call a Bugatti Veyron with my grandmother behind the wheel? A slow car. Progressives do not think. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily incapable of it, just that they have decided not to exercise the ability.

            • No need to push anything – those life forms are all already registered in Chigago, and all voted the straight D ticket (surprisingly!) in the last four national election cycles.

          • Agreed. Troublemakers would best not be sent to the moon. The moon is too close and it would be easy for a fractious group to lob things back at the earth … I recall reading about it somewhere.

    • I get this. I really do. As someone who has had his tax money spent on some *truly* frivolous things, I know it isn’t going to be universally popular.

      I would much prefer this to be funded privately, at least a majority of it. Because that money is not the property of some nebulous group called “the government,” it is of the American people. It isn’t theirs to give. And given how our money is spent by the folks in D.C., I don’t trust *them* not to drop the ball 4-8 years down the road, leaving us with a half-started Mars campaign.

      “Not theirs to give” isn’t how the people in Washington have done business (read: abused the public trust) for nearly as long as I’ve been aware of politics. I really don’t want to go down that road myself. For what is mine to give, I’d happily give a week’s pay every time I can afford it (at least once a year) to a Mars project. If you get billionaires and big companies to go for that, even for the PR and marketing boost, it could be doable. A Mars lander all tarted up like NASCAR wouldn’t be all that bad a thing, if it gets us to Mars…

      I really, really *do* want to get to Mars. We may have the tech *now* to do it, but I’d bet we learn a lot from actually going there and getting boots dusty in the Martian soil. It’s a step towards getting a few of these precious eggs out of the one tiny basket, nebulous a goal as that may be.

      Those less than tangible goals are what drive a lot of us geeks, though. Humanity among the stars is a pretty powerful tug on the heart. I think, given a solid plan and commitment, you’d have the geeks anyway. We’ll probably not have another “space race,” this time with China (whose economy looks to be tottering, much like ours at the moment), and we’re not the same America that strapped tiny (but ballsy!) men to stupid huge rockets and threw them at the moon- the culture and people have changed. If we can make it marginally profitable for companies to invest, we’ll get some of that money.

      But I think it will *have* to be up to the people who really, really want it to drive this thing through. That will mean more time. Despite all the awesome things NASA has done, it is a government agency, funded by taxpayer dollars. Even though I really, really (did I mention I’m a sci-fi geek yet?) want this to happen… I can’t justify making that decision for other people. That’s the problem I have with it.

      • Dan Lane wrote:
        “It’s a step towards getting a few of these precious eggs out of the one tiny basket, nebulous a goal as that may be.”
        This has always seemed to me to be a weak rationale. Nearly any post-apocalyptic Earth environment is still going to be friendlier than the existing Martian environment. Survival cities could be built under the ground or under the sea far cheaper than a self-sustaining Mars colony could be built for. If the apocalypse Is man-made, i.e. nuclear or bio war, any off-world colonies would also be targets.

        • Note: step towards. Mars is not the end goal. Think of it as Greenland or the Azores, not Vinland.

          • Luna was the easy first step. Mars is the next easy step.

            If we don’t go to Mars, we’re stuck here…

            • Some people want everyone to remain here on earth.

              • Indeed. There was a book on the Apollo moon missions that was decrying the whole thing as hubris, and included the line “humans belong on earth.” It was very clear that they didn’t mean that earth is the place the human body is best adapted for, but that earth is the only place humans have a moral right to be, that when we leave it, we go as trespassers, poking our noses where we ought not be.

                It’s fundamentally the old notion of “the heavens and the earth,” in which the earth is the place of mundane human activity and everything beyond it is “the heavens,” the place of quintessence, reserved for higher beings than us mere mortals.

                • I can already hear the voices decrying the “Environmental Imperialism” against terraforming Mars, with lobbying groups establishing themselves to protect the habitats of potentially millions of (imputed) species.

                  • I recently saw a hymn that mangled a reference to the land (as in what was assigned to Adam and Eve) into “one Earth,” as if that were all there were. It was not a hymn written before space travel, either. The general gist was collectivist.

                    Fortunately we weren’t singing it, but l was disgusted.

            • Moon first for a real off planet base. Then go to Mars. Develop the equipment settling the moon and Mars will be easier after that is done.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              We haven’t taken the step to Luna yet. We only sent search parties. Need to build a colony there so it will make constructing the frameworks of the deliveries to Mars easier and less expensive. Far more payload for the ground launch vehicles can be dedicated to supplies, instead of spaceship.

              • Wayne, my understanding is that the delta v to get from earth to the surface of the moon and back in to lunar orbit is so expensive that it is cheaper just to launch from earth.

                • Wayne Blackburn

                  I don’t understand your point. Once you have manufacturing capability on the Moon, you can launch the superstructure and any other components of a long-range craft from the Moon to low Earth orbit for relatively low cost, especially if you launch it in parts via railgun, and assemble the parts in orbit.

                  The launch cost of those components it enormous if launched from Earth, while getting from the Moon to LEO is far cheaper.

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          It would be rather hard to target a colony on Mars with a nuclear missile, unless it was specially made for the strike. That’s a *long* way to send a missile.

          • If its a target, they will build a missile for it. India got to Mars with a setup they normally use to launch comms satellites. The point is that any means you use try to escape MAD will become a high priority target.

            • The point is that any means you use try to escape MAD will become a high priority target.

              Why? There’s a cost-benefit ratio operating here, and the point of MAD is to assure the destruction of the enemy country, not of all humans in existence. What if the colony in question isn’t a combatant in the war?

              Furthermore, given any missile defense capability, an interplanetary missile would have to survive a LOT of defensive fire coming in, so you might need to launch a whole volley of interplanetary missiles to have any chance of achieving hits.

              • Israel has fielded a missile defense called, I believe, Iron Dome.

                • The US and Israel have done a lot of work together on missile defense (which all the “smart” people will tell you is impossible). Iron Dome is Israel’s system. The US version is THAAD. Israel is also looking at replacing the Iron Dome interceptors with lasers.

              • If the threat isn’t to all human existence, the human survival rationale is moot.

                • True. But there is a difference between endangering all of human existence in the course of attacking one’s enemies and the goal of eliminating all of human existence.

                • Tweeeeeet! Moving goal posts!

                  Man-made apocalyptic events are not the only kind. While a Mars Colony might be susceptible to such an event it would still retain viability after arrival of the SMOD* or a cataclysmic Yellowstone Caldera eruption.

                  Therefore the human survival rationale is not moot.

                  *Sweet Meteor Of Doom really ought be the name of a heavy metal band.

          • Wayne Blackburn

            Who needs a nuke for a space bombardment? Just whack it with the delivery vehicle with as high a velocity as you can get.

