OT - Is this how you build space colonies?

Submitted by Blazefire on April 23rd, 2013 at 12:31 AM

I thought this was a really neat article that might pique interest around here during the dreary dregs of the all-sports off-season.

Applications now being accepted for a one way trip to Mars.

On the face of it, it seems utterly ridiculous. But then, when I think about it, I can't help but wonder if this isn't how mann takes his first steps outside of the earth/moon system? Not with some amazing new technology for fast transport, but rather, with people who fully intend to live out their entire lives at thei destination.

Aside from horrible fatalists and the psychotic, who clearly cannot be allowed to go on such a mission, anyone who agrees to travel one way to another planet is going to require a plan for them to survive once they arrive. "I'd be happy to live out my life on Mars, but I want to live longer than the few months that the water and food supplies will last." so, meet that requirement, and now you've got people living on another world growing their own food, purifying their own water, generating their own oxygen (likely all wthin the same aquaculture facility), who are prepared for the long term.

What do people who are in one place for a long time like to do? Expand! Open up new spaces. Study new things. Build a summer home! And in little time, with a few supply missions from Earth, you've got the equivalent of Martian industry allowing the people that live there to do more than live, but to grow. To procreate, expand their facilities, terraform the soil and create a new human frontier.

It had never really occured to me before that the first steps of human expansion could be both permanent relocations AND not metaphorical one-way trips (meaning you're going there to die). I absolutely love the idea of people traveling within our star system, never to return to earth, not to die, but to LIVE.

Tell me this isn't cool.



April 23rd, 2013 at 12:43 AM ^

There's one big sticking point for me.... How do I watch sports? Is the Internet available so I can stream. Will there be electricity to power my tv and/laptop to watch sports? If I can't watch sports then I'm out.... Well that and I don't want to deal with dantonio recruiting all the neighborhood kids...


April 23rd, 2013 at 2:55 AM ^

yea but we all know things rarely work as planned. What's their plan B is they're unable to grow food etc? I think the timetable for this plan is rather short for such a large task.


April 23rd, 2013 at 3:08 AM ^

The amout of thrust required for such trip is so enormous, you won't be able to carry enough food to last more than a few months at the most (you have to carry enough for a couple of years just for the trip), even if you could make your own water, which is a big if. It is a suicide mission.


April 23rd, 2013 at 1:05 AM ^

I would do this in a heartbeat. Can you imagine the feeling of being one of the first humans to ever step on a different planet? And then live on one?


April 23rd, 2013 at 1:20 AM ^

seriously, i attempted to apply and then they asked for 38 dollars, and then i looked up who i would be paying and then it said img...(international media group) and then i found out they wanted to do Reality show, and then i wanted to be on it more, and then.........i lost interest.

Michigan Arrogance

April 23rd, 2013 at 2:22 AM ^

Bad idea. Don't you remember total recalls sub plot? Martian up rising! Do they get citizenship? With what nation? Can they self govern? Is there corporate governance? Will there be girls with 3 boobs? You know, one on the back- for dancing? There are bigger issues at stake here people


April 23rd, 2013 at 6:06 AM ^

One of my hopes is that I at least see us get as far as Mars in my lifetime, even if just for exploration purposes. As Stephen Hawking said in his "Into The Universe" series, "Humans would be wise to put their eggs into as many baskets as possible". 

As for their requirements, from the sound of the article, being married and a father of two would likely disqualify me, although there are days at work where a one-way trip to Mars would seem comparatively restful. 


April 23rd, 2013 at 7:26 AM ^

No, this is how you build space colonies: 


TL; DR version of the link's article: We could have been building space colonies cheaply and efficiently since the 1960s or 1970s using nuclear-pulse propulsion. Basically, giant ships (small towns) that ride the shock waves of nuclear explosions. We haven't done so because people are afraid (wrongly so, in my opinion - look at the UN/WHO report on Chernobyl if you haven't) of the nuclear environmental issues. That's about it. Without that fear, we could be in a golden age of interplanetary travel right now.

