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Elon Musk says he will put millions of people on Mars (nextbigfuture.com)
200 points by mjfern 852 days ago | comments


cstross 852 days ago | link

Factual error: Falcon Heavy is not the biggest rocket to fly since the Saturn V -- that category includes both the US Space Transportation System (Space Shuttle) and the Soviet Energiya/Polyus and Energiya/Buran stacks.

Falcon Heavy's payload exceeds those carried within the Space Shuttle (or Buran) payload bays, but if you include the orbiter vehicle itself in the payload either shuttle had a bigger payload into LEO. And Energiya in launch vehicle configuration (as when it was used to launch Polyus) carried nearly the same payload as the Saturn V.

(I hate these overblown claims. Why not just stick at saying "Falcon Heavy has the biggest payload of any commercial launch vehicle, ever" and leave it at that?)

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johno215 852 days ago | link

Edit: Never mind. wolf550e and cstross are right. If Falcon Heavy flies it will be the 3rd largest rocket (in terms of payload) that has ever flown behind the Saturn V and the Energia.

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I think you're being a little nit-picky. "Largest" is not exactly a precise term but would generally apply to length and width; not exactly the best way to classify launch vehicles.

Payload capability is the important attribute of a launch vehicle and is generally how vehicles are ranked. Using the word "large" for payload capability may not be precise but it is not factually incorrect.

Payload capabilities:

Ares V: 160 metric tons (cancelled)

SLS (Smaller Ares V): 130 metric tons (in development)

Saturn V: 125 metric tons (retired)

Energia: 100 metric tons (retired - one successful flight)

Falcon Heavy: 54 metric tons (in development)

Space Shuttle: 24 metric tons (retired)

Delta IV Heavy: 22 metric tons (in operation)

Proton Rocket: 21 metric tons (in operation)

The Falcon Heavy may end up being the most capable launch vehicle in operations if the re-incarnated Ares V vehicle (SLS) NASA is developing gets canceled again.

(added Energia)

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cstross 852 days ago | link

You missed:

Energiya: 100 metric tons (retired)

Ariane V ES: 21 metric tons (in operation)

Ariane V EAP: 27 metric tons (in development)

... And I'm not sure what the Chinese have got, but it's certainly man-rated and they're planning a manned space station mission early next year, so it's unlikely to be less than 10 metric tons to LEO and could well be a lot more.

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wolf550e 852 days ago | link

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_March_(rocket_family)#Spec...

12 tons demonstrated and 25 tons in development.

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johno215 852 days ago | link

Forgot about the Energiya. To bad it only flew successfully once. Had the Soviet Union not crumbled around the same time things may have been different.

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cstross 851 days ago | link

Energia flew twice -- once with a Polyus military payload aboard, and once with an unmanned Buran test flight.

The Polyus mission failed because after it separated from the Energia stack it rotated through 360 degrees rather than the intended 180 degrees and instead of inserting itself into orbit it executed a de-orbit burn. Very expensive software error!

The Buran flight -- the Buran shuttle was carried as a payload slung on the side of the Energia launcher, without engines of its own -- was a complete success.

Alas, Energia cost a ton to fly and when the USSR ran out of money it was the first program to be cancelled. However, part of it (the strap-on boosters) remain in service as the Zenit launcher.

There were plans for an extended Energia ("Vulkan") with a 200 ton payload to LEO, presumably for lunar and translunar manned exploration missions. I suspect it would have worked, if the USSR had the money and the motive to build it, given that it was a modular design based on an existing flying stack. More here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energia

http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/energia.htm

http://www.energia.ru/english/energia/launchers/vehicle_ener...

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rsynnott 851 days ago | link

Arguably twice; the failure in the Polyus test payload was not related to the carrier rocket.

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wolf550e 852 days ago | link

Please add this line, for a vehicle which flew and suceessfully put its payload in orbit:

Energya: 100 metric tons (retired)

Ares V and SLS have never flown, yet.

So if Falcon Heavy works and flies before SLS, it will be the third most capable (in terms of mass to LEO) launch vehicle ever flown, not second, and the most capable of those availbale at the time, since the two vehicles which have succesfully lifted more mass are both retired.

