My Mars One Relationship

A recent article by Rae Paoletta got me thinking about Mars One again. She does a very good job of laying out the difficulties Mars One has had, and stay mostly neutral before slanting to the obvious negative angle. I have a complicated relationship with Mars One that isn’t as negative as everyone else’s and I wanted to explain why.

Do I think Mars One is going to make it to Mars? No.
Do I think Mars One is a scam? No.

I’m Canadian. This means in order to work for NASA or it’s contractors I need an ITAR clearance before I can be hired. While not impossible, it’s lengthily and costly. Anyone who needs to get clearance better be worth the trouble, and compared to the Canadians who are, I am not. I’m middle of the road, and middle of the road does not get special consideration. I had been fascinated with Mars since I was a kid, but there was no clear path as to how I could become a part of a Mars mission. I was terrible at school and there were zero space opportunities that I could see from Western Canada.

When I hear about Mars One in 2011, before it was even asking for applications, I was apprehensive and interested. In Rae’s article she outlines many of the technical issues that Mars One had failed to address, and this was already apparent in their very early days. However, they were making bold claims, and they were not based in the US, and did not require ITAR. This meant that I had a shot. I put in an application without any real hope of making it. In 2013 I was told that I had made it.

Mars One: Round Two

Mars One, for all it’s faults, did instill me with confidence that I could be part of a Mars mission. After this announcement I had many interviews, put on public talks to hundreds of people, applied to the International Space University This began the planning of my trajectory to Mars. For me, Mars One wasn’t the end, but the beginning. It was my foot in the door to the space community. It wasn’t a very good foot in the door as the program was ubiquitously shunned in the space community, but it was more than I had before.

Mars One did one amazing feat, and that was bringing Mars settlement into the public sphere. I do not believe popular culture would be as accepting of Mars as it is without Mars One. Andy Weir’s novel The Martian was self published in 2011 and was picked up by a publisher in 2014. I think it would have taken a lot longer had the public not been acclimatized to Mars via new coverage of Mars One.

I have a complicated relationship with Mars One. I don’t think it’s a scam. I think they are completely honest in their drive to get to Mars, I just don’t think they have the skill to do it. I also don’t think they deserve all the bad press they get. They are honestly trying, and to put them down means that other, more capable people may shy away from trying their ideas. Without Mars One, I wouldn’t be where I am today. They may not get me to Mars, but they are the catalyst that started my journey.

 

MDRS Crew 188 Post Mission

It’s been three weeks since I’ve returned to “Earth” from my adventures at the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) I’ve spoken to many people about my mission there, and I’ve had some time to internalize my own thoughts and feelings. It’s be the digestion of those feelings that have taken up a lot of my head space recently and I wanted to share those thoughts with you. Writing things down have a way of clarifying my internal monologue.

Being on a mission at The MDRS has been a goal of mine for years. I’ve read articles about the missions and read the biographies of those who have gone. I idolized those individuals who had the opportunity to participate in a Martian Analogue mission. I’m still processing what it means to counted among the people who I’ve sought to be with for so long. This introspective change has been difficult, especially when viewed through the lens of my experience. In essence I am now the expert I wanted to become, and I have to define what that means to me.

The Good

The crew was by far the best part of my experience. It is always a joy to spend time with those who share your passion and make an effort to enable you in your own endeavors. I constantly suffer from impostor syndrome and it was amplified by this exemplary crew. Not only was the crew extremely capable, but they were a joy to work with. Listening to their stories and learning from their experiences was the most valuable part of the mission for me.

I had never met any of them before the mission, so I was a bit anxious as to how our interactions would pan out. My flight was delayed, and I arrived at the hotel at around 2am. We had two rooms, a boys room and a girls room. Ryan, our commander, had texted me the room number and had gone to sleep.

Passing out. I’ll get up to open the door when you knock. You can crash in the 1st bed with me I don’t care.

Right away, I knew I had found my people. They were all about the mission and doing what needs to be done. Those who are squeamish or shy won’t last long in a Mars simulation, let alone an actual mission. Knowing that put me at ease.

