Architecture

Blue Dragon

Introduction

Many H2M (Humans to Mars) architectures have been proposed over the years. One of the most important of these was Mars Direct, principally because it introduced the concept of ISPP (In Situ Propellant Production) as a method for drastically reducing the mass and therefore the investment required for a successful H2M mission.

In 1995 NASA began developing a new Mars mission architecture, known as the NASA Design Reference Mission, which incorporated elements of Mars Direct, including ISPP. This architecture has since evolved to version 5.0, and is now called the Design Reference Architecture (DRA). The DRA has been in development for at least 12 years (more if you include Mars Direct and all the other H2M work that has gone before), involving many experts and departments within NASA, and arguably represents the best H2M architecture currently available. (In this blog/book, DRA 5.0 is abbreviated “DRA5”.)

Nonetheless, a variety of improvements to the DRA5 have been proposed, including:

  • The use of MLLV (Medium Lift Launch Vehicle) or EELV (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle) to eliminate the significant investment required to develop a suitable HLLV (Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle) (see: Mars For Less – Bonin).
  • The use of inflatable modules to significantly expand habitat volume (see: Dr. Janek Kozicki).
  • The use of biconic spacecraft to improve EDL (Entry, Descent and Landing) performance and better optimise spacecraft and habitat geometry (see: Mars-Oz – Willson and Clarke).

The Blue Dragon architecture is a new H2M mission architecture based primarily on DRA5, with several improvements. These include some of those listed above, or variations thereof, plus additional architectural improvements. Most importantly, Blue Dragon utilises a number of COTS (Commercial Off-The-Shelf) hardware components that have recently become available. The result is an affordable and achievable architecture that offers increased safety and reliability, and improved outcomes.

Blue Dragon is based on the DRA5, but could also be adopted and achieved by the private sector. In particular, since this mission principally leverages SpaceX hardware, this mission could potentially be achieved by SpaceX in collaboration with partners, investors and contractors.

The mission is named “Blue Dragon” because it will build on the achievements of the Red Dragon mission, which proposes landing a Dragon capsule on Mars that contains a number of scientific experiments. In Blue Dragon, Dragon and DragonRider capsules are utilised for ferrying crew and cargo to the MTV (Mars Transfer Vehicle), and for landing crew and cargo on the surface of Mars. (Yes, there is also a “Green Dragon” mission, discussed separately.)

Blue Dragon forms the core mission of the Tiw Program.

Acronyms

The following acronyms for hardware elements are referred to in this architecture. Just to be annoying, some of these vary slightly from those used in DRA5. In some cases user-friendly names are assigned in order to reduce acronym overload.

Acronym Meaning Equivalent in DRA5 Name
MAV Mars Ascent Vehicle DAV (Descent/Ascent Vehicle)
MCM Mars Cargo Module Cargo Dragon
MSH Mars Surface Habitat SHAB the hab
MTV Mars Transfer Vehicle MTV Abeona

Variation from NASA DRA5

  1. Blue Dragon aims to significantly decrease costs and increase reliability and safety by utilising primarily COTS hardware for space vehicles, including SpaceX rockets, capsules and engines, and Bigelow Aerospace inflatable space station modules.
  2. The hab does not wait in Mars orbit, but is landed on arrival, and, like the MAV, is activated and all its systems checked out remotely.
  3. The crew do not descend to the Mars surface in the hab, but in a DragonRider capsule (named Pern-1). This capsule is initially used to ferry the crew from Earth surface to Abeona, remains attached to Abeona during the Earth-Mars transit, and ferries the crew to Mars surface on arrival at Mars.
  4. The hab includes ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilisation) equipment with which to extract oxygen, nitrogen and water from the Martian atmosphere in order to support hab and crew requirements prior to, and during, the surface stay.
  5. The hab includes inflatable sections in order to significantly increase habitat volume beyond the size of the initial spacecraft.
  6. (Optional, TBD) After the MAV launches from Mars at the end of the crew’s surface stay, and delivers them safely to Abeona, it returns to the base at Mars surface rather than be discarded.
  7. In DRA5, a capsule for the purpose of transporting the crew from the MTV back to Earth surface at the end of the mission is launched with the MTV and remains connected to it for the entire journey out to Mars and back. In Blue Dragon, a DragonRider capsule (Pern-2) is launched from Earth after EOI (Earth Orbit Insertion) to pick the crew up for descent to Earth surface. This saves mass and thus fuel and thus money.

