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Elon Musk: Vegetarians only on Mars colony (sustainablebusinessoregon.com)
42 points by cryptoz on Jan 10, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 96 comments



This is pretty much a given. Livestock takes exponentially more energy to raise than it takes to harvest a comparable amount of plant produce. Goats eat a lot, and they chew on everything.

Mushrooms are a good choice as a staple food for a Martian colony because they can grow entirely on agricultural byproducts, with no need for any of the sure-to-be precious solar energy. You can really just put them in a dark closet with some corn husks and let them do their thing.


Mushrooms contain little energy so by definition they cannot be a staple food.


Energy isn't the only consideration, you also have to think about nutrients. Animal proteins have all the amino acids we need, but the same can't be said of any plant. Essential nutrients like Iron, Calcium and Zinc are also difficult to come by for vegetarians. Vitamin B12 can't even be found naturally in non-meat foods, and it's necessary for our bodies to create red blood cells.

Getting the energey and nutrients and having a variety of foods to choose from (so you're not eating the same thing every meal of every day) is not an easy task for vegetarians. Hopefully we'll have supplements that can compensate for that in 15 years, but it's not exactly something you can rely on when planning something of this scale.


You can combine different vegetable sources to obtain all aminoacids needed (or maybe have a transgenic methionine producing soy plant

Iron, Calcium and Zinc are easy to obtain. Vitamin B12 is harder, people would need supplements.


When the supplements run out would they need to get a new shipment from earth?


I can't imagine it would be that difficult (relatively speaking) for the colony to synthesize B12 from bacteria or fermentation.


> Iron, Calcium and Zinc are easy to obtain

When you're trying to grow plants in artificial environments on an inhospitable planet 40 million miles from earth? Oh, okay...


Yes they are. Chemical elements are the same everywhere. Minerals on Mars are similar as well.

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


Energy is a pretty big consideration.

For meat you need you grow the meat, and you need to feed the people growing the meat, and you need to feed the people growing the stuff that you feed the meat. That's a lot of infrastructure. And the only benefit is that protein, vitamins and minerals are mildly easier to get.

A healthy vegetarian diet could be more diverse than a meat-eating diet, especially if you have the limitations.


On the other hand, won't pigs eat just about anything? And I've heard the same said about rats and pigeons.


This will make a great basis for an SF story -- most likely a comedy. The kinds of people who can front $500k for an exercise like this will generally be quite rich. If it's a one-way trip (or even if they're seriously contemplating immigration) rich people will want to liquidate assets and turn them into some kind of competitive advantage on Mars, but there's this really expensive cargo pipe (presumably with a waiting list), so I can see the 50 year old single software engineer with Aspberger's sitting on $750k in investments buying a ticket (and selling $500k of stocks to do so) and then discovering that some maverick billionaire wants to buy his ticket for $5M so he can bring over a suitcase of paté de foie gras and single malt Scotch, an antique stock ticker, and a catamite.

Here's a funnier idea -- offer shipment to Mars as an alternative to the appeals process for death penalty cases. It would save us money, and make for an awesome Nicholas Cage vehicle. This is how you establish a colony, dammit!


> Here's a funnier idea -- offer shipment to Mars as an alternative to the appeals process for death penalty cases. It would save us money, and make for an awesome Nicholas Cage vehicle. This is how you establish a colony, dammit!

Well, it worked for Australia.


Exactly!


> Here's a funnier idea -- offer shipment to Mars as an alternative to the appeals process for death penalty cases. It would save us money, and make for an awesome Nicholas Cage vehicle. This is how you establish a colony, dammit!

Just what we need. A planetful of pissed off inmates who, with the arrival of the mad genius scientist, invent teleportation and attack the leader of the free world, and almost succeed at doing so if it weren't for the ex-seal cop who just wants to get home to his kids (and he also happens to reconnect with his wife who had separated with him, but now realizes that he was distant only because it kept them safe).


> and he also happens to reconnect with his wife who had separated with him, but now realizes that he was distant only because it kept them safe

My favorite aspect of the action hero that is divorced. It's not because he did anything _bad_, he just wasn't around enough.

