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A roadmap to an industrially self-sufficient Mars base in the minimum time (caseyexaustralia.blogspot.com)
62 points by robbiep on May 13, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

> Cuba, North Korea, Australia and Russia all have populations well over 10 million but are entirely dependent on trade to obtain advanced technology such as computers, aircraft, container ships, engines, cars, and so on.

Sorry, but it's hard to take this author seriously when he thinks Russia doesn't manufacture "advanced technologies" such as "aircraft, container ships, engines, cars".

The author seems to forget that Russia (then USSR) was the first to put a man into space, while under an economic blockade ...

And what does it have to do with Mars anyway ? Are we going to take our primitive geopolitical structure that we have on Earth and implement it on Mars too ?

In fact, I think this will be an even tougher challenge than the technological one:

Who owns the equipment sent from Earth, the land, the resources that are being extracted ? Countries/companies/individuals from Earth ? How are they going to enforce that and guard against a revolution ? (Space police, killer robots ?) What if a conflict arises between the colony and Earth ?

Technological challenges - I think we'll figure them out - but these 'soft' aspects - I'm not sure I want all this bullshit to spread around the Solar System thank you.

  How are they going to enforce that and
  guard against a revolution?
So, your telling me you want people to fly to Mars, under oath that they will always pay the rent, pay the tithe, and disavow ownership of the equipment their lives depend on, possibly letting others enable or disable it based on fealty and political alignment?

  Who owns the equipment sent from Earth?
The people riding it to Mars and using it when they land. Anything else is pretty much suicide. When you go to Mars, you might not come back. No one wants a EULA between them and their life support system.

Given the US's history it's interesting to speculate how they might respond to Martian attempts to throw off the colonial yoke!

Russia has semiconductor fabs? And produces biopharmaceuticals?

Angstrem has IC fabs (90 nm and 130 nm) in Russia but they bought the technology from the Germany (paid German company to build the fab).

Russians have designed their own microprocessors but they are manufactured in Taiwan by TSMC.

They even have their own Silicon Valley: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zelenograd#Industries

I believe they do.

That list of 100+ fabs lists just 2 in Russia (in Zelenograd and Voronezh), both operated by Mikron. One was opened in 1959 and operates at >900 nm, and the other operates at >90 nm. (EDIT: as mentioned elsewhere, even this lab was built by Germans with German tech.) For comparison, state-of-the-art facilities are <30 nm, and the US has >60 facilities on that list, which is still much more than Russian on a per capita basis (pop. 321M vs. 144M).

I know nothing about this industry, but looking only at that list it seems very possible to me that Russia is, for all intents and purposes, completely dependent on the global economy for semiconductor fab.

I think the difference is that Russia has the resources to create the factories if they need too, its just a lot easier and cheaper to outsource it.

Sure, but the point of this part of the blog post is that there is a minimum viable sizes for modern industrialized civilization, and it is bigger than Australia (pop. 24M), and probably even Russia (pop. 144M). Russian can't itself manufacture all products it needs simultaneously even if it could do it for any individual product.

Folks in this thread seem to have mistakenly interpreted this as a value judgement about Russia from the author. "Russia is sophisticated enough to produce any of these products!" is a retort to that claim, buts it's completely besides the point.

I believe he meant they cant manufacture all the items he mentioned and rely on trade for some parts.

I know for sure that cars, ships, aircrafts, and rockets are made from raw materials in Russia. I wasn't sure about some computer chips, but this article seems to indicate some are made in Russia as well: http://www.semi.org/en/russia%E2%80%99s-technology-industry-...

Same for Australia.

Though I will say the two car plants that design and build cars from the ground up are both closing.

>> Though I will say the two car plants that design and build cars from the ground up are both closing.

They wouldn't be if Australia was on Mars. This illustrates a point. Low shipping costs are what's killing those plants. High shipping costs are an issue for Mars. They'll have to make their own in almost every case.

We can't rocket, semiconductor or aerospace

Australia used to be one of the world leaders in hypersonic flight research. That doesn't quite equate with Boeing/Airbus, or even Embraer/Bombardier, but suggests similar potential like with Russia.

… because successive conservative governments have cut funding for science, education, and support of technology entrepreneurs. The current government is doubling down on efforts to drive the middle and lower class from education.