Benefits of using COTS hardware

Focusing on a single technology for surface-to-space and space-to-surface crew transport reduces mission complexity and generally improves robustness. Rather than having a collection of one-off custom-built components that only a few specialist engineers understand (space agency SOP (Standard Operating Procedure)), using COTS components gives several advantages:

  • The hardware will already have been tested in a variety of situations and refined. This drastically improves confidence in the tech and the likelihood of spotting or anticipating design flaws, whether in equipment or mission architecture.
  • Many engineers will have detailed knowledge of the hardware, rather than just a few. This makes problem identification and resolution quicker, easier, and more likely to be correct.
  • Components produced in quantity, rather than one-off, are generally cheaper; sometimes orders of magnitude cheaper.

Our goal should not be to do the cheapest possible H2M mission. It should be to do the smartest one. Cost is a crucial consideration, because, as we’ve seen, too high a price tag will make the mission non-viable. The $450 billion bottom line of the 90-Day Report was prohibitive, wiping out all chances of it ever being taken seriously. But then, the cheaper you make the mission, the more dangerous it becomes. A balance must be struck between cost and safety. We don’t want to spend $450 billion, but getting a crew safely to Mars and back should be worth at least around $10 billion. To give you some perspective, MSL (Mars Science Laboratory) has cost about $2.5 billion so far. Fortunately, as we will see, with the development of the Dragon capsule comes the ability to land several tonnes on Mars for ~$250M per capsule, greatly reducing the cost of an H2M mission based on this technology.

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Space Program

Why “Tiw”?

“Tiw” is the old English name for the god Mars; or, at least, Tiw was the equivalent in Norse mythology of the Roman god Mars.

Why not “Ares”?

Firstly, so many programs and vehicles have been named “Ares” now, in both scientific literature and fiction, that it’s painfully unoriginal. Secondly, what most people don’t know is that Mars and Ares were not the same gods.

Mars was originally the god of agriculture and springtime, and was considered one of the most important Roman gods, second only to Jupiter. Mars eventually became equated with war because the Romans would often march to war in March, the month named for Mars, which is when spring is beginning in the northern hemisphere (the vernal equinox is around March 21). It’s much easier to march cross-country in spring when the weather is nice, than in, say, winter! Most of the festivals celebrating and worshipping Mars occurred, unsurprisingly, in March. Of course, the soldiers marching off to war then would ask the god Mars to bless and guide them, and grant them victory – and thus, over time, Mars became thought of as the Roman war god. But this is not the true nature of Mars.

Personally, I like Mars the god of springtime and agriculture more than Mars the god of war!

Ares, on the other hand, was the Greek god of war and was considered brutal and vile, and was not a well-respected or loved god. Note that Phobos and Deimos (fear and panic) were consorts of Ares – not of Mars. So, just to be clear: Mars good and popular, Ares horrible and unpopular. Not the same. (This is also why I think “Phobos” and “Deimos” are terrible names for Mars’ moons.)

Although I would prefer not to use the name “Ares” for an H2M program or vehicle, the name “Ares” will always be linked with Mars whether we like it or not. It’s the root of the prefix “areo”, which can be substituted for the prefix “geo” to create Mars-equivalent words:

Earth Mars
geology areology
geography areography
geochemistry areochemistry
geosynchronous areosynchronous
geostationery areostationery

There are numerous equivalent names for Mars in other languages. However, why not use one that we use every day – or, at least, every week?

Yes – the word “Tuesday” means “Tiw’s day”. And “Tiw” means “Mars”.