        • If the apocalypse Is man-made, i.e. nuclear or bio war, any off-world colonies would also be targets.

          Hardened targets, very far away … and possibly operated by Powers not actually in the war. On Earth, everything gets mixed up together in the ecosystem. On Mars, there is no ecosystem out of the sealed habs, as far as we know.

        • Did you hear, they’ve found more water there?

        • ! move to Mars!……live in dense city surrounded by caustic desert*.

          *spell check may have let me down here

          • The Other Sean

            That’s not too much different from Phoenix or Las Vegas, is it?

            • air pressure is better there and you can breathe it.

              • The Other Sean

                But the air on Mars may be better than LA’s. 🙂

              • …for now. Bet we can fix that! Should we try to terraform the whole planet at once, or start at the bottom of a crater and head out from there?

                • The Other Sean

                  We just need to ship lots of coal to Mars and burn it there, to cause Martian warming. 🙂

                • Low-lying areas will be the areas with higher air pressure as we add atmosphere, so they’ll necessarily become habitable first. Unless we add enough water to turn them into seas. The other issue is that Mars has relatively weak gravity and no magnetic field, so it loses air faster than Earth. Probably not fast enough to make keeping a breathable atmosphere impossible, but there would need to be periodic replenishment.

                  • If we added enough atmosphere with the right greenhouse gasses (ideally water vapor, but methane would work too) to make things respirator- instead of spacesuit-weather down at the bottom of the ex-oceans on Mars would take almost no time to blow away in the solar wind in geological terms, but would last many many human lifetimes without the need to replace anything, and by then the tech would have gotten better.

                    And if nothing better is invented, the adding-of-gasses can just be repeated. Something done once is doable again – see Orion+SLS as an Apollo cargo cult.

                  • So we need to ship a whole bunch of magnets to mars?

                    • Just wrap the planet in a few million miles of superconducting wire and hook it up to a battery. Let’s see that damn bunny run that.

          • A new life awaits you in the Off-World Colonies. The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure!

          • Why is the city necessarily “dense?” And why can’t people build their own pressurized houses or other small settlement as the colony expands outward from the initial landing point. You seem to assume that it’s extremely difficult to expand the colony, but this does not follow if you’re using mostly native materials for structurals and volatiles. I think you’re assuming that all buildings need to be brought over from Earth!

      • Which leads me to “NASCAR not NASA!”

        If capitalizing on merchandizing and advertising gets us to Mars — let’s do it!!

        It’s a thoughtful comment and deserves a more sophisticated response, but I have brain drain and this is my full muster…

        • MASCAR? I still say that we should develop commercial spaceflight to Mars. We should develop Space Marines to hold our orbitals. Also we want to be in charge of our Solar System before anyone comes calling.

    • Not an unpopular question IMHO, but an entirely sensible one.

  4. Build Project Orion Two weeks from Earth’s surface to Mars with thousands of tons of cargo.

    • I’d rather see us put all that emotion and effort and know-how into (1) bringing down the price of Earth-to-orbit and (2) building destinations in orbit — hotels, theme parks, commercial labs.

      Putting a permanent colony on Mars will be a watershed event in the existence of the human race.

      Putting a dozen people on the surface of Mars for some number of hours before bringing them home is silly bragging rights.

      Spending a fortune to skip steps doesn’t get us to the watershed event any faster. Apollo 11 was a big deal because of Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin and the Cold War. It didn’t bring us closer to a permanent human presence on the moon.

    • Unnecessarily complicated. Use Project Orion to boost thousands of tons of raw materials and tools into orbit to set up orbital industry.

      • An orbital industry of what?

        So far there’s no process or product that’s worth boosting out of the gravity well.

        • Building spacecraft and whatnot. Half the reason the stuff that goes into the things is so overengineered is that it has to be both light and capable of surviving liftoff.
          Now take liftoff out of the equation.

        • Manufacture of drugs and critical inorganic hybrids in Zero-G and in hyper clean environment.

          The assertion “So far there’s no process or product that’s worth boosting out of the gravity well” is circular. Because we haven’t climbed out of the gravity well we haven’t developed the knowledge of what can be achieved on an industrial scale outside that well.

          Before Europeans visited the Western Hemisphere they had no knowledge of coffee, cocaine, tobacco, rum, potatoes, nor hot peppers.

          • Manufacture anti-matter. I think it was in “Kicking the Sacred Cow” or one of the other similar books.

          • Before Europeans visited the Western Hemisphere they had no knowledge of coffee, cocaine, tobacco, rum, potatoes, nor hot peppers.

            Actually, coffee and sugar cane are Old World commodities. Ditto black pepper, which isn’t the same as New World peppers.

            Something to keep in mind, though, is that when the Europeans arrived in the New World in force, they didn’t come for the tobacco; cocaine; chocolate; maize; chili peppers; potatoes; pumpkins; or squash. They came for known spices, fish, gold, and half baked schemes like raising silk worms. Those are what brought explorers and investors. All the rest were byproducts.

            • Black pepper isn’t hot, merely irritating.

              I could quibble about whether the old world coffee was drinkable, and note that having sugar cane does not equal producing rum, the point remains: we never know what we’ll get until we get there.

              Perfectly spherical ball bearings might well prove the most valuable commodity to be gained from microgravity industry — results are as impossible to predict as were the proliferation of home computers and the internet in 1970.

            • Black pepper was native to India. With half a century of Columbus’s voyages, we have an Indian poet hymning the wonders of the red pepper, the poor man’s spice, and praising how it ripens.

              The Columbian Exchange was of enormous impact.

        • Foamed Aluminum. 😀

      • Do you know what Project Orion is? Using a series of atmospheric nuclear explosions to lift material into space is…inadvisable.

        • Very inadvisable…..

        • The Other Sean

          I agree Orion is kind of a non-starter for obvious reasons, but there are other nuclear options than Orion. NERVA researched a large number, including various nuclear thermal propulsion options that might be viable, although ISTR some of them were viable only after one was outside atmosphere.

          • The big problem with nuclear is that anything going through the core is going to get activated. Flow-through designs are especially troublesome since all of that activated material – as well as any fuel or fission products released in an accident – will be spread into the environment.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              There are designs that use Hydrogen as the flow-through material. No worries of activating that. The percentage of that becoming Tritium is negligible.

              Another possibility would be to use Lithium-6. Going to Lithium-7 is not a problem.

              • The percentage of tritium formed is small, but using a light element like hydrogen means that you have to push a lot of reaction mass through the engine to produce thrust, meaning the absolute amount of tritium generated is going to be non-trivial. You also got your lithium isotopes backwards. Li-6 + n yields tritium and an alpha, Li-7 + n gets you two alphas.

