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Making Humans a Multi-Planetary Species (liebertpub.com)
126 points by arikr on June 17, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 149 comments



Funny how there are people with much more money than Musk, who do absolutely nothing useful with it, but Musk draws criticism for details. Oh, why Mars, why not Moon, or Ceres, or O'Neill cylinders, or lets colonize the Sahara desert first, or lets solve world hunger and poverty (which is a 100% political problem, not technological, BTW) blah, blah, blah, blah...

Musk is doing SOMETHING, at least. The technology that SpaceX develops can and will be used for much more than just Elon's particular vision of Mars colony.


  It is not the critic who counts;
  not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
  or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
  whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
  who strives valiantly; who errs,
  who comes short again and again,
  because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
  but who does actually strive to do the deeds;
  who knows great enthusiasms,
  the great devotions;
  who spends himself in a worthy cause;
  who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
  and who at the worst,
  if he fails,
  at least fails while daring greatly,
  so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizenship_in_a_Republic


This. For about the cost of a NASA rocket testing facility that wasn't even used once [1], these guys built and flew not just the first fully private rocket ever but also an upgraded one that's competitive to the largest launchers currently on the market [2]. Just give these people some money, at least they're spending it efficiently.

[1] http://swampland.time.com/2014/01/08/the-nasa-launchpad-to-n... [2] https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/14379/nasa-cost-es...


> Musk is doing SOMETHING, at least.

Me sitting in a corner and drinking is doing something. Me burning down my house is doing something. Neither actions are productive.

Is Elon doing something productive? With cheap rockets, arguably yes. With colonizing Mars... it's less clear.

> The technology that SpaceX develops can and will be used for much more than just Elon's particular vision of Mars colony.

Like what?

> Oh, why Mars, why not Moon, or Ceres, or O'Neill cylinders, or lets colonize the Sahara desert first, or lets solve world hunger and poverty (which is a 100% political problem, not technological, BTW)

It's hard to solve political problems, because everyone knows how bad people can be. It's easy to dream about solving engineering problems. People have been doing it for millenia. We just build a bigger / better / faster / cooler thing than what we have right now! See? It's easy!

I find it instructive that most of the "pro" arguments are based on dreams and hope. Most of the "con" arguments are "Have you seen how freaking difficult it is?"

Dreams won't feed you in the cold, dark, airless, nights on Mars.


Charles strauss wrote about other cool applications of the Mars rocket booster here:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2016/09/what-els...

And If your reaction to that is "cool, but let's just build it for those reasons", you're missing the point. Mars is basically a platform for tech development and civilization building. In order to survive and thrive out there they are going to have to develop tech that will undoubtedly benefit us at home. Not just in spacecraft but in materials science, biology, computers, you name it.

We wouldnt have GPS, communications, or satellite imagery without the space programs by the time it becomes obvious what benefit it has for us, it will already have been done. Think of what terraforming will teach us about climate change and how to mitigate it's effects on Earth.

This is on top of the reason in which you have a small number of highly educated, highly skilled people allowed to make a new society on a different planet. How much faster do you think they will be able to operate without the ineffiencies of the world today? If a facist religious dictatorship ends up forbidding all technology and destroys the planet and us with it, I'd be glad that we at least have something else continuing the species. In a sense it would actually prevent that scenario from happening because of geopolitics. If your adversary is on a different planet, you better keep up with their tech or they will end up owning you.


So... I said cheap rockets are a good idea, and your best counter-argument is to say "No, cheap rockets are a good idea" ?

> you have a small number of highly educated, highly skilled people allowed to make a new society on a different planet. How much faster do you think they will be able to operate without the ineffiencies of the world today?

How much slower will they work when they don't have quick access to a modern industrial civilization?

> If a facist religious dictatorship ends up forbidding all technology and destroys the planet and us with it, I'd be glad that we at least have something else continuing the species.

I don't really have a rational counter-argument, because that isn't much of a rational position.


My understanding of your position was that we don't need the whole Mars thing in order to accomplish more domestic goals (cheap rockets), and my position is that a Mars program will force us to develop much more advanced tech that will benefit us here than we would have otherwise.

> How much slower will they work when they don't have quick access to a modern industrial civilization?

Give it a couple centuries :) Civilization building is not a short term plan. And the fact that they won't have (easy) access to the rest of the species is part of what will force them to create innovative, home-grown solutions.


> People have been doing it for millenia. We just build a bigger / better / faster / cooler thing than what we have right now! See? It's easy!

You've just described the entire technological progress of humanity. People dreaming about solving engineering problems... and then solving them.


That's a logical fallacy.

People have dreamed about a LOT of things. Probably 99.999% turned out to be bunk. Only a small amount could be turned into something real.


Why is trying to colonize Mars not productive? How do you define productivity?


Spending billions to get a small number of people to a place which will likely kill them is not very productive. Cool, yes. Fulfilling dreams, yes.

And whatever happened to having people support their position with logical arguments? Your comment is largely You need to prove why it isn't a good idea.

No, it doesn't work like that. If you're in favor of society spending billions of dollars on something, it's up to you to demonstrate why that spending is better than the alternatives.

Or, if you're a multi-billionare, spend your own money however you see fit, and don't take advice from random people on the net.

And a side note... these comments seem to be unpopular. I'm not being mean or putting people down. I'm just explaining why Mars is expensive and likely not feaasible.

But there are minimal counter-arguments which address my points. It's much easier to down-vote comments which you don't like, than to engage someone in order to understand why they disagree with you.


It's fine to have unpopular opinions. I'm not bashing on it. The way I see it is, at some point in the future we will have to expand. I don't see any reason why we should not try to at least develop part of the technology now. I understand the argument that, right now, the technology is pretty expensive and we might not get too much out of it. But surely we will have to do it at some point in the future. I think it's nice someone is willing to put the time and effort to at least try. As far as I know, neither of us will have to put a dime into the project. I completely respect your opinion, but it's hard to understand why it is so bad for a guy to spend billions in a technology that will be fundamental in the future.


"It furthers one to have some place to go." - I Ching

(I KNEW we shoulda stayed in Africa. All that travelling to achieve... winter.)


> These comments seem to be unpopular. ... I'm just explaining why Mars is expensive and likely not feaasible.

No you're not. I haven't seen you make any attempt explain such things. You currently have four comments under this post, show me any part of any one of them that makes even the slightest attempt to explain such things.


Sure... saying it is expensive isn't much of an explanation as to why. But the why isn't that difficult to come up with.

I've made more detailed comments on the other Mars story (see my comment history).

But whatever my issues, I'm definitely getting downvoted for saying engineering reality is preferable to pipe dreams.

And the counter-arguments of "but people have dreamed for years!" or "no, YOU have to prove why it's unfeasible" are inappropriate.

Similarly, your attempt to call me out on a pedantic detail, but at the same time ignoring the illogical counter "arguments" really is the new HN. Illogic and group-think are becoming more important than reality-based discussions.


> Sure... saying it is expensive isn't much of an explanation as to why. But the why isn't that difficult to come up with.

You're dodging the issue. You said there was no reason for people to criticize your comments because "I'm just explaining why Mars is expensive and likely not feaasible". I pointed out that that claim was completely false. You say "saying it is expensive isn't much of an explanation as to why" - actually, it's no explanation as to why it is expensive, or why it is "likely not feasible".

Then you say "But the why isn't that difficult to come up with" which has nothing to do with the issue of whether you're claim about what you did in the thread is true or not.

> I'm definitely getting downvoted for saying engineering reality is preferable to pipe dreams.

Even if you're getting some of those downvotes for that, look at how loaded such a statement is. What, again, is your justification for calling it a "pipe dream"? And anyway, pleanty of things that were once called "pipe dreams" have become reality.

Also, it's ridiculous to use "engineering reality" as the benchmark - because unless you believe that there's no progress or evolution in our engineering capabilities, then what is "engineering reality" will not correspond to the reality in 5, 10, 15, 50 or 100 years from now.

