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Comment Re:Inscrutable behaviour (Score 2) 293

He's not "asking" anyone to do anything. It's a simple reality that if there was a mission to Mars coming up shortly and you passed a signup sheet around, and at the top of it was written in large letters "YOU WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY DIE AT SOME POINT DURING THIS TRIP", you'd still get thousands of signatures from people who are utterly thrilled at getting the chance and couldn't give a rat's arse about the risk.

Comment Re: meh (Score 1) 293

I knew there was a reason back in school that my binders all had pictures of sci-fi landscapes on them... it all comes full circle. Mars needs a breading program for colonists to survive... breading requires a binder... binders have pictures of Mars to encourage people to go and support the breading program!

Comment Re:1Million People (Score 2) 440

Is that not exactly what the Mars rovers were supposed to be investigating?

No, the rovers have not been gem prospecting. But the data that they've recovered would be useful for doing so. There's a lot of heavy hydrothermal veining near curiosity for example (primarily gypsum, but it's a good start!). What I wouldn't give to be there with a rover with good range...

Comment Re:Cool, but how does that help anything? (Score 1) 440

I've read some papers on the subject, and it really depends on what sort of mineral you're talking about. Mars lacks or is deficient in, as you note, a lot of the processes on Earth that concentrate ores, making certain types of ores deficient. However, there are some types of ore deposits that it's expected to be rich in. A good example is bolide deposits, like the Sudbury deposit on Earth. There a large impactor created a basin which is rich in nickel, copper, and precious metals. It's not that the precious metals came from the impactor - it's that by liquefying a large chunk of the crust, it allows it to separate out into layers. Mars is struck more often by large bolides and the resulting basins are more slowly eroded, so such deposits are predicted to be notably richer on mars.

A problem with mining on Mars however is... well, mining. Overburden problems are likely to be even worse on Mars than on Earth, and I'm sure you've seen what lengths people go through to get rid of overburden. Doing that with equipment light enough to ship to Mars and keep operating? Anything but an easy task. Now, surely there's some deposits in some places that, with good prospecting effort, are low overburden and easy to mine. But then you hit the other problem which is... not everything is found in the same place, and many things distinctly aren't. And furthermore, once you build in a particular place, you're pretty much locked in there. So how do you get everything from point A to point B? Aircraft can work on Mars, but their payload capacities are terrible compared to their size, and you have to make them very fragile. Over a few hundred kilometers, your best bet is probably "mountain roads", aka you plow aside the rocks and dirt as best you can, and accept that you're going to get low throughput/high maintenance hauling over such bad roads. Over longer distances? Honestly, your best bet (in the foreseeable future) is rockets, as expensive as they are. In the long term you can talk durable cross-planet roads, high speed rail, railguns, etc. But those sorts of things aren't practical in the near term - they represent too much embodied mass, power, and/or and labour.

It's not an easy challenge

Site selection is going to be critical. The goal in the near future shouldn't be 100% independence, because that's not realistic. It should be, "what's the highest percentage of this import mass that we can eliminate?" Pick those low-hanging, high-demand fruits first.

Comment Re:1Million People (Score 1) 440

I'd think that, considering the risks, a single failure in power and all the frozen embryos will die.

A single failure in power that prevents you from keeping even a small cryopump operating, and you have much bigger problems than keeping (replaceable) embryos alive.

There is no "need" to ever send a human male. Whenever you want a local source of sperm, you can send any number of male embryos. But again, from a "maximizing reproduction rate" perspective, there is no need to send men. It's far lower mass / higher capacity to send embryos, by many orders of magnitude. And provides the corresponding orders of magnitude increased genetic diversity, rather than having everyone be siblings.

In practice, of course, travel to Mars will be an equal opportunity endeavour.

Comment Re:Cool, but how does that help anything? (Score 1) 440

Shame about the atmospheric pressure and temperature... I mean, if you're a deep sea fish who likes it HOT, sure. No oxygen, either.

Why do people automatically think of planets as only existing at their surface? Yes, the environment at Venus's surface is hell. But in the cloudtops (specifically the middle cloud layer), it's the closest place in the solar system to Earth outside of Earth. Earthlike gravity, temperature, pressure, sunlight levels, and a radiation shielding equivalent to having several meters of water overhead. Yes, there is some (sparse) sulfuric acid mist, like a bad smog/vog, but then again, skin contact with Martian dust will also burn you (due to its oxidizing salts it's been described as similar to handling lye), and probably a lot faster. You can't breathe either of them, but the water won't boil out of your skin on Venus. It might well be possible (although inadvisable) to be outside in Venus with nothing more than a full face mask; contact dermatitis at those sort of H2SO4 levels will happen eventually, but not quickly. You could actually feel an alien breeze on your skin. In any case, no pressure suit is needed.

