But then it gets really stupid. The idea that you'd transport water from asteroids to the surface of Mars is bananas. Mars has enough surface water already. The reason asteroid ice is valuable isn't because it's water, it's because it's not on the surface of a planet. To fly around the solar system you need rocket fuel in space, and launching it off planets is really expensive. Landing asteroid water on a planet that already has water destroys 99% of its market value.
Also the idea that water ice is only useful if you're going to Mars misunderstands why water ice on asteroids is useful in the first place; as fuel for flying around the Solar System more cheaply (or with more mass) than you could if you had to launch all your fuel from Earth. That's useful no matter where you're going.
Anyway, I'm not going to debunk this whole article, but it was basically written by a very uniformed person. Basically the only thing they got right was recognizing that launch costs (not engineering ability per se) is the primary barrier to further space exploration.
"The caps are an average of 2 miles (3 kilometers) thick and, if completely melted, could cover the Martian surface with about 18 feet (5.6 meters) of water."
So, there is actually plenty of water for arbitrarily large colonies. However, I assume people would want large lakes for various reasons.
Equally amazing Asteriod Mining by Mr. Arthur
Body text: after people start colonizing Mars, asteroid miners can sell them water.
It looks like circular hope to me. Hope that asteroidal water will be useful to people on Mars. And hope that there will be people on Mars who will pay for asteroidal water.
At a later point, it may prove feasible to reduce the incidence of solar winds using one or more deflectors at the Sun-Mars L1 point. A cool idea would be to slow down instead of deflecting so the particles would land on Mars and become part of the atmosphere instead of blowing it away.
But this is way past the science-fiction line for now.
Also, sounds fun...
1. Humans can live in space for extended periods (eg the ISS);
2. We have the capability to land something on Mars and take off again, rendezvouzing with an orbiting spacecraft. We did this on the Moon;
3. We have the capability of getting enough fuel and payload into orbit and then sending that to Mars and back. Now this part is tricky because every pound of payload you need has a knock on effect in terms of more fuel needed plus more fuel to carry that fuel. This I think is actually the trickiest part but largely comes down to a function of launch costs.
That all being said, it looks like it'll cost hundreds of billions of dollars and be an active mission for ~2 years. Is it worth it? That's a reasonable question to ask given how many unmanned probes we could send for that same money and what the value is of sending a meat bag to another world.
Now colonization is a whole other beast. My definition of colonization is that the colony is self-sufficient. For this, IMHO we simply don't have the technology. Far from it. Too much of what we rely on is provided "free" by the Earth. Air, water, plants and animals. Resource extraction is ludicrously cheap compared to anything in space or on another world.
But think about the daily things you need: clothes, food, computers, shelter, transport. There's a complex web of dependencies on any one of these things such that a good portion of the world is needed and a pretty significant number of people are required.
Also, does Mars even make sense? It has almost zero atmosphere. I've read that Mercury may in fact make much more sense. For one it'll solve the energy problem (solar on Mercury, anyone?).
Not that living on Mercury is without problems of course.
Landing per se shouldn't be impossible. We landed people on the Moon a long time ago. Recent advances in magnetic shell aerocapture are really exciting and make landing on Mars more feasible. The real question is whether we can learn how to do it in an economic and sustainable way; unlike Apollo.
> It would be better to colonize the moon
I agree with this. Going straight for Mars seems unwise. We should expand slowly out into the Solar System, step by organic step. Even better than the Moon would be Low Earth Orbit. A colony in LEO would have same-day access to Earth in either direction, and would benefit from being inside Earth's magnetic field, which would allow the designers to cut the mass needed for shielding significantly. Big savings.
A LEO colony would be close enough to Earth that people on Earth could teleoperate robots in the colony in real time with minimal lag, allowing it to circumvent the bootstrap question of "Where do people live while it's being built?"
A LEO colony would also have to built using bulk physical resources from the Moon or the Near Earth Asteroids, building up our manufacturing base there, and serving as a "shore leave" destination for people working further up in Geosyncrhonous Orbit or elsewhere Cis-Lunar space.
Once we have a basic torus capable of holding, say, 10,000 people, it could serve as a staging area for venturing deeper into the Solar System, such as Mars. But personally even then, I wouldn't advocate for Mars. After all that work of moving humanity out of a deep gravity well, why climb into a new one? Space is where all the solar energy is, and all the resources of the asteroid belt and the moons are (gravitationally speaking) close at hand.