> Similarly, your attempt to call me out on a pedantic detail

You made a substantive false claim that all you were doing was "explaining why Mars is expensive and likely not feaasible" and I called you out on it. And it wasn't an "attempt". I called you out and you weren't able to show anything that backs up that claim.


> You made a substantive false claim

<sigh> If you're nit-picking over details, it's definitely the new HN. I've had people attack me vociferously over "back of the envelope" calculations being off by a factor of 2. This isn't really much different.

And what would be your reaction if my previous comment had said "I'm just explaining that Mars is expensive and likely not feasible" instead of why?

Given the level of outrage you're showing, I'll bet you would have had a pretty similar response, as you showed here

The point is that you're not arguing against the "substantive false claim" I made. You're arguing from an emotional position that I said bad things about your dreams. A subject which is emotionally important to you.

> And anyway, pleanty of things that were once called "pipe dreams" have become reality.

And as I said earlier, most pipe dreams haven't become reality. Appealing to "dreams can become reality" is just false logic. People who down-vote counter-arguments, or argue in favor of such statements are just upset that a cynic like me points out most dreams don't become reality.

So... will you admit that your argument is based on nonsense? Or can you only see the speck in someone else's eye, while ignoring the plank in your own eye?

> Also, it's ridiculous to use "engineering reality" as the benchmark

Ah yes, because no one has any idea how to to it today, we will rely on magical technology (i.e. pipe dreams) which will be available in 100 years.

I like hope as much as the next person, but you're pretty much admitting that colonizing Mars is a dream, and isn't based in reality.


It's clear you have no intention of actually engaging with what people have said or playing by the standards of fair argumentation. I'm not going to waste any more of my time trying to engage with you


i.e. I engage with what you've said, admit your point that I mispoke, and point out errors in your position.

Your counter-argument is then "No YOU'RE a bad man! I'm taking my toys and going home".

That's... not convincing. And pretty much proves my point that I've hit an emotional position. One which can't be addressed rationally. And which provokes an irrational response.


> Funny how there are people with much more money than Musk, who do absolutely nothing useful with it, but Musk draws criticism for details.

There are other billionaires​ that do useful stuff. If they grab less attention it's probably because they are less controversial, and probably because what they make more sense.

For instance, the breakthrough starship initiative, to remain in the space exploration domain, is also funded by a billionaire.


probably because what they do makes more sense

More sense than electric vehicles, solar tiles, solar chargers, space transport, etc? OP's point wasn't that there were no other billionaires doing something, but that billionaires exist doing very little to push humanity forward.


There are plenty of billionaires doing those other things, and only one Musk doing his thing. I don't see why we have to make value comparisons either way.


It's also because they are better at PR. Bill Gate is a terrible person but he is managing to make people believe is a saint these days.


What makes Bill Gates a terrible person these days?


This type of questions prove the PR works pretty well.

I mean the guy ran a company that was a pattent troll, that corrupted governments and insulted people live.

Then they created a foundation that only give away a few % of the money, investing the rest, so they can make money with paying less taxes. They were caught blatlanty investing in the weapon industry while promoting peace on earth.

But hey, he is fighting malaria right ?

I got malaria BTW. You know how ? I worked as a charity worker in africa. My first mission was for the Gate foundation through the MVP.

Oh and 45% of the money never reached the project.


> Musk is doing SOMETHING, at least.

If only he was planning on doing that with his own money, I'd be fine with it. People are free to waste their money however they want.

But he can't. He plans on using public funds for this. That's a problem.


He allows for the likely possibility that government(s) will want to be a part of a civilization-altering grand enterprise, but he's not assuming it in his planning (at least, not in the paper here presented). He explicitly addresses costing and funding from private sources.

Not wanting public funds to be spent this way is a perfectly reasonable position — and it is against your government that that assertion must be made, not the private citizen holding the blueprints.


And also there are many, many Americans who support this direction so if some public funds will be used to help, given that money is fungible, GP can imagine their taxes go to something else.


How can you trust the person after the farce called Hyperloop? Have he invested in it financially?

Isn't it pretty clear that these "grand enterprises" are a cheap pr trick to stay relevant and attract more investor money to his other real businesses?

I wouldn't have doubted if he had really followed through the Hyperloop thing. But after that, I wonder how anyone can fall for these things!


The guys tackles among the hardest problems ever and you only see the failures ? The only way to not fuck up massively is to never do anything that matters.


His failure? Has he invested in or attempted to build a prototype for Hyperloop funding it himself? if that is so, I wouldn't be doubting him now, even if he had failed..But I don't think that to be the case....


You have a very narrow notion of failure. You need to fail more in your life. Add a bit of diversity in your screw ups.


>You have a very narrow notion of failure.

I am not sure. You said Hyperloop was one of his failures.

I mean, how can it be a failure, * if he hasn't never attempted to do it * !! ??


You must realize the challenge of something start way, way sooner than when you start building it.

To make a project of this magnitude:

- your PR must be on point;

- you must gather the proper support;

- you must find en entry point to your problem;

- you must decide of a plan for the money in and out.

- you must do ALL that in parallel.

- and then you'll have several other projects working in parallel, and some will be better than others. And you will have to choose. But you must do the same money/power/pr gathering routing for every single one, even the ones you drops.


This community is so fast to say Mars is possible. Mention any problem and it will start with the belief it's solvable and figure out how: "We can do it!"

Mention the idea of lowering the population on Earth to allow more resources per person or consuming less to pollute less and it's "It's against human nature" and "Absolutely impossible" and "Fusion or fission will make that unnecessary, we should grow forever."

I wish people here looked at reducing growth and consumption here -- changing mental models from growth to "enough" -- as something as attainable as terraforming another planet, or even with enthusiasm.


I think that you're missing the point. Your comment implies that you think colonization efforts are solely to solve resource problems on Earth.

The most important point of colonization is that it ensures no single event can wipe out humanity. Rather than encouraging lowering the population of Earth, we want it to increase. The larger Earth's population, the more people who will volunteer to join colonies. We need to spread humanity as far and wide.

As for the attainability of colonization, I expect that it is a matter of time. As is often brought up, it was once thought that flight was unachievable; and now we send out thousands of flights every day.

For now, attempting to harvest near-Earth resources seems to be the best approach to colonization. It requires many of the same advances while providing a strong short-term incentive.


Why is it so important to spread humanity far and wide? And why would it be bad if humans went extinct sometime in the distant future?


I won't attempt to convince you with philosophical arguments, as there are none. Whatever philosophical argument I might make, someone will just counter with nihilism.

The only argument is biological. It's the same reason nihilists continue to live. Survival is an essential trait of all species. Ultimately it can be argued that all of our advances had that purpose in mind.

Spreading humanity far and wide helps to satisfy our need for survival. You might argue that it doesn't affect you, as by the time we colonize other systems you will be long dead. But when you produce offspring, you care less about your own survival than the survival of your offspring. That is to say, your need for survival is transferred to your offspring. As long as they survive, you survive in the form of the genetic material you pass on and the knowledge you have endowed upon them.

Presently, the greatest danger to humanity is self-annihilation. Making the transition to an interstellar species is imperative in order to eliminate this danger.


Well, a person can care about dozens of separate things. It does not take much of a commitment to a thing to have conversations with others interested in the thing or to write about it on the internet. (And over the years, a small commitment to something can grow.)

If you meant to ask, "why should I care . . .," then I hope you will excuse me if I leave that one unanswered.


I suppose I'm asking why should we, in general sense, should care; i.e what is the philosophical argument. I agree human suffering is bad but if we are all to die "instantly" (relative to out overall time in existence as a species) I'm not sure I see the argument for why that would be bad. The other argument I suppose is that the universe itself would somehow suffer if we were not in it, but again I'm not sure I fully understand the rationale.


Maybe this is a little glib, but I've learned to pay less attention to arguments as to why a person should value X or Y and to pay more attention to any information that would help me predict (and when I am feeling bold, to influence) what people (and what groups of people working towards a common goal) actually value, i.e., to what "ultimate" ends are they actually willing to invest sustained effort and to sacrifice. (The purpose of the word "ultimate" in that last sentence is to distinguish between ends or goals that almost everyone has to work towards (which some call "instrumental" goals) and ends that do not have that property (ultimate or "terminal" goals).