Being third and the only one currently availbale should be good enough. There is no need to lie and claim you are second.

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rsynnott 851 days ago | link

The much-delayed Angara also has variants in excess of 60T, though it's not clear whether these big ones will actually be built (they're dependent on demand, like the never-built Atlas V heavy).

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nickik 851 days ago | link

SpaceX is allready brainstorming on some future designs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_%28rocket_family%29#Mer...

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Mizza 852 days ago | link

I'm such an Elon Musk fanboy. If he can do even 20% of what he's claiming to be able to do, the human race will be so much further along that we are now - and I might get to go to space. Rock on, Elon.

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alinajaf 852 days ago | link

Seconded. They based Tony Stark in the new Iron Man movies on this guy. I think I'm doing important work, then I read his wikipedia entry and weep at my insignificance.

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Delmania 852 days ago | link

"Goodbye," said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

"What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

"It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important."

"It is the time I have wasted for my rose--" said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . ."

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alinajaf 852 days ago | link

Still, I don't think it's wrong to be inspired by and compare yourself to people with epic achievements. Newton had his three laws figured out by my age, Alexander had conquered most of the known world and Zuckerberg was a multi-billionaire.

I'm content with my lot (as far as humans go I'm doing OK), but it doesn't mean I'm not inspired to do more.

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Delmania 851 days ago | link

"Still, I don't think it's wrong to be inspired by and compare yourself to people with epic achievements"

You're half right. Being inspired and challenged by the works of others is a great thing. But you should avoid comparing yourself to others since you'll frame it in such a way that you are either completely superior or completely inferior to the other person.

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herval 850 days ago | link

Many great geniouses DID compare themselves with others a lot (they pick a single "nemesis" and spend a great deal of energy trying to prove themselves better). E.g. Newton and liebniz.

Plus, you don't have to frame yourself as "completely" anything, when comparing to others. You can focus on being a better mathematician, or a better business person, or simply a better human being, without automatically implying the other is "completely inferior"

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gujk 851 days ago | link

Who wants to live in a world where the rules of life stipulate that only one person can meet the definition of success?

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vaksel 851 days ago | link

I doubt that, Tony Stark and Ironman comics have been around for decades, and he's always been a flamboyant billionaire.

Musk just dreams big.

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alinajaf 851 days ago | link

The original Iron Man no, of course not. But I think it was Jon Favreau (the guy who directed the new movies) that said he used Elon Musk as an influence for building the character in the movies:

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/tesla-ceo-...

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gujk 851 days ago | link

Of course Elon Musk built his own character around Tony Stark of the comics, so the development is circular.

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drats 852 days ago | link

Are you seriously proposing that this will have more impact on the human race than the latest opinionated (read: arrogant) blog from 37 signals or drama from Zed Shaw? There are webapps man, a mission to Mars could set back NoSQL development a long way.

Normally I don't snark on HN except a bit against Apple but I couldn't resist here because the contrast between tech business outside the web bubble and those inside it is so massive.

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Jach 851 days ago | link

Hey man, I have a great idea for a webapp. Let's get people to give us their bank and credit card information, then we get merchants to put our button on their e-commerce site and people can click it to log in and buy stuff, or we can just act like a regular payment processor if the customer doesn't have an account with us. We'll need to scale this big, let's read around to see what other companies are doing... Hey, if we end up being real successful, we might be able to bootstrap our own space company.. wouldn't that be cool! ( http://www.quora.com/How-much-money-has-SpaceX-raised-and-wh... )

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sek 851 days ago | link

The downvoting says you hit the right spot.

I have to go now, changing the world trough e-commerce.

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mkramlich 851 days ago | link

Exactly. The world is full of critics and theorists but he's building something that's tangibly taking us closer to that vision. So we need to give massive respect and gratitude. Like the saying goes: lead, follow or get out of the way.

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jcarreiro 852 days ago | link

Even if Elon Musk is totally wrong, it is the vision that is important. The vision of creating a thriving Mars colony where millions of humans can live and work will drive incredible improvements in our technology, by inspiring thousands or even millions of people all over the world to study science and engineering.

Mr. Musk, thank you for being brave enough to give the world a vision of a brighter future.