The crew quickly grew into a small family. In our small space, we had to interact directly with one another and rapidly became accustomed to each other. Over a dinner of freeze dried meats and veg with rice we would discus space policy, international cooperation, our local Mars advocacy efforts, and who just farted. We became like siblings and that provided the opportunity to communicate openly and vulnerably with each other. This allowed us to really understand each other and operate more efficiently.

Touch became an important communication tool as a necessity; a tool that is absent from a normal working space. You had to put a hand on someone back to let them know you were behind reaching for a dish, or helping someone buckle their EVA suit up. This way of operating reminded my of time in the military, where you trusted those around you, and relied on them for your survival. It’s a good feeling.

Going out in the field was a surreal experience. In the simulation, you can’t go outside unless you are wearing an EVA suit. These are backpacks with helmets that are used to simulate a space suit when you are outside. They provide a small amount of airflow to remove C02 and condensation in the helmet. They also have the distinct effect of removing you from the environment.

When you are in an EVA suit, you can’t feel the wind, you can’t hear very well, and you have limited vision. The bulky back back restricts your movement and changes your center of gravity. Your sense are telling you that you are in an alien environment. You can begin to change your cognitive frame of reference, and you begin to believe you are on Mars. This is important, because then you start to internalize your own feelings about being on Mars.

You know it’s fake, but what if it wasn’t? That’s the question you start to answer by imagining yourself there, and analyzing your feelings.

I felt fantastic.

I was on Mars. I was there with an amazing crew. I was waking up every day with the singular purpose of exploring, and maintaining the infrastructure to continue to explore. It was an invigorating feeling, and I can’t wait to feel that way again.

The Bad

The facility is of course, not on Mars. We didn’t have real suits, the air wasn’t actually toxic, and the Hab couldn’t actually fly though space and land on Mars. The preparation to go outside was actually less than working on an Oil Sands site in the winter time. While I knew the infrastructure would be far from mission ready, it was disheartening to see there was no actual flight hardware or system monitoring that would add to the realism of the simulation. Reading past reports, it was clear that the functionality of the MDRS has declined in the past decade. It felt like I was meeting my heroes, and they had flaws I didn’t even consider.

Getting people to Mars requires our test sites to increase in operability, not decrease. Here are a few of the issues I found while doing an engineering survey:

  • Radio communication in the field has a very short range due to the terrain. The repeater broke, and has not been replaced.
  • Water consumption is monitored by eyeballing the tank level, and could easily be automated. The same with energy consumption.
  • The greenhouse could be optimized to provide salads and herbs to the crew.
  • The EVA suits already have a large 12V battery in them, and the suits could be outfitted with location and crew health sensors.

The MDRS it’s self has a huge potential to gather data that could be used for research purposes and provide a more in depth simulation. As an engineer, that’s what I was looking forward to. Unfortunately, the control systems in the Hab were:

  • Solar Power: Control not setup, Generator to be turned on manually when dusk approaches.
  • Water Tank: Visually check tank, manually turn switch to fill.
  • Furnace: Household thermostat, do not touch.
  • Hot Water Heater: Propane on demand, do not touch.

No automation, and very little opperunity to do data collection. No way to build infrastructure knowledge in order to increase the depth of the simulation for future missions.

The Ugly

As I’ve generally found in my life, really ugly problems come from systemic issues. I only had limited exposure to the management of the MDRS, but I believe the lack of technical expertise dealing with the MDRS on a day to day and mission to mission basis is accelerating the deterioration of the facility. Myself and the crew got into several disagreements with Mission Support during the mission around technical issues. The crews that usually occupies MDRS are around the Undergrad level, and my fear is that they just do what they are told. This would create many of the unsafe conditions that I found, and there could be many more. When Crew 188 began investigating the infrastructure of MDRS, we got push back from Mission Support.

  • The 1000 gal propane tank gauge is a percent gauge, but Mission Support is reading it in PSI. This creates confusion and a misunderstanding of how much fuel is left.
  • I found several damaged extension cords, including one that had their grounding plug cut.
  • I suggested moving the electric ATV’s to a location that would not require backing up when leaving the Hab, but this was overruled.