For example, at least in the U.S., almost everyone has to put in sustained effort to produce an income and if they fail at that goal then they will struggle to achieve any goal (good or evil). Consequently, in the terminology I've just introduced, ensuring an adequate income would at least where I live constitute an instrumental rather than an ultimate goal. It is people's ultimate goals that I am the most interested learning about.

An internet manifesto with 10,000 signatures tends to matter less -- tends to have less of an effect on reality -- IMHO than a few relatively rational people willing to put in a few hours of effort every month towards an ultimate goal (or some collection of values that includes an ultimate value) as long as they can keep up the effort for long enough. By "effort" I mean effort sufficient to keep a job that many other people want (doled out at a rate of a few hours a month on average).

Also, people underestimate the importance of what (evil) things you (or I) are not willing to do and overestimate the importance of what good outcomes (e.g., curing cancer or ending world hunger) a person or group is aiming to achieve.

In other words, I believe that if the only thing you (or I) accomplish in the world is never doing any harm to any person -- never to steal anything that according to the generally-believed ethical standards of your society rightfully belongs to them, never to lie to them (particular for personal gain) -- then you (or I) will have done more net good than the vast majority of currently living human beings.

Since I started believing those last 2 paragraphs in 1992, however, I've met very few (but not 0 or 1) effective people who agree with them, so I will backtrack somewhat to the position that it is at least worth studying whether what I just asserted is as an important human cognitive bias.


Mention the idea of lowering the population on Earth to allow more resources per person or consuming less to pollute less and it's "It's against human nature" and "Absolutely impossible" and "Fusion or fission will make that unnecessary, we should grow forever."

Eugenics is edgy and the idea deserves an edgy death.

I hate to give a glib dismissal, but what else is there to say on that topic? No one can do it short of becoming the next AI overlord empire. It's like wishing for anti-gravity. It'd be quite convenient, but how?

We've also seen how well China's "one child per family" mandate worked out, so we even have evidence that it doesn't seem to work.

I almost don't want to entertain the question due to the trainwreck of a thread that might ensue, but I've been pleasantly surprised by HN before. I think prompting can make the difference. So:

If we all promise to be very substantive, how might it be possible to implement "population control"?

This is probably the ultimate test of self-control, too. Can intellectualism prevail over the urge to strike down an idea? Let's find out.

You'll need to be very substantive in your response if you're to have any hope of thoughtful conversation, so please don't put in a halfhearted effort into the opportunity of your choosing. Everyone's listening -- what do you propose?


Except we already see negative population growth in all countries with a reasonable standard of living. The USA (and many European countries) would not be growing were it not for immigration. Places with high birth rates are often correlated with a stressful environment like war and extreme poverty. (When you can't be certain how much time you have left to live or how many of your children will survive, it makes sense to have any many children as soon as possible.) Also, the efforts against access to birth control by organizations like the Catholic Church or Texas's "abstinence only education" can unnaturally increase birth rates.

Reducing population growth is the struggle to reduce poverty, war, and oppression against women. We also would need to confront powerful organizations with anti-birth control agendas.


Surely you mean negative change in population growth?


No, I don't. Negative population growth is when the population growth is less than one per person.


The problem with lowering the population is that it would lead to slowing technical progress as well. The fewer humans we have the fewer high-IQ humans are born, the less is advance in science and technology.

One of the major benefits of space colonization is to increase human population so that it produces more high-IQ people that can keep advancing humanity. All that progress in the last 200 years can be attributed to larger amount of high-IQ people born which is a direct consequence of total population growth. Stopping growing population would lead to stagnation in technical progress.


One is something you can do, the other is something you have to prevent everyone from doing...


Going to Mars is desirable, at least to some people. Genocide (and you need that to bring the population down, restricting births is not unless you are willing to wait about sixty years) is very much not.


The worst real estate on Earth is more habitable than the best real estate on Mars.


Copying and pasting from a comment of mine from another thread:

There's some good reasons try colonizing Mars:

* It would be a significant challenge (like going to the Moon was), and (as there is lots of historical evidence for) innovation comes from people working on hard problems. So it would lead to innovations

* It would inspire a generation to be more interested in areas like science and technology (also like with going to the Moon)

* The fresh start of a new planet would provide the opportunity for people to try out new forms of social structure. The founding of the USA is a historical example of this. Broken systems and structures is a big problem on earth right now.

* Ultimately if humanity only exists on a single planet, then it's at great risk of being wiped out by some catastrophe. Getting off earth is important for our future existence.

(A long time ago, I read Robert Zubrin's "The Case for Mars" and I think a lot of these ideas came from that. https://www.amazon.com/Case-Mars-Plan-Settle-Planet/dp/14516...)


> innovation comes from people working on hard problems...

You are saying we don't have enough hard problems here on earth?

> The fresh start of a new planet would provide the opportunity for people to try out new forms of social structure.

Is there any social structure that is proposed to solve our current problems, that we can adopt if we were to start from scratch? I ask, because I am not aware of any such social/economic systems. Even if there is something like that, Why not build a big island and try run this experiments there?

> Ultimately if humanity only exists on a single planet, then it's at great risk of being wiped out by some catastrophe. Getting off earth is important for our future existence....

So be it. This is our home. It has given birth to life and sustained it till now (and it will if we hadn't messed up so badly). So you want to save yourself by getting out while the earth is still getting fucked?

That is like the most ungrateful thing you can do as a species. And if we are doing that, what worth are we really, as a species? We are nothing more that complete imbeciles if we do that.

I am ashamed of being a human from what people are saying in these threads!


> So be it. This is our home. It has given birth to life and sustained it till now (and it will if we hadn't messed up so badly).

Do you still live at home with your parents? Some people grow up and move out. So will humanity if it will be responsible.

> So you want to save yourself by getting out while the earth is still getting fucked?

> That is like the most ungrateful thing you can do as a species. And if we are doing that, what worth are we really, as a species? We are nothing more that complete imbeciles if we do that.

Let me draw a historical parallel. Should the colonists have stayed in Europe and tried to solve their social problems first before moving over the ocean to the Americas?

I agree that we have enough problems on Earth that we wouldn't need to tackle other problems on other celestial bodies. But that's not how our society works. Not everybody has the same influence on the progression of things.

Potential Mars colonists would be able to change things on Mars but unlikely to have any impact on Earth.

And if we really fuck over the ecosphere on Earth, if we have no other place where humans are living in a self-sustaining way then it's game over.

But if we have an autarkic colony outside Earth there is at least a chance that they might come back to Earth to repopulate it with at least some of the life that was lost. With likely exactly that technology that they had to use on Mars first.


>Do you still live at home with your parents? Some people grow up and move out. So will humanity if it will be responsible.

Sure. But imagine you have destroyed your home by your own carelessness. Do you think it is proper to abandon your old home, for a new one. What guarantee is there that you will not mess this new home just as you did with the old one? The idea is that only if you can fix the mess you have caused in the first place, you can be expected to maintain a new home...

>Should the colonists have stayed in Europe and tried to solve their social problems first before moving over the ocean to the Americas?

What did it cost moving over the ocean to Americas? It did took resources that could be used to fix problems in Europe and used it for their journey?

You see, here what being advocated is that massive amounts of money, be spent for a cause that extremely improbably, using a solution that is extremely unlikely to work.

Now this massive amounts of money, could be allocated to implement real solution to real problems we are having right now..


> Sure. But imagine you have destroyed your home by your own carelessness. Do you think it is proper to abandon your old home, for a new one. What guarantee is there that you will not mess this new home just as you did with the old one? The idea is that only if you can fix the mess you have caused in the first place, you can be expected to maintain a new home...

But the problem here is that we are not the only ones that could wreck our home. The next dinosaur asteroid that hits or supervolcano that erupts will take out us and lots of the other higher lifeforms on Earth.