                • Wayne Blackburn

                  Oops. Fortunately, I’m not the one building it.

                  OTOH, are you sure there would be more Tritium formed than occurs naturally?

                  • Well, there would be more than occurs naturally. How much more depends on the exact parameters of the engine.

                    Another couple of problems with using lithium. You would be spraying atomic lithium into the environment, which would react with water to form lithium hydroxide, one of those things that makes drain cleaner look inert. Also, large tanks full of lithium would make water landings spectacular.

                    • “Also, large tanks full of lithium would make water landings spectacular.”

                      So we could put them on pay-per-view to help fund the next flight?

    • Oops. Meant that as a reply to the main post, not to Orion.

      Re: Orion — never going to happen. But it’s fun to imagine the private billionaire developing atomic weapons on his research platform in the pacific and launching into space prematurely when the U.S. navy surrounds his “illegal weapons research site” which is in violation of nuclear proliferation laws. In space — with no way to return to Earth without standing trial for war crimes — what is a poor billionaire with a nuclear stockpile, a large industrial platform, and a serious lack of raw materials to do? How will his workers, who didn’t sign up for this, react? The story writes itself.

      • The North Koreans could do it. They have the nuclear capability and they aren’t subscribed to any treaties limiting their use. They’re not subject to economic pressure, so the only way to stop them would be war. And all it takes is for the current Chairman to decide that claiming all of Mars as North Korean soil would be a grand idea…

      • Is it weird that I just started writing a Mars colonization story (which already looks like the first few chapters of a trilogy, at least) with almost exactly this story? It doesn’t have the Orion bit (though maybe it should…), but most of the other elements…

        I was working on the “why are they trying to stop the mission.” Anti-nuclear fanatics (or nations) could be good…

      • I think Orion could happen for orbit-to-orbit transfers. None of the standard objections are applicable to the space environment, and if the bombs are built in space – there’s plenty of uranium in the asteroids – there is little proliferation worry.

        • Build it on and launch it from the moon……

        • I like the idea of using Orion outside of geosynchronous orbit. The legal community – those familiar with the relevant laws and treaties that I’ve spoken with – tend to lose their minds at the suggestion, “It would violate treaties!” Plan for abunchaton of legal challenges.

          • Yeah, the Outer Space Treaty prohibits WMD in space. On the other hand, 7 miles/second means that everything in space larger than a small boulder is a WMD. I think that you could argue a nuclear impulse device that lacked the kind of case and guidance and triggering components necessary to survive re-entry isn’t a WMD.

            And yeah, setting off a series of nuclear blasts inside or near geosynchronous orbit would be rather un-neighborly. Most things in there don’t react to well to hard X-rays.

    • Wayne Blackburn

      I believe the landing portion would be a tad more difficult than the launching portion. How do you land, when your engines keep blowing a bigger and deeper hole in the ground? Do you get down to a certain height and then just let it fall?

      You might take it to Mars orbit, but you’re going to have to land with more conventional means.

  5. Call me cynical, but there’s no reason to send humans to Mars in the near future, except to say we did so. The cost benefit isn’t there like it is for unmanned missions. It’s just hubris. Space travel isn’t cheap like most hand-wavy science fiction depicts it as.

    Maybe as a species we will get lucky and stop fighting like primates and do some great things beyond the planet we treat like dirt, but history isn’t in our favor.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      So, the “wait until we’re perfect before we do anything” strategy? Which is a roundabout way of saying we should never go into space ever. Because we’ll never be perfect.

    • The planet is named Earth. Dirt was named after it. Because it’s made of dirt (silicates, mostly).

    • Frankly, there’s no reason to get up tomorrow morning, except to say you did so.

      • frankly I get up only when I have something I “have” or “want” to do… other reason needed :).

    • Wayne Blackburn

      Ok, you’re cynical.

      Now, as to why I think you’re incorrect – there are a ton of things to be learned from such an endeavor. Things that we may never even think to wonder about if we don’t try. And every new challenge that is overcome puts space travel that much closer to being safer and less expensive for the next generation.

      If you only look into the money spent by the government, then nothing has a cost benefit. However, we don’t look at only the money spent by government on such things as the Interstate Road system, because the benefits are obvious and quickly realized. But space travel benefits us in the new technologies that are created from the research needed to get us there. I don’t have a list handy, but the number of technologies that have come from the space program already, and more coming out every year, is staggering.

    • Chris, what about the question of weather life developed on the mars when its climate was more congenial to life? That is a basic science question that is worth answering and the best was to answer it is to send people.

      Of course we are not going to stop fighting like pramate, we are primates. That does not mean we are incapable of great things, only we are going to acheave them as primates.

      • The possibility of Martian microbes is actually a reason to not contaminate the planet with Earth microbes and confuse the issue. A definite finding of life on another planet would up the odds of a human habitable planet around another star.

        Now with at least seasonal liquid water on Mars, I will be horribly disappointed to not find _anything_ living.

        Not that I want to stop Martian colonization, but _first_ we need to settle the question of native life.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I’m not obligated to agree with your mystical religious beliefs. It is dirt. It is a big ball of iron that supplies two resources: dirt and gravity. The part we care about is dirt. The gravity we pretty much have not touched and are not able to.

    • Space travel gets cheaper over time. And the reason for any particuar culture to colonize Mars is to influence the future. Whichever cultures succeed in colonizing Mars will determine the future of a whole other world.

      Consider this: why is Spanish one of the major world languages?

  6. Les, when you say “we can probably do this” regarding artificial gravity, what do you have in mind? Spinning the entire spacecraft?
    Unless new information has come out in the past few years, bone loss in microgravity is significant and irreversible. After 3+ years in microgravity and Martian gravity, the returning astronauts might have to spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair.
    The current record for a stay in microgravity is fourteen months. While bone loss plateaus at about 30% (I think), there is no guaranty that the plateau is stable for 3+ years.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      That’s one solution. A genetic tweak to reduce the loss of bone and muscle in micro-G might be another. Of course that could create all sorts of other issues, which writers can explore.

    • What’s wrong with spinning the whole spacecraft?

      The ISS doesn’t spin because it’s supposed to be a zero-G test environment. It’s just a soup can. A real station would be, at minimum, two soup cans cabled together.

      • IIRC, there was actually supposed to be a small rotating module for ISS that would have provided some pseudo-gravity, but it was cut for budget reasons.

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          “Cut for budget reasons”.

          The story of the modern space program.

          • The Other Sean

            The story of the space program since 1968, really. Apollo 19/20, the rest of the Apollo Applications program, the Skylab 5 mission to boost Skylab into a higher orbit until the shuttle was ready, shuttle’s half-assed launch mode, the constantly-delayed-and-rescoped space station to replace the lost Skylab, etc.