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MikeCapone 851 days ago | link

The ability to think big is indeed rarer than it might first seem, and the ability to actually try to accomplish those big dreams is even rarer. We need people like Musk and Aubrey de Grey who dare to try to change the world for the better. The worse that can happen is that we make some progress but the ultimate goal is still out of reach for a while... Sounds better to me than not even trying.

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lightcatcher 851 days ago | link

From my perspective, its telling people about your big dreams so that they (and you) can hold yourself to them. But yes, people with massive ambitions such as Musk are needed to push things forward. If Musk achieves a tenth of his goal of colonizing Mars and just manages to land a person on Mars, he has still accomplished something no one else has.

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jacquesm 851 days ago | link

The difference between Elon Musk and Aubrey de Grey could not be larger.

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MikeCapone 851 days ago | link

Please elaborate with specifics. Thanks.

There are many ways I can read what you wrote.

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mvzink 851 days ago | link

That's unfair. You may be right, but they are similar in the way MikeCapone mentioned: they are both pushing the limits of science and technology in pursuit of a grand, incredible vision. Perhaps one of them is doing it completely wrong, but like MikeCapone said: better than not even trying.

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ThaddeusQuay2 850 days ago | link

The number of dead people whose ashes have been lost by Elon Musk? 208.

http://nytimes.com/2008/08/03/science/space/03launchweb.html

That same statistic for Aubrey de Grey? 0.

Based solely on this information, I vote for Aubrey to take us to Mars. If he can't or won't, then I vote for UP Aerospace, the people who previously lost, and recovered, Scotty's ashes.

http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2007/05/18/4351626-scot...

On a serious note, I find it disturbing that Musk doesn't show any real sense of responsibility. From the second article: "We certainly felt a huge responsibility for getting this [the ashes] back to the customers. She [Wende Doohan] trusted us to fly it into space, which we did successfully, and she trusted us to find it." No such effort or statement was made by SpaceX.

This lack of responsibility goes further, in a more general manner. I can't trust SpaceX to put millions of people on Mars when they can't even be bothered to do a small test on the moon. I understand that the environments are different, so the techniques and technologies used for a moon settlement may not easily transfer to Mars, but there is no real reason not to make an effort, even if it's just a year-long experiment to see if ten people could survive. Even if the moon isn't an important strategic goal, and I'm not sure that it isn't, at least it makes for a good testing ground. Bypassing the moon for Mars smacks more of unbridled grandiosity than it does of responsible reality.

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alinajaf 852 days ago | link

For anyone interested in the idea of humans colonizing Mars, I can thoroughly recommend Kim Stanley Robinsons Mars Trilogy (starting with Red Mars).

It's a great future history of how we might end up there and what it would take for us to ferry millions over (essentially, that we find enough minerals for it to be in bigcos interest to do so).

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quickpost 851 days ago | link

Wholeheartedly second that recommendation! Red Mars was a really fun Hard SciFi read!

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chc 852 days ago | link

Musk seems to be ignoring the fact that getting there is the easy part. You then have to survive on a frigid alien planet with almost no atmosphere, no food in the environment, essentially no available water and no human infrastructure. Are there really millions of people who would sign up for the world's most expensive method of committing suicide?

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cryptoz 852 days ago | link

Mars has more fresh water than Earth does. Most of it is frozen, but thawing it shouldn't prove impossible.

> Are there really millions of people who would sign up for the world's most expensive method of committing suicide?

I don't understand this. Are you committing suicide right now, by living out your life on Earth? You're here on Earth and you're going to die here. Does that mean you've committed suicide? How is that any different from people living indoors on Mars? Sure, they may die there. But people die here too. It's not suicide, it's a way of life that people will choose.

Also, you are incorrect in your silly assumption that life will be harsh for the millions that arrive - it seems much more likely that we could send robots to build the infrastructure while the first few land, making small cities, etc, and otherwise preparing for the mass arrival.

Yes, there are millions that would want to go. I've been thinking about this for more than a decade and I am desperate to go live on Mars when it becomes possible.

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chc 852 days ago | link

Antarctica has more fresh water than the rest of Earth too, and on top of that it's twice as warm as the Martian poles, far more accessible and even has a breathable atmosphere — but there aren't millions of people there either, and it's still considered a very harsh environment. In fact, even the people who live in Antarctica tend to avoid it in the winter.