> Now this massive amounts of money, could be allocated to implement real solution to real problems we are having right now..

I agree that this money might be better allocated for project with a shorter time horizon and do also good. Long term, I'm not so sure though.

But I also believe that it probably wouldn't be applied to other projects. Too much money is wasted on senseless stuff, at least in this case, it's going to something that inspires people and has a valuable goal.


> we are not the only ones that could wreck our home. The next dinosaur asteroid that hits or supervolcano that erupts will take out us and lots of the other higher lifeforms on Earth.

Sure, there are all kinds of apocalyptic events. But we don't have to luxury to address them right now. See the following from https://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/sl9/back2.html

>An individual's chance of being killed by a meteorite is small, but the risk increases with the size of the impacting comet or asteroid, with the greatest risk associated with global catastrophes resulting from impacts of objects larger than 1 kilometer. NASA knows of no asteroid or comet currently on a collision course with Earth, so the probability of a major collision is quite small. In fact, as best as we can tell, no large object is likely to strike the Earth any time in the next several hundred years. To be able to better calculate the statistics, astronomers need to detect as many of the near-Earth objects as possible. It's likely that we could identify a threatening near-Earth object large enough to potentially cause catastrophic changes in the Earth's environment, and most astronomers believe that a systematic approach to studying asteroids and comets that pass close to the Earth makes good sense. It's too late for the dinosaurs, but today astonomers are conducting ever-increasing searches to identify all of the larger objects which pose an impact danger to Earth.

So instead of going to mars, isn't it much cheaper and easier to detect and destroy that kinds of asteroids as early as possible?

Look. I like the idea of a backup home. But I don't really think this Elon Musk character is genuine. That his intentions are really taking human beings to mars. Think about what happened with Hyperloop. I would have understood if he had attempted, ie invested in it, attempt to build a prototype, and failed. But no. He just threw some ideas and disappeared from the picture. What do you think about it? Isn't that relavant at all?


You've mentioned the hyper loop thing a few times now, what exactly are you upset about?

He wrote, and had some engineers from his company help write, a proposal for a high speed transit system.

Some companies have been started to try and develop the technology, which to my knowledge Musk is not involved in.

Additionally, SpaceX has already hosted a student competition for hyperloop pods and built a test track for it. By all appearances they seem intent on continuing that.

So what exactly happened to hyperloop, and why does that relevant to a discussion on plans to go to mars?


>what exactly are you upset about?

Upset? I am not upset about anything. If anyone is upset, it seems to be the fanboys who come across people like me ( I mean, My account has gone from 170 to 140 points by participating in these threads. That is a whopping 30 downvotes for being skeptical!)

>So what exactly happened to hyperloop, and why does that relevant to a discussion on plans to go to mars?

I don't know what happened to hyperloop.

My question is simple.

If Elon Musk thought the idea could work, why would not he pursue it himself, or if he is too busy, why not at least fund a prototype (you don't seriously consider the "student competition" to be in the same league, right?) Do you have a straight answer to this question?

> why does that relevant to a discussion on plans to go to mars?

It is not relevant to the idea of going to mars. But it is relevant when considering the credibility of the person who is proposing this idea.


>> why does that relevant to a discussion on plans to go to mars?

>It is not relevant to the idea of going to mars. But it is relevant when considering the credibility of the person who is proposing this idea.

The idea either holds weight or does not.

If there were evidence of Musk, for example, raising money for a hyperloop and then stealing all of it I would say - "don't give this man money, for he will steal it all!" - but I still would not have discussed plans of going to mars.

> I am not upset about anything.

Upset was perhaps a poor choice; what I mean is, what is it about the hyperloop that brings you to raise it as a point so many times. It seems as though you feel something shady or untoward has been done, and I am wondering what that is.

> If Elon Musk thought the idea could work, why would not he pursue it himself, or if he is too busy, why not at least fund a prototype (you don't seriously consider the "student competition" to be in the same league, right?) Do you have a straight answer to this question?

First, why would you even think I should have an answer to this question?

I can think of a few reasons why Musk hasn't done what you think he should have, even though I am unsure what exactly you think he should have done, but in any case I don't know his mind and as such cannot explain his (in)actions.

In any case let's list a couple of arguments

- People can have ideas, even really good ones, and simply tell them to the world and do no more. It would be a poorer world were this not the case.

- Musk might not have the ability to fund it himself, and that is fine.

- He may believe the best way to get the hyperloop into existence is through other companies pursuing it (which is already happening)

- He may believe that the main thing holding back the industry is technical workers, in which case a student competition is well placed to produce more of them.

- He may believe that the main thing holding back the hyperloop is building above ground tunnels with the logistical issues that holds. He is attempting to reduce the cost of building below ground tunnels.

So honestly, what are you trying to argue here? Is it that you can't judge an idea without also judging the actions of anyone associated with that idea? Is it that you can't tell people about an idea without also acting on that idea yourself? Is it that you don't like Musk and you don't want anyone else to like hime either, or perhaps that you don't like the fanboys and wish they would shut up? Maybe it's something else, but in any case I still don't see the relevance to mars.


> what are you trying to argue here?

If you are not clear about my argument even now, I give up. Have a nice day!


Sorry I wasn't clear; I was hoping you had more to add in support of your position.

I believe your argument, to use your words, has been that "this Elon Musk character is [not] genuine" and that "his intentions are [not] really taking human beings to mars". Your reasoning to come to this outcome is "what happened with Hyperloop". After he "threw some ideas" he apparently "disappeared from the picture" and didn't even bother to invest in it by "[attempting] to build a prototype"!!

That is, you have no argument against going to mars, only that you think Musk is not genuine in his intent. Even if Musk dropped the ball on hyperloop (and I am not judging if he has) that doesn't imply that hyperloop is a bad idea.

Furthermore, your argument for why we should mistrust him is because, apparently, having ideas is a bad thing (unless you also spend an appropriate amount of your time and money on all of your ideas).

I think these are deeply flawed arguments, and so I expanded on them further up the chain, in the hope that you might have something more substantial behind them.


>having ideas is a bad thing..

No. Having "ideas" that are solely meant for generating publicity and attract investors money is a bad thing.

>you have no argument against going to mars, only that you think Musk is not genuine in his intent.

I have argument against spending huge amount of money in the name of Mars colonization. I also think Musk is not genuine in his intent, and this "idea" is solely meant to rise his and his companies good will among the technically inclined but gullible crowd (which transforms into more investments) ...

Is it clear now?


Thanks for coming back.

I agree that overselling ideas, with the intent of duping people, is a bad thing. Be it snake oil or a piece of technology that can't actually change the world, there are a lot of ways to mislead people into parting with their cash.

I also think that Musk et al do tend to be overly optimistic about what they can deliver. Falcon Heavy has been 6 months away for a few years now.

I will even agree that not a lot has yet come from hyperloop despite the large amount of playtime the idea got, especially here on HN (unlike all the other ideas that are popular here).

The hyperloop and a mission to mars are both big dreams (of quite different scales though) and they do seem to raise "his and his companies good will among the technically inclined".

The thing is no matter how great those dreams are, when you're chasing the minds of the technically inclined there's nothing more convincing than success. Plenty of people have planned to go to mars, but not many of them have launched a rocket and landed it on a barge. You can go out today and by a fully electric car, and charge it with a solar roof built to look like roof tiles.

Perhaps these successes are just part of a long con though. It's possible that Musk had planned this all out in 2001 when he was first talking about "Mars Oasis", but that seems incredibly unlikely. Whenever Gwynne Shotwell (President/COO SpaceX) has spoken of their mission, mars is there. Every iteration of the rockets has been talked about as the next step to mars. Their plans may be flawed or their funding inadequate, but the actions and words of SpaceX show that they truly are trying to get to mars. Your "gullible crowd" wouldn't be half as excited otherwise.

Put that aside for a second.