These minor issues display a misunderstanding of technical safety that could result in a serious incident at the MDRS, and that is extremely worrisome. During the MDRS 188 mission there was a propane leak in the Hab, causing a direct risk to our crew. The leak was never fully investigated during our stay, and Mission Support’s concern over this issue varied wildly depending who we were talking to. The responses from Mission Support swung from “evacuate immediately” to “you are imagining things”. It became clear there were no established procedures or technical manuals to follow in a situation like this. If there had been proper monitors and automatic systems in place, this issue would have been caught long before it became a risk to the crew. Unfortunately, adding on that capability to the MDRS does not seem to be a priority.

Analog missions are dangerous. The crew is isolated and stressed. They are in an unfamiliar environment and require proper technical support to be effective and safe. This will be a critical part of Martian analog missions as the complexity grows.  Crew safety will become more and more important as the analog missions become more complex. Not long after our mission, there was an incident at the HI-SEAS where an accident halted the mission. Safety concerns aren’t limited to the MDRS. This is an issue that all analogue sites need to deal with.

The Conclusion

I am very happy that I was able to be a part of MDRS 188. I was able to meet outstanding people who share my passion for Mars and space exploration. The relationships that were forged have strengthened my resolve and widened my Mars community. I’m looking at the negative parts of my experience as an opportunity to grow. Getting to Mars is going to take a lot of people and a lot of effort, and we need to start working together if we are ever going to achieve our goals.

 

MDRS Crew 188 Day 0

Later this week I will be flying to the Utah desert to be a part of the Mars Desert Research Station Crew 188. I am very excited, as being a crew member of MDRS has been a goal of mine for many years. For many of those years I didn’t think it would be possible, that little old me would get to go on such an adventure. I’m very happy to have exceeded my expectation.

About 10 months ago, I got an email asking for applications from ISU alumni for the MDRS mission. Ever the optimist, I threw my name into the hat, hoping to get a support position for the main crew. As this was my first direct involvement with the MDRS, I didn’t expect to be chosen for the primary crew. That’s exactly what happened, and I was chosen as a back up crew member and began helping with the planning of the MDRS 188 mission. As fate would have it, A primary crew member was unable to make the commitment, and had to drop out. NASA needed his attention, and I got his spot.

I got to replace a NASA scientist on a Mars simulation mission. I’m still rolling that fact around in my head…

It never hurts to throw your name in the hat, you never know what will happen.

SpaceX is going to Mars

This last Tuesday at the 67th IAC conference being held this year in Guadalajara, Elon Musk announced his plans to send people to Mars. Musk’s intent on going to Mars is no surprise, he created SpaceX to do just that. But the “how” wasn’t disclosed until this week. Below is the computer rendition of the trip to Mars he is currently designing.

This is very exciting for a number of reasons.

  1. It’s a plan owned by SpaceX. There are many plans our there, and have been for 60 years. They all have their pros and cons, but the most important thing you could do is choose one, and run with it. This is the plan they have chosen.
  2. There were signs of engineering being done. There wasn’t too much new presented for those who know the field. But, Musk did say the rendering were build from CAD drawings and the engineering issues are being worked on. There is an effort being made to build the hardware.
  3. The size. This was the most amazing part by far. The rocket he is planing to build is HUGE! It will be the most powerful vehicle ever built. It will have 100 people per launch, with 42 main engines on it’s first stage.

05-szdamgm

Here is a side by side comparison to the Saturn 5 rocket. It is over three times heavier with three times the power. Amazing is the only word for it. It’s so powerful that SpaceX changed it’s name from Mars Colonial Transporter to the Interplanetary Transport System, because they plan to fly it to Jupiter’s moons, asteroids and other planets in addition to Mars. This is the rail road for our solar system.

When this craft takes of for the first time, it will be like nothing humans have ever seen before.

I can’t wait.

Exploration Mindset

Talk of Mars is getting more and more media attention. Because of that, reporters have been calling astronauts, agencies, schools and government officials to get their take on a mission to Mars. Much of the conversation has been centered around Mars One, a newcomer to the Mars race. Being the newcomer, the established players are rightly skeptical. However, I’ve found that skepticism has turned into negativity. It’s very easy to find criticism of the mission and difficult to find optimism. I find this troubling.