See also: action hero that has to go to jail because he killed a guy, but it was actually only in self defense.


Not only goes to jail, but is also executed. However, by some highly unlikely circumstance, the execution doesn't work, so then the hero gets carte blanche to enact revenge on the parties that set him up due to "double jeopardy."


"... plans to send just a small group of people who would build a transparent dome that could be pressurized so that they could farm on Martian soil . . ."

What? Can you do that?


Well, yes, though admittedly not without some help:

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-08/martian-farms-...


You absolutely can. Martian soil is surprisingly very rich, even by Earth's standards.


I highly recommend Robert Zubrin's "The Case for Mars" - you'll be surprised what else is possible on Mars with current technology:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Case-Mars-Settle-Planet/dp/1451608...


Also, TA Heppenheimer's Colonies in Space has a dandy compilation chapter on research on agriculture in enclosed environments. ("Up on the farm")

http://www.nss.org/settlement/ColoniesInSpace/colonies_chap0...

Most of what's talked about in that chapter will also be possible on Mars.


I found a more interesting tidbits:

Quoted: A ticket to the colony would cost $500,000—with a goal of raising $40 billion—and visitors would be sent into space on a rocket powered by liquid oxygen and methane.

   "The ticket price needs to be low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip," 
Given that median wealth per family when head of household is 45-54 is ~160k this is a peculiar definition of the word 'most'.


It depends, if you're going one way and staying there you're basically selling up and going. If you're fortunate you'll probably cover it mostly from savings, plus pension pots, house sale, possessions sale and so on. Like I said, if you're fortunate. Possibly if you don't want your children to have an inheritance or don't have any.


Such children will likely become the elite of a new world. (Which is why one should build a radiation shielded underground house there.)

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5037804


Many people of that age already put together that much money (or close to it) --- to buy real estate. I can certainly imagine people taking out mortgages to go to Mars.


No-one will loan people money to go to Mars ;-)


Given that labor on Mars will be scarce, Mars colonists are likely to make high 6-figure incomes. Also, given the opportunities to establish new businesses on a new world, many are likely to become multi-billionaires.


I don't see how that follows. Mars would have no net exports to Earth, and no real wealth, so I don't see it approximating anything like a real economy. Most likely Mars will be dependent on wealth transfer from Earth for decades, so there will be no "salaries" per se-only people paying to live on Mars.


> I don't see it approximating anything like a real economy.

My point is that it doesn't have to at first. (Some European North American colonies didn't have a real economy at first, either.) Right now, there are people paid to do research in Antarctica. (Not paid as much, but if the current international legal climate towards colonization of Antarctica changes, this will change.)

> Mars would have no net exports to Earth, and no real wealth

In the context of a solar-system wide civilization, this is patently false. Mars would be tremendously wealthy for reasons that are analogous to the wealth of the North American continent. Mars has many of the things that Earth has (exploitable ore deposits, water, and potential for agriculture) but it has them in a much shallower gravity well, so basic physics would dictate that Mars would dominate trade over Earth in such a context.

Whichever civilization realizes that Earth is just a local maxima for human potential and dominates the colonizing of Mars will dominate the human history of the solar-system, just as English speaking western civilization dominated the 20th century through the settlement of North America.

My hunch is that many Chinese scientists and engineers understand this very well, and this will result in a concerted effort by China to colonize Mars. So what I'm saying, is that there will be initial wealth transfer from Earth, fueled by nationalistic competition.


Once the Martian economy is this advanced, recruiters from Martian ventures will be offering relocation packages to Mars. You're presupposing the economy has bootstrapped to this level.


Not at all. There are plenty of precedents where 1st worlders have received 6 figure salaries far above the market pay for the same job in the 1st world where there was economic turmoil. (Iraq right after the fall of Saddam.)

If you're working someplace remote, and you're not getting paid above market, then you're doing something wrong. (Hell, I've heard there are glorified clerks in remote places in the Aleutians that make near 6 figures for basically sitting around.) Given that some Mars colonists will be very rich, and that many governments and companies will pay you to do engineering and research there, Mars colonists are almost certain to have high salaries.