Spending a large amount of money just to colonise mars may be a bad idea. From what I can tell so far SpaceX is managing to raise funds to cover R&D costs fairly well, by providing a useful launch service. There is meant to be an announcement about how mars will be funded soon, so I'm waiting to see that. Ideally the bulk of the costs will be born in infrastructure that has commercial uses outside of just going to mars and will be able to pay for themselves, just as the current rockets are funding re-usability research.

Lastly, I'd like to ask what you think Musk's real intent is? Say that he wasn't genuine, that all of this is a ruse, what do you think the end game is? My only real guess here is that by building good will or fervour among clients and potential employees you can sustain higher employee/customer churn rates. The thing is, it seems like customers are genuinely happy with the products they are receiving, be it orbital launches or electric cars etc. and the employees I've heard speak are genuinely excited to be working on the problems they work on.

Musk is doing a great job of aiming for mars, and even if he misses he sure looks like he'll get close.


>not many of them have launched a rocket and landed it on a barge...

Are you saying this was something thought to be impossible before?

>I'd like to ask what you think Musk's real intent is?

Spacex is a space transportation company. Its business is getting things into space. The more it's reach, the better. Right? So ultimately they might get to mars.

It is a business target. But the problem is that it is now being painted as a mission to save humanity. As a business, spacex wants to reach there as soon as possible, but for humanity, there is no urgent need to go to mars or anywhere. And what Musk is doing is creating a boogeyman of a "catastrophe" and generate fear and proclaim himself as a savior that could save us all.

And this generates a lot of good will, which translate to a lot of funding. Imagine asking for funds by saying you want to run a business mining asteroids. It will get a lot less funding than a project to "save humanity. So basically, these funding is based on generated fear, funds that could have put to a better use right here and now....

>Musk is doing a great job of aiming for mars, and even if he misses he sure looks like he'll get close.

Note that aiming for a business of asteroid mining or aiming to get things further into space generally will look a lot like aiming for mars. I mean, they can milk this cow as long as possible, because they are not really promising the investors that they will colonize Mars, right. It is just good will based on their "ambitions". They can discard the colonization idea, just like they did with Hyperloop, and the people will forget it just as easily....


We also don't have the luxury to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Elon Musk is not the only person who could improve the likelihood of us surviving on this planet.

The clue about having a self-sustaining colony on Mars would be that it protects humanity from almost any danger that happens to humanity on Earth.

Even if an asteroid protection system were cheaper, it would only protect from one low probability danger.

But it is likely not to be cheaper, as you would have to install lots of surveillance satellites over the solar system to detect all those small asteroids we can't yet detect from Earth or detecting much too late for anthing to do.

Also, you would need to reach those asteroids quickly enough to do countermeasure (nuking an asteroid a few thousands kilometers from Earth like in the movies either wouldn't work at all or be a stupid thing to do).

Which is technology in the same ballpark as lifting one million people to Mars. Synergistic effects would apply with a thriving private space travel industry.


Are you religious by any chance?


Of course, everyone that does not buy into the myth of the Star Trek future that surely awaits mankind has to be a religious fool.

Perhaps some of us have realised that, like many (now disappeared) past civilizations, our technological civilization is entering a state of decline caused by resource overuse and population overshoot, among other things. It is barely maintained by burning through hundreds of millions of years of solar energy stored as fossil fuels in the span of 200 - 300 years, a behavior that is also wrecking the climate that allowed us to prospere in the first place.

In the face of the severe ecological, energy, food and population crises that await us (and indeed are already here in many places around the world), the Mars fantasy sounds foolish to me. Even a seriously damaged earth biosphere will remain infinitely more hospitable to human life than Mars. Damaged biosphere ≫ no biosphere (aka. Mars, and all other planets of our solar system).


Maybe, not everyone need a religion to tell them what is proper..


That's an engineering problem, not an argument against colonizing Mars.


This is something I wonder about. The colonists will have children. I believe the question "do I want to be in this situation" is an obvious and easy one for 99.999% of the population at least, and therefore one should assume that these children will be incredibly unhappy. And sadly, for good reason.

Those children will be born in a small room, surrounded by metal and aluminum, maybe a blow-up shelter, and will never once in their life leave those surroundings. They will never once breathe fresh air. They will live and die in an area of a total size of perhaps a small football field, divided into minimal rooms (so there'd be as many of them as possible), with minimal energy.

And that's just the beginning. From what we've seen happening to astronauts it is blatantly obvious that you do not want to subject a growing human body to gravity even slightly different from earth surface, to do otherwise will at the very least have serious consequences for their bones. It is likely in the extreme that it'll have extreme medical consequences amounting to serious physical handicaps, even if they are born on the surface of Mars. If they are born in zero gravity, it seems unlikely that they'll ever even see adulthood.

But if they survive, it'll be in a small compound. Metal and stone around them, all the time, everywhere, and not much of it. Accidents will be as lethal as they are on a submarine and therefore they'll require the iron discipline (including the rare to occasional decision to leave someone behind to drown/suffocate when the situation requires it). They will be locked into this situation by physics, with absolutely no way to fix it. Even if terraforming ever works, it will take centuries. Dozens of generations. They won't just be old when things change, they will never live long enough to see children that will set a foot outside. They will see DVDs, and will get the phenomenon we see in the third world. DVD players showing them the vast fjords of Norway. The immense flats in middle America. And let's be realistic here: spending a week in Death Valley will look like an incredibly attractive prospect for them, but even dying of exposure there will be utterly out of reach.

Let's face facts here: these people will have lives that solitary confined prisoners would not trade place with.

We are the ones, along with their parents, who will have "done this" to them. Their parents will be forgiven, as they have made a mistake, listening to the misrepresentations of people like Elon Musk. We, however, "could fix this", with incredibly massive energy expenditure to get a few thousand people back from another planet, and we'll choose not to. Why not ? It'll make the Moon landings look incredibly cheap, hell it'll make WWII look incredibly cheap, and even if we do it, it'll take decades for the transport to actually happen. Even if we choose to have a kid come back, the kid won't be back until (s)he's in their forties at least.

We are probably a decade, maybe 2 or 3 removed from having built "general AI" individuals, who would have no more trouble walking in robot bodies on Mars or Venus than we do on earth. As in, a bit of planning would be required, and you'd do well to have some basic preparations and shelter ready, but failing that will be unpleasant, not deadly, and it would take weeks of exposure and deprivation to kill them. Besides, such individuals would be programs walking around in robot bodies. If they really got into trouble they could just transmit themselves to safety.

Since these will easily colonize the solar system, and humans won't, not now, not ever, even if we manage to get a tiny Mars colony going, why not just wait ? Bots, AIs, cylons, machines, or whatever we choose to call these individuals will far outnumber people on Mars (Given the surface size, a Mars colony should expand to about 6 billion people, but it will take a little under 1500 years to get to that point, so even if we start with 1000 individuals (100 is more likely), machines will start to colonize Mars (and other planets) when there's less than 10k humans)


There are children being born right now in Cambodian garbage dumps, in North Korean gulags, with heroin addictions that immediately turn into withdrawal, to religious nuts that will knowingly give birth to horribly sick children that will suffer for days or weeks without treatment and then die because it's God's will.

Yet it will continue happening, and will happen on Mars as well, because humans are -- quite literally -- born to procreate more humans. Children are also supremely adaptable and some (but not all) will prosper even in the toughest circumstances.


I want to answer to this particular statement about terraforming taking centuries:

>>Even if terraforming ever works, it will take centuries. Dozens of generations.

That's not a stopping criteria, even if it is something to consider. A long trip starts with a single step. If there is no plan to make human interplanetary species, then this safeguard will never ever begin. If there is a plan, sure humans will become interplanetary. Even if that plan is on the scale of decades and centuries.

PS. I do not understand why bots and humans cannot live side by side on Mars. Furthermore, with a huge selections of bots, humans will have access to a lot more space. So they will not be subject to a submarine-like environment.

PSS. It is also a matter of scale. If 100 people move to Mars, their life will be harsh. If 100k people move to Mars, together with selection of bots, their life can be reasonable.