The days of the week were originally named by astrologers for the 7 known planets. “Planet” simply meant “wanderer”, and referred to any astronomical object that did not maintain a fixed position like a star. This, therefore, included the Sun and Moon.

In most cultures, the planets were personified as gods.

Planet name (English) Latin equivalent Day of week (old Latin) Norse equivalent Day of week (English)
Sun Sol Dies Solis
(Sol’s day)
Sunday
(Sun’s day)
Moon Luna Dies Lunae
(Luna’s day)
Monday
(Moon’s day)
Mars Dies Martis
(Mars’ day)
Tiw Tuesday
(Tiw’s day)
Mercury Dies Mercurii
(Mercury’s day)
Woden Wednesday
(Woden’s day)
Jupiter Jove Dies Jovis
(Jove’s day)
Thor Thursday
(Thor’s day)
Venus Dies Veneris
(Venus’ day)
Freya Friday
(Freya’s day)
Saturn Dies Saturni
(Saturn’s day)
Saturday
(Saturn’s day)

The god “Tiw” (also known as “Tyr” or “Tiwaz”) was associated with law and heroic glory, and known for his great wisdom and courage. These are surely great attributes to bestow on our H2M program!

As a bonus, Tiw also has a rune. It’s slightly different from the well-known alchemical symbol for Mars, but, I think you’ll agree, it’s pretty symbolic of a space program:

440px-Tiwaz_rune.svg

Space Program

The Tiw Program

The Tiw program is the name of an ambitious H2M (Humans to Mars) program loosely based on the Apollo program, which I hope to develop and explain on this blog.

See: Why “Tiw”? if you’re curious about the name.

Here’s a mistake that I think many people in the Mars community seem to be making: They look at H2M as a single mission.

The attitude is one of: “Let’s just achieve that. Let’s just get humans to Mars. That’s the main goal, let’s focus on that, and not worry about anything that comes before or after.”

This mindset is understandable. Because funds are limited, we could only ever hope to afford a single H2M mission, hence why consider others? But such an approach is unlikely to succeed.

The goal of this blog is Mars settlement, and it’s therefore mostly about what happens after we begin sending humans to Mars. It’s not just about getting some people there and coming back. That kind of goal may be appropriate for a cold-war space-race in which one alpha tribe wants to display its technical superiority to another. But it’s not appropriate for the 21st century, where we recognise that we’re all one people sharing a single biosphere, the days of nationalistic competition is over (or soon will be), and we’re beginning to realise the importance to our future of expansion into space.

We need to look beyond just sending humans to Mars. To view H2M as a single mission is short-sighted, and should not be our goal. The goal is really to make humanity multiplanetary. In that context, perhaps Apollo is not the optimal example to follow, since it was indeed about simply winning a race and not about any kind of ongoing program of lunar settlement. However, Apollo was the greatest success in space exploration history, and there’s a reason for that: it was a program and not just a mission. The Apollo program was originally planned as a series of 20 missions. The first 10 missions were designed as preparation for the Moon landing. The second 10 missions were all planned as Moon landings; except, as we all know, Apollo 13 aborted and the last 3 missions were cancelled.

It’s not only about what happens after that first H2M mission, but also what happens before. Apollo 11 was a success because of what was achieved by the earlier missions.

The Tiw program is an H2M program designed to carry us through Stage 1 of Mars settlement: human exploration. The first series of missions (Phase 1) are designed to develop the necessary capabilities and experience for the first H2M mission to be a success. The second series of missions (Phase 2) are designed to develop the necessary capabilities and experience to take us to Stage 2: permanent settlements and infrastructure.

Phase 1 of the Tiw program includes a series of exercises in Mars analog environments on Earth (including places such as the Arctic and Antarctic, Utah, Arkaroola and Atacama), Earth orbit, the Moon, and perhaps Mars orbit. Some missions will be robotic.

Phase 2 obviously focuses on Mars.