> Also, you are incorrect in your silly assumption that life will be harsh for the millions that arrive - it seems much more likely that we could send robots to build the infrastructure while the first few land, making small cities, etc, and otherwise preparing for the mass arrival.

AFAIK, this is not literally impossible, but is way beyond our technological ability right now. If you mean a couple of centuries from now, yeah, maybe. But do we even have any proof-of-concept cities built entirely by robots on earth? (And keep in mind that to really reflect Martian conditions, they'd have to be thermally insulated cities that produce their own energy without any geothermal or hydraulic input and very little solar input and which have independent air supplies — but any cities built by robots would surprise me.)

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cr4zy 851 days ago | link

The advantage of Mars IMO is that it gets all our eggs out of the Earth basket. I'm not pessimistic about our future, but it would definitely be nice to not be living on a single point of failure in the event of a nuclear war, asteroid impact, pandemic, et al. This, I believe is Elon's reasoning as well. However, I don't understand as yet why he's choosing Mars over the Moon. I've heard him say both are good candidates but he's obviously shooting for the former. I suppose the nuclear doomsday scenario would a little more possible to take out both the Moon and Earth. Also life on Earth depends on the Moon for the tides etc... I wonder if he's trying to distance the baskets so to speak.

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chc 851 days ago | link

I definitely agree in principle, but on the other hand, it's really hard to imagine an event that would render Earth less hospitable than Mars. In general, these catastrophes would just make Earth more like Mars.

Nuclear war? Mars is a desolate wasteland that's bombarded with ionizing radiation from space (because it lacks both a sufficient atmosphere and a magnetic field to protect it).

Asteroid impact? Unless it eliminates all of our atmospheric oxygen, ozone, hydrogen and nitrogen and drops the average surface temperature to -55°C, we're still better off here.

Pandemic? If we can protect a colony from the environment of Mars, we should be able to keep at least that many people safe from a pandemic. (Just stick your Mars-bubble in Antarctica if nothing else. It's a lot like Mars except it has better temperatures, an atmosphere that you can breathe if you need to and the water is more readily available.)

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cr4zy 850 days ago | link

All of that's true in the short term, but if we do end up getting millions of people sustainably living on Mars, these specific catastrophes would be less devastating to the human race as a whole.

I have to say that motivating with fear puts red flags up in my mind as I'm sure it does with the rest of the crowd here. If I were a politician, I'd see the mission to colonize space as an effective way to unite the world behind a single goal. Since I'm not, I have a different view which is that AI has the greatest potential to solve humanity's problems. But that's another discussion.

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politician 851 days ago | link

Methane asphyxiation due to global thawing of permafrost.

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Retric 851 days ago | link

You could replace 98% of the earths atmosphere with Methane and it would still be more habitable than Mars. (The only way methane would make it worse is if you turned the atmosphere into a fuel air bomb and a few weeks after the detonation it would one again be more habitable.)

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politician 851 days ago | link

Well, I was referring to the hypothesis that the release of previously sequestered methane caused the Permian-Triassic mass extinction event where 96% of marine species and 70% of land species died [1]. I think it's fair to say that a poisonous atmosphere is less habitable than no atmosphere.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian%E2%80%93Triassic_extinc...

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chc 851 days ago | link

Exposure to the Martian environment would kill 100% of species that we know of. If that has happened on earth before, we can say pretty definitively that elevated levels of methane are less harmful.

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dapyx 851 days ago | link

Not all species that we know of require oxygen to live.

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Retric 851 days ago | link

Earth's is 101,000 Pa dropping to 30,000 on top of mount Everest. Mars's mean surface pressure is around 600 pascals which is below waters triple point which prevents water from forming regardless of temperature. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple_point Still that's close and in some creators the pressure increases high enough so it's possible for water to form.

Unfortunately, on top of that what makes the atmosphere truly deadly is a lack of Nitrogen one of the primary building blocks for organic chemistry.

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GigabyteCoin 851 days ago | link

>there aren't millions of people [in Antarctica] either, and it's still considered a very harsh environment

Why would anybody live on Antarctica and thaw ice when we have freshwater lakes in other parts of the world?