Explorers will recognize the harshness of the universe as a forcing function for bettering ourselves and our species, not a null terminator to sit on Earth and outsource our futures to AI.


Nice write up.

To answer your question at the end, I think it comes down to risk vs reward.

> why not just wait

We can wait, that's an option that's less costly, but more risky.

If something planet-scale happens while we wait on a single planet, the entire species would not make it. If we don't wait and pay the extra price of going to multiple planets sooner, the species has a better chance of survival in the case of such an event.


>If something planet-scale happens while we wait on a single planet, the entire species would not make it

On the other hand, the list of disasters that would leave Earth less inhabitable than Mars without also destroying any Mars colony is pretty rare. If human survival is the primary goal, it might be best to work on perfecting that sort of self contained habitat somewhere in the remote parts of Earth.


Perfecting the habitat is orthogonal to perfecting the means of intra-system travel. Musk is investing in the latter anyway.


> If something planet-scale happens while we wait on a single planet, the entire species would not make it.

I suspect even Musk doesn't believe this. I've never read/heard him talk about our species being wiped out. He usually prefers the much more vague concept of end of our "technological civilization".


He often does speak of humans being wiped out as a reason to colonize Mars.

I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen, in which case being poor or having a disease would be irrelevant, because humanity would be extinct.

I think there are really two fundamental paths. History is going to bifurcate along two directions. One path is we stay on Earth forever, and then there will be some eventual extinction event. I do not have an immediate doomsday prophecy, but eventually, history suggests, there will be some doomsday event. The alternative is to become a space-bearing civilization and a multi-planetary species, which I hope you would agree is the right way to go.

Either we spread Earth to other planets, or we risk going extinct. An extinction event is inevitable and we’re increasingly doing ourselves in.


> eventually, history suggests, there will be some doomsday event

... along the timescale of millions of years. Dinosaurs lived for over 100 million years. What a load of rubbish.


> He usually prefers the much more vague concept of end of our "technological civilization".

That's a reasonable view too, IMO. If our technological civilization suddenly collapses for any reason, most of us here, and double-digit percentage of world population, will die a painful death. The lives of whoever remains won't be pleasant, and the technological civilization probably won't arise again for tens of thousands of years (given how we've used up all easily accessible energy sources).

Life is very resilient. Humanity as we know it is not.


A lot better than children in slums in India or 90% of children in the middle ages.


Or children of pioneers who came to America.


Well, I'm not so sure of that.


Great comment. Regarding machines colonising before us, or in our places, you forget a small but important thing: the visceral human instict to survive and procreate and colonise. We NEED to do it for ourselves, or we will get no pleasure out of it. Not unless these "machines" somehow get so tightly integrated with us that the difference becomes negligible.


Machines are used to get there, anyway. The difference is negligible. My glasses, my car, my dishwashing machine are my property ... unless breaking down or breaking something else. But it's not my smartphone anymore, so you do have a point coming from an unintended direction.


There is one point I do not understand in your criticism: Musk makes it pretty clear that the plan includes a return ticket for anyone going to Mars. It does not seem hard to extend that to any child of colonist that would want to go back to earth.


> you do not want to subject a growing human body to gravity even slightly different from earth surface

> spending a week in Death Valley will look like an incredibly attractive prospect for them, but even dying of exposure [to germs, I suppose] there will be utterly out of reach.


That's true, but the risks are correlated heavily with all the other real estate on earth.


This is a paper version of his talk [0] from International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico on Sept. 27, 2016.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9olSzNOh8s

He teased on Twitter [1,2] that there are major updates coming to the plan, especially around funding the project.

[1] https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/875770056323420160

[2] https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/875913504451985411


I don't get the fascination with this barren gravity well called Mars. Other than scientific curiosity there is nothing there of value that is not 1 billion times more abundant in the belt. I genuinely don't understand why there is this need to be multi-planetery species and not just space-fairing civ? the tech we need for either seems kind of the same to me, but the belt has a much higher return so what am I missing?


> why [...] not just space-fairing civ? the tech we need for either seems kind of the same to me

cstross has a web of old blog posts about the difficulties of spaceships, generation ships

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2009/11/the_myth...

> how simple can you make a minimal self-maintaining interstellar transport system"?

> To a first approximation, the best answer I can come up with is "not very".

Separately from "the tech"

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2009/11/designin...

> If you can crank yourself up to 1% of light-speed, alpha centauri is more than four and a half centuries away at cruising speed.

> We humans are really bad at designing institutions that outlast the life expectancy of a single human being.


I must admit, I don't understand this often repeated notion of "cruising speed" in interstellar space.

To me, it feels like some people think of crossing the void between stars as crossing the the Atlantic in a bottle, trying to blow my mind with how long the crossing will take, even if that bottle is given an absolutely amazing initial throw.

For interstellar travel to make sense, there _must_ be a 'cruising acceleration', not speed. The notion isn't that strange - after all, cruising speed in a ship on earth requires a constant engine power, which in space would mean constant acceleration.

IIRC, a comfortable cruising acceleration of 1G would make it a 4 year trip (6 as experienced by Earth). We just need a whole lot of efficient fuel and an interstellar propeller :P


How do you think a ship is going to power a continuous acceleration? 1G for 4 years is... I don't really know, but it's a heck of a lot of energy even if you've somehow beaten Tsiolkovsy's rocket equation. You don't get to hand-wave this away in a remotely serious conversation. There's also the small problem of the interstellar medium wrecking your hull at high velocity, if you ever get there.


Well, the hull problem is there at 1% or 15% of c or whatever is reached. You don't get to wave how you get to the 1% of c speed away either, so let's not set double standards; interstellar transport for humans _is_ all scifi-land.

IMO, we simply can't get there with chemical rockets as we know them. Continuous acceleration in space is just any kind of engine that keeps running and provides thrust. We're not talking cars here.

The estimation of the energy needed is easy to make sense of - what does it take to have a rocket (or more likely, some other engine) hover over the ground for 4 years using some kind of thrust?

When we have that capability, we can pretty much do non-suicidal interstellar transport. But it requires new technology and for me, that constitutes sci-fi. Doesn't mean a conversation can't be remotely serious though, IMHO.

But the point I actually wanted to make was, that whenever people talk of cruise-speed in interstellar transport, it seems to me like they haven't grasped the scope of interstellar travel with an intent of conquering it. Rather, they are implying it just can't be done - without arguing for it.

The term 'cruise-speed' itself becomes an annoying passive-aggressive attack on the notion of interstellar transport. That was my original reason for posting.


Maybe replace it with "coasting speed" and see if that feels better? It's a valid strategy. We have proposals for drive systems that get to .01c where the physics sort of works. I'm not aware of any realistic proposals that can supply 1g for any length of time. Maybe a ramjet, but last I heard those work better as brakes because, again, interstellar medium. Drag is another reason "cruising speed" might be a coherent concept even under thrust.


You can cheat a bit by making use of laser propulsion[0] to propel a rocket that contains the necessary fuel for deceleration.

To almost completely eliminate fuel requirements in subsequent trips you would bring the self-replicating equipment necessary to scale up the industrial capacity to build an complimentary laser system in the destination star system. This would allow you to propel ships on return voyages and slow down ships coming to the planet.

The downside of course is that you've now built a death laser in each star system that could be used to wreak havoc. But then again in this scenario you've also built self-replicating space bots that can turn asteroids into stuff or planets into asteroids into stuff.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_propulsion


>... that contains the necessary fuel for deceleration.

Is it not possible to plot an interstellar course that utilizes gravity for deceleration?


Wait - didn't Newton say that a body will not accelerate nor change direction unless a force enacts upon it? Once you set an initial velocity in void space with no air, you should never decelerate unless you accelerate in the direction inverse from your motion.


Humans are very fragile to sudden acceleration. Unless we assume really out there, indistinguishable-from-magic tech, manned spaceflight cannot "set an initial velocity" suddenly, nor a sudden breaking at the end. To get to any other star in years, not centuries, the only way to go is to accelerate on the whole first half of the way, and then decelerate on the remaining half.