I find it especially troubling coming from Canadian astronauts. As a Canadian, I want my country’s astronauts to be the embodiment of the “can do” attitude. Their responses to the Mars One mission, a company up against formidable odds, shows me the Canadian Space Agency is becoming more and more risk averse. More than that, a general unwillingness to entertain new ideas seems prevalent in their culture.  to A sad state of affairs for the third nation in space.

Compare these two statements: It can’t be done vs How can it be done.

The knee jerk reaction I’m seeing is that a mission to Mars can’t be done. Everyone hopes it will, but they aren’t making a personal effort to get it done. They are more than willing to offer excuses as to why it won’t work, instead of solutions to get it to work. There is a big difference in thinking between the two mindsets.

Chris Hadfield

Hadfield is a household name around Canada. I’ve never met him, but I’ve watched his talks online and read his book. As the ISS commander, he no doubt understands leadership and determination. That makes it all the more confusing to me when a bold plan is announced, he’s against it.

“There’s a great, I don’t know, self-defeating optimism in the way that this project has been set up, I fear that it’s going to be a little disillusioning for people, because it’s presented as if for sure it’s going to happen.”

But that’s exactly how you set goals. You set an objective, a time line then start working the details. You don’t set a goal to “maybe”. You set a goal to “we are doing this”. As ISS commander I’m sure he did this over and over again. There were goals in place, and he had to make them happen. You set your goals and adjust your strategy as time goes on to ensure they happen. You may not know all the details when you start towards a goal; the most important thing is that you start.

“I want to know: How does a space suit on Mars work? Show me how it is pressurized, and how it is cooled. What’s the glove design? None of that stuff can be bought off the rack. It does not exist. You can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things.”

Hadfield is talking about the details. The short answer is they haven’t been worked out yet. However, MIT and NASA are both working on new suits for Mars. The details are being worked on. Why didn’t he say “I’m anxious to see how the new prototypes work” rather than tell the media they don’t exist. I’m sure he’s aware of the efforts being made. He choose to talk in the negative; implying that it’s better not to even try. As for Space Mart, it’s looking like the aerospace business is going in the direction.

Why isn’t he using his public clout to get people excited and engaged with new space ventures?

Robert Thirsk

Bob is a fantastic man. I’ve personally been to his lectures, chatted with him and shared a few beers. I’ve even spoken to students about Mars at the high school named after him. He’s very knowledgeable, calculated and detail oriented. He’s also said an effort to colonize Mars would be a suicide mission.

“I don’t think we’re ready … we don’t yet have the reliable technology to support a one-way trip to Mars … It’s naive to think we’re ready to colonize Mars — it’d be a suicide mission.”

He doesn’t say “let’s get ready” or “here are the steps” or even “I would rather see…”. He said it’s naive to think we are ready, and trying is the same thing as suicide. That to me is uncompromisingly defeatist. I will agree, we do not have reliable technology. My solution would be to get reliable technology, not to call it adempted suicide. When confronted with an obstacle, the winner starts to think how they will overcome it; the loser goes home. It’s a frame of mind that seems to be missing from the Canadian astronaut alumni.

Bob is the current University of Calgary Chancellor, a position that carries academic visibility. The UofC has a department of space research and an observatory. So why the negative comments about a new space venture? Why wouldn’t he use his position to encourage students to critically examine the mission? Instead honest effort is causally dismissed.

Julie Payette

Julie is one of the few women who’ve made it into space. When I heard her talk in Montreal, she spoke about overcoming the male dominated aerospace industry during her journey to becoming an astronaut. She spoke about the uphill battle against the preconceived notions of the day. That makes her harsh words for the mission all the more baffling.

“So, if you meet any of those people, don’t tell them they’re courageous because the only courage they had was to sign up on a website.”

I wonder if any of her male colleges told her the same sort of thing as she was trying to prove herself. I wonder if they said things like, “Don’t pay attention to Julie, she’s a woman”. Yes, the Mars One mission looks completely different than what’s been done in the past. It goes against conventional mission planning. So did women in aerospace and engineering at one point. How she doesn’t see that parallel is baffling to me. Her reaction is to say it can’t be done, instead of asking how it can be done.

