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He said he'd put a million people on Mars by 2050. He didn't say they'd be alive when they got there. It's probably feasible now to put samples of the cremated remains of 1 million people on a vehicle and have it soft land on Mars.
Myself, I never considered to be anywhere in the neighbourhood of realism. Not by a magnitude or two. But when you meet the fanboys, you often wish you had a checklist to point to, displaying 24 main reasons why the project is completely unrealistic, each of the 24 points certified by an internationally recognized expert.
Okay, okay, I know: Internationally recognized experts don't have a clue when you try to defend your own job in the coal or oil industry; then the experts are just talking bullshit. If you are working with Ovibos moschatus[^], you do not want that work to be turned down, either. But a list of 24 well argued objections would be welcome.
Next question: How many plants does it take to produce a ton of oxygen a day? Obviously, a huge pine tree will produce more than, say, a tomato plant. I guess that plants will have to double as both oxygen and food sources; there wouldn't be room of huge forests within that plastic bubble. Do food plants vary a lot in their oxygen prodction capabilities? With Mars being roughly speaking at 1.5 times the Earth's distance from the sun, solar radiation is at 40-45% of Earth levels; I guess that could affect the photosynthesis.
with the use of solar energy collectors and artificial lighting, Earth-like levels can be replicated or increased. but will the 'soil' support terrestrial vegetation ?.
There's non-biological ways to produce oxygen. A few years back I got interested in recycling of CO2 back to O2, and there's multiple paths to do that. There's also other ways to get O2, like by disassociating water.
However, as raddevus pointed out about the biosphere project, making a long term viable environment is hard. The more closed, the harder.
It takes significant amounts of energy to tear up the bonds between the C and the O2 (and the process is far from 100% efficient). It is like "paying back" the energy you gained by burning the carbon, or the hydrogen.
If you want to do that by electricity from solar panels (with an efficiency in the low 20s - most PV panels sold today are below 20%) you must cover enormous areas with PV panels. We need to calculate the size. And the energy cost of shipping them from earth - I don't think we can expect neither to find the raw materials nor to establish a production plant for PV panels on Mars.
The real problem with this is that, in a colonization situation, you have to rely solely on all the things you bring with you, or on all the things that those things make. Generally, you're talking about a situation in which just about all the components which make up your colony are mission-critical, and there's maybe one or two backups/work-arounds for each one.
It wouldn't take much to kill the colony completely: perhaps two or three simultaneous points of failure - effectively, it's a question of when - not if - you go and kill a whole lot of colonists - perhaps all of them.
We're too used to thinking in terms of living in a relatively robust system which has multiple workarounds built into it to overcome any number of failures; in most cases, you have to actively put yourself into a lethal situation on Earth in order to get killed (statistically speaking, that is).
On Mars, you're in that situation all the time, and you have to actively keep removing yourself from it. Whole different concept.
SciFi stories are not really meant for the stars, but for our life on earth.
A scaringly high percentage of Western humans seem to believ that if we can simplify the biology to provide us with the life forms supporting us, today, then we can make earth a much more efficient machine for supporting our lives...
Maybe thorough analyses of the vulnurability of a Mars colony can contribute to an understanding of the complex interactions among life forms on earth. You cannot just extinguish a species and clap your hands: It was predator, we are happy that it is gone! The interaction with other species is far more complex.
Biologists know, of course. They have quite good simulation models to tell what would happen if we extinguish, say, the wolf. Their problem is making the general public accept the models, and conclusions, they present. Make people understand the complexity of various forms of life we are dependent on.
I had a mental experience/breakdown several years ago when my car had a collapse, and I failed to fix it myself. That set me thinking of all the different people and professionals I depend on to survive: Car mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, electricians: What if they are not here? How would I manage? To clear up my thoughs, I started writing my own novel about such a situation: All adults aroud me have died from an unknown virus infection, but not me. What do I do now?
The scenario I painted was neither Martian nor Titan, but similar to a worldwide sprean of the Corona virus, or Black Death. I have related to that issue for years, now. One of my conclusions is that most "preppers" don't have a clue. First; What it takes to suvive without the support of a society. Then, and more significant: How to manage a new society, created from the group of people within that bunker of yours.
I think we - as a society - should spend more effort on educating the people at large, "the man in the street", in how things fit together, how they affect each other, how they interact, and how they depend on each other. Thinking back on my own school days, we wasted a lot of energy learning details of isolated system, from how to operate a sawing machine to how to solve differential equations. Teachers of today are of course trained to reject such comments, insisting that today they present it in a wider frame of knowledge. It isn't true. They just widen the scope within their own frame of reference, which is just as narrow as before. They do not extend it beyond that.
As a father, my primary teaching responsibilty was to tell that there is a whole world out there, with a lot more to be discovered. I am not yet into the granddaddy role, but if it comes, I will see my role in a similar way: Those singular pieces of information must be put into a larger framework of interactions and complexities. From my experience as a daddy, I know that kids are far more capable of handling such issues than commonly believed.
Very good. Yes - Heinlein apparently thought so, too: "specialization is for insects," he wrote, while making his point that one should strive to be able to do anything. As a programmer, I choose to believe that the "perfect programmer" should be able to write software for anything; to do that, he has to know everything - so if the zen is in the journey, then the search for all knowledge is zen itself. Or something.
Sadly, reality is a messy, lethal, unpredictable, entropic affair, and most people are scared to death of it, thus they choose to view a sort of abridged, safe version of it in which they have a soul which lasts forever, and even death can't really hurt them - a shame, because it effectively cheapens one's life to the point of meaninglessness... and other rants.
I guess the point of all that is that you can't educate someone who's frightened enough not to want to learn... and that describes most of the population. Oh well: at least we'll never be unemployed.
Anything that is unrelated to elephants is irrelephant Anonymous - The problem with quotes on the internet is that you can never tell if they're genuine Winston Churchill, 1944 - Never argue with a fool. Onlookers may not be able to tell the difference. Mark Twain