At first glance, colonizing Mars sounds awesome. But upon reflection, being a debt slave on a desert planet sounds less appealing.


Probably more appealing than a desperate mercenary in a dystopian cyberpunk universe.


"HONEY BOO BOO ON MARS"

"THE KARDASHIANS ON MARS"

etc etc.

People spend stupid amounts of money on stupid things already. One of the big networks has easily got enough money to send an idiot and a camera up there.


Can you quote that quote in a different way? It's literally invisible for me: http://i.imgur.com/6ZM6d.png


"The ticket price needs to be low enough that most people in advanced countries, in their mid-forties or something like that, could put together enough money to make the trip,"


Is it possible to create farms without bugs? And if there's bugs do we need rodents to keep them in check? And with rodents running around do we need prey animals to thin the numbers, and would those prey animals be delicious to eat?


Is this a serious question? The answer is hydroponics.


Bugs would be for pollination, not plant nutrition. Some plants are self-pollinating, others not.

Labor-intensive manual pollination is certainly possible, though.


I doubt Musk would use his space colony as a means of enforcing his personal moral code, but I also suspect the diversity of plants required for a healthy vegetarian diet may be just as difficult to maintain on mars as livestock, so it would be very interesting to hear the full story.

In any case, there's no explanation of his motivation, and the statement is false according to this article that links to a (now deleted) tweet from Musk: http://thenextweb.com/insider/2013/01/10/good-news-elon-musk...


> but I also suspect the diversity of plants required for a healthy vegetarian diet may be just as difficult to maintain as livestock,

People need protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals.

Getting calories from meat is inefficient; you need to feed the animal many more calories than you'll get back.

Meat is reasonably good source of protein. Getting protein from vegetables means mixing types to get the range of amino acids. There's a gentle concern about the lack of omega fatty acids in some vegetarian diets.

You get some fat soluble vitamins from meat and dairy products.

Meat is a good source of iron. Milk is a good source of calcium. But both of those can be found in vegetable products too.

tl:dr You need to grow vegetables anyway; meat is really inefficient; why waste energy growing feedcrops for animals (and for the people looking after the animals, and the people looking after the feedcrops) when you can jsut grow feedcrops for people.


> Getting calories from meat is inefficient

You're taking the model of an industrialized first-world nation with 300 million+ people and applying it to a tiny space colony. Calling that apples vs. oranges would be an understatement.

If you disagree, tell me this: How many 30,000 lb. John Deere combines do you think will be sent with the first settlers?


No, it really is inefficient. A huge portion of the materials livestock consume get converted into heat and waste products.

And don't forget space - these would be domed colonies, so space would be absolutely critical. Here on earth humans have devised a way to raise food animals in a way that's (somewhat) reasonably efficient in terms of land used. But that method depends critically on armies of 30,000 lb. John Deere combines in order to produce sufficient quantities of feed crop without an enormous human labor input.


Using the model of 'small holding' - 5 acres per person style.

Goats provide:

Meat Milk Leather Bone Manure Farts Goat blood Useless baby boy goats

They eat. They eat far more calories than you'll ever get from them. Someone has to look after them, and that person also needs to eat.

Someone needs to grow the food for the goats, and for the goatherds, and that person needs to eat.

For a goat to produce milk it (like most mammals) needs a child to feed. Thus, you need at least one male goat for breeding. But male goats don't give milk. And they stink. And billy goats are just plain mean. So this stud-goat, stinky, mean, lazy thing, also needs food and care. And the birthing goat needs some attention. And if it's a male it's useless, so someone has to kill it.

All that time and effort, and all you get is goat meat and goat milk. Maybe some will think it's worth it, but other people would prefer using all that time and energy on a wider range of food.

> tell me this: How many 30,000 lb. John Deere combines do you think will be sent with the first settlers?

You have it backwards: Massive industrial farming makes things many times more, not less, efficient.


It seems to me that you could just feed your goat the parts of the plants that you can't really eat yourself. All the green crap from soybean plants for instance.

