Mars Interviews Part 1

I spent a lovely weekend in Banff to celebrate my good friend Meghan‘s birthday. We had some laughs, some drinks and some skull pancakes. Everything you would want in a birthday. I was pretty tired on the drive home, and I had to work on Monday. I was looking forward to some serious downtime before I buttoned up my shirt for work. While I was bringing bags into my place, I got a call from CBC. They wanted to talk about Mars.

I love talking about Mars! Perfect! We had a chat, and he said he would call me back. I jumped in the shower because I was ski bum dirty. We spoke some more, and he said he was going to send a TV crew over to do an interview. I told him that I would put some pants on and clean my dished. My place really was a disaster; Christmas presents, dirty dishes, chocolates and laundry were everywhere. They gave in 30 mins to tidy up.

They were of course professionals. My mess was politely ignored and they cut the footage to make my stammering and wandering conversation less noticeable.

The news report went on TV well after my bed time. The website was up in the AM, and my office was quite excited find out they worked with a celebrity. Well, I emailed them all telling them how lucky they were to work with a celebrity. Same thing. Then I got a tweet from Global News, and they wanted to get some footage as well. The more coverage Mars gets, the better!

The really fun part was bringing the film crew into my office. Had to play it cool, of course. As if I get film crews all the time.

The crazy part, is that I’m news. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s not to me. I mean, I’m aware of all of this, it’s not news to me. I know what’s going on with Mars. When my name came up on my Google news feed, that was a strange feeling. I’m even a searchable tag on the Huffington Post now… all very surreal.

Mars One: Round Two

On December 30th, 2013 Mars One announced they had sent letters to the 1058 candidates that had moved on to Round 2 of their selection process. Since it was the holidays I had been ignoring my email to a large extent and learned the letters had been sent from the news. I have been chosen to move on to Round 2. I keep checking the email everytime I tell someone to make sure I read it correctly. I’ve made the shortlist of Martian Candidates.

I’ve been following Martian missions for years. I’ve been watching the aerospace industry with eager eyes and bookmarking US company job boards. Now, I feel like I have my foot in the door. I’ve got some momentum. It’s a good feeling. December 30th also happens to be my birthday; probably the best present I’ve ever gotten. 2014 is off to a great start.

In Red Mars, a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, the first person on Mars and main character in the novel is born in 1982. While reading the novel, I remember tripping over that year, since that’s the year I was born. Human innovation is in the process of continually changing science fiction into science fact. The first person on Mars may well have been born in 1982.

Mars One Application: Zac Trolley from Meghan Westelmajer on Vimeo.


Mars One Application

This weekend I finished and uploaded my Application for the Mars One Mission. You can view it HERE

I think it turnout out great, I’m really happy with it. A big thanks to my film crew and friends. Now it’s time to cross my fingers and wait for the selection committee to realize how perfect I am for this position and send me to Mars.


Methane Hydrate

I got myself into a little bit of a twitter argument. I saw a tweet from an anti-green evangelist claiming that green tech was expensive and Global Warming is a non-issue. Every time I hear that argument, I think of this comic. To me, it sounds like an argument against paying for quality. Yes, quality costs money. Anything that is worth having is worth the effort. Changing an industry takes effort, that’s a poor excuse for not doing it.

Why pay for good things?

Anyway, the claim was that there are plenty of hydrocarbons to go around, so why worry? Why spend money on anything else but Oil and Gas? Here’s the twitter conversation so you can get the background.


I’ll take you up on that! I’ve never heard of Methane Hydrate, so it’s worth a look. I’m willing to stretch my knowledge and see what’s out there. So what is Methane Hydrate? Basically it’s ice that’s trapped methane inside a crystal formation. It has a very exotic name, but at the end of the day, the resource is methane, something we are very familiar with.

I’m going to do a quick comparison between this resource and two others. It’s obviously not exhaustive and I’ve omitted quite a bit of information. This whole post came about from a conversation on Twitter, so I’m not going to sink very many hours into it. If you are looking for info on resources, I recommend Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. The full text is available here.

Here are the resources I’m going to look at.