Not to mention that normal Earth air is a lifting gas on Venus. Or that H2SO4 is more of a resource than a hindrance (there's no shortage of plastics that tolerate it well, it's easy to adsorb, and it's easy to thermally decompose into water, oxygen, and SO2, as well as being one of the most important industrial acids; most of the other major industrial acids are also available straight from the atmosphere, in lesser quantities)

Access to the surface is more difficult than on Mars, but not impossible. Surface probes thusfar have used what humans would need to use to survive: the simple combination of insulation and thermal inertia. Probes have survived for over 2 hours in that manner, and it's possible to engineer to even greater survival times. These were in the lowlands as well, where the air is hotter and thicker than in the highlands. Soft suits would not be viable; as the environment most resembles deep sea diving, you need hard suits. Hard suits were actually prototyped by NASA for use with Apollo, and worked quite well (they're less restrictive to movement than soft suits); however they went with soft suits because they were lighter. One neat thing about operation near Venus's surface is that flight is very easy. Any manned suit at the surface would almost certainly be paired with a bellows balloon, which is an metallic accordion-like adjustable-lift system (which has already been prototyped and tested in Venus surface conditions)

All of that said, there's not really any good reason to put people on the surface, as you can teleoperate dredges for mining the surface (operated from the cloud deck) without any meaningful delay.

Comment Re:1Million People (Score 5, Interesting) 440

Meh, limited trade with Earth is certainly in the cards; the question of "how limited" depends on a lot of factors, but particularly their return launch costs. Even simple "Martian rock", sold as collectables or decorative stone, in small quantities could fetch tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram. Collectables markets and luxury goods markets ("Oh, the foyer in your palace is granite from Tuscany? How quaint - my foyer is from Mars") are very real things. But one order of magnitude difference in return prices equates to multiple orders of magnitude difference in the size of the market. Likewise, what exactly is available will also affect the value. A brittle sandstone for example isn't going to get the same market for the same price as big chunks of agate. We don't know what all will be found on Mars, but the presence of hydrothermal systems is encouraging; they're associated with quartz, calcite, chalcedony (agate, onyx, etc), zeolites, opal, etc. The jewelry market would be excellent to be able to break into, in terms of the scale versus what they pay per kilogram.

Comment Re:1Million People (Score 1) 440

Honestly, if you wanted to maximize population expansion rate and you were hand-selecting the crew, you'd send 100% female and cryopreserved female embryos. You'd choose women with small stature to maximize how many you can send / keep alive with a give payload mass, and ideally from families/cultures that tend to have large numbers of children starting at a young age.

In practice, of course, there are other factors beyond maximizing reproduction. Particularly if the people going are paying customers rather than people being selected by some external organization.

Comment Re:1Million People (Score 1) 440

Large numbers of manual laborers won't be required due to the large amount of advanced machinery that'll be involved

This trope is unfortunately not reality. Do we have large numbers of advanced machinery doing all of our work for us here on Earth where it's far easier to build and test them and deliver them to consumers in bulk? We only use these billion dollar robots so heavily in space exploration because we don't have people there. These general-purpose, teleoperated robots have extremely low throughput - and would have improved-but-still-low throughput even if operated locally by the absurdly-expensive local labour (expensive because their consumables are so expensive). We only put up with the tiny throughput from general-purpose robots because it's so long between launches; there's no lives hanging in the balance. And if you want higher throughput, specialist robots (as are used extensively in industry on Earth), sure, you can make and deliver those too - each one at great expense, and you need one for each task, working within tightly controlled parameters.

If you have people locally, you're not going to spend billions engineering and delivering robots for them, you're going to use them as your labour. Is ISS teeming with robots doing all of their work for them? No, the astronauts are glorified construction workers and lab techs. When you have hands in space, they're your best option - regardless of whether it would have been cheaper not to send humans at all.

Comment Re:Cool, but how does that help anything? (Score 2) 440

Despite how Elon phrased it, "water" isn't abundant on Mars. Rock-hard, gritty, perchlorate-contaminated, hexavalent chromium-contaminated clay-brine permafrost ? Yes. "Water"? No.

Mining isn't an easy thing even here on Earth - a maintenance-prone task that runs through lots of consumables - let alone on Mars where you have to choose between horrible throughput for remote operation, or local operation with astronomical local labour costs. A number of Mars in-situ proposals have outright done away with the water side of the equation, opting to harvest CO2 from the atmosphere locally (splitting to CO and O2 in a SOFC, like MOXIE on Mars 2020), but shipping in the hydrogen to avoid the need for mining. Most of the mass of fuels like methane is the carbon, not the hydrogen.

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