The Next Frontier?

Ghosts of Mars (HQ-Trailer-2001)

Terraforming Mars review: Turn the “Red Planet” green with this amazing board game (Nate Anderson, Ars Technica)

Terraforming Mars is a board game inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson’s hard sci-fi “Mars trilogy.” Though not endorsed by the author, Sweden’s Jacob Fryxelius has enlisted his family members to produce a science-driven game that is pure homage to Robinson’s classic series; even the players in the manual’s examples are named “Kim,” “Stanley,” and “Robinson.”

The goal is simple: make Mars habitable. Forget Matt Damon as the primitive first “Martian”; Terraforming Mars takes place much further in the future and unfolds over centuries, ending with a green and blue map of a Red Planet covered with cities, vegetation, and oceans.

The result is one of 2016’s real board game surprises. Though buzzed about in the runup to Gen Con, Terraforming Mars had nothing like the hype of Scythe or Seafall. Yet Stronghold Games sold out its stock on the first day, and despite some serious art and component weaknesses, the buzz from those who played the game was red-hot. Terraforming Mars, people said, was flat-out fun.

Elon Musk’s Dream For Colonizing Mars Just Took A Massive Step Forward (June Javelosa, Futurism)

Today, Musk outlined his SpaceX Mars architecture in an attempt to prove that this mission is something that humanity can undertake and complete. He began by noting that going to Mars, becoming a multiplanetary species, is not merely a choice—it is a necessity. “We will stay on Earth forever, and eventually there will be an extinction event…and the alternative is to become a spacefaring and multiplanetary species—That’s what we want.”

The problem is, we don’t have the technological capabilities to get to the Red Planet. “Right now, you cannot go to Mars for infinite money.” To that end, the biggest hurdles that Musk outlined is making our technologies and making them economically viable. He emphasized the need to make moving to Mars the same cost as the median price of a house in the United States. According to Musk, that this the only way to make a truly sustainable society on Mars, as it would ensure that people could actually afford to move there.

Elon Musk Mars mission will send people to die on Red Planet on hope of colonising it (Andrew Griffin, The Independent)

Tech billionaire Elon Musk plans to send people to die on Mars so that his private space company can colonise it, he has said.

The PayPal co-founder’s private space company, SpaceX, intends to stake its claim on the Red Planet and have people living on it within decades, he said at an event announcing his plans for our nearest planet.

The trip will make use of the company’s Mars Vehicle – a specially designed spacecraft built for sending people to other planets. It can carry 100 people to Mars in just 80 days, he said.

Why didn’t Elon Musk mention where colonists will live on Mars? And how will they survive? (Alessandra Potenza and Loren Grush, Verge)

During his hour-long announcement of the SpaceX Mars colonization plan, CEO Elon Musk didn’t say where exactly Martian colonists will live once they arrive on the planet — and how exactly they’ll survive given the harsh environment.

Musk seemed particularly unconcerned about solar radiation. “The radiation thing is often brought up, but it’s not too big of a deal,” he says. There is a “slightly increased risk” of cancer, he says, and there will probably be some sort of shielding. He talked of creating an artificial magnetic field on Mars to deflect high-energy particles, especially to protect colonists from solar flares. But Musk didn’t provide any information of how this magnetic field would be created.

Musk says SpaceX’s goal is to build the transport system, like building the Union Pacific Railroad. “Once that transport system is built,” Musk says, “there’s a tremendous opportunity for anyone who wants to go to Mars and create something new or build the foundations of a new planet.” People will be able to go to the planet and build “anything from iron refineries to the first pizza joint.”

Elon Musk Says SpaceX Is Already Spending ‘Tens Of Millions’ On Spacecraft To Colonize Mars (Alex Knapp, Forbes)

Musk went over quite a few details regarding the spacecraft that SpaceX is developing. The company intends the system to be fully reusable, from the booster rocket to the spacecraft itself, which would make return trips from Mars using fuel produced on the Martian surface. To that end, Musk said the company intends to focus on a mix of methane and oxygen to fuel the spacecraft, since the materials to create more fuel – carbon dioxide and water – exist in relative abundance on Mars.

Another key detail is that to reduce the size of the rocket needed to go to Mars, the primary spacecraft will actually be refilled in Earth orbit before firing its rockets to head to Mars. Musk noted that it wouldn’t be necessary to just send one spacecraft at a time. Since there would be two years in between the best orbital alignments between Earth and Mars to make the journey, there’d be time, he said, to get multiple ships into orbit that could then all leave at the same instant. The average length of the trip, he said, would be between 90 and 120 days.

“The Mars Colonial Fleet would depart en masse,” he said. “Much like Battlestar Galactica.”

How Crazy Is Elon Musk’s Mission to Mars? (Maddie Stone, Gizmodo)

A critical goal of the Red Dragon missions will be to test and refine propulsive landing technology for entering Mars’ atmosphere, descending, and touching down softly. All robotic missions to the surface of Mars so far have relied on parachutes to slow their descent through the atmosphere, but the Dragon-2 is going to be the heaviest human-made object to touch the Red Planet by a wide margin—and that means it’ll need beefier brakes. No doubt, SpaceX intends for the this propulsive braking technology to feed forward into more ambitious, crewed missions to Mars, which, based on some of the details we heard yesterday, will feature spacecraft that are utterly enormous by modern standards.

It isn’t clear how many uncrewed Red Dragon missions SpaceX hopes to fly to Mars, nor is it clear how much these interplanetary test-runs will cost. In July, Jim Reuter, deputy associate administrator for programs in NASA’s space technology mission directorate, told Space Policy News that he estimates SpaceX will be spending some $300 million on the program.