Yes, that was indeed implied for the line "For interstellar travel to make sense..." to make sense :P

I don't mean to be annoying, but I don't think I understand why you ask?


I think you're mistaking Mars to be an end goal. Much like the Moon exploration missions, it's only an extension of the frontier and another rotation in the humanity progress wheel.

You're absolutely right in terms of absolute financial value the belt is a better bet, but the goal is more of if we can, and starting the effort of spreading humanity beyond Earth permanently.

Mars isn't the end goal. It's just the closest starting point.


I interpreted @humanfromearth as not talking about end goals either: presumably setting up shop on some near earth asteroids is easier than Mars. It is arguably more useful too.

So yeah: I suspect that in 1000 years time when we look back at the history of space colonisation (however the heck it happens) my guess is that Mars will not figure strongly in the story until we are much more advanced than we are now.


Mars isn't the closest starting point. Asteroids are. Some are far closer, and even those in the belt are easier to reach than Mars because you don't need atmospheric braking and a ton of fuel on your return flight just to get back out of the gravity well. And the asteroids provide us with more livable habitats and access to far more resources.


> It's just the closest starting point.

The closest starting point is right here on earth. Are we yet able to make it work here? I don't think so.


We will while preparing for making Moon or Mars work. Actually we already are, though there isn't much effort going into it as it is still driven by non-economic reasons.


Having two planets with launch capability makes resupplying, servicing, and responding to emergencies for eventual facilities in the belt would make logistics across the solar system an order of magnitude easier. Suddenly, you have twice as many launch windows over the course of a year to any given point as well as two 'ports' to return to if something goes seriously wrong.


Launching from the surface of Mars takes a lot less fuel, too. Martian gravity also happens to be high enough for earth manufacturing machinery to mostly work as it does here on earth, meaning that we can mostly reuse the systems we're using today. These two factors combine to make Mars quite ideal for building and launching staggeringly huge space vehicles, habitats, and mining machinery which in turn makes bootstrapping a human presence in the asteroid belt and other locations in the solar system a lot easier than if we were to just start at those destinations.


You have it backwards. Mars is a deep gravity well that adds huge energy costs to both landing and return trips. You don't want to build anything on Mars. Asteroids are much less costly to reach, offer better living environments and far more resources. You want to build out a few asteroids with fuel depots, ship construction/maintenance equipment, and mine cheap extra delta V to spend on mars.


> I don't get the fascination with this barren gravity well called Mars. Other than scientific curiosity there is nothing there of value that is not 1 billion times more abundant in the belt.

Well, it's the very gravity well that's useful. The fact that you'd have lots of solid ground under your feet.

Also, lots of space to use (including underground), stable orbit, lots of potential for expansion.

Sure, resources will be easier to get from the belt (and even easier from near-Earth asteroids). I expect resource-driven space exploration to focus there. But Mars is primarily about alternative habitat.


> Other than scientific curiosity there is nothing there of value that is not 1 billion times more abundant in the belt.

Gravity? Sunlight? Atmosphere acting as radiation shield?


> Atmosphere acting as radiation shield?

Does Mars have much atmosphere to speak of? The figure on Wikipedia is that surface pressure is a measly 0.6% of mean sea level pressure on Earth. And there's no magnetosphere at all.


It's not great. But it's better than spending your time in the interplanetary vacuum.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Radiation_Environment_Exp...


Another thing-- radiation shielding, once installed, has little to no continuing maintenance cost on Mars. Space borne shielding constantly requires additional fuel just to move around.


Asteroids are free space borne shielding.


It's an interesting point. The potential advantage would be if Mars has resources like water and hydrogen that we can use to colonize it which would not be possible in the barren expanse of space. Also radiation and gravity have a rather large effect on human physiology...


It's sexy! It's cool! Space ships! SOLAR FREAKING ROADWAYS!

Oh, wrong thread...

Dreams are nice. Dreams don't feed people.

But they do give people reason for hope. Which is why it's easier to concentrate on "OMFG we colonize Mars!", than the engineering realities of:

* climate change could very well destroy modern human civilization. Fixing that will involve convincing rich, powerful, people that they're wrong. And, spending lots of money which they'd rather spend on pretty toys or lining their pockets

* feeding the planet is easy (from an engineering point of view). Getting the food to people involves dealing with psycho warlords, or corrupt politicians

Etc. etc...

It's easier to dream about "OMFG MARS!" than to go through the decade-long daily grind of fixing problems at home.


He makes two mistakes.

1) Nuckear thermal rockets are proven to be more than twice as efficient as chemical rockets, and he doesn't consider them as options.

2) Asteroids are far more resource rich, provide better living habitats and are immensely cheaper to reach than Mars. Even those in the belt are at least 10 Kilometres/Sec easier to reach than Mars.

Other than those quibbles, a fantastic read.


All of this speculation neglects that 1.Chemical rockets are still absurdly expensive, slow and unreliable. 2a.Terraforming Mars requires megatons of new materials/tools/robots, international/business cooperation(who owns mars?) within the context of "wild west" on Mars. 2b.Creating populated domed stations on Mars is a gimmick and lacks any cost/benefit analysis(a job better dealt with robots). Its equivalent to Antarctic stations without air. 3.People wouldn't move to Mars just because of novelty(which would wear off in a few year), there wouldn't be any tangible advantages(lower gravity=weaker bones,muscles,weak magnetic field=more radiation, less stable/diluted atmosphere) and the cost of moving or traveling to/from mars is high due #1.

In summary money is better spent on developing non-chemical spaceflight first.


A much more practical goal would be to colonize the bottom of the ocean. Not that colonizing the bottom of the ocean would be very practical, just more practical relative to Mars.

The ocean is much more accessible, has life already down there, there is some oxygen, it's not radioactive, and it has a level of gravity that humans evolved to over their entire existence. You'd also be able to get internet access down there. Plus, it's probably much more interesting as there are far more things left to discover down there. Mars is just a super shitty desert. People only want to go there because no one's ever been, but once they go, they won't care anymore.


Colonizing the bottom of the ocean would have many of the same practical benefits of colonizing Mars, as well. It won't save the human race if the entire planet is destroyed, but short of that it offers some protection from most of the other existential threats (disease, nuclear war, asteroid strike).

That being said, it's not clear what would sustain an undersea colony. Only a fully self-sufficient geothermal-powered setup would be properly effective as species-insurance.


Elon's Mars ideas has been a real hot topic on HN recently, and generally on average the most upvoted comments seem to be those deriding his ambitions. I think that's fair. They seem quite bonkers at times. Most of the reasons being that it's "ridiculous", "pointless", "a waste of money", "impossible", and so on and so on. Essentially the overriding HN opinion _seems_ to be that something that sounds for the most part irrational, should never be attempted until we have first completed every single possible "rational" incremental step beforehand, so that eventually we've learnt enough to make the initially irrational idea more plausible and therefore rational. For example, on HN i've seen such steps being "colonising the Sahara Desert", "then colonising the moon" , and so on.

I really disagree with this view as a whole. It's unsustainable and in the end unproductive. It seems ridiculous to say, and maybe a touch over-zealous I admit, but we as humans could still be simple hunter-gatherers like tens of thousands of year ago, if it wasn't for that one guy who everybody laughed at for mixing mud and water and burning it with fire - which initially seems absolutely bonkers - but actually makes clay.

At the end of this ramble is maybe a little sense. Robert Zubrin and similar people love to bash the ISS and the Space Shuttle as complete failures. After all, it _appears_ that they are a step back from the "good old Apollo days", and in some respects that is probably true. But if we didn't try new things, try things that initially seem to have little benefit, then we'd go nowhere, or at least excel much slower.

They called JFK mad for asking the US to go from never having sent a man above a few ten thousand feet to over 1.2 billion feet to the moon in under a decade.

I think we need a fair balance of rationalism and irrationalism (or at least "optimistic ambition") in technology, since sometimes the best things in life come from a witches-brew of the two. We keep the ambition irrational, the math and science rational, as my Professor always said.