> It’s a massive waste of resources which could go towards making earth better, where we’re all stuck anyway.
Now here's where I disagree with you.
1. In no way did colonizing Australia or North America prevent England from improving the homeland. You can do both! Heck, Elon Musk is already doing both. The whole point of Tesla/Solar City is to move humanity off fossil fuels.
2. Space colonization can be part of the solution. Imagine industrial processes that have very polluting intermediate steps; they could be done on the Moon where you don't have water or air to worry about polluting. Earth could be cleaned up by exporting those industries to space. The Moon could also serve as a much better repository of high-level nuclear waste than Yucca Mountain.
And of course in the very long term, the Solar System has the energy and material resources to support a human population 10,000x bigger than Earth does. As much solar energy as Earth receives, space receives a lot more. As much iron and PGM and carbon and water as Earth has, space has more. Europa alone is estimated to have 2x as much water as Earth. And so those resources can support more people who have more ideas who solve the very problems you want solved.
In colonial times for example it was common for a woman to go home to Europe to give birth. Will that really be feasible in mars or the moon?
A LEO colony would be a staging point for colonists and ships, but not a ship itself.
Please HN dont change :-D
Getting into Mars is technological problem. Colonizing Mars is more economical and sociological problem than technological problem.
Everyday living in high-tech place where everything is safety critical (like in a nuclear submarine or ISS) is extremely expensive. Productivity would have to be beyond everything that has ever existed for that becoming possibility.
If Elon Musk can crack Mars colonization economy, he has also invented something that can be used to drop F-35 fighter, nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier maintenance costs to level where they are negligible.
There is always counterarguments that are based on post-scarcity economy. I accept that argument. But we get faster into Mars if we first develop post-scarcity economy here on earth first. Then those who want to leave just move there. Those who want to go Mars now are thinking it wrong.
You are correct, mining asteroids would be necessary for colonizing Mars. But mining asteroids would also bring Earth much closer to post-scarcity (maybe even as necessary!).
So if building a private beach on Mars for Musk and Richard Branson and Taylor Swift is what it takes to get an asteroid mining economy rolling, then cool, that's a plan…
Most rare-earth minerals are not really that rare. Mining them on earth will be more cost effective. If we need larger quantities than can be found on surface deep sea mining is still more cost effective than asteroid mining.
Build colonies in free space instead and avoid the time and hassle of terraforming.
But yes, once you've gotten reliable mining operations the pressure will be less. But the novelty will always be in high demand.
But I think you are right about what they colonies will look like. Subterranean for the most part with some farming glass domes on the surface.
With the latter arrangement you have lots of minable resources at hand, only a small delta-v away from you. Ik you are ok with long delivery times, transporting them around doesn't cost you much energy.
Whereas on Mars, everything is much more energy-intensive, both mining raw materials and moving them through your industrial processing chain.
Space-based manufacturing is still an alien concept to us and while it comes with its own challenges, the vacuum and zero-gravity of space offers a lot of advantages too:
Ok, I just read that link. they need to make a space forge that'll fit on a falcon 9.
If you mean "have a presence", we already do.
But as the article implies, mining asteroids for use in space makes a heck of a lot of sense. That's a very different market.
Whether the benefits of asteroid composition outweigh the costs of space mining is complicated and time-/tech-dependent, and cannot be guessed by just noting that in principle there are sufficient atoms in the Earth's crust.
You're implying that the cost of extraction is going up. It's not, it's going down quite steadily because it's tech-limited, not resource limited.
We're basically already doing that for copper.
That's 2500 ppm Cu, significantly higher than the crustal average of 50-100 ppm. If resource concentration isn't important, why don't miners just locate for low-cost infrastructure and extract copper from whatever rocks are close at hand? You could certainly save costs on workers/power/water/transport over going way off into the Andes or the Atacama Desert to extract ore.
Likewise, if resource quality doesn't matter to platinum production, why not do the same for the platinum group metals? Just locate your multi-metal production complex wherever power and labor are cheap. If resource quality is unimportant, China should be a bigger platinum producer than the US or Canada.
As far as I can tell, the only element ever commercially mined from ores of sub-ppm grade was radium. It was also by far the costliest substance ever produced by mining operations. (Some sub-ppm element concentrations may be exploitable when those elements are secondary, as with iridium as a byproduct of primary copper/nickel production.)