Australia could absolutely have advanced industries like aerospace and semiconductor fabs if the regulatory environment wasn't directly hostile to those industries.

I said this before Elon got excited about tunnels. The people of mars will want to create usable space and the best way to do that will be tunnel boring machines. They'll need a way to reinforce and seal them, but with a boring machine they can have people constantly creating new living and working space with a minimum of materials. This will also provide some mining capability should there be any rock of value there.

What will become currency? In other words, how can you use free markets to get people to provide work most efficiently? In software, OSS seems to be the most efficient development model but it lacks payment for the effort. Likewise once people are making stuff, it would be a waste of resources to have multiple competitors making similar things. I suspect not having patents is the quickest way to get efficient production in a low resource environment. A race to the bottom may be OK when everyone starts at the bottom.

Lastly, It seems like a good idea for Mars to have a product or service that is extremely useful to the people of earth. This would allow them to exchange that for continuing shipments of materials they desperately need. An information service would seem to fit the bill, due to zero mass for shipping it back and few resources needed to create it. But what? Engineers could live and work on mars, but not enough to create a shortage of those services on Earth. Is there any use for the time delay inherent in transmission to Mars? For example, with HFT in the stock market, could a more "fair" system be built with transactions taking place on Mars where there is a large latency built into the system? Of course you'd have to keep locals on Mars from trading in that system. With our constant quest for higher speed an low latency it seems wrong to seek a solution that depends of guaranteed long latency. Something like that, of high value that is unique to the situation could go a long way toward preventing abandonment by Earth but I really don't know what that would be.

I don't thing what it takes to build a minimum viable civilization on Mars will be determined until there is one.

Love the tunnels and boring. How good would it be to live in an entire city carved and sculpted into canyons so large they make earths look pathetic.

I think your economic analysis is really overcooking it... we are talking about some wild shit here, we can't even begin to imagine what the system they will create will look like. Although I hope it's like something from the mars trilogy.

This is going to be an entirely science and technology focused outpost of society. Basically cut off from the baggage of earth because of the distance. Initially currency is going to be proper basic units. Maybe energy, hydrogen, oxygen, essentials. And it's going to be an innovation centre because of necessity. Once that place half scales it's going to be outrageous.

How good would it be to live in an entire city carved and sculpted into canyons so large they make earths look pathetic.

Ben Bova's "Welcome to Moon Base" has a lot of content and estimates on this, although not at that scale. It's specific to the moon, so things like low-gravity self-powered flight might not make it into the recreation possibilities of Mars, but as for living underground in huge vaults made of the regolith, it makes an interesting case.


> The people of mars will want to create usable space and the best way to do that will be tunnel boring machines.

Tunnels are a great idea considering Mars has no atmosphere and ozone layer, but TBR strike me as completely overkill and out of proportion, you don't even remotely need >ø10m tunnels for a martian base of operation and should rather model after historical underground cities/shelters like Ouyi/Nushabad, Capadoccia's underground cities (Kaymakli, Derinkuyu) or various catacombs of the Old World.

It's nice to see economic considerations.

For many everyday things we must assume that Mars needs aerospace level reliability and safety. Typically it's assumed that there is at leas factor of ten increase when developing with aerospace standards. So multiply value of everything that can affect health with 10, including housing, fire alarms, ventilation and outdoor gear.

It can't be assumed that settling Mars is preplanned. Every form of manufacturing and every process must constantly adapt and innovate to overcome the obstacles not seen beforehand. This takes lots of time and timelines will slow down. You can't just keep sending up robots in massive amounts. You need to send small batches and refine and constantly adapt them. This requires highly educated manpower.

I's probably hard to find millions of people ready to sentence themselves into very low life standards and lower life expectancy once the hype wears off. There are lots of dreamers cheering who eventually balk or don't survive. How do you get millions of "right stuff" to live the life of constant maintenance. Maybe you need to have cult like sci-fi religion like Mormons :)

"Typically it's assumed that there is at leas factor of ten increase when developing with aerospace standards. "

To my understanding Skunk Works developed e.g. the Blackbird from scratch with much better cost efficiency than a modern greenfield project would if they followed best practices written in stone. I think high quality engineering can be implemented with far less cost if the project allows for iterative development and efficient communication and ownership between stakeholders (e.g. the engineer and the machinist can figure things out on their own instead of rotating everythong through cost and quality control authorities). Ben Rich [0], an ex Skunkworks director laments at length of the inefficiency of bureaucratic style of product development - which is probably an outgrowth of the same phenomena that causes so many bullshit jobs. So, to my mind what things like F-35 cost and what are the intrinsic costs of proper, durable engineering are not entirely related.