ISRU

ISRU in Mars Direct

The best-known example of ISRU for Mars was described in the mission architecture published in 1991 by Robert Zubrin and David Baker, called Mars Direct.

Mars Direct triggered a revolutionary shift in the Mars community, being radically cheaper and simpler than any previous proposals.

One of the key innovations incorporated into Mars Direct is the idea of manufacturing LOX/CH4 (liquid oxygen/methane) bipropellant from the Martian atmosphere, rather than transporting it from Earth. This fuel can then be used to launch the crew from the surface of Mars in an ERV (Earth Return Vehicle) on completion of the surface stay. By manufacturing fuel from local resources, rather than carrying it from Earth, the mass needed to be launched from Earth is significantly reduced. This in turn greatly reduces the cost and complexity of the mission.

As one of the earliest and best known examples of ISRU on Mars, and one that will almost certainly be used by Mars missions from the outset, it’s worthwhile to review it here.

The methane portion of the bipropellant is produced by reacting carbon dioxide (CO2) obtained from the Martian atmosphere with hydrogen (H2) brought from Earth, via the Sabatier reaction:

(1)          CO2(g) + 4 H2(g)  →  CH4(g) + 2 H2O(v)

Water (H2O) produced by this reaction is then separated into hydrogen and oxygen gas via electrolysis:

(2)          2 H2O(l)  →  2 H2(g) + O2(g)

The hydrogen produced by reaction (2) is recycled back into reaction (1), producing more methane. The oxygen produced by reaction (2) is stored cryogenically as LOX, the oxygen portion of the bipropellant.

The original Mars Direct architecture specifies carrying 6 tonnes of H2 from Earth. By combining these processes, this amount of hydrogen can be used to manufacture 48 tonnes of O2 and 24 tonnes of CH4.

However, the stochiometric ratio for LOX/CH4 bipropellant is 3.5:1 (or 7:2). That means, to burn 24 tonnes of methane, we need 84 tonnes of oxygen. That’s an additional 36 tonnes.

Several processes were proposed for produced the additional O2. Perhaps the most elegant is combining the Sabatier reaction with the reverse water gas shift (RWGS) reaction in the same chamber.

The reverse water gas shift reaction reacts carbon dioxide with hydrogen to produce carbon monoxide and water:

(3)          CO2(g) + H2(g) → CO(g) + H2O(v)

Combining reactions (1) and (3), we get:

(4)          3 CO2(g) + 6 H2(g) → CH4(g) + 2 CO(g) + 4 H2O(v)

The H2O is electrolysed, storing the O2 and recycling the H2 back through reaction (4), just as we did with reaction 1. This produces 96 tonnes of O2, which is enough oxygen for the bipropellant plus 12 tonnes spare. The surplus oxygen can be used to top up the hab, pressurised rover or surface suit oxygen tanks. In addition, the CO produced in reaction (4) could potentially be used as rover or generator fuel.

The value of this approach should be clear. Bringing only 6 tonnes of H2 from Earth is significantly cheaper and easier than transporting 108 tonnes of bipropellant! Launching the crew from Mars at the end of the surface stay is one of the most challenging aspects of any H2M mission, which is why many people, including the designers of Mars One, have opted for one-way missions. Yet, naturally, most mission planners – especially those from governmental space agencies – are inclined or obliged to plan for the crew to return to Earth. This one idea presented in Mars Direct suddenly made this a whole lot easier to achieve, which is why it had such a big impact on the Mars community. It became a core design feature of several new H2M architectures, including the NASA Design Reference Mission.

Hydrogen on Mars

Of course, this approach begs the question: if it makes sense to manufacture rocket fuel from local Martian resources, why do we need to carry even 6 tonnes of hydrogen from Earth? Hydrogen is notoriously difficult to store in space. Large tanks are required, due to its low density, and because H2 molecules are so small, at least 0.5% per day boils off and leaks away into space. The amount launched from Earth has to be more than 6 tonnes to allow for this boil-off.