“We don’t have the technology to go to Mars, with everything we know today, so I don’t think that a marketing company and a TV-type of selection, is sending anybody anywhere,”

She goes on to say:

“We are going to go to space on a commercial basis and it’s at our doors, It’s a reality that will become the norm in the next decades.”

She’s saying it both ways. A marketing company can’t get into the space business, but space will become commercial in the next decades. This is the positive talking that I’m referring to. Looking to what’s possible and what’s on the horizon. Commercial space will become a reality and space travel will become monetized. Why then, such negativity when a company attempts to do just that? She displays outright hostility to those who want to follow her footsteps and reach for something bigger than themselves. She believes that taking steps to Mars, small as they may be, are worthless.

This attitude is coming from the Chief Operating Officer of the Montreal Science Centre. A centre whose mission is to “… to help visitors of all ages acquire an understanding of science and technology for use in building their future” Why is she lashing out at people who are trying to do just that?

 

 

I ask my questions with the hope of an answer. Why are Canadian astronauts so negative towards new ventures?

Mars One Round 3

Today the Mars One Round 3 candidates were selected, and I was not among them.

It was nearly 14 months ago when I was first chosen to be a Mars One candidate; part of the 1058 in Round 1. Since that time my life has changed quite a bit. I’m a much more capable person now, I’ve had experiences that I otherwise would have not done. The past 14 months has been an adventure for me and I’m going to take what I’ve learned and continue that adventure.

Since learning that I was a candidate for the Mars One mission, I’ve spoken to hundreds of adults and thousands of kids about Mars and space exploration. I spent 9 weeks at the International Space University increasing my knowledge about everything space. I’ve gained new skills I’m not about to stop now. While the decision is disappointing, it’s reassuring to have an answer. Now I can fully commit to other endeavours that I was unsure about.

I’ve signed up with the Alberta Science Network and I will continue to talk to people about Mars and space exploration. I have a new job and I will be honing my project engineering skills. I will continue to physically train myself and set ever higher goals.  I will continue to support Mars One and any mission that brings people closer to the surface of Mars and exploring our solar system. 2015 is going to be a busy year and I’m absolutely looking forward to it.

Life on Mars won’t be awful

Is life a disgusting toil of never ending disappointment to you?

Myself, I believed my life, and life in general is rather fantastic. There are those who walk among us who disagree. Gerry Flynn wrote a blog titled “Life On Earth Is Shit, Life On Mars Will Be Just As Awful“. It’s just as full of adolescent name calling and unrealistic hyperbole as one would expect from the title. The first sentence completely sets the tone: It says a lot about our life on Earth that when Mars One announced in April 2013 nearly 200,000 meat-sacks decided that their futile existence of toil, eczema and club-points would be infinitely improved if blasted millions of miles away from the rest of society and into space. The post is a complete fabrication  from the author’s opinions, however I feel it important to tackle the text. Misconception is never a good thing. I realize it’s been posted under comedy, but I don’t find this angry text fun or beneficial to the wider understanding of exploration.

Life On Earth Is Shit, Life On Mars Will Be Just As Awful

Let’s start with the title. We have it good on Earth, despite what the news will tell you. We live in the most peaceful time in human history. We have an ever increasing life expectancy across the world. We are constantly creating an increasing amount of data that tells us more and more who we are. Things are good, and they are getting better.

I absolutely reject that life on Earth is shit. It’s never been better. Life on Mars will be difficult, just as any exploration is. Because something is challenging doesn’t make it awful and extending falsehoods about Earth to future exploration in the solar system is damaging to those explorations.

Firstly, my suspicion was aroused by the involvement of Lockheed Martin – a company who having long since perfected the art of decimating mankind with the ruthlessly efficient innovation of high powered death machines and are now taking time out from their regular schedule of being a real-life version of ACME from Looney Tunes to assist Big Brother in Space (as I’m sure it’ll be renamed before liftoff) in propelling the next generation of humanity into another fruitless existence on an even more barren and inhospitable planet than Staines could ever aspire to.