If that is worth it probably depends on how much goat milk is worth to you, how much the green crap is worth to you otherwise as compost, and how much goat crap is worth to you as fertilizer.

I don't think it would be worth it, but it wouldn't terribly surprise me if I were wrong.


The model is the same everywhere.

We canna break the laws of (bio)physics, Jim.


I'm certain it's not an ideological goal, though perhaps it's being spun as one. Livestock simply might not be the most efficient way to produce food at least initially on a Mars colony.

Given an opportunity to live on Mars, I can't imagine any interested person who would have to think twice about becoming a vegetarian to do so, even if only out of necessity.

I'm no vegetarian, but it's pretty clear that it might be more efficient than raising livestock, or at least has the potential to be.


But there is more then just using them for food. Pigs for eaxmple can be used as a sort of biological recycling factory. In addition they produce _usable_ waste from _unusable_ waste. So your actually incurring a cost in not bringing them along that you will need some technology to replace. Then at the end you need to find a way to maintain or repair your technology while you could just mate the pigs and eat their parents. Additionally Bacon.


> Pigs for eaxmple can be used as a sort of biological recycling factory. In addition they produce _usable_ waste from _unusable_ waste.

Given some bacteria, fungi, and earthworms, there is little that composting couldn't also recycle.

Farms are basically solar collectors. Unless you have lots of excess capacity, it only makes sense to support livestock on kitchen waste. Studies were done on this in the 70's. It turns out that chickens laying eggs are more efficient than pigs for this purpose.


This is true, but its a matter of

1. Speed 2. By products

Chickens might be better then pigs, but the point is those little biological machines are really good at what they do and they are are easier to take care of/maintain then some machine to serve the same purpose.


Speed is not so much an issue if you're trying to stay long term. If you can find it, look up T. A. Heppenheimer's Colonies in Space. The "Up on the Farm" chapter was fun to read, and it has a pretty extensive set of references.

Farmed Tilapia might also be an option, though I'm not clear on how flexible their diet is.


I'd be more concerned about how flexible their habitat is. Mars doesn't exactly have a whole lot of water.


Actually, in the context of the solar system, Mars is pretty water rich.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_on_Mars#Polar_ice_caps

By Earth standards, it's drier than the Gobi desert, but for the purposes of colonization, there's plenty there to work with. The polar ice caps alone could cover the whole planet in an average depth of 16 meters of water. Also, there's the asteroids for when the population grows to a considerable size.


Absolutely. But in the more temperate regions there's not quite so much water, and shipping it in from the ice caps would be expensive.

For the first colonists, I'm guessing they'd want to make do with as little water as they could get away with - meaning there wouldn't be any raising of fish unless they couldn't get away with not raising fish.


> in the more temperate regions there's not quite so much water, and shipping it in from the ice caps would be expensive.

I'd see if I could use the atmosphere as a shipment mechanism.

> For the first colonists, I'm guessing they'd want to make do with as little water as they could get away with - meaning there wouldn't be any raising of fish unless they couldn't get away with not raising fish.

Farmed Tilapia ponds could serve as a reservoir of water/hydrogen. For a population in the 10's of thousands, it would seem to be a reasonable addition. For the first hundred, not so much.


Is genetically-engineered processed slime mold a vegetable?


If I recall correctly, from an energy conservation standpoint a vegetarian diet is somewhere around ten times more efficient.


> I also suspect the diversity of plants required for a healthy vegetarian diet may be just as difficult to maintain on mars as livestock

It's actually more reliable and easier to raise a diversity of plants for many indigenous horticulturalists on Earth. Monocropping makes you vulnerable to pests, and there's a nonzero chance of those being introduced by colonists.


He twittered: 'Recent articles in the press have said that I think Mars is for veggies only. Not so! Am in favor of freedom of diet.' But now he seems to have deleted that tweet: strange. (https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/289281074188668928).


People are going to misinterpret that to shit in order to cater to their own beliefs.


I wonder if that also excludes in vitro meat? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_vitro_meat


I was wondering this as well. Though I've also wondered about the nutritional contents of test-tube meat.