But Mars has plenty of hydrogen. Why can’t we use ISRU techniques to obtain and use it?

The problem is that most of the hydrogen on Mars is in the form of water frozen in the regolith, and this simply isn’t as easy to access as the atmosphere. Methods are indeed being researched to obtain water from the regolith; for example, using robots and microwave radiation. But these are possibly too complex for the first H2M mission, which is what Mars Direct is principally designed for.

Hydrogen represents only 1/9 of the mass of water; therefore, to obtain 6 tonnes of hydrogen requires first obtaining 54 tonnes of water.

The Martian atmosphere contains about 0.021% water vapour, which can be accessed. To obtain 54 tonnes of water would require processing almost 260,000 tonnes of Martian atmosphere. If we attempted to achieve this during a 26-month period between launch windows, this means processing about 10,000 tonnes of atmosphere per month, or over 300 tonnes per day. The equipment required to achieve this could weigh more than 6 tonnes, thus offsetting any benefit to this approach.

Nonetheless, it’s inevitable that techniques will be developed for obtaining water from the Martian atmosphere, and from the regolith. This will be a crucial capability for human settlement of Mars.

ISRU

In Situ Resource Utilisation

Apart from ECLSS (Environment Control and Life Support Systems) and space vehicles, ISRU is one of the most important capabilities we need to develop in order to settle Mars.

“In Situ Resource Utilisation”, or “ISRU”, simply means using local resources. To illustrate: when European settlers sailed the ocean blue to new lands past the edge of the world, they did not take everything with them that they’d need for their new life. To do so would have been entirely impractical. On arrival at new lands, explorers drank water from local streams, plucked ripe fruits from local trees and hunted local wildlife. They used wood and stone from near the settlement sites to build homes and other structures. In other words, they utilised resources from their current location, hence, In Situ Resource Utilisation (“in situ” is Latin for “on site” or “at location”).

This is one of the main categories here is because ISRU is a crucial capability for Mars exploration and settlement. (Also because it’s a large and interesting topic.) Launching anything into space from the surface of Earth is extremely expensive, costing between $2,000 and $15,000 per kilogram, depending on the vehicle. Considering that everything needed to send even a small crew of humans to Mars – spacecraft, life support systems, food, fuel, and other supplies and equipment – could weigh 50-100 tonnes or more, that’s a significant cost.

Furthermore, the more mass you need to deliver to the surface of Mars, the more fuel is needed to launch that mass to Earth orbit and then onwards to Mars – and the fuel itself has mass. Rockets also have limits in terms of mass and volume; therefore, more mass can mean a greater number of launches. Thus, as mass increases, costs tend to compound in an exponential way, rather than linear.

Anything we can obtain from the Martian environment therefore translates to a significant reduction in mission cost and therefore an increased likelihood that the mission will be flown; or, a greater number of missions that can be flown. For those of us who would prefer to see H2M happen sooner rather than later, developing ISRU capability on Mars is therefore considered crucial.

 

Robert Zubrin and David Baker demonstrate their mechanism for making methane and oxygen from hydrogen and carbon dioxide.
Robert Zubrin and David Baker demonstrate their mechanism for making methane and oxygen from hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

 

Martian Resources

Mars has plenty of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, water, metals and energy that can potentially be used by human explorers and settlers. The challenge is accessing it, which is dependent on technology and scientific knowledge.

For the past half-century we’ve been accumulating the necessary scientific knowledge – characterising the atmosphere, climate, the crust and every other aspect of the planet that we can perceive – in order to determine what resources are available. We now have reasonably detailed understanding of the Martian atmosphere and surface, including an awareness of the large quantities of water available across the surface of Mars.

The atmosphere is by far the most accessible resource on Mars, since air can easily be drawn into a system designed to extract substances from it. The next most easily accessible resource is the regolith – the loose top layer of dust and dirt on the Martian surface.

