The Mars Colony Administrator’s Handbook – A brief intermission

The Mars Colony Administrator’s Handbook will continue shortly! I’m currently estimating that there will be another 5 – 6 posts, covering topics from manufacturing to emergency services. Much of this is already written, and I’m editing it as quickly as I can. I apologize for any delay.

If anyone from Discovery reads this – wouldn’t these posts make a nice documentary miniseries? For one thing, it would be a great excuse to visit McMurdo Station, as well as other cool and out of the way places. 🙂

One of the nice benefits of blogging is the people that you meet. I especially want to mention the enthusiastic space community at (go sign up!) and the wise folks at the Lifeboat Foundation’s Facebook group.

Some readers of the series from these two groups posed a couple of questions that I had anticipated answering in the conclusion. I think now that they’re too important to leave until then.

1. A few people commented that the scope of my posts is discouraging – that it makes the task of colonizing space seem so overwhelmingly huge that it appears unfeasible.

I’m actually more optimistic than I have been in years, and perhaps more optimistic than may come across in my writing.

The enormity of the task of building a substantial colony on Mars (or the moon, or in orbit) should be taken in the context of other large (and sometimes multi-generational) tasks that humans have done in the past.

I remember visiting the Great Hole of Kimberley as a child, and staring out into that vast abyss. It is so large that it was almost impossible for my eyes to grasp the scale. An estimated 22 million tons of rock were dug out of the pit by 50,000 miners seeking diamonds – by hand – over the course of about 40 years.

In my professional life, I typically work on large software development projects. Spending too much effort contemplating the whole, at the early stages of the project can be very discouraging. The way that developers tackle large projects is by breaking the list of tasks required down into tiny pieces, and then diving in and just doing those pieces, one at a time.

I believe that a similar effort is required by the space enthusiast community in order to make commercial and private space happen. It is time to stop hand-waving away the hard details and instead to dive in up to our elbows and starting doing things.

2. The other question: So what can we do? Isn’t space something that only governments and large corporations can tackle?

Not everything involves building big rockets.Although what SpaceX and others are doing is indeed awesome.

As a result of this series of posts, I’ve met a number of people who have started companies that are actually tackling pieces of the puzzle.

One startup is building more efficient systems for removing carbon dioxide from air. This has a dual market (submarines).

Therein lies one of the keys – products and services that fulfill that duality, that have applicable markets here on Earth as well, are highly feasible right now.

I have a few ideas, and I’m sure that there are probably thousands of business models that small startups could run with:

  • There’s lots of work required to make zero-g food production possible. Things like ensuring that water can be fed to plants without gravity, preventing a big mess, protecting plants from radiation, improving the density of growth etc.
  • It might be valuable to start a ratings agency that provides various kinds of ratings (i.e. works in zero-g, can handle the atmosphere/soil of various planets, can handle radiation at ‘x’ level, doesn’t make a mess in orbit etc) for existing terrestrial products. That way perhaps we can check off some items from the todo list. The business model would be similar to existing ratings agencies (i.e. lobby to become the standard that space programs rely on, and then charge manufacturers for testing and ratings).
  • How about an open source standard operating system for spacecraft? Wouldn’t it be great if all spacecraft in the future have a standardized, easy to use interface?
  • What about new, nicer varieties of food for space (can sell to NASA, but also potential for the MRE market)?
  • Or if you have some engineering chops, how about an all-electric bulldozer?

To Be Continued…

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