[0] Rich, Skunk works

I'm not talking about developing experimental aircraft, I'm talking about manufacturing and maintaining safety critical equipment for everyday use.

If you could order wide body jet without the attached standards, they would be able to build exact replica of the fleet with fraction of the cost.

Same aluminum pieces with random quality inspections is much cheaper than every piece of aluminum checked and tested before installing, plus verifying that it's tested and inspected. Installing that piece would be cheaper if there would be no inspectors for every phase of work doubling or tripling the manpower. Just tightening a bolt is cheap. Tightening it the right amount, cheeking that it has been done correctly etc. are costly.

Astronauts living in ISS periodically inspect every hatch and every safety critical device. Their days are filled with checklists. Things wear down and break and small undetected error can end life.

I'm not disagreeing with anything you say. I just pointed out that it's not obvious what are the necessary costs of durable systems and engineering. As for my example, I think it meets the criterion for a good example. Blackbird was not 'experimental', it was designed as a workhorse and functioned and operated as such.


>* I's probably hard to find millions of people ready to sentence themselves into very low life standards and lower life expectancy once the hype wears off.*

Have you seen how billions of humanity live today? There are always going to be millions of people looking for a better something somewhere. Doesn't mean they will find it

People you send to Mars have to be highly educated and capable of running the most high-tech society in the world. They will be able to find better jobs and better life on Earth.

Engineer living with minimum income on earth gets more free time, travel and swimming opportunities on Earth.

Highly educated Indian/Chinese/African/Russian fight it out at home or roll the dice?

We may be taking the first steps to establishing a permanent undersea colonies 1. I'd like to see that happen before trying permanent outer space colonies.

Establishing a permanent settlement in an area uninhabitable by humans seems like an incredible challenge that humanity has never attempted. It will likely have so many unforeseeable contingencies that are impossible to provide for before we actually try it. If we are going to try something like that, I'd much rather the first time be under the Ocean where there is a relatively easy out if we run into problems rather than in outer space where you're just stuck with no way out.

1. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29031512*

Honest question: assuming all the other technical/economical roadblocks could be solved, how are we supposed to colonize Mars on a long-term basis, as my understanding is that the gravity there will either kill or cause serious health issues for most of the population?

If the low gravity makes peoples' fitness decay over a decade or two, parents can't raise their kids, and in fact kids can't develop either.

What makes you think that 1/3 gravity has long-term health effects? Even zero-gravity health effects are manageable; they of course lead to temporary fragility when you return to full Earth gravity, but that's not really a key issue for a permanent Mars colony.

Providing radiation shielding in an economical and psychologically benign way seems much more challenging.

Zero-gravity (and by extension low-gravity) health effects are manageable, but: for months (so far), and by military-grade athletes with the self-discipline to exercise every single day. This is quite different from: a whole population, and for many decades.

The long-term health effects of low gravity are not a solved issue as far as I know: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-does-spending... https://www.wired.com/2014/02/happens-body-mars/

I asked about gravity and not the (many) other issues because we have at least some hints on how to handle say radiation shielding, however we have no idea how to change gravity if it does indeed prove to be a blocking point for permanent settlements.

First, I don't think the extension of ill-effects to low-gravity is obvious at all. (I.e., no reason to expect this is linear. The benefits of exercise on Earth have greatly diminishing returns, and I expect the same for gravity exposure.) Second, I don't see why we expect ill-effects to go from manageable to unmanageable with normal people. Astronauts on MIR weren't dropping dead before the started the rigorous exercise programs.

By all means, file this under "possible, as-yet unquantified risk". It's certainly conceivable that there is some killer disease the crops up in 1/3 gravity if you don't exercise daily. But right now I don't think we have any data that's inconsistent with the reasonable first guess that normal people will be basically fine in 1/3 gravity. (This maybe just a question of what we mean by "basically". To me, a 10% lowering of life-expectancy is acceptable and expected when colonizing another planet. The trip itself will probably be a few percent chance of death.)