The topic of Martian ISRU can be organised into two sections:

 

ISRU Level 1

This refers to the most basic resources that we need to obtain from the local environment for the purposes of survival, and simply in order to make H2M feasible. These ISRU processes are likely to be developed at bases during early exploration of Mars (Stage 1 of Mars settlement).

  • Energy
  • Fuel
  • Water
  • Air
  • Food

 

ISRU Level 2

This refers to advanced ISRU processes to produce materials and other substances necessary for manufacturing and industrial processes. While the full list of potential resources that will eventually be produced on Mars would be far too long to list exhaustively, some of the most obvious include:

  • Bricks and blocks
  • Metals (iron, steel, light engineering metals, platinum group metals, precious metals)
  • Wood, bamboo and hemp
  • Plastics
  • Cement and concrete
  • Glass and ceramics
  • Hydrocarbons

 

Some of these will be covered in greater detail in future posts.

 

Mars

The Four Primary Stages of Mars Settlement

These are what I imagine to be the four primary stages of human settlement of Mars:

  1. Human exploration
  2. Establishment of permanent colonies and infrastructure
  3. Formation of a Martian society
  4. Terraforming

Let’s briefly review each of these, before covering each in greater detail.

Stage 1: Human exploration

It could be said that “Robotic exploration” is the first, or preliminary stage of Mars settlement. This may be true, but since that process is largely underway, and because we’re talking about human settlement of Mars, I will skip it here other than to refer to robots in the context of human exploration and settlement. Robots will always be involved in human settlement of Mars, and in fact it seems that the robotics and space revolutions will occur (and are occurring) in parallel, each propelling the other forward. The more active we become in space, the more advanced our robots will become, and the more they will work alongside us, on Earth as well as in space.

This stage will encompass human activity on Mars, spanning from the first “Humans to Mars” (H2M) mission up until the establishment of the first permanent human colonies. It will include human missions organised by governmental space agencies, either operating independently or in collaboration with each other, and it may also include private exploration missions such as those proposed by Mars One or the Inspiration Mars Foundation.

The main purpose of this stage of Mars settlement is reconnaissance, experimentation, scientific research and other forms of knowledge gathering, accumulation of technological assets on the surface of Mars, and increasing public interest in human settlement in order to fund further human activity on Mars (such as the establishment of permanent colonies). This stage will be characterised by the development of exploration bases on Mars designed to support small crews of explorer-astronauts (up to, say, 8-10 people), comprising temporary surface habitats and greenhouses, ISRU and power production equipment, communications and positioning equipment, and surface excursion vehicles (rovers).

Mars Direct

Stage 2: Establishment of permanent colonies and infrastructure

Once we have sufficient scientific knowledge of Mars, and have developed the necessary technology to support settlement – most importantly, how to obtain energy, air, water and food from Mars – we’ll be in a position to begin installing more permanent infrastructure. This will include settlements capable of supporting larger populations; say, up to 100 or 1000 people and eventually more.

Note that Stage 1 and Stage 2 serve to differentiate between the terms “base” and “settlement”. Although these terms are frequently used interchangeably, I prefer to treat them distinctly different modes of human habitation on Mars. The term “base” is used to refer to a temporary base of exploration designed to support up to about 10 people for short periods (say, up to 2-3 years at most). Although the site for a base may be developed over a long period, the components of a base are typically small and compact, and designed for short-term usage.

The term “settlement”, in contrast, refers to a permanent facility designed to support a growing population for a long period, perhaps indefinitely. Settlements will attract greater investment in infrastructure such as roads, power plants, telecommunications, satellites and so on, in order to support long term growth and expansion. Whereas bases will be supported from Earth and not designed to be self-sufficient, it will be the goal of most settlements to develop as great a degree of self-sufficiency as possible. Bases are more likely to be funded by governments, but settlements are more likely to be propped up by private enterprise. Bases are camps; settlements are towns.

Settlements will be much more capable and independent than the earlier exploration bases. Many will be partially underground in order to provide improved protection from radiation. Some may include business or industrial districts to support the formation of an economy within the settlement. Certainly, most will develop independence in the four basics of ISRU: energy, air, water and food.