    • Les, when you say “we can probably do this” regarding artificial gravity, what do you have in mind? Spinning the entire spacecraft?

      Or a significant section thereof. Not sure why you imagine this impossible.

      • I never said it was impossible.

        • There is literature on artificial gravity out there. NASA has studied the issue extensively. It has problems. It’s not a clear-cut solution, and it certainly is not easy, or cheap. You can try to simulate 1g or some fraction of that. The closer you want to get to 1g, the bigger your radius has to be. An alternative is a small centrifuge within the space craft, where crew members spend time at regular intervals, in shifts.
          The last I heard, NASA was looking at “Mars Austere”, which does not have luxuries like a rotating spacecraft or a centrfuge. This was why I asked Les the question . . .

          • Two spacecraft tethered together with ballast along the cable to keep the center mass in the center. Now spin.

            There you go.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              I’ve looked at the math on spinning wheels for gravity. You wouldn’t happen to be able to tell me how the math works on a tether would you?

              • No! never, never,/I> NEVER put your math on a tether! It makes it get all warped.

              • Simple answer is it works the same, but it would need to have a constant center of mass. If you put thrust to two objects connected by a tether, the thing will spin, as those who tried linking cannonballs with a chain and firing them from a double barreled cannon discovered as it usually spun around on them. I was thinking a ballast arrangement might help maintain that center of mass by its point on the axis of rotation.

                It would be more elaborate, and costly, but a huge ring ship would allow a self-balancing system invented for tires in the 1970s. It was pretty simple, and would maintain balance as the load shifted.

                • You do your transfer orbit burn, then you spin the system up for the cruise. As part of the orbital insertion preps, you de-spin. You’ll be zero-g for a few days at either end of the trip, which shouldn’t be a big problem.

  7. “The ISS doesn’t spin because it’s supposed to be a zero-G test environment.”
    I think you have that backward, TRX. It’s a microgravity test environment because it doesn’t spin. Spinning a manned spacecraft to create artificial gravity is not cheap or easy. No one has done it yet, though there have been a few proposals. With enough money you can solve any problem.

    • ISS doesn’t have the spinny bits module because solving the vibration and torque problems that resulted from spinning parts attached to non spinning parts blew up the ISS design budget.

      Now why ISS doesn’t have an inflatable hab module, which was designed, scale prototypes built, and that hardware tested in the big vacuum chambers years before that tech was slipped out the back door to start Bigelow is another question. The ISS inflatable hab module was killed off because it was tech that would test out and feed directly into hardware needed for the Mars mission, and that would have spent one NASA budget code/ivory tower’s money on something that would benefit a different budget code/ivory tower. Can’t have that…

    • With enough money you can solve any problem.

      The Teacher’s union wants you to think this. I don’t care how much money you give them, it will never make the NYC public schools produce 90% of its students reading, writing and cyphering at or above grade level.

      Some problems are not amenable to solution.

      • We’re not letting the Teachers’ Unions in on the design phase, or any phase at all. Money goes in, and stays there. We’d need a small, highly focused group that is not going to keep the money for themselves.

      • Hire enough hit men to take out the union bosses/bad teachers…

        • That’s no good — the Teachers’ Union and the Assassin’s Guild have a reciprocity agreement. One kills bodies, the other kills minds (and souls) and they are each bound to respect the other’s purview.

  8. We went to the moon so the Soviets wouldn’t get there first. That’s really what it boiled down to. We no longer have the incentive to be risk-takers. Where are the goa’uld when you need them??

    • The goa’uld have infiltrated the White House and the Kremlin, and are trying to make sure humans don’t get uppity and spread out into the cosmos.

    • We need to make going to the moon and further commercially profitable. Men will go far and do much to make a buck. The more bucks possible the more effort will be expended if the gov’t doesn’t tie the entrepreneurs hands with burdensome regulations and high taxes that leave no money left to become capital. Would an analogy to the history of air flight be reasonable?

      • Where is Delos D. Harriman when you need him? We need to approach the expansion into space the way we treated the expansion across the American continent. It is our Manifest Destiny to spread out into the Milky Way and beyond.

        There’s a huge need to expand into space. He who controls the orbitals controls the world. We need to control our orbitals. You do that with troops as well as machines.

        • Today, Harriman would be in PMITA Federal Prison for fraud and SEC violations.

        • Where is Delos D. Harriman when you need him? >/i>
          I believe his name is Elon Musk. He owns a little company called SpaceX

        • The problem is things like the Moon Treaty and the Outer Space Treaty, which assume a socialist idea of property in outer space. There are more than a few questions about ownership of resources extracted from celestial objects. If I spend a few billion dollars extracting a ton of platinum from the asteroids, I’m going to want to know that I’ll be able to sell it when I get it back to Earth. We aren’t going to see development of space until we have governments on Earth willing to defend private property rights up there.

          • Yes. We need to withdraw from stupid treaties. Once I knew about the treaties I knew why space exploration had stopped.

          • Eh. Easily negotiable. Offer to deliver an asteroid worth of platinum and rare earth materials to Russia in exchange for 25% of market value (start at 90% and negotiate downward; the goal is to profit on future acquisitions) and we’ll see how fast that treaty gets dissolved.

            • I note that your proposal says nothing about decelerating the asteroid.

              • Admittedly there would be certain specific costs involved in such deceleration, costs which are traditionally borne by the recipient.

              • That’s why it is 25% of market value, Russia has lots of space and a significant mining industry, just put some ablative shielding on it so it doesn’t melt on reentry and you are good to go.

          • And if a corporation snags a valuable asteroid and shouts “Mine!”, who exactly is going to take it from them?

            • Nobody, until you get it back to Earth to sell it. Then you might find yourself in the mother of all legal battles. Nobody knows how that will play out, which imposes a huge risk cost above and beyond the technical costs.

              • Why bring it back to Earth? Harvest it in space and reuse the component elements there. Any excess can be discarded, possibly parked in solar orbit against later potential use. or offered for sale to any Earthly buyer willing to a) use it in space, thus avoiding territorial treaty limits or b) fight Earthly laws in order to bring the material down and profit from it.

                • Because we don’t have any industry in space to use the materials, that would add several orders of magnitude to the start-up costs. The way to boot-strap space industry is to start out going to get raw materials for use on Earth, then building the production factories in Earth orbit, then building the production factories out where the materials are.

              • The Other Sean

                Just use orbital bombardment on problematic governments. Problem solved.

                • Who owns our orbitals?

                • Most corporations don’t have “obliterate cities” on their mission statement.

                  Now, if the US government were to announce that it would vigorously defend the property rights of any US company that brought material back from space, and the world believed it, we might start seeing some investment in the field.