I believe the premise of his statement was "if we have to, we could do it". As a Canadian, I support this statement.

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nickik 851 days ago | link

Antarctica is not on a diffrent Plant. Lifing there will not earn you a place in human history.

I think a lot of stuff can be send to mars in the beginning. It should not be to hard to build a big house in a couple of parts and stick them together on mars.

I for one am not jet sure if I would go to mars.

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chc 851 days ago | link

Even if we assume that you can send a whole house to Mars for free, your house needs to solidly insulated from the cold and the radiation, it needs to somehow produce air and it needs to somehow produce energy without most of the energy sources we use on Earth (fossil fuels, solar, geothermal, hydro, wind). The latter two are very hard problems. If you can sustainably create breathable air and energy practically ex nihilo, that is a much bigger achievement than getting to Mars.

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nickik 851 days ago | link

I was making a general point. I didn't agree with the 50 years thing. It probebly want be posible in 50 years but then again if we are not going to trie we can be sure it want work in 50 years. Just like with the 10 years to the moon thing.

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Cushman 851 days ago | link

Um, the first few people to explore Antarctica became pretty famous. Still ain't a city there.

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stretchwithme 851 days ago | link

oh, you just haven't looked hard enough.

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InclinedPlane 851 days ago | link

It's essentially impossible to own property in Antarctica, and very difficult to set up any sort of business there. Despite that thousands of people still visit Antarctica every year.

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trafficlight 852 days ago | link

You're right. We should just stop trying now.

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chc 851 days ago | link

Your comment is singularly unenlightening. I'm just saying that Musk's comments create unreasonable expectations. If you materially disagree, this kind of sarcasm does nothing to express what you think is wrong. If you don't actually disagree, then you're just kind of being rude, aren't you?

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jpdoctor 852 days ago | link

> Musk seems to be ignoring the fact that getting there is the easy part.

I saw a talk given by a NASA program manager in DC. She said that whenever this topic comes up, there's always somebody who starts seriously considering one-way missions to Mars. The next thing that gets considered is who would volunteer for such a mission, which is immediately followed by who the NASA program managers would volunteer to send.

Those guys have such fun at their jobs.

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CamperBob 851 days ago | link

The last time the topic was raised, at least several hundred people volunteered.

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RyanMcGreal 852 days ago | link

> getting there is the easy part.

And it will not be easy. The big challenge seems to be shielding the astronauts from space radiation.

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run4yourlives 852 days ago | link

If you can maintain living in a spacecraft - an environment much more inhospitable than Mars - for 18 months (there and back), I'm pretty sure a month or so on Mars is relatively easy.

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lightcatcher 851 days ago | link

This conversation isn't about spending time I'm Mars; its about living their indefinitely. Living there indefinitely means either shipping everything out (ridiculously expensive and inefficient) or creating our own Earth-esque biosphere over part of the planet, which is an extremely difficult task.

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droithomme 851 days ago | link

Mars atmosphere is not that problematic. Melt the poles with nuclear reactors. This creates a CO2 atmosphere. Then use plants to convert CO2 to O2. Now you have a breathable atmosphere, and more heat trapped and thus a more temperate climate. Mars is particularly cool because you can actually terraform it without having to resort to unobtanium. Other planetary bodies and moons locally, not so much.

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politician 851 days ago | link

Without a magnetic field wouldn't this new atmosphere be blown away by the solar wind? If so, it seems a little irresponsible to propose melting the poles. It seems like a better idea to dig deep and build cities under the surface.

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lightcatcher 851 days ago | link

I'm no expert, but wouldn't gravity be enough to keep the atmosphere around the planet?

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chc 850 days ago | link

I am also no expert, but from what I've read, probably not in the long term. It's commonly believed that Mars used to be more Earth-like, but the deterioration of its magnetic field caused its atmosphere to seep away into space. (Mars' gravity is also just generally weaker than any planet except Mercury.)

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Mizza 852 days ago | link

This is a great point, but it doesn't mean that the problems you mentioned are insoluble.

Earth is actually quite an inhospitable planet as well. We survive on it because of our technology - Mars may be no different.

I think there are thousands on this planet who would be willing to give it a shot if they thought there was even just a slim possibility of success.