If your suspicions are aroused by the involvement of Lockheed Martin in a space mission, that tells me you know nothing about space. Lockheed build the Hubble, the spacecraft that gives us all those fantastic background pictures for our computers. They’ve been involved with half a dozen other space telescopes, not to mention being the prime contractor for several Mars missions including the Phoenix lander. This is of particular importance, because the Mars One lander is based off the Phoenix architecture due to the similarities in water extraction for both missions. This is a perfectly reasonable course of action and is no cause for alarm.

What with the Mars One mission statement consisting of barely a single paragraph, namely extolling the virtues of “inspiring future generations,” but chiefly aiming to establish a human settlement on Mars, it’s hard to see what the point of all this interstellar butt-fuckery is.

A mission statement should be clear, easily understood sentence. It reads It is Mars One’s goal to establish a human settlement on Mars. That seems pretty clear to me. The point, as was eloquently put, is to establish a permanent settlement on a celestial body other than Earth. There are many reasons to study Mars, and many more to settling the planet. It’s a big idea, with lots of complex parts. I get that it’s not easy to grasp. It is not, however, butt-fuckery. Nor is it interstellar; that’s something completely different.

Considering what an awful, money-grubbing, bastard society of shit-gobs we’ve crafted down here on Earth, what little hope can be reserved for our colonising cousins – especially when the Mars One website compares its batch of space-monkeys to “Vikings and famed explorers of Old World Europe.” So in essence they’re going to go and introduce credit-lending financial systems to whatever resides out there in the black and crush any resistance they meet with an iron fist, presumably before subjugating any extraterrestrial existence under a brutal regime of rape and murder all in the name of televised entertainment.

I consider the people of Earth to be much more than that. Composers, artists, engineers, dreamers, athletes and comedians. It’s easier than ever to pursue what your passion is, and it’s up to each person to put the effort in. There are those that don’t, true, and it could be argued that the barrier to entry is a bit short in places. The world is full of good, and exploration helps us become better at being us. Without explorers we would all be living in caves, with very little technology to aid us. Getting to Mars is a stretch goal that will aid humanity into becoming even more amazing.

Also, there’s no reason to get mad at the Vikings, they were rather normal people for their time. Almost all the stories that are told about them are exaggerated. They were great explorers and skillful traders. Their culture has a lot to be admired, and I do admire their exploration spirit. I was given a copy of the Viking laws by a Scandinavian man I met at ISU and I keep in on my fridge. I run into a lot of negativity about missions to Mars and it usually dissipates once I get a chance to share some of the facts.

Mars One – Thoughts from Twitter

I monitor twitter and other news sources for information and discussion about Mars One, and Mars exploration in general. I find it interesting to see what conversations are going on, to see what people are saying about it, and just listen. Every once and a while I make a comment or try and answer a question. Sometimes I need to write a longer answer than Twitter will allow. This is one of those times. Below is the tweet that started off a conversation.

I understand George’s reluctance to endorse the Mars One project. It looks very, very different from a government program, or business in general. The premise sounded flimsy when I first heard it as well, gathering the funds for a Mars mission through a media event, viewership and sponsors. But it started to make sense the more I thought about it. Entertainment is big money. Globally, we spend $35 billion dollars on movie tickets in 2013. The film Gravity made $270 million on a $100 million dollar investment. India sent a robotic mission to Mars for less that that.

The game is changing. This isn’t your father’s Space Race (Apollo)

Myself, Melissa and George had a few tweets back and forth. Then George tweeted this, between many tweets

Even if I think of #MarsOne as an experiment and not as a colonization project, it’s still ahead of its time. Several other experiments should take place beforehand in order to develop the necessary protocols that would govern the interaction with Mars. For instance, a disaster on the surface would result in a possible uncontrolled “contamination” of the area with microorganisms with unpredictable results, which would be impossible to undo or contain Developing such guidelines and protocols is not the job of an entertainment company, but of an international organization of experts.