I imagine this is to reduce the complexity of the mission. It would be hard enough to support a colony of humans along with a colony of chickens, roosters, goats, pigs and cows would complicate the situation. Farming animals does have some sustainability concerns and from an ideological standpoint he may want to be as close to methane and carbon neutral as possible.


There is a significant difference between "being vegetarian" and accepting that you'll have to live on a vegetarian diet due to practical logistical reasons. If I was going, I'd have no problem accepting that there obviously won't be any raising of livestock on Mars, but my last meal on earth would still be a steak.


Couldn't agree more. It's Mars I'll take the bad with the unbelievably cool.


And the Mars Colony has its first political issue.


Probably more like vegans.


One view point: it's a waste of space and fuel to launch livestock with humans to a colony in the early days. Seeds and enough reserves to keep going would take up much less space.

Another view point: livestock isn't just useful for food, cultures and civilisations have been turning livestock into food, clothing, tools and other resources for centuries. It could be useful.

I know some people find it abhorrent we exploit animals as resources (not me personally), but Musk seems like a pragmatist. If it makes sense to send a bunch of meat loving carnivores to Mars with a ship hold full of livestock then that'll be the option.

On the upside, if they're using a liquid oxygen/methane rich mixture for the fuel they'd have a natural source of methane by having livestock.


I suspect it's not about transportation costs so much as ecology. The amount of biomass available to animals at the top of the food pyramid is inversely proportional to the height of the pyramid. Energy and nutrients would be an extremely precious resource in a Mars colony that has to do all its farming under domes. Far too precious to waste on cattle.

It's true that human cultures have historically relied on animals to convert inedible biomass into edible biomass, or to produce other materials. But those cultures didn't have all sorts of modern technologies such as hydroponics, engineered microbes, or chemical labs. And unlike the area where human cultures first developed, Mars isn't exactly known for its large quantities of available pasture land just sitting around waiting for grazing.


> I suspect it's not about transportation costs so much as ecology. The amount of biomass available to animals at the top of the food pyramid is inversely proportional to the height of the pyramid.

Right on. The thing to remember here, is that, as Feynmann says, plants make themselves out of air! < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1pIYI5JQLE > (If you doubt, go back to your basic biology education and remember the formula for photosynthesis.)

So a Mars colony's farms are basically chemical solar collectors doing two things: 1) providing chemical energy to the colonists (food) and 2) Converting Martian CO2 and water into biomass. If you introduce too many warm blooded animals into the system, a lot of your energy input gets wasted as livestock body heat.

tldr - By going vegetarian at first, the Mars colony accumulates usable biomass faster.


Given power and hydrogen, methane can be efficiently produced on Mars using the Sabatier reaction. Even getting the hydrogen by electrolysis of local water, this should be many times more efficient than raising pigs to get methane from their excrement.


It was more tongue in cheek than an actual valid idea.

Does make me wonder how easy it would be for them to build the colony into a waystation with fuel refineries and fuel refilling.


Actually, most schemes for missions to Mars involve some kind of in-situ fuel manufacture. It's already been demonstrated, and the technology actually is from the industrial revolution.


tldr - By going vegetarian at first, the Mars colony accumulates usable biomass faster.

(Also, the "Up on the Farm" chapter of this book is a good background read for this discussion: http://www.nss.org/settlement/ColoniesInSpace/colonies_chap0... )

The thing to remember here, is that, as Feynmann says, plants make themselves out of air! < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1pIYI5JQLE > Go back to your basic biology education and remember the formula for photosynthesis. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthesis >

So a Mars colony's farms are basically chemical solar collectors doing two things: 1) providing chemical energy to the colonists (food) and 2) Converting Martian CO2 and water into biomass. If you introduce too many warm blooded animals into the system, a lot of your energy input gets wasted as livestock body heat. So by going vegetarian at first, the Mars colony accumulates usable biomass faster. The faster you accumulate biomass, the faster you can make more biomass.

This is also the principle behind the tactic of mostly making construction vehicles at first in Starcraft, or concentrating early on customer acquisition in a startup.