                  • Actually, I was thinking of a drop zone. Smuggling in the traditional sense might be out if it could be tracked on entry, and given the keen interest in detecting and tracking ICBMs, undetectable cargo drops are probably out. That means dropping it in places that hostile governments couldn’t get there first. There’s a lot of water out there, but that’s a bit hard to recover if you miss your drop zone. A friendly nation is a better option, and there’s no shortage of those. Whether world powers would respect neutrality is another question.

                    • While the dust kicked up by dropping valuable space ore delivery units (i.e. rocks) into the various desert areas of the US (or, more likely given we have the EPA to deal with, the big deserts in NW China) would be less than was kicked up in the above ground tests in the 40s and 50s, repeated delivery of rocks could kick up enough dust to approximate a big volcanic eruption and cool the climate.

                      Hey! It’s not just a way to bring valuable minerals to market and make the investors rich, it’s also a Global Warming Mitigation Method!!

                      Pity about the complete absence of any actual Global Warming for the past 20 years – if Global Warming actually had been happening, a few extraterrestrial mineral deliveries per year could act as a handy throttle.

                      For the cooling trend that’s likely on the way, not so useful.

                • Which is a great incentive for governments to monopolize or ban private space travel (and yes I know its was a joke) .

                  Going to Mars. like going back to Luna is a cash sink of little real value.

                  We went to Luna back during peak America and it was fine and cool but I don’t see any bases there and we haven’t been back for good reason.

                  Its not just political will, though that’s probably most if it but the fact is that we really didn’t gain huge benefits from it.

                  And in terms of things graft for some random congress critter or his/her/its constituents is a broader benefit than space travel . So is being a meddler if you are a billionaire. Much better ROI either way

                  We also can’t afford it and to what Terry said down at 7:28, there aren’t any policies that will produce much growth. Lost of reasons for that but I don’t post often enough to earn the right to bore people with that,

                  Simply put, no growth for Joe and Jane sixpack for the foreseeable future any gains will go to the top

                  Long term colonies , well Bruce Sterling sums up the situation well:

                  “I’ll believe in people settling Mars at about the same time I see people settling the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert is about a thousand times as hospitable as Mars and five hundred times cheaper and easier to reach. Nobody ever writes “Gobi Desert Opera” because, well, it’s just kind of plonkingly obvious that there’s no good reason to go there and live. It’s ugly, it’s inhospitable and there’s no way to make it pay. Mars is just the same, really. We just romanticize it because it’s so hard to reach.”

                  We do have a few solar farms out Gobi way servicing nicer areas but Mars is too far for such shenanigans.

                  So maybe send a robot and if modernity makes it through this rough patch, whatever society that replaces the one we have now can give it a go.

                  • Wayne Blackburn

                    Its not just political will, though that’s probably most if it but the fact is that we really didn’t gain huge benefits from it.

                    Actually, we DID gain huge benefits from it, and the fact that more people don’t know this, I lay at the feet of NASA not being able to promote an ice cream stand in hell.

                    However, I’ll assume that you meant direct benefits, pulled from the Moon itself. Of course we didn’t. We have not sent a full-sized expedition there to try to utilize it. We could easily (in a comparative sense. Naturally, it would not be as easy as boiling eggs) put a million pounds of equipment, supplies, and personnel on the Moon, which, if consisting of the right combination of components would allow them to start mining and construction of many things, from living space to more machinery (maybe have some more difficult-to-make items included to complete the machines), to a railgun launcher capable of sending stuff back to Earth.

                    There are tons of scientific experiments that we already do on the ISS, but which would be done just as easily there, and the space constraints would be far less, so they could be done far more comprehensively. They could build dirigible radio telescopes of enormous size, comparable to the stationary one at Arecibo. Normal, light-gathering telescopes could be built to gigantic sizes, also, without having to try to compensate for air turbulence. There are also things that can be mined, refined, and sent back to Earth, such as Titanium, which is in higher concentrations than here.

                    There’s more, but this is already a long comment.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      Oh, something that came to me when I was writing this comment – That’s another thing we could use to sell a Moon base. Go to labs and universities, and get them to put in for funding to go there and do research that’s very hard to do on Earth, or can simply be done better on the Moon, like the observatories. Tons of experiments that can be done, and done more comprehensively, than on ISS.

                    • Imagine how much safer it would be as a research location. Heck, you could keep smallpox there.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      I thought about mentioning that, but I realized that people would view it as an easy place to do biological weapons research, and would probably pitch a fit.

              • Actually, the answer is “Nobody, as long as none of your family / friends / assets / employees / etc. are physically present on Earth where a government can get to them by means legal and otherwise.”

                That’s what Bitcoin is in the process of finding out: as long as they have to have any form of meatspace servers, etc., some government can and will regulate them. Before that, in the 90s, some chump with the MPAA, when asked what happens if the pirate servers are in jurisdictions that won’t prosecute / extradite, replied with a straight face “That’s why governments have cruise missiles.”

            • The tax man when they come home for more supplies. We need to be able to do things like grow potatoes on Mars to keep the tax man at bay.

            • Space Marines! Troops of whichever power who wants the stuff.

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            Treaties like that mean squat if one nation can go to the Moon and others can’t.

      • We need to make going to the moon and further glamourous. Men will go far and do much to get a [rhymes with] buck. Line up some super-models and Hollywood starlets to “marry” our intrepid Marsonauts (okay — we need a better name than that!) and we’ll have no shortage of volunteers and plenty of guys willing to work like dogs for some of the associated glamour sure to rub off.

        You know something else which Men will go far and do much to earn? Bragging rights in bars. Mint and issue Challenge Coins for all personnel working for the Earth-Mars Project and keep the cretins out of HR.

        In fact, keeping cretins out of HR, middle and senior management might go a long way toward boosting recruiting efforts. “The Earth-Mars Project: Where we’re going we don’t need PC!”

        Maybe we could get Donald Trump to head up the thing in exchange for naming rights of the colony? It’s gonna be yuuuuuuge!

        • It doesn’t need to be glamerous even. I bet there are plenty of people who would go yesterday to get freedom to live their beliefs. Just need a multi-billionaire to convert . . . the sects I’m thinking of don’t seem to be ultra-wealthy.

          • Hmmmm … sects, you say?

            I don’t see the Pope coming out for this anytime soon, and I think we can rule out the Muslims pushing interplanetary exploration.

            Any idea whether this would go over with the Latter Day Saints? I can see numerous ways that such a colony would fit in with the little I know of their beliefs …

            • Mormons in Space! Their missionary year can double as an exploratory year.