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generalk 852 days ago | link

  > Earth is actually quite an inhospitable planet as well. 
Perhaps in some light this may be true, but compared to Mars, Earth has a natural atmosphere that we can breathe, water we can drink, and produces plant life that we can eat. I'd call that downright hospitable.

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drcube 852 days ago | link

Atmosphere itself is plant technology. It wasn't here before life and it won't be here after. Earth WAS pretty inhospitable, life just overcame those hurdles. Chances are we can do it again. It won't be easy, cheap or quick though.

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chc 851 days ago | link

I don't think you quite understand. Earth's atmosphere existed all along; its composition was just different before plants came into the picture. But even plants need certain atmospheric conditions, such as the existence of an atmosphere and certain elements in it. Now, it's true that the composition of Mars' atmosphere is all wrong even for plants (for example, very little nitrogen), but more fundamental than that, its atmosphere is literally barely there — the gas around the planet is exceptionally thin. Venus, Earth and Mars are like the three bears — Venus has way too much atmosphere to support life as we know it, Mars has way too little, while Earth's is just right.

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martinkallstrom 851 days ago | link

This just out: Musk building a gas pipeline from Venus to Mars.

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dennisgorelik 851 days ago | link

What's wrong with Venus' atmosphere?

I understand that it's extremely unfriendly to Earth's life forms, but life could be based on different chemical elements?

How do we even know that Venus does not have life?

Venus could even have civilization at the technical level Earth had it until couple of hundred years ago and we still wouldn't know about it.

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chc 851 days ago | link

Venus is hot enough to sterilize anything that even approaches its surface. Earth's most radical extremophiles don't even come close to being able to withstand that. Even life made out of many common metals wouldn't be able to exist because it would melt them.

Since we don't know the limits of what might be considered "life," I suppose we can't 100% say it's impossible, but that's why I said "life as we know it."

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dennisgorelik 851 days ago | link

There are many materials that melt above 500C, so it gives theoretical possibility for existence of life on Venus.

I couldn't be carbon-based life though.

BTW, Venus civilization would have similar reasons of not going to Earth as our reasons are of not going to Mars: way too cold and not sufficient atmospheric pressure.

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gunnar2906 851 days ago | link

Venus has way too much atmosphere to support life as we know it, Mars has way too little, while Earth's is just right...

Tell it to anaerobic bacteria )))

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InclinedPlane 852 days ago | link

Where do you get your water and food? Do you subsist on a foraging diet and drink water only from nearby streams.

Technically speaking, the carrying capacity of the Earth under such conditions is low. Prior to the advent of agriculture and modern sanitation the human population was naturally limited. First by the availability of food, then by the problems of disease inherent in city living. The technology to live the way humans do today is only about a century old. Our food and water typically are the products of industry and technology. Mars would up the ante a bit but in essence would be little different. The norm on Earth is not free roaming foragers living naked out of doors.

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chc 851 days ago | link

Actually, most of the water we drink does come from relatively nearby (particularly relative to hauling ice from the poles). There's a reason the Sahara is not densely populated. Likewise for our food.

Most of Mars' water is at its south pole, which is so cold that much of the water ice is actually buried under a layer of "dry ice" — frozen carbon dioxide.

Basically, anywhere you are on Earth, you're closer to nutrition and fuel than you would be anywhere on Mars. And the reason why can have diets that don't involve foraging is because we've grown so numerous. That's also something that isn't true on Mars.

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InclinedPlane 851 days ago | link

My point is that the norm for folks living in the developed world on Earth is for their food, water, and housing to be obtained via a very technologically advanced and typically world spanning industrial supply chain. The amount of effort and technology that goes into something as simple as buying a single hammer at the hardware store or turning on the faucet and getting fresh drinking water is stunning. The difference between what's required to support a Martian civilization and an Earth civilization is not so much a difference in fundamentals as it is merely a difference in degree. And possibly it's less of a difference between, say, living in New York city today and living on Mars in 2030 than NYC today vs. NYC in 1800.

As far as water, the largest deposits of H2O on Mars are near the poles but it exists in enormous quantities at nearly every location on Mars a few meters below the surface.