Space Coyote

April 23rd, 2013 at 9:32 AM ^

Yes, to a degree, we could efficiently get there. Nuclear is probably the near future of space travel, especially for manned missions. Electric propulsion has great specific impulse (think along the lines of MPG for space craft) but poor thrust. Chemical has relatively terrible specific impulse, so unless we went full bore it would be completely unrealistic. As a propulsion system, Nuclear is a great mix of both. But other issues are abundant.  Potential solutions such as Nuclear fusion, and further out Quantum Vacuum Plasma thrusters and warp drive (yes, I said warp drive) would be the true revolutions to space travel, whereas nuclear is just a stepping stone as a propulsion system alone.

But that only accounts for getting there, which really isn't even much of an issue compared to biological and psychological factors. Radiation is still an unsolved problem outside of just launching tons of water into space to use as a shield (which is completely unrealistic). Astronauts still sleep at most on the order of 4 hours a night, and sleep deprivation is huge. Other psychological factors studied by the Russians ended up going terribly, including accusations of sexual abuse, violence, etc (couldn't find a source quickly).

So we are still a long ways off from truly being able to approach this issue. The fact that NASA has been sending people to the ISS for so long (people have lived in space for essentially 20 years now, how crazy is that) but such little biological and psychological results have been distributed publically is a real shame. More man hours need to be spent on these issues, but without the results it is difficult for other people to approach the problems. More needs to be done in these regards, not to mention many other things (do you have a centrifuge? Even with all working out astronauts do, way to much bone/muscle loss is still seen; etc).


April 23rd, 2013 at 11:58 AM ^

Nobody said it'd be easy. :) But it would at least be possible. Right now, with chemical drives, it really isn't. 

Warp drive would be fantastic but I don't ever see it happening. Too many physical and engineering issues - like, all of the issues.

Radiation, meh. I look at things like this and think that radiation is an issue that is a much easier problem to solve than propulsion. Seems to be a lot of uncertainty.

Agree that more research needs to be done. And the biological and psychological effects are certainly significant challenges. Hopefully with SpaceX and Orbital, space travel can at least start moving in the right direction.

Space Coyote

April 23rd, 2013 at 2:19 PM ^

At least not until the distant future. Tons of glaring questions are still evident (same can be said with using anti-matter, which some have proposed, when we can barely make any now with massive facilities).

I do think radiation is significantly more of a problem then you are giving it credit for. Scientists in that field seem to be a bit stumped, and whoever figures that out will become a very big name in the space science field.


April 23rd, 2013 at 12:14 PM ^

The technology for a practical nuclear propulsion system was developed back in the 60's under Project Rover.  The NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Applications) was scrapped by a budget conscious Congress weary of the high cost of the Space Race by the early 70's.  From what I understand, the test facilities and hardware is still sitting out in the desert somewhere waiting for someone to pick up where NASA and the US DOE left off.

As for managing radiation, the most practical proposal would be to bury or cover the habitat module with the native soil.  Some have also proposed using the soil to fabricate adobe-style dwellings in which the colonists can reside.  With enough time to build up the necessary infrastructure, Martian soil could even be used to manufacture concrete for even more substantial dwellings.  This is assuming that there is sufficient water accessible beneath the surface to support operations of this type.

Obviously, substantial exploration is required before any kind of a colonization effort could be undertaken, but the practicality of a Mars colony is comprehensible.

The biggest obstacle these days is politics.

Space Coyote

April 23rd, 2013 at 2:22 PM ^

Budget is always going to be a key, if not the key issue. From my understanding, NERVA was very expensive, and I mean very expensive with respect to all space things, and even expensive in regards all the other things that Nixon administration cut.

Also, I think the radiation problem is a bigger issue actually in space, less so on Mars itself (where they could do something like you say). As you said though, main obstacle for everything is politics and money. Any realistic venture to Mars is most likely going to be internationally funded, even if performed by a commercial company.

As far as the facilities in the desert, I'm sure those have long since been moth-balled. Like many of NASA's facilities, at this point it would cost just as much, if not more, to bring those facilities back up to working condition than it would to start over. It's sad (and some would say short-sighted) that NASA hasn't really had the funding to maintain some of their world class facilities that are capable of great things (I'm hoping this isn't seen as too politic, especially seeing as space has rarely been much less of a party issue than a state-to-state issue, if it is, sorry).


April 23rd, 2013 at 7:35 PM ^

Completely agree that the biggest obstacle is politics. NERVA, hm, I don't know. Maybe that would be the best solution - but it's kind of hard to figure it out with politics standing in the way. That is interesting about the test equipment still sitting out there in the desert. Hadn't hear that; I'll have to check it out.