            • Maybe not the mainstream LDS, but the polygamist sort. Being quite coldblooded, they have an ongoing problem with too many males born that a hazardous envireonment would provide a solution for.
              Islamic polygamists would have a problem with being able to make aliyah, but the Christian varieties don’t have required pilgrimages to my knowledge. (There are non-LDS Christian polygamists, in fact, if you didn’t know.)

  9. Taking the upper end of your cost estimate (when does such a project ever come in under budget?) and dividing it by the upper end of your time frame (when do such projects ever come in on schedule?) we are realistically looking at $100 billion over 20 years, or about 5 billion annually. That is the figure we ought be looking at, and it might even be possible to raise that through crowd-funding and sponsorship sales … maybe with some matching funds from Treasury, as a million patrons at $60 a year (($5 a month)) doesn’t get us halfway to our goal.)

    The PR apparatus needed to gin up and maintain enthusiasm might entail additional overhead but probably on the order of rounding error.

    Perhaps we should mine the Business Strategems of D. D. Harriman for applicable promotional methods?

    • Just divert all the taxes wasted on Climate Change research. there’s eighty percent of your funding right there.

      Personally, I’d rather get it from investors, but until you lot make me the next multimillionaire breakout writer, I can’t play.

  10. We need a constant velocity space drive, one that will bring the time of transit down to something more acceptable. That new drive based on microwaves in a brass containment might be the one that does the trick, because it looks like it can be scaled up and can give enough thrust to be usable.
    Once that problem is solved, I think we’ll see manned flights to all the planets. Because that will also bring the costs down. Prior to that, I’m not so sure we will.
    Moon colonization is really what we should be focusing on right now, at least IMHO.

  11. The most commercially successful fields of space exploitation have been communications satellites, weather satellites, and earth imaging. Do what those guys did.

  12. Before we start work on a CV drive, maybe we should develop the capability of putting a man in space. We used to be able to do that.

  13. Elon Musk seems to have the right financial idea, which is to commercialize and make profitable the intermediate technologies needed to scale up to a Mars mission. with that approach, the investment cost shrinks and the money responsibly available (in the minds of the shareholders) to the task grows. When the lines cross, the shareholders will fund it. This also reduces the amount of systems testing necessary because you’re running most, if not all, of these systems in production on other missions to make a buck. I see SpaceX running Mars Colonial Transporters to a moon base as an example of this phenomenon.

  14. Just quietly checking in. Because… MARS.

  15. Why go to Mars? We’ve been there, in fact are still there. Telerobotics is an awesome thing ain’t it.
    Other than bragging rights there is really no compelling reason to spend the $100B it would cost for a single manned mission. And keep in mind, that’s not a colony ship by any means. It’s 4 to 6 crew spending a couple years in space with a two week to six month visit on the red planet in the middle depending on the mission scenario chosen.
    Full disclosure, I worked EDS for Ares 5 on the Constellation program. In 2010 our team took a hard look at manned Mars. Our estimate was between 6 and 11 heavy lift launches, assembly in LEO, fast transfer orbit timed for close approach. Lower number was if we could assume nuclear propulsion for the transfer. The two significant issues we found were the medical implications of deep space radiation and zero g on the crew, and the difficulty maintaining cryo fuels for extended periods. Even with nuke you still need cryo fuel capability for safe landing and Mars liftoff. Those are both issues being worked and certainly have potential solutions.
    Will note that a lunar mission with the same crew and cargo capacity takes one heavy lift and one people mover launch with a seven day round trip duration.

    • Even with nuke you still need cryo fuel capability for safe landing and Mars liftoff.

      Nitrogen tetroxide/UDMH fuels for landers? I know they are toxic and corrosive, but we have been using them for rockets for over 50 years and the problems are known and can be easily corrected for.

      • Less efficient, truly nasty stuff to work with, and tends to break down over long periods. What we really need is a miracle fuel as efficient as LOX/H2 that can survive stable and dormant for a year to 18 months then activate and do the job with 100% reliability.

        • I’m still not convinced it wouldn’t be better to go with kerosene and nitrous oxide, and just take the hit on mass fraction.

      • UDMH and N2O4 are a couple of the reasons Titan IIs are not in the AF inventory. One exploded in Arkansas, and one in Kansas ate up the site with gaseous nitric acid. There was also the old silo equipment wearing out, with no replacement parts. Designed for a 7-year life, and had nearly 24 years.

    • What are your thoughts on bob zubrin’s plan?

      • Bob REALLY wants to settle Mars. I get that. Not fundamentally opposed in theory, but as a realist I must accept that it is never going to happen until there is an economical rationale that justifies the enormous initial investment.
        We can do the moon, been there done that, and we can do it much cheaper than Apollo. There are solid reasons for a manned presence there. Once we have a working moon base the asteroids are right next door and easy to get to. 1/6G makes for all sorts of easy access and
        opportunities. And there’s all that lovely raw material and free power for the taking. Make that start to pay off, and eventually establishing a Mars base becomes a given.
        Understand, if we do go to space in any sort of serious and well thought out manner a Mars colony will happen. Push for boots on the ground as a goal in itself and you’ll see the same malaise and loss of enthusiasm as what killed Apollo.

      • I was wondering if anyone had brought Zubrin up yet.

  16. Christopher M. Chupik

    Why Mars? Because humans need frontiers. Freedom dies without a place beyond the horizon.

  17. Marrrrrrrs, me hearties, and a life on the summer briny!

  18. I agree we should go to the Moon to stay first. Not only does it provide a relatively shallow gravity well to use as a stepping stone, but building a permanent, or even semi-permanent, residence on the Moon will teach us a lot about living in austere environments with a much lower risk if something goes wrong. Building a hardened shelter to keep a dozen or so people alive for 4 days is significantly easier than building one that has to last a year or two.

    • And Ceres looks really interesting. Delta-v from the moon to Ceres is pretty much nothing, so the only issue there is life support, and by extension, shielding, but a water jacket combined with high density polymer could do it – no big magnetic shield generator thingees needed.

      I really wish we had more info on Phobos and Deimos. If the internal makeup of one of those is more cometary than rocky, then Katy bar the door.

  19. Sending humans to Mars is the easy. You have two main problems that people just wave away like there’s a magic bullet. (Maybe because much of science fiction is just the geeks version of fantasy romance once it comes to real technology. Hand wave the issues away and we have space travel! Star Trek and Star Wars spoiled you! EE Smith spoiled me! 😛 )

    First is funding. When half the worlds capital is locked up in off shore accounts and a good chunk of the population would be opposed to an expensive boondoggle that is mainly a stunt, it’s going to be hard to get backing. Research the technology and build the spreadsheets. Now multiply that by the graft, padding and overruns and you are look at huge chunks of money. Not to mention the political and social issues that need to be overcome to sell this scam. Convince the RKOI and the huddled masses that it’s something to sacrifice for. I dare you. They don’t need a real Mars mission when they can see Hollywood do it for cheap this weekend.