One reason for a vegetarian diet on Mars is solar efficiency: the sun is only 44% as strong, which makes raising meat less practical. Meat takes a lot of energy,

Another reason is the higher ambient radiation levels on Mars, which plants are more resilient to than animals. Animals would likely have a higher cancer rate than here on Earth, and who wants to eat a cancerous steak? Not appetizing.


I wonder what his reasoning for such a requirement is. Does he think that a non-vegetarian won't be able to adapt to the meat-free diet a Mars colony will probably require without several years of 'practice' or is it some bizarre ideological stance? The whole thing sounds strange to me, but since I can't find the original quote or transcript, maybe he said something different.


He probably said something like, "Of course you'll have to be vegetarian." Which then got blown up.


If you have a meat-free diet you are vegetarian, so he probably meant that meat won't be availible on Mars for the settlers for quite some time and that everyone who goes have to expect a vegetarian diet.


Requiring people to not eat meat (or at least eat very little meat) makes sense. Requiring them to do so for a couple of years before takeoff to prepare (and make sure they're happy with that diet) makes sense too. But recruiting only people who are already vegetarians seems counterproductive.


Perhaps he is worried about cannibalism?


Nah, because given the right circumstances (i.e starving to death)...anyone can become that.


Show HN: My Martian City. I'm starting a business to bring people to Mars for half the price of Mr. Musk's. Reserve your tickets now. We go in about 15 years. The savings come from not having to grow our own food and not having to build a pressurized dome. Our city will be underground! It will be called Morlock and the citizens will be ...


Immediately I think this is silly. While There is an argument to be made for health benefits or moral upidityness of being a Vegetarian, it is stupid to rule out the benefits a fully working ecosystem gives you in terms of resource availability and renewability. Animals are good for more then just eating !


You need (rule-of-thumb) 10* as much energy (solar/light input) or 10* the amount of land for a none-vegetarian diet. In an early off-world colony, that might be prohibitively expensive.


This is not just about providing food. Thats my whole point. You may be able to provide sustance with less ground/light, but what about keeping the soil fertle ? How about dealing with plant waste ? What do you do with table scraps ? What do you do with human waste ?

You could say we will ship out machines and supplies to take care of all the _other_ stuff that you need to live. It is true you can have other methods to deal with some of the additional requirements of life, but animals are really good at fulfilling some roles. Additionally they are tasty.


In other words, meat will become an ultra-luxury food stuff -- with people paying some delta for illegal raised local meat vs. frozen meat flown in from Earth.

Local cultural fads would probably determine if stringy local small mammal meat or freezer burned brisket would go for more.


Be interesting to do some research on the food people eat and what happens.

The only thing I'd be gently worried about would be Omega 3 fatty acids - maybe linseed, or maybe that's something they drag out of the gravity well.


If ever there was a call for some GMO, here it is. And fortunately this is the sort of thing that's within our reach.


so we can start farming kyrt...and psycho-probbing spatio-analysts...[1]

if only Asimov was around to see these events start to unfold.

[1] Currents of Space - Isaac Asimov


His own words:

"Recent Articles in the press have said that I think Mars is for veggies only. Not so! Am in favor of freedom of diet"


Why are we still eating cellular food? Is anyone working on alternative nourishment?


If there's no meat then what's the point of even going to Mars.


Getting rich by smuggling bacon.


It's a pity that before we've even begun creating a new civilization, we've started issuing dictates. I really hope that this policy is purely for pragmatic reasons and not the personal pollitics/ideology of one person being put upon others.


This is simply a matter of practicality. It has nothing to do with idealogy, it's simply a fact that anyone going to live on Mars (a least in the beginning) will need to become a vegetarian if they aren't one already.

Eating vegetarian is dramatically more efficient, energy wise (I'm not trying to be a vegetarian apologist here, I am quite omnivorous myself, it's just a statement of fact), and any martian colony simply won't have the resources to waste on meat.

Meat is a luxury.


> in line with his own personal ideologies

Sounds like this is at least partially personal. However, there are practical reasons for this too.




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