NASA will also be making a contribution to the Red Dragon missions, mainly in the form of engineering consulting, which Reuter has valued at roughly $32 million worth of time over four years. In exchange for advice and communications support during SpaceX’s robotic missions to Mars, the space agency will be privy to precious flight data collected during the Dragon-2’s entry, descent, and landing—data that it will likely need to inform its own strategy for getting boots on the Red Planet’s surface in the 2030s.

Seeking to make Earth expendable is not a good reason to settle other planets (The Economist)

MARS has been much possessed by death. In the late 19th century Percival Lowell, an American astronomer, persuaded much of the public that the red planet was dying of desertification. H.G. Wells, in “The War of the Worlds”, imagined Martian invaders bringing death to Earth; in “The Martian Chronicles” Ray Bradbury pictured humans living among Martian ghosts seeing Earth destroyed in a nuclear spasm. Science was not much cheerier than science fiction: space probes revealed that having once been warmer and wetter, Mars is now cold, cratered and all-but-airless.

Perhaps that is why the dream of taking new life to Mars is such a stirring one. Elon Musk, an entrepreneur, has built a rocket company, SpaceX, from scratch in order to make this dream come true. On September 27th he outlined new plans for rockets that dwarf the Apollo programme’s Saturn V, and for spaceships with room for around 100 passengers that can be refuelled both in orbit and on Mars. Such infrastructure, he says, would eventually allow thousands of settlers to get there for $200,000 each—roughly the median cost of an American house. To deliver such marvels in a decade or so is an order tall enough to reach halfway to orbit itself (see article). But as a vision, its ambition enthralls.

How odd, then, that Mr Musk’s motivation is born in part of a fear as misplaced as it is striking. He portrays a Mars colony as a hedge against Earth-bound extinction. Science-fiction fans have long been familiar with this sort of angst about existential risks—in the 1950s Arthur C. Clarke told them that, confined to Earth “humanity had too many eggs in one rather fragile basket.” Others agree. Stephen Hawking, a noted physicist, is one of those given to such fits of the collywobbles. If humans stick to a single planet, he warns, they will be sitting ducks for a supervirus, a malevolent artificial intelligence or a nuclear war that could finish off the whole lot of them at any time.

You can live in South Dakota.

{Thanks to CK MacLeod and Chris for their contribution of the Economist article and the movie trailer respectively.}.

Feature Image by Trumwill, adapted from the work of Daien Ballard and an image from NASA.


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14 thoughts on “The Next Frontier?

      • Except that all the folks on the ships will be volunteers, and some folks have always wanted to take very hazardous journeys to see what is there. Consider folks who today decided to sail around the world as an example, or the folks on the Lewis and Clarke expedition into what was for white folks an unknown area. As long as the risks are made clear before leaving so the volunteers are able to give informed consent to their participation.

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    • He’s ignoring the serious risk — the “die horribly” bit — if a solar flare happens in transit. I mean enough water will fix it, but the fact that Musk doesn’t even think about it….

      (I mean on the surface? That’s fine. No domes, bury your habitat under a few feet of soil. There, radiation problems minimized. It’s not like you’re growing plants outdoors anyways.)

      His reusability projections are pretty insane (it’d be like Toyota trying to design a car by starting with “let’s assume we have a battery that can drive a car 3000 miles, is only as big as my fist, and recharges in 30 seconds”. Yes, that’d be AWESOME and you could design some freaking cool cars, but um…..let’s get back to that battery there, because it seems pretty pivotal and also the word ‘massive paradigm shift in batteries” comes to mind and really you can’t count on those happening because you need it for a cool car”)

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      • Please don’t laugh:

        On Saturday I was hearing an NPR piece on a program here in Houston where NASA puts (apparently they’ve done this several times already) five people together in a closed environment in isolation from the outside world for thirty days, to study their social response and the psychological reactions to living together, without being able to get out, in anticipation to long haul flights.

        While I was hearing it all I could think of was that Big Brother has been doing this for close to 20 years, on much longer periods -exceeding 90 days in some cases- and why they don’t just go and study in detail the hundreds of thousands of hours of Big Brother video available, instead of being all giggly about their 30 days programs, where candidates came from all backgrounds, but had to be relatively young, physically fit, and ideally a mix of men and women (that is, exactly like Big Brother contestants)

        I guess Big Brother is popular trash TV, and NASA scientists have been trained towards a much higher plane of intellectual sensibility, and watching Big Brother feeds might cause them (the scientists) some spiritual breakdown or something

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        • More seriously, the only difference I heard about between the NASA program and Big Brother, is that NASA participants had daily chores they were supposed to complete as part of the “mission”, whereas in Big Brother, besides the silly comps they have to engage in a couple of times a week, the boredom is the biggest stresser, when they don’t know sometimes if it’s day or night.

          Having said that, if your field of study is the psychology of groups isolated from the outside world stimuli, there’s thousands and thousands of hours of data available, collected in different countries along twenty years, of exactly that. There must be something useful there. It can’t all be trash TV

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        • First off, there’d be a lot of confounding variables.

          Starting with the fact that each person is cast specifically to fill a role and lots of those roles are confrontational. People are also aware they are on TV, and acting to suit that. They’re also playing a competitive game that is personality driven.

          I’m not sure you’d get any useful data at all.

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        • Big brother guests are interacting a lot with the production crew – for instance the diary room scenes are mostly them answering one leading question after another (when they’re not just given the answers)

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