April 23rd, 2013 at 9:17 AM ^

Aerospace engineer here... also, um, I'm living in reality, you should join us...

You MIGHT be overlooking ONE LITTLE detail.  COST.  How much weight are these "little towns" you propose to send up into space?  Considering the water they'll need; food; power; shielding; etc.

Now, multiple that weight times $10,000 PER POUND.  That's the generally-accepted cost from the 1970s to present for launching into LEO.

And you'll result in... oh yeah, something SCREAMINGLY UNAFFORDABLE.

SpaceX (and, I guess after Sunday, Orbital) might say, the cost is now coming closer to $1000 per pound these days.  The Falcon Heavy is going to really depress the per-pound cost next year.  But still... it's not exactly like shipping a package to Tokyo.

Space Coyote

April 23rd, 2013 at 9:30 AM ^

SpaceX and other commercial companies may be able to reduce costs to a degree, but not by an order of magnitude. And God forbid, if something goes terribly wrong, that price is jumping back up. It's a bit said that in 40 years so little developement has been made to launch systems. The "reduction of cost to get to space" has been the leading conclusion for almost all space-based industry (asteroid mining, moon farming, etc) since the space shuttle began (and was the the problem the space shuttle was supposed to, but never did, answer).


April 23rd, 2013 at 9:37 AM ^

I do have some non-public insight into SpaceX's future capabilities... $1000/lb is actually not all that unrealistic.

But your general point is dead on -- the launch transportation technology has not changed one iota, really, in 60 years.  It's what is holding us back.  (It's also what caused Elon Musk to found SpaceX in the first place -- he realized that, to get to Mars, we needed cheaper rockets.)

There needs to be a GAMECHANGER -- some breakthru technology.  I'm not holding my breath waiting for the space elevator folks.  Maybe a laser/maser waverider, or massive electromagnetic railgun, or something else that costs $50 billion to build but then launches at virtually no price per launch so over time the cost gets amortized to something extremely affordable.  But... those things aren't really even on the drawing boards, not seriously at least.


April 23rd, 2013 at 11:37 AM ^

Physicist here, non-ellipsis-using, coherent-thought-writing realty-dweller who actually knows what he's discussing. As a bonus, I don't susbtitute all caps for cogency.

Honestly, you have no clue what you're talking about. Cost/kg is one of the huge advantages of nuclear propulsion. Far lower than chemical propulsion. You're just wrong, dude. Look it up.

(Maybe you didn't even read what I wrote? I'm not talking about chemical rockets, you know. Giving you the benefit of the doubt here.) 

Space Coyote

April 23rd, 2013 at 2:17 PM ^

The propulsion system itself if very light, significantly lighter then a tank full of chemical. let alone three tanks. However, the radiation shield that is thought to be needed is extremely heavy. Obviously, lead isn't a realistic option, as it's way to heavy. The solution most talked about is water, but carrying a bunch of water and surrounding the crew with it is extremely heavy as well. And it's difficult to convince people it can also be used for drinking water.

Now there are those that say the radiation from the sun makes the radiation from the propulsion system nearly insignificant (with a much smaller shield). That doesn't necessarily mean it makes it good enough though. And that's the big issue.

Now the public fear of using nuclear systems in event of a crash are pretty unfounded. They would be contained fairly easily in such a way as they wouldn't react under those circumstances. But that doesn't mean the fear (and therefore political fear) don't exist.

In my opinion, nuclear has a clear future in unmanned missions in the relatively near future (in the cases in which time is a significant factor, otherwise electric is a cheaper and capable, although slower, method of propulsion which is greatly understood and tested). It will take a bit longer to do anything for manned missions.


April 23rd, 2013 at 2:13 PM ^

Basically, giant ships (small towns) that ride the shock waves of nuclear explosions. We haven't done so because people are afraid (wrongly so, in my opinion - look at the UN/WHO report on Chernobyl if you haven't) of the nuclear environmental issues. That's about it.

Well, this, and the fact that Orion's style of nuclear propulsion violates the language of the Partial Test Ban Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty


April 23rd, 2013 at 8:08 PM ^

That's what I was referring to. Most people have no idea that their knee-jerk reaction against nukes - ban them, ban testing them, limit building them, etc. - has had crippling effects on our space program.