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cstross 852 days ago | link

The trouble isn't surviving on Mars. The trouble is building infrastructure on Mars that will allow people to survive there without continuous resupply from Earth, at a cost measured in (at a minimum) tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram.

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jcarreiro 852 days ago | link

No one said it would be easy. The question is, is it worth doing anyway? Personally, I say, ad astra per aspera.

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InclinedPlane 851 days ago | link

"at a cost measured in (at a minimum) tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram"

[citation (or math) needed]

The minimum cost for sending cargo to Mars even with only current levels of technology is far, far lower than tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram. A reusable Falcon Heavy (which is being researched currently) could potentially launch payload to Mars for circa $100/kg. To put it another way, that's 10,000 tonnes per $1 bil.

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reitzensteinm 851 days ago | link

I raise your [citation needed]! Wikipedia suggests that cost to LEO will be at least $1000/lb, and that it can only carry 26% as much payload to Mars.

Crunching those together gives $8346/kg to Mars, though even then I'm sure that's an optimistically low calculation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_Heavy

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InclinedPlane 850 days ago | link

That's the expendable Falcon Heavy. SpaceX is also working on a fully reusable Falcon 9, which would naturally allow for a fully reusable Falcon Heavy. The fuel costs for a Falcon Heavy are around half a million dollars, if we posit that overall operational costs per flight could be kept to around 1.5 million dollars then costs of delivering cargo to Mars would be around $100/kg. That's a pretty straightforward extrapolation of current trends. If we imagine some ways to make the process more efficient we could imagine batching up cargo in LEO and pushing it to Mars via electric propulsion (a proven technology), for example.

These are pretty decent conceivable practical minimums for cost of shipping cargo to Mars within the next 20 years, though any estimate (minimum or otherwise) beyond that time frame would be entirely speculative due to the potential for technological advances.

You claim that the figures for Falcon Heavy cost of launching to Mars are "optimistically low", but that is not the case. Firstly, Mars launch is a well understood problem on the scale of launch to GEO. Second, the figures SpaceX are quoting are launch prices which include a substantial profit margin. The actual costs (especially after development costs have been amortized) are lower. And as I pointed out this doesn't represent a proper reasonable estimate of the floor for launch costs to Mars even over the next 20 years, let alone over the next, say, 50.

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Delmania 852 days ago | link

"Earth is actually quite an inhospitable planet as well. We survive on it because of our technology - Mars may be no different."

Seriously? That's not entirely accurate. It's true the humans is able to defend against predators and poor environments with our tools, but that's not something unique to our species. Mars is not capable of sustaining life as we know it, and that's the basic problem. The amount of tools needed to convert Mars to such a place may be prohibitive.

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chc 851 days ago | link

Earth is not all that inhospitable even if you lack technology. There are something like 10 quintillion insects inhabiting earth. The number of bacteria is several orders of magnitude greater. These things all get by just fine thanks to Earth's sweet conditions.

But if you dropped a colony of one of these natural survivors on Mars, it would simply die. Even what we consider to be harsh environments on Earth (e.g. Antarctica, the bottom of the sea, the top of Mt. Everest) are quite hospitable relative to the average on Mars.

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edge17 852 days ago | link

i'm pretty sure he hasn't taken on the challenges he's chosen because they were easy.

Are there really millions of people who would sign up for the world's most expensive method of committing suicide?

The same could have been said about crossing oceans or strapping into a seat to travel thousands of miles at 30k feet in the air over mountains and open water. Safety is naturally an issue. One can never know what the future will be like, but I'd be fairly confident in saying that the world a hundred years from now will not be the world of present. I think it's that you're ignoring history, not that he's ignoring what's easy and what's not.

By the time millions are willing to sign up, it's likely that it won't be the expensive way to commit suicide anymore. I mean who knows, maybe we'll be shipping our criminals to mars.

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chc 852 days ago | link

If we knew for a fact that on the other side of the ocean was a place that had no food, air, energy sources or practical means of return and where touching anything in the environment will severely injure you from the intense cold, I don't think many people would have done that either, and those who did would not have living descendants today.

