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Comment How does he comply with Planetary Protection? (Score 1) 275

The top three places in the solar system that we should not contaminate with Earth microbes, by international agreement are:

* Mars
* Europa
* Encladus.

This means it should be top priority for any Mars mission to show that you will not contaminate it with Earth life. Otherwise that would make study of Mars biology somewhere between hard and impossible. Since we can't totally sterilize any robots yet - they use a target probability of 1 in 10000 of contamination per mission (and in case of Mars that's been turned into guidelines without need to calculate probabilities because we know so little about habitability of Mars so far that the calculation is impossible).

After a hard crash on Mars, of a human habitat with hundreds of trillions of microbes, with the solar storms and ability of many microbes to create resistant dormant states - and many retaining extremophile capabilities - you'd surely declare Mars contaminated after that.

Any detection of life anywhere on Mars, your first guess would be, a colony established from spores spread from the human habitat crash site. And life could grow on Mars - just last year we got clear evidence of "warm seasonal flows" in the equatorial regions (previously found in a few rare spots in higher lattitudes) - and so far the only hypotheses for these are - some form of liquid, probably salty water on the surface.

What is his solution to this? We need to know, so that we can start to evaluate it, and look at it carefully to see if it works, and to find issues with it well in advance of his mission?

Submission + - Terraform Mars with Present Technology? It's Far into Realms of Magical Thought ( 2

Robert Walker writes: Mars One, Elon Musk with Space X, and the US Government all want to colonize Mars eventually, and the idea is of course also a favourite for many of the news stories about Mars. Most of us realize that Mars is a hostile planet for human life, where an unprotected human would die instantly, and the deserts of earth are far more hospitable. Yet, we have the hope that Mars can be terraformed to be more hospitable.

The problem is, terraforming is not likely to be the easy process described in science fiction stories. It would take thousands of years, if it worked, there are many ways it could go wrong, and it involves technology which would also make it possible to solve the energy crisis on Earth, and make it trivial to roll back from global warming. That puts it far into the realms of magical thinking, the idea that if you imagine something vividly enough, it means you can make it come true.

Should our space policies and so many decisions and plans be based on this idea, which has so little grounding in present day technology? Is it at all feasible to commit to a technological project that will take many centuries, and most likely tens of thousands of years to reach fruition? Is this perhaps a case of magical thinking, a human tendency which has lead to many other doomed projects in the past?

This article puts forward the view that Terraforming is an extreme form of magical thinking, and that though it is useful to think about terraforming, and we can learn much from the thought experiment, that to guide our space policy and decisions based on the idea that some day we are sure to terraform Mar is foolish, and means we may miss out on other projects that would give us much better return for less expense. For instance, to explore Mars eventually from orbit using telerobotics — which also takes human explorers to Mars, but for far less cost, greater safety, and without the increased risk of contaminating Mars.

We can leave terraforming to the future, to some time when we have the ability to do things which to us at present seem magical.


(I'm the author of the articles and am interested in slashdot feedback, perhaps it might lead to a lively discussion).

Comment Value of Moon - ice, meteorites, telerobotics (Score 2) 101

I also hope this will be a wake up call for the West. Telerobotics is routinely used for sea bed operations (e.g. titanic), remote surgery e.g. famous case of doctor n US operating on patient in France and so on. With modern equipment on the Moon operating a rover there will be hugely different from experiences in the Apollo era. It will be almost like being there. Also of course hugely different from Mars missions where the time delays mean that normally you download images one day and use it to plan everything for the next day and real time operation from Earth is impossible. Also there is much of interest on the Moon. We know almost nothing about its surface, know more probably about Mars than the Moon, since the only samples we have were collected nearly 50 years ago, and most except for the last mission were collected by jet fighter pilots with a few weeks training in geology, and scientists on Earth couldn't see clearly what they were collecting with the low quality video feed. So there may be many interesting rocks that were missed even in the sites already visited by humans. And they only landed in safe places too. Things we could find are - first - the polar deposits of ice, in the permanently dark craters where you can't see them optically. Know hardly anything about what is there, and it may have layered deposits of ice and organics from the ancient solar system. Meteorites on the surface from billions of years old Earth, Venus and Mars. They should be there, only thing is, are they on the surface, or buried deep so you have to dig to find them. They would be uncontaminated by present day Earth life, so could tell us a lot about early solar system. To find out more about lunar geology of course. And I very much hope, experience of telerobotic operation on the Moon may alert Nasa to the huge difference telerobotic exploration could make on Mars. With all the emphasis on human missions to the surface, the idea of exploring it telerobotically from orbit around Mars gets hardly any attention. Yet, studies show that humans in orbit around Mars could do the same amount of exploration as at least 3 parties on the surface, for of course vastly less cost. It makes no sense at all to send humans to the surface for exploration, no financial sense, because humans on the surface in their clumsy gloves and spacesuits won't be able to do much anyway is going to be much more effective to work via telerobotics. And there is no way human missions to the surface can be sterilized to teh same levels as an unmanned rover, so surely greatly increased risk of contaminating Mars, and so confusing our sensitive experiments which are so sensitive they can e.g. detect a single amino acid in a gram of soil (that's the astrobionibbler, not yet flown but hopefully will on some future mission). Plus DNA seequencers ditto able to detect a single DNA molecule in a sample, and so on.

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