Base Settlement
Up to ~10 people. Up to ~100 or ~1000 people.
Temporary structures; above ground. Permanent structures; partly underground.
Heath and safety level: survival. Healthy and safety level: comfort.
Dependent on support from Earth. Largely self-sufficient.
Funded mainly by government. Funded mainly by private enterprise.
Mainly concerned with science and engineering. Mainly concerned with tourism, mining, commerce, settlement.

Hillside_concept

Stage 3: Formation of a Martian society

The establishment of permanent settlements on Mars will sow the seeds of a Martian economy. Tourism, sports, mining, energy, manufacturing, property development, education, agriculture and other industries will begin to evolve. Babies will be born, children will grow up in the settlements, and the evolution of a new branch of humanity will begin.

We will begin to evolve our own rules for our new society, appropriate to the situation. These will be related to economics, commerce, law, government, religion/spirituality, health and fitness, relationships, transportation, timekeeping, education, and every other aspect of human society. Although each of these aspects will evolve from their counterparts on Earth, they will each also be adapted to Mars. The Martians will be living in a very unique situation compared with the rest of humanity – mostly indoors, highly dependent on technology and on each other, constantly innovating, safety always uppermost in their priorities, cognisant of the value of every life form, and (hopefully) with a buoyant enthusiasm and excitement about the future they’re creating on the new frontier. Our situation will affect the development of all of our systems, and it will be fascinating to watch it evolve (I will be an old man then but I’m looking forward to being part of it).

Most would agree that we will eventually outgrow our dependence on Earth, much as the US and other nations outgrew their dependence on England and other European colonial nations. (And how Australia hopefully will one day, too.)

Stage 4: Terraforming

The case could be made that terraforming qualifies as part of Stage 3, since it will occur in parallel, but planetary engineering is not what we would normally consider part of “forming a society”. Besides, terraforming is such a huge, long-term project, that it warrants its own discussion. The basis of Martian society will be well-established long before the ultimate goals of terraforming are achieved.

“Terraforming” refers to a specific mode of planetary engineering that involves making a planet other than Earth more like Earth. In the case of Mars, this will mean warming it up, thickening the atmosphere with oxygen and nitrogen, and gradually building up a hydrosphere and biosphere; in other words, covering Mars with water and life. The ultimate goal of terraforming is an uncontained biosphere. Humans and other Earthian life forms should be able to walk around on the surface of Mars unaided by genetic engineering or technology (at least, nothing more elaborate than a warm coat).

While many believe this to be impossible, or that it would take so long that it’s really a problem for our distant descendants and we shouldn’t bother our primitive minds with such ideas, there are also many of us who are fascinated by this possibility and enjoy thinking about it. If we truly wish to become multiplanetary, to the degree that we can ensure the survival of our species no matter what, then developing the capability to build uncontained biospheres on other worlds is essential.

If we look at the current exponential rate of development of human technology and capability, combined with what we already know about Mars and about modifying planetary environments, it is actually not that hard to imagine that Mars can be terraformed; perhaps within just a few centuries. Actually, quite a lot of serious thought has already gone into this topic, and if we add to this our current and evolving knowledge and expectations of robotics, AI, nanotechnology and genetic engineering, terraforming becomes a lot more believable.

terraformedMars

Mars

New blog on Mars Settlement

Welcome to the first post in my new blog. This blog differs from others I’ve started, mainly in that it focuses specifically on one of my favourite topics: human settlement of Mars.

I have done a lot of writing about space settlement that has never seen the light of day. This doesn’t really serve anyone, so I decided to write a book about it. But this takes a really long time and still no-one sees anything for ages. A blog seems like a good intermediate solution, especially since I can scavenge material posted here for a book later.

Feel free to post comments, as long as they aren’t about V1agra or your awesome fat-loss program that requires no effort beyond sending you money.

Have a nice day. Let’s go to Mars!