Monday, May 21, 2012

Mars Focus

This article is a good starting point for a discussion of what should be the focus in getting to mars. When you have focus you can actually accomplish things you can't without. But if you focus on the wrong things, that's even worse. So what are the things the articles says we should focus on?
  1. Funding
  2. Keeping humans alive
  3. Cost is unacceptable
  4. Risk is too high
  5. Give us a reason to go
Proposed solution: “Mars Consortium” In other words, more talking without doing. That may sound harsh or unfair, but the fact is people are doing what needs to be done now. What is missing is the realization that we can go very soon and it can be fully funded by a very few private [relatively low] risk takers. Yes, we should be studying the issues; But not just as a academic exercise. We should mitigate risks by focusing on a definite plan and executing it; rather than unending speculation. My turn...

The Focus: mars settlement with individual financial security.

What does that mean? Let's work backwards through the articles focus list.

Give us a reason to go.
Individual financial security is a reason all by itself to go and is entirely possible. I don't see people identifying this as a point of focus but I think it's a damned important one. Then there's Musk's humanity backup. More important is that people would like to go and live there assuming they could see how.

Risk is too high.
What are the steps?
  1. Earth to LEO.
  2. LEO to mars orbit.
  3. Mars orbit to surface.
  4. Live on surface.
I've not heard of anything that would prevent us from doing any of these four (discussion?) Of course, risks should be mitigated. The way you do that is make reasonable assumptions and test them on mars with plenty of backup resources. We know how to keep humans alive. We start by making sure we have the funding for continuous supplies until they don't need them anymore. I'll talk numbers in a moment.

Cost is unacceptable. 
Would it be too harsh to just answer WRONG? Of course they are too high. With activity they will come down. But they are only unacceptable when you don't see how to pay them. Face it. The cost is going to remain high for a while. But we could have the beginning of a civilization on a whole new world for less than $5b. That's a hell of a bargain for 144 million sq. km. of potential private property. ...or 14 Billion hectares.

Keep humans alive.
You do that by self sufficiency (ISRU and an industrial ecology) which requires enough colonists to produce the minimum set of tools and materials for producing all others. Things break and they are going to need to be able to replace those things themselves. They can do that with as little as a few dozen properly trained people, but more is definitely better.

This has been the showstopper that nobody seems to see their way beyond. It is not a show stopper. We can put 4 dozen colonists on mars for much less than $5b. Assuming we don't try to do it just a few at a time. They should go all at once or in no more than two missions to keep the cost per person down. They will need each other for support.

We can keep them fully supplied until they are [quickly] independent for a few $100m a year. So how do we fund it? What does mars have of value? Forget exports. Nothing is valuable enough to export. Martian land has close to zero value today. On earth land is close to zero value in some places as well. Why? Because it hasn't been developed. Once developed, land has value.

Colonists going to mars are risking their own lives. The least we could do is provide them with a lifetime of financial security and the freedom to live their lives. We do that by allowing every individual colonist to claim ownership to a square kilometer of martian real estate. They could then develop over 400 half acre plots for resell to following colonists from their own individual claim. Musk envisions 10,000 colonists in the next few decades. That would do it.

How do the colonists pay for passage to mars? They do not. Instead, for every colonist a transportation company brings to mars, they get a thousand sq. kilometers of land. This land will not immediately pay the cost of transportation, but it certainly will as more people arrive and develop communities. If you knew of some scrub land that was going to have a town in its place. You'd buy it.

Focus on getting the cost down and we will forever be waiting for costs to come down.

Focus on getting people to live in a new community and it will grow while bringing costs down. Always has. Always will.

Update: Falcon 9/Dragon launched successfully at 3:44 AM eastern. The Dragon spacecraft separated and the solar arrays deployed. I missed it by seven minutes... still wiping the sleep out of my eyes.

Update: old news, but new to me... Elon says he'll go into space in 2017.


QuantumG said...

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FrankS said...

I never said "talking without doing", not at all. If you read the context, I spoke about real "field research" and technology developments (real hardware) along with the Mars Consortium idea. And to be clear, the Mars Consortium is nothing like critics are thinking. Our Mars Expo next year in the UK is 80% real hardware and concepts on display to the public/investors and 20% a round table dialogue between the very people who can make a Mars mission happen.

I'm not talking about some useless talkfest where one guy presents his idea and everyone just listens. This consortium deal is about seeing where we can begin, it's about real action. I want to move beyond talking, but to do that we need to find out what the people with money and the people with the engineering experience can/will do. We need solutions, not just endless internet opinions and debates. This event we are planning is one actual concrete step in that direction. Far better than just "talking".

ken_anthony said...

Sorry I missed your comment. Check out my new Steps to Mars page that you inspired.