This is a point that comes up now and again, that humans will contaminate Mars somehow. If this is true, we already have. We have landed several craft on Mars that would have carried with them bacteria and Earth bits with them. The Viking landers were the only ones that were completely cleaned before launch. There are strict guidelines for sending craft to other plants. There are international people working on this. There are entire schools for Space Law! Many people around the world are thinking about this, protocols are being developed.

On the other side of the coin, biological interaction between Earth life and Mars life is very, very unlikely. Here on Earth, organisms don’t usually interact on a biological level. I can’t get a tree pregnant, fish don’t get the flu, and spider legs can’t be transplanted to a dog. There are some examples where biology does match, and those are very rare. Life on Earth has evolved side by side, and is very different from each other. Life between Earth and Mars has billions of years of separation. Contamination is not likely. And we won’t know for certain until we go.

 

There are plenty of experiments planned for Mars, Mars One is not the only show in town. Mars One is planning on visiting Mars with robots in 2018 and 2020. There is lots of work to do before people set foot on the planet.

ISECG_MissionScenario

 

George, I understand your reaction to Mars One, it looks very strange. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted. There is lots of science going on around Mars and we learn something every day. It’s time to start preparing a crew for the mission. We’ve had the technology to get to Mars since the 1980s, we just haven’t implemented it. Mars One has a plan to get the funds needed to implement this technology and I support them.

Where We Should Build Our First Off-World Colonies

This post is in response to an article posted on the Discover website. The author claims we should forget Mars as a destination, and that of course gained my attention. He made some assumptions that I don’t agree with, and I’m going to go through the post and point out a few things. This is in the spirit of open discussion of course, and I welcome feedback on my own ideas.

First, lets stop calling it colonization. That world has too much negativity associated with it. I much prefer to talk about human settlements on other planets.

I don’t agree with the authors premise for off-world settlements.

It’s not because it would be cool to have people on multiple worlds (although it would). It’s not because Earth is becoming overpopulated with humans (although it is). It’s because off-world colonies would improve the chances of human civilization surviving in the event of a planetary disaster on Earth.

The fear based reasoning doesn’t work for me. Of course we want to have humans survive a disaster on Earth, but that speaks to our base instincts. We are better than that. We have a whole solar system to explore and live in. I would love to see humanity fly among the stars, but we must first master living in our own backyard, our solar system. We have mastered living on Earth, but we chose to use that power negatively, causing famine, climate change and pollution. These are the consequences of the choices we’ve made. To me, going to Mars is a hopeful journey, not one that should be done in fear. Fear will only lead to more negative outcomes.

Creating a Mars Colony

David jumps right to the conclusion that a settlement would be terraforming from day one. His information is sound, but the conclusion is off on the wrong direction. Neither Mars One, SapceX or NASA has terraforming in any of their plans. It’s so far off that it doesn’t make any sense to talk about. By the time we are in a position to terraform anything positively (Climate change is accidental terraforming) our technology will be vastly different than today. The first settlers will be busy with staying alive, not planetary engineering. The cart is fully in front of the horse here.

The Problem of Distance

He gets ahead of himself here again. He’s using a study of an interstellar generation ship to generalize a Martian settlement. The two are very different. It could take 10,000 – 40,000 people to maintain genetic diversity, I don’t know. I do know that the main driver for population increase of these settlements would be immigration. The population would grow from people leaving Earth as more room became available. He then goes on to see how long SpaceX would need to hit 40,000 people using the immigration model, not realizing you don’t need to hit 40,000 people if they keep immigrating; that’s only for a closed system where no new people are added.

Distance is something you have to deal with when working in deep space. It’s a frontier that humans just don’t understand. The vast distances between objects don’t make sense to what we see and interact with everyday. It will take a new sort of thinking to deal with it. Anyone making the trip to the Moon, Mars or beyond knows it’s dangerous. We’ve gotten quite use to flying anywhere in the world and being able to rent a hotel and buy a lunch. The universe isn’t setup like that and we won’t have these luxuries as we travel beyond Earth. Accepting that is much easier than trying to bring all the comforts of Earth with us.