    Second is that it’s probably a death sentence to those we do send without out better shielding and gravity. To keep people alive and useful will require much more of an investment than the stunts that were Apollo. Read up how lucky we were sending those guys up to the moon in basically foil containers. Robots don’t need food and oxygen. They are exponential cheaper. And if we lose a few computers, we have more. We sigh and move on.

    Maybe someday it will be much more practical. Until then we are just tilting at windmills. So for now we can watch the robots have fun and read the fantasy novels about Mars.

    • And if people don’t tilt at the windmills there won’t be anything but fiction. If someone doesn’t go in a tin foil container and someone else doesn’t go ‘what’s a better way to do this’ we don’t get to spaceships and interstellar travel. If everyone waits until it’s more practical the things that need to be developed and refined don’t get developed and refined… so it never BECOMES more practical.

      Understating the issues is a problem… but OVER stating them is a worse one.

    • The risks of radiation exposure are rather overstated. 1 Sievert is a large amount when compared to day-to-day exposure levels, but it isn’t anywhere near a fatal dose, and the increase in cancer risk isn’t all that great. You’re talking about taking the risk of dying from cancer from 1 in 5 to 1 in 4 or 1 in 3, depending on how long they stayed. And there are a lot of promising cancer treatments on the horizon.

      These dose estimates are based on data taken on the Mars Science Lab, which doesn’t have the kinds of water and air supplies that would be used as shielding. It’s basic science “journalism” sensationalism.

    • As to radiation: Astronauts on the ISS are exposed to everything that a Mars astronaut will be exposed to (maybe a factor of 2 for not having the Earth in the way of the sun half the time), except charged particles. The Earth’s magnetic field deflects energetic charged particles.

      If the lack of a magnetic field is a problem, generating a magnetic field is a solution: It just eats power. At field strengths of 100 gauss, you can deflect MeV particles with gyroradii of ten meters or so.

      We’ve had people living on the ISS for 8 months at a time.

      I’ll need to do some research: I haven’t read a lot in the area. My understanding is that a lot of space radiation risk analysis is based on the concept of linear-no-threshhold. We really only have solid radiation risk data from fatal exposures on the order of nuclear bomb blasts and criticality accidents: Massive grey level exposures. Other estimates for the far smaller exposure rates of things like nuclear fallout or space radiation are made by taking the amount of radiation that kills you if you take it all at once, and dividing by exposure time.

      By that reasoning, a sunburn would be a fatal permanent injury.

      • Spreading it out as if taking X over 1 second means you’ll die with 50% probability, and then saying that if you take X over 10 years, you’ll still die with 50% probability.

  20. Overstating? No, I’m just bring folks back to reality. Non-technical, non-political, non-financial science fiction fans always under estimate the reality that currently is space travel.

    Is Mar possible? Yes. Is it probable in the near future? Well, wish in one hand and shit in the other, tell me which is fuller.

    As much as I would like to see our species get off this planet and truly be able to live elsewhere, I’ve got more of a chance of winning hundreds of millions in a lottery several times in a row than a true non-stunt Mars expedition(s) happening in my lifetime.

    Tell me what plausible chain of events would have to happen for a true semi-permanent Martian science station to be possible. Just the political environment would be fantasy considering our current world “leadership”.

    In the meantime we can all go back to entertaining ourselves with fiction.

    • I am slightly more optimistic than you are, Chris Nelson, but in the main we agree. NASA is a bloated bureaucracy, but it has some very sharp scientists, engineers, and project managers. They would love to put people on mars, and they probably could get people to mars if they were given sufficient resources. There are no easy solutions to the problems of long term exposure to microgravity and radiation.
      Artificial gravity is not a piece of cake. The forces involved are huge, it’s mass x acceleration. NASA has never built a spacecraft that has had to deal with those stresses. Radiation protection means mass. Every kilo of radiation-protecting mass means one kilo less of payload (and, yes, I am aware of clever techniques of using some of the payload as shielding).
      Here is NASA’s _Human Exploration of Mars Design Rederence 5.0_:
      That is the reality NASA is looking at for a mid 2030s mission, if everything goes right. God help the astronauts if one of them gets badly ill or has mental health issues during the mission.
      I’ll say it again: if you want to go to mars, push for economic policies that produce overall economic growth. US GDP was just shy of 15 trillion $ in 2010.. Thanks to the miracle of compound interest, annual growth of 3% for the next century would result in a US GDP of about 240 trillion $. A hundred billion $ really would be a rounding error in the federal budget for 2110.

      • One question about artificial gravity which i haven’t seen addressed (and have no desire to scroll through Google response on) is the issue of just how much do we need? It seems to me that it matters whether humans can manage just fine on 1/6 G or require close to 1 G to remain healthy. For that matter, how often do we need it? Would one hour a day provide “medicinal” quantities? Would twelve? How about six hours building up to 1 G and six tapering back down to 0 G?

        Maybe all we need is one day a week — so far there seems very little exploration on the topic.

        • I believe that NASA/JPL/ESO are looking into the issue of how much exposure to gravity we need to stay healthy. A few years ago I read a paper on the topic by a flight physician. There is a lot of individual variability in the response to microgravity, and the experiments, of course, are hard to perform. A lot of the ISS science is studying human response to microgravity and countermeasures.

    • Tell me a plausible sequence of events that would take us from manned flight to man on the moon in 60 years without the benefit of hind sight. Yet my great-grandfather and many of his generation saw it happen! Yet they were all more likely to win, as you put it hundreds of millions of lotteries several times in a row, than see it happen, but they DID see it happen. In a time span that saw the great depression as well as boom and advancement.

      We can sit here and spin out plausible to semi-plausible ways of getting to Mars. Yes, they all require technological advancement. We’re not talking about tomorrow, or the next day or the next. We’re talking 10 years from now, 20, 30, 40… may be 50 or 60. But we’ve seen it happen before and, frankly, the ‘shut up and get back to work with fiction and quit bothering with the stars’ attitude is what will stop us more than the politicians and the money. Some of us will live to see it. Some won’t. If we don’t our kids will. But if we just quite bothering no one will see it.