On the other hand, we have fairly large, well-quantified risks for radiation exposure of long-term living on Mars, and we have no obvious way to solve it without huge concrete structures, underground tunneling, or as-yet-uninvented magnetic shields. EDIT: Actually, I retract my claim that this is a bigger worry than low gravity as I am no longer sure. The radiation exposure is less than I thought, and likely reduces life expectancy by less than 5%. https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/1_NAC_HEO_SMD... http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.... http://www.space.com/18753-mars-radiation-manned-mission.htm...

Maybe people could live in large scale Gravitrons.

For tldr the general idea is that we'll need self replicating robots to do the bulk of the work since transportation and human labour is extreme costly.

Every analysis I've seen about the Mars settlement problem follows from the idea that we need to adapt the Martian environment to our needs. Perhaps it is ourselves that need to adapt. Synthetic bodies may be a better long term solution; isolate our nervous system in a compact support module, and connect it via neural interface to xeno-fit bodies.

Ha! Parallel evolution of ideas never ceases to amaze me. Thanks (Have to find that book now).

How would such a settlement meets its energy needs? How do you bootstrap an industrial civilisation without fossil fuels? My guess would be that the time to amortise a solar cell is quite long because of the distance from the sun, and wind is also not very viable because of the thin atmosphere. So that really only leaves nuclear?

From the article:

"Copious and reliable electrical power will be required on Mars, provided most likely by a nuclear fission plant(s) or solar, but is beyond the scope of this discussion."

Problems are defined as beyond the scope of this discussion, therefore this plan has no problems.

Ha thanks. I searched for "energy" to make sure I hadn't missed it, but forgot to check for "power" :-D

Nuclear RTGs are a reasonable solution for power generation in the kW range if you could have a bank of them. The benefits are that they're not particularly radioactive (when enclosed) and they also generate copious amounts of heat as a byproduct. I think one is used in the Martian?


Sure, but I think if we are talking about 10^6 people as the article does, the energy needs will be on the order of several GW at least...

The main thing I'm thinking about is robustness and lack of maintenance. One advantage of RTGs is that you could distribute power wherever it's needed. RTGs are essentially maintenance free (decades) over the lifetime of the fuel.

There are suitcase-sized power plants that NASA have proposed, but I have no idea how feasible they are - or what the maintenance requirements are. I've not been able to find any actual papers on the subject, just the usual gushing science press. Safety seems to be OK, but these are incredibly complicated systems requiring liquid metal cooling (for a start).

I don't know why you would use an RTG instead of conventional fission reactors.

Yea, each A4W reactor on a Nimitz class aircraft carrier can produce on the order of 100MW electricity, and the fuel rods last about 25 years. So if you can scale those down sufficiently (maybe use in situ materials for shielding?), getting to the GW range doesn't seem as far off as I had initially suspected.

Solar works fine. That's probably the first product they should become self sufficient making.

Mars is about 1.5 AUs from the Sun, so light intensity (and solar power) is about (1/1.5)^2 = 44% that of Earth. That doesn't rule out solar power, but it does make alternatives relatively more appealing.

One partial source might be the burning of biomass (e.g. potato leaves and, um, other things).

That compares solar panels in orbit around Mars and Earth. How much do we lose on Earth with our thick atmosphere, ozone layer, and clouds?

I don't think burning anything for energy is going to be an option. Oxygen isn't free.

And batteries, or more generally energy storage.

Nuking Mars' polar ice caps is a good place to start.

It will force greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, which will promote the raising of temperatures and formation of liquid water.

Then maybe people will want to live there- the rest will be history :)

The problem is really the lack of a magnetic field. Even if you manage to increase the atmospheric pressure, ionizing particles strip it away. What you would need to build is a superconducting ring on the equator to generate a artificial magnetic field. Unfortunatly the amount of material required with current superconducting materials (for a magnetic field compared to earth's) is several times the world-production and we don't even know how abundant the materials are on mars. But we can always hope for a breakthrough in super-conductance research.

This has been debunked many times. Even with no magnetic field an atmosphere can last thousands of years.

People already want to live there.

A small minority, sure, but far more than we'll have capacity to send there for a very long time.

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