Close to Home

I don’t think anyone in the space exploration community is suggesting that we pick one spot over the other. If you want to go to the Moon, go for it! Making a space station, have at it! Private companies can do what they like, and I encourage us to go after all the targets. Governments have to chose specific targets, due to budgets and politics. But governments aren’t going to set up a settlement either, NASA has said it will bring all of their astronauts back. At the moment, it’s only private companies talking about settling on Mars. There could be MoonCorp that shows up tomorrow wanting to set up a spa on the Moon, and they are free to do that. The location is a trade off however, and if we want to get to the stars, Mars is the best place to start that journey.

The Problem of Gravity

Here’s a common misconception; that the adaptations of astronauts to micro gravity is negative. There is bone loss and muscle atrophy, yes, and that’s part of the adaptation process. If they never left micro gravity environment, it wouldn’t be a problem. The loss of body mass is a problem if they return to Earth. If future settlers don’t plan on returning to Earth, the adaptation to their new environment is just that, and adaptation. There will be changes that we can’t foresee, but for those of us who want to live on Mars, it’s all part of the process.

A New Home in the Solar System

There are plans for Moon bases and space stations. The great thing about space is that there is room for everyone. Let’s get out there, and let everyone create what they want. There are no limits in space.

Mars One in the eyes of Islam

Obviously, I pay attention to news about Mars. It’s usually about missions, funding cuts and new discoveries. This past week I learned that the UAE Islamic watchdog has declared that Muslims must not take part in Mars One, as it is against Islam. According to their site, they issues 337,000 Fatwas last year, so it’s a very common practice. At more than 100 a day, it seems they are a very busy agency. According to Wikipedia, a Fatwa is a legal judgment or learned interpretation based on the the teachings of Islam. As I understand it, when something new in the world shows up, it is judged against Islamic Law and then decided upon if it is a sin or not. Traveling to Mars is apparently a sin in Islamic Law.

That doesn’t make me happy. I’m not a Muslim or a member of any organised religion. I do strongly believe that space exploration is very important, so a decry by anyone that it’s morally wrong doesn’t sit right with me. In this case, the voyage has been likened to suicide, and suicide is a Sin, therefore the voyage is against Islam.

I’m not going to argue against Islam, but exploration is not suicide. Suicide is intentionally killing oneself; there argument is that the trip is so dangerous that death is a certain outcome. Two things about that:

  1. Death is a certain outcome of life
  2. The trip does not mean certain death

Life and death are part of the package. Every living thing will die. The risks we take in life can increase the likelihood of dying sooner, but risks also let us live more richly. Everything we do has a risk. Life itself is a risk. So how do we die on Earth? A good portion of it is from cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases. Suicide and accidents are higher in the USA, but cancer and heart are still fantastic killers. Motor vehicle accidents are up there as well, 1 in 84 chance in 2006, but driving isn’t a sin.

The NASA study on radiation says there is about a 5% increase in fatal cancers for every three years you are on Mars. On the flip-side there is no risk of a traffic accident or accidental firearm discharge on Mars. You will be on a strict diet so your chances of heart disease goes down. You can’t drown in the bathtub either on Mars. (1 in 818,015, about the same risk as electrocution.) People die all the time. It’s cliché but not everyone lives a full life. Exploring, pushing boundaries, growing and making new frontiers is how we live our lives to the fullest.

Lets get back to what was said:

Professor Dr. Farooq Hamada, who presides over the fatwa committee, shared the motivation for issuing the fatwa: “Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Quran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever merciful.”

Do not kill yourself or one another, that’s the verse. This year, the UAE is creating a law for mandatory military service. The UAE has a standing military force of 70,000 souls; over 5% of it’s GDP used for it’s upkeep. That’s the 5th highest in the world for 2011. If you have control over a standing army, you are preparing to take lives. FULL STOP. Any one of those 70,000 people can be called in to combat and is expected to fight another human to the death. That’s what war is, that’s what armies do.

Mars One is sending 4 people on a settlement mission. Permanent settlement requires people to be alive. No one on the mission is intentionally dying, therefor no one is committing suicide. The fact that you could die an accidental death during the trip is no more suicide than dying accidentally on Earth. Taking risks to live a better life is how we make tomorrow better.

A peaceful path to a brighter future is not a sin.