      It’s a problem, it has real tangible technological issues. There are avenues out there that are being explored and, frankly may be as close as someone going ‘hey, let’s see if this thing over here works in this other way’. One of the groups researching artificial muscle made one that was of comparable efficiency to top of the line experimental stuff that costs $300 an inch… out of fishing line. Why? Because they had a design they wanted to test and figured if they could get a basic good concept they could then get funding to get the good stuff and make it better. The result? They discovered fishing line in their design worked just as well and cost $3/inch. The article I read said the tinsel strength also had some implications for an actual mechanical battery. I haven’t found any follow up but this sort of thing is happening all the time. Humans go “Hmmm I want to do X but it costs Y and I have Y-Z… but there’s something else over here that I might be able to Jerry rig something that’ll tide me over until I have Y…” and find ways of working around the problems.

      Innovation is happening. I’m in the oil industry. The industry a couple of years ago couldn’t imagine functioning on current per barrel prices because of how difficult some of the places they drill are to get, but the boom lasted long enough that the prices on the equipment and procedures have come down. A lot of the research has been paid off already. Now people are going ‘hey, if we do it X way then it’s better!’ they’re paying more for processing (good for me, since that’s my end of the industry) so they drill fewer holes. Efficiency increases, innovation continues. We don’t see it as much because the media get bored with the really nifty stuff out there and don’t think people are interested. People ARE.

      I do agree that fiction is important. Fiction gives people a ‘well why /can’t/ we do that and get to mars?’ drive. People want to see what’s out there, fiction gives them possibilities and yes, makes them think. Not in the message fiction sense, but in the “I wonder…” and that “I wonder…” and “Well why /can’t/ we figure out this problem?”

      • Finishing the last sentence: and that “I wonder…” and “Well, why /can’t/ we figure out this problem?” are what drive whole generations of exploration, innovation, and invention.

      • to go along with your idea, what plausible sequence of events has us go from barely powered flight to breaking the sound barrier in four decades, and having the power of a supercomputer on a 3″x5″x 1/3″ box on our hip in 30 years? the ubiquity of computing power is something even cyberpunk sci-fi didn’t accurately predict…

        • Wayne Blackburn

          Yeah. SciFi has some handwavium computer stuff (particularly A.I.) that is harder than anyone thought back in the day, but other than that, the writers of the past would look on today’s computers as being completely unbelievable.

          • oh definitely. I mean, real-time photoreal 3d, in stereo, on the aforementioned supercomputer slab that 65% of the population has? unpossible!

  21. William O. B'Livion

    > Someone has to pay for this mission and it will either be the tax payers, investors or a wealthy patron.

    I bet if we could staff B Arc with Gender Studies Majors we could pass around a plate.

    Either that, or make the crew all women and send it post paid.

    You know, because Mars Needs Women!

    • Who has a trillion USD lying around though?

      The Apollo 11 adjusted would cost $150 billion US. A trip to Mars would be much much harder and could very well cost $500 billion US. with overruns and F35 style budgeting it could be higher but going with that, this is half a trillion dollars to send a dozen or so people to Mars in the hopes this spurs interest in Space travel.

      Its a terrible investment and we’d be far better with 50 billion a year over a decade in infrastructure repair and border security. It could employ nearly a million people for a decade. No way does Mars shot give that kind of ROI

      Assuming a ten year cycle this cost seems reasonable enough but only the government has that kind of money and just paying for Medicare, Military and Social Security uses almost every penny we can raise in taxes.

      We already borrow a trillion a year (roughly) and I am not sure anyone wants to borrow for a Mars mission even though in theory we can afford it.

      Also it would require political will which isn’t there, the massive influx of lower IQ , lower impulse control persons and of course SJW’s, Leftists and Vile Progs are hardly the ideal constituency to push Congress for a Mars shot . Its a Libertarian or Nationalist thing

      Instead we need to fix the basics and than the political culture, not to perfect cause there is no perfect but to good enough and when its done, than we have the surplus resources.

      However the US which is culturally if not ethnically turning Latin American is no more up to the task than Mexico at this time.

      After the 2nd civil war and partition maybe on one of the replacement Republics can give it a go around 2050 or so, Heck maybe some us will even be alive.

      Also re: growth, I hate to be “that guy” but it bears repeating there will never be broadly distributed 3% growth again. we can’t grow our way out of any problems,

      I’d argue actual “real” GDP shrinkage is more likely with a faux economy making up the rest.

      That said actually lobbying for the thing, trying to find private solutions and such are all good and I’d like to be proven wrong.

  22. One big way to save on fuel costs to Mars: Aerobraking in the atmosphere once there — stuff the ship into the upper atmosphere, and let nature take its course.

    Of course, I’m biased —

    Yes, he is.

  23. I hate to have to say this, but maybe the ubiquity of science fiction in culture is why we haven’t gone: my eldest said something about blowing up asteroids at supper tonight and was absolutely flabergasted to find out that no, in fact this is not in our current capabilities. Maybe the entertainment media is doing too good a job.

  24. How about crowdfunding? Form a 501c3 or something similar so donations are tax deductible, and those of us who just-plain-folks who believe in the industrialization of space and a few of those billionaires might be able to bring it off. Examining feasibility would at least be worth a SF novel.

  25. Oops! Bad proofing – scratch the first ‘who’. KW

  26. Pingback: Interesting take on going to Mars | Off to the Space Races

  27. Pingback: Filthy Meatbag Bodies On Mars | Transterrestrial Musings

  28. Maybe there’s a good reason it isn’t a priority. Maybe we’re about to go broke from all the mess we’ve made. Or–and this is not an exclusive or–maybe we are about to be in a fight for our lives with implacable enemies who have nuclear weapons and delivery systems.

    • Ah, but if we’d spent our money going to Mars, rather than paying our enemies to GET nuclear weapons….

      • Bjorn Hasseler

        I also wouldn’t mind it if when the space station detects a couple kilos of debris, instead of “all hands to Soyuz capsules”, they could order, “stand by, point defense”.

  29. PPS – If anyone wants to design a magnetic shield:

    When (sparse) charged particles hit a magnetic field, their paths get curved into a spiralling motion about the field lines. If they aren’t trapped, they’ll make a U-turn and had out the other way. If they lose some energy via radiation or collision, they will spiral about the field lines. They can move easily along field lines, but can only move across field lines via collisions.

    The gyroradius for the particles will be m*vperp/q/B. Roughly, if a particle hits with a KE (1/2*mv^2) of E, it’s gyroradius will be r = sqrt(2*E*m)/q/B.

    E – particle KE (J) (1 eV is 1.609E-19 J)
    m – particle mass (kg) (1 amu is 1/6.02E26 kg)
    q – particle charge (C – 1 electron charge is 1.609E-19 C)
    B – magnetic field strength (T – 1 gauss is 1/10000 T)
    r – gyroradius (m)

    If your habitat sits inside the shield further than the gyroradius of the most energetic particles you are trying to screen for, it will be protected. (From charged particles. Uncharged particles sail right on through. However, we already deal with uncharged particles on the ISS.)