But anyway, if Musk is talking about the year 2500, yeah, I'll admit I have no idea what anything will be like then. And neither does Musk. Tautologically, nobody can really predict much outside of the foreseeable future. We could have perfected cold fusion by then, or a major cataclysm could have decimated the human race and left us in a new ice age. I don't feel any more qualified to say what that year will be like than somebody in 1511 was to predict what we'd be doing nowadays.

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seanalltogether 852 days ago | link

I honestly don't think history can prepare us for the concept of colonizing another planet. In fact I think the only thing history can tell us is "Humans are part of a very long chain of life that has evolved symbiotically with planet earth", beyond that I'm pretty skeptical. Mars has no magnetic field, 38% of the gravity of earth, non-existent air pressure, and is geologically and biologically dead.

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king_magic 852 days ago | link

Eh, those are just "implementation details" ;)

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frooxie 852 days ago | link

> Are there really millions of people who would sign up for the world's most expensive method of committing suicide?

To be fair, it doesn't say anything about signing up. Maybe he'll just grab the first millon people who annoy him and send them to Mars.

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cpeterso 851 days ago | link

Maybe Musk has a mad scientist program researching Martian terraforming. If he decided to crash a couple rovers carrying nukes into the Martian polar ice caps to create a greenhouse effect, does the US government have the legal or technical capability to stop him?

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droithomme 851 days ago | link

No one owns Mars. Whoever gets there first and can hold it owns it. If Musk is first then it's his planet until someone else shows up to challenge him for it. If it's his planet he can do as he pleases.

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chc 848 days ago | link

This is a bit late, but in case anyone happens to be reading this in the future: Almost every country in the world has signed a treaty agreeing, in essence, that it isn't possible to claim alien planets. So if Musk tried to claim Mars, he would be a criminal on Earth.

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droithomme 848 days ago | link

You are of course referring to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which governs claims on celestial bodies by the ratified signatory nations. It affects states that are party to the treaty. The US and 99 other nations have agreed not to claim ownership of celestial bodies. The treaty has no bearing whatsoever on what private individuals, corporations, and non-signatory nations may do, nor does it prescribe violation of the treaty as a criminal act as you claim.

For those in the future finding this comment, here is an article arguing why even for the nations who signed it it was bad law that has hobbled the exploration of space and expansion of the human species onto other worlds.

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/960/1

Fortunately, now that private corporations run by visionaries are able to colonize space, the treaty no longer can hobble progress and damage mankind's future.

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Someone 851 days ago | link

In that text, I see no claim that he will bring millions to Mars. He just say we should want there to be millions.

The easiest way to get there is to bring a few thousand or even a few hundred people there and let nature do the rest (isn't there a short story from Asimov about this, where a lottery decides the composition of a 500-person star ship?)

Done that way, most of those millions would not be volunteering.

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tlammens 852 days ago | link

You seem to be ignoring the fact that although an easy step, it also has to be taken. Being able to survive on Mars is irrelevant if you can't even get there.

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nknight 851 days ago | link

I have no real (non-software) engineering background, and I could probably design, within current technology, shelters and mechanisms sufficient to keep people alive on Mars indefinitely.

The problem is, there is no way you could possibly get my contraptions to Mars. They'd be huge and extremely heavy.

The easier it is to get stuff to Mars, the bigger and heavier it can be, and the easier it is to keep people alive.

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nickpinkston 851 days ago | link

Or we just send a minifactory to convert the iron on mars into steel that we can build such machines with.

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physcab 852 days ago | link

> getting there is the easy part.

Not exactly. It takes 9 months to get to Mars. Aside from all the logistical problems of keeping humans alive in a tiny capsule for 9 months, who would in their right mind want to do this to themselves? You would probably go insane.

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SMrF 852 days ago | link

There have been experiments that show we could probably make it without going insane. http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Mars500/

Dying of other random space hazards is still something to think about.

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jeffreymcmanus 852 days ago | link

You forget that astronauts were lining up to fly the Space Shuttle even after two of them exploded.

There will be no shortage of qualified volunteers for the first Mars mission, and the idea that people will go insane simply by being in a capsule for 9 months has been pretty much disproven by the recent Mars500 project.

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thomaslangston 851 days ago | link

I think there are plenty of people (who arguably are not in their right mind) who would. Remember one million people is only 0.00014% of the global population.

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