This is the final post in the Mars Colony Administrator’s Handbook series. For part one, please see here.
A brief word about science: I’ve avoided discussing planetary science in this series, because it has been covered so well, in so many other places. The traditional vision of a trip to Mars, in the guise of a 1980’s US/USSR joint mission, revolved heavily around the idea of sending a small group of people, for a relatively short period of time, with largely scientific objectives. This is completely different from the various colonization concepts that have circulated in recent years. Regardless of why people go to Mars though, a lot of serious scientific work will be done. The advantages of having a large number of people present, along with a well-equipped laboratory, are immense. We cannot conceive yet of the discoveries that will result.
As I’ve mentioned a few times in comments, this series is really only ostensibly about either space colonization, or about Elon Musk’s plan to colonize Mars specifically.
I often try to write about large, blue-sky topics, sometimes highly improbable ones (see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch article I did – floating, stabilized, tropical icebergs, made of recycled oceanic plastic, turned into pycrete!). I’m not crazy. I get many hits on that article from K-12 students, and this gets them thinking about their own ideas for solving problems. I’ve had great conversations with teachers from all over the world as a result.
My objectives are to get people thinking in a large way, and (even more so) to engage in conversation with people who are already doing so. I’ve been very lucky as a result of this series to have met some smart, engaged space experts at moonmars.com, and I’ve learned a lot from talking to them.
In addition, I’ve been wanting for some time to write at a longer length than the usual blog post, and the sheer amount of detail involved in Mars colonization helped.
Lastly, for those who may feel discouraged by the huge scope that will be involved – this is how project management works on this scale. Detailed planning will help determine areas where we need to do fundamental research still, in addition to those where we’re just about ready to go. I feel strongly that humanity has been hand-waving away too many of the finer details of what is involved in moving up and out into the solar system, and this is perhaps my way of sticking my thumb in the allegorical eye of those doing the waving. Its time to get down to brass tacks. Let’s do it!
What I would really love to do is to rewrite the series in the form of a book or possibly a wiki. I’d like to collaborate with other people in doing so though. I’ve never written anything on the scale that would be involved, and I don’t feel like I know enough about the specific topics to cover them in the depth required. If you’re up for the task, I think it will take about 5 or 6 people. Let’s talk.
I’ve also mentioned previously that this would be a fun topic to turn into a documentary series. For one thing, it would be a good excuse to travel to all sorts of out of the way places, on somebody else’s budget. Someone also mentioned earlier today on moonmars.com that they’d like to try doing an SF series on a similar basis – the daily lives, in a highly realistic basis, of Mars colonists. If anyone does either, I’m always available for script consulting!
On a more serious basis, I do feel that many of the topics that I covered are going to be vitally important to get right, in order for a future Mars colony (or anywhere else in the solar system, for that matter) to succeed. I hope that the people who are planning these colonies are taking these sorts of things seriously, particularly around the “soft stuff”.
Likelihood and Timeframe
So when will Mars happen?
It looks like humanity is getting ready to go back to the moon in some force in the next decade or so. The cost of getting equipment up into orbit is just starting its geometric curve downwards, and once things are sitting in orbit, the moon isn’t all that far away.
Whether this will involve corporate publicity stunts, a new space race between the US and China, or something with greater long term stability (a sensible business model, say), remains to be seen.
Regardless, the equipment that people use in space (and use to get around in space) is/are becoming mature.
NASA is trying out one of Bigelow Aerospace‘s inflatable habitats on the IIS in the near future, and its only a short step from there to independent corporate space stations. The price point is getting to where many larger corporations are seriously considering that jump. The value of a zero-g lab is incalculable.
Once there are many people living and working in Low Earth Orbit, regardless of what anyone does in a planned manner, it is only a matter of time before some kids fuel up their parent’s orbital Desoto, toss some extra snacks in the back seat, and go for a jaunt to the Moon. Or Mars. Or anywhere, really. My point being (silliness aside) that it becomes trivially easy to do at some point in time.
So when? My best guess is that we’ll see some serious national shots at Mars in around 15 years time. Depending on how technology progresses, we may even see corporate one-off attempts in less time than that. The huge effort described by Musk is still a few decades away, and at that scale we’re almost certainly talking about an effort that lasts for many many decades, or even centuries. That compares with the European colonization of the Americas, for both scale and timeframe. I’m pretty sure people my age will see the first successful efforts, but it may take a few generations before there are, say, a million people living on Mars.
How realistic are the scenarios in my articles? There are an infinite number of ways in which the colonization of Mars could happen. Whether it will be a Weird-West mining camp, with space-suited sheriffs and convicted deportees, or a retirement home for elderly tech billionaires, or a large scientific installation, owned by a nation state or corporation – who knows? Perhaps all of the above may occur, at different times and places. The solar system is a large enough place for many social experiments.
What can we do to speed things up?
Simple. Get excited about space. Realize that it is a big part of the future of humanity. Possibly join in the burgeoning space business revolution – this is going to be bigger than the internet, and there are many, many business models that need to be tried out. Start small, and aim for the stars!
What would I have redone?
Inconsistent styling between articles (I’ve been at this for a couple of months now, in between actually getting work done). Insufficient research. Possibly striking too pessimistic of a tone.
In any case, if you feel like I have something completely, horribly wrong, or that I left out something of vital importance, please comment. I’ll try to sucker you into helping out with the next version!
Mars Colony Administrator’s Handbook – Navigation:
- Part 1 – Introduction
- Part 2 – Resources, Water
- Part 3 – Air, Food
- Part 4 – Energy, Raw Materials, People
- Part 5 – Supply Chain Management, Urban Planning
- Brief Intermission
- Part 6 – Jurisdiction and Law, Economics
- Bonus Post
- Part 7 – Manufacturing, Communications
- Part 8 – Emergency Services, Failure Modes