Yeah, we'd better start ASAP.

Otherwise "the first woodpecker (asteroid large enough) that came along would destroy civilization."


Whenever the topic of dangerous asteroids comes up, I remind myself how much money was raised to save civilization [1] from such a threat. If that were really a concern for Musk, he could pay for something like this many times over.

[1]. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/help-defend-earth-against...


How many billions of dollars will it cost to start a Mars colony? How many people could be lifted out of poverty here on earth with that same money?

The only thing this project would really achieve is further inflate the ego of a few billionaires.

It's such a messed up system of values. It makes me wonder if humanity is actually worth saving.


Half a trillion dollars is spent every year in advertising to those poor people to buy things. Trillions of dollars were spent on chasing jihadis around the desert for 16 years. There is enough money floating around currently spent on nonsense to achieve both yours and Musk's goals.

And if you do not see the potential for positive externalities created here on Earth by arguably the most ambitious project mankind has ever endeavored to undertake, your aperture on the world is quite narrow.


>your aperture on the world is quite narrow.

May be that is why they can filter out the bullshit....


Historically speaking we are exactly the kind of species that would sacrifice the lives of many to satisfy the lives of a few.


You could say that about most advancements - they started out being laughed at as foolish wastes of money and time.


There have definitely been many more foolish wastes of time that were laughed at than there have been advancements.


> Are we the kind of species that would sacrifice the lives of so many of its own just to satisfy the ego of a few billionaires?

yes


I hope that scientists will soon prove that the universe will end... It might change our system of values if we know for sure that everything we do amounts to nothing.


The plan Elon has set out is for the transportation to mars- and its very impressive. He hasn't made any attempt at a colonization plan, but at least we've got an idea how the transportation might work. Colonization would be a much much harder problem. Every person you send to mars needs food, water, air, heat, and shelter from day one. If they're going to maintain their own habitat then you're talking about mining equipment, metal foundries, glass making, rubber for gaskets, fertilizer, etc etc etc. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that it might take a significant portion of the world GDP to get that set up for a million colonists- a million dollars per colonist seems very low and that's a trillion dollars altogether.


So we can send and support a million people on Mars for the cost of the Iraq war? Obviously affordable for a government or a large enough group of motivated people. It's not going to bankrupt the world by any stretch. Perhaps there are 1 million millionaires in the world willing to pay their own way.

Back in the days of colonizing countries, people did that. Even though their destinations were closer and more habitable, they also had more primitive technology so it was still a massive challenge by today's standards. No fridges, cars, or radio communications. Travel time was several months between countries compared to about a year to get to Mars. I wouldn't say it's obviously unachievable at all.


> Even though their destinations were closer and more habitable

I actually (genuinely) wonder about that those two.

Distance isn't the right metric - it's difficulty of making the journey. Ocean travel is taken for granted these days. In the past it was a lot more difficult and dangerous. How did those difficulties then compare to interplanetary travel today? (I'm genuinely asking).

And similar applies to how habitable the destination was. I remember reading about the initial English colonies in America, and all difficulties they had with things like trying to grow crops. How do those difficulties compare to the difficulties we'd face for Mars? (again, I don't know the answer, but I'm curious as to what it might be).


Kudos, Musk is willing to embarrass himself if necessary in a good cause. Thanks. But I'm not overly fond of the paper.

No mention of asteroids when discussing other destinations, or re refueling. No mention of refueling from lunar sources (oxygen - you could haul hydrogen from Mars or Earth. Plus structural matter, solar cells, soil or even food.) Transporters that actually land on Mars - a la the first lunar return trip plans which landing everything on the moon that would return. It's surely more likely that there will be dedicated Earth-Mars transporters for that distance that don't land at either end. Way more economical.

But others have covered this in more detail:

http://www.science20.com/robert_inventor/case_for_moon_open_...


I hope to read one day "Making Humans Multi-century individuals" one day. Easier to get to Mars when you don't run out of time and die before you get there.


Please append [pdf] to the title.


I can see value in going to visit but the idea of colonization of any extra terrestrial body is foolish.


Visiting and colonization are points on a spectrum.


SpaceX certainly makes interesting marketing publications regarding the colonization of other planets. Unfortunately, that does not change that our species of ape decendents is stripping and destroying its single, most precious planetary habitat, creates great social divides, and behaves in a most unsustainable way. That is one of the major problems for me.

Edit: Why the downvotes? Colonization of different planets will not solve some of our systemic problems.


I think colonizing other planets may be one of the most important means we have for addressing systematic problems on earth:

Populating new places can enable a new start and experimentation with new forms of social organisation. Escape from the momentum of tradition.

This isn't just speculation. We've already seen demonstrations of this, like the founding of the United States and the democratic system they put in place there.

This sort of thing could help us address the sort of problems you mention. Like with the case of the US, successful new ideas can be transplanted back to other places.

Also the fact that in the long term colonization may help with overpopulation on Earth.

(I heard this viewpoint from reading Robert Zubrin's "The Case For Mars" https://www.amazon.com/Case-Mars-Plan-Settle-Planet/dp/14516...)


>a new start and experimentation with new forms of social organisation.

What options do we have? I mean, have anyone really thought up an alternative social/economic system that could work, given the human nature?


If you look at the way economies are currently run, they are, in a lot of ways, at odds with what economists think are the best way to run them (I think this can be easily explained by the fact that often what economists think are good ideas are not politically very popular). A fresh start might enable some of those things to be tested out.

In terms of social organisation, the thing is that we don't really know for sure. You have to do experiments and see how things work. You can't say, before the fact, that it definitely will or won't work. Being able to experiment is really important for progress, but it's really hard to do within established systems.


>in a lot of ways, at odds with what economists think are the best way to run them

Do you have a source for some of these?

> Being able to experiment is really important for progress, but it's really hard to do within established systems.

Sure, that would be a nice side effect, but not part of something that justify something like this...


No single source. Just things I've read and heard over the years. I'd say a major one of those is listening to a lot of episodes of the Planet Money podcast.

An example of what I'm talking about is tariffs.


Many people have, but putting them in practice usually leads to totalitarism.


> Also the fact that in the long term colonization may help with overpopulation on Earth.

the population growth rate in developed countries tends to 0 as sanitary conditions and child survival rates increase, it's even negative in some countries, actually. Do you really think it would be easier to develop industrial nations in a barren wasteland than on earth?


> Do you really think it would be easier to develop industrial nations in a barren wasteland than on earth?

Did I say anything about that?


I can see that we should want to into space, also think it should be on the list of thing to work on now (we are plenty rich enough to tackle other problems in parallel), and trust this paper in its technical aspects (it requires lots of work, but not to the extent that _I_ would say it is unachievable).

However, I think this paper is glaring a bit over the psychological aspects. The crew compartment of the spaceship is 17 meters diameter (max) and, judging from figure 13, about 15 meters high. That's around 3000 cubic meters. A hundred passengers would have about 30 cubic meters each, or the equivalent of a 3 by 4 meter room; less personal space if, as promised, "the crew compartment or the occupant compartment is set up so that you can do zero-gravity games—you can float around. There will be movies, lecture halls, cabins, and a restaurant."

There also would be a fair bit of noise and vibrations, I guess (I didn't read about windows in the spaceship, but I hope there will be, as those likely will be way better, psychologically, than cameras showing the same view)

On top of that, your companions would be self-selected among those wanting to leave earth behind and, I expect, fairly anxious about the future.

So, I seriously doubt "It will be really fun to go. You are going to have a great time!"


It's not going to be a cruise ship. Assuming most of the crew was couples, 10-15 cubic meters is more than enough for two person bed + personal area/storage. Communal bathrooms will work, say 200 cubic meters. Another 100 cubic meters for the control room. That leaves 1200 cubic meters for the cafeteria/rec rooms/group areas. Or one huge 4 meter by 10 meter by 30 meter room.

That should be plenty of room for a few months. I assume most people are just going to pair of up for low gravity swinger's parties in each others rooms anyways.




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