  • Methane Hydrate – Extension of the current Oil and Gas industry
  • Solar – Up and coming contender
  • Nuclear Fusion – A hail mary resource

What Are They?

Methane Hydrate is a hydrocarbon that is trapped in ice formations. It exists as a solid under certain conditions and releases the methane when melted. The hydrocarbons come from decomposed animal and plant life from millions of years ago. Because hydrocarbons are dead animals and plants, in a way, they are concentrated solar energy. (sun -> plants -> animals -> dead -> million years -> hydrocarbons) Methane is usually burned to create energy, but can also be used in fuel cells.

Solar is.. well, the sun. More specifically the radiation from the sun that fuels all life on Earth.  There are a few different ways of harvesting solar energy, I’ll stick with photo-voltaic cells.

Nuclear Fusion is the golden child of the energy industry. Basically engineers create a mini-sun on earth and directly harvest it’s energy. Not to be confused with traditional nuclear energy  fusion uses light atoms and fuses them together, not spiting heavy atoms. This isn’t science fiction,  you can make a fusion reactor at home for about 5k. Most of these reactors use a D-D or D-T fuel cycle.

Energy Density

So, how much energy can each source produce? This gets complicated as the sources are difficult to directly compare.

In one cubic meter of methane hydrate there is 160 m^3 of methane. (source). This means each cubic meter of ice holds 6240 MJ of energy. That’s a hell of a lot. Hydrocarbon energy concentration is part of the reason it’s so valuable.

Solar energy is different depending on where you are in the world and if it’s day time. The energy hitting the top of the atmosphere is about 1,400 W/m^2. On earth, the average is about 250 W/m^2. That gives us about 21.6 MJ of energy per square meter per day. There is a lot more in space, and the reason spacecraft have solar panels.

These guys estimate there is  1.78 g of lithium in every cubic meter of seawater and 30 grams of deuterium. Using my mediocre chemistry skills, that comes out to 1.6*10^12 MJ per cubic meter of water. That’s a few hundred million times more dense than methane hydrate.

Extraction of the Resource

Methane uses semi-established methods. We know how to make drilling rigs and pipelines  but getting at the ice is a different story. It’s like oil sands vs drilling; the end product is the same but the method is very different. Lessons learned and techniques can be ported over, but you can’t directly use the previous technology. Looking at the billions of dollars spent in Alberta to develop the oil sands, you can expect similar numbers for hydrate extraction. (Here is a good source to learn more)

Solar, it’s pretty easy, install panels, point at sun, extract. It’s passive and automatic.

We can get lithium from sea water. Using a lot of the same technology we use for distilling sea water into fresh water.

Energy Reserve

So, how much of the stuff is there? In 2008 the world used 474 EJ of energy. I’m assuming we stay at 2008 consumption levels  and I’m ignoring a whole rats nest of other variables.

According to these guys, there is 74 744 Gt of CH4 in ocean hydrates. 4.4 * 10^16 m^3 of the stuff.  That’s on the very high end of global estimates, and no guarantee we can extract that much. In any event, that’s 1,716,000 EJ of energy, giving us 3620 years of energy assuming we used every last drop on earth.

Solar isn’t going to run out for 5 billion years, so that’s the good news on solar. It will last as long as we have a sun. Yes, it gets cloudy and night time does happen. A world network would solve most of those issues; it’s always sunny somewhere. Here’s a map of how much land mass that would take.

Fusion has a similar length as solar  If we get D-D reactions up and running, we are set for life. The available resources will power the earth for a million years. The fun part about this is that this is just including the resources on earth. Without exaggeration  the fusion fuel available in our solar system will power a Human Galactic Empire for millions of years.

DD Fusion

So what?

I have to shake my head when Oil & Gas evangelists tell me that there are plenty of resources available. Coal companies are very proud of the fact that there are a 100 odd years of coal reserves. The Oil Sands folks claim they are second in the world in reserves only to Saudi Arabia. When you factor in how much of that resource is recoverable, it’s only a few hundred years of energy left and they wave that flag proudly. We have resources that will last millions of times longer. We have energy resources that will last thousands of times longer than the whole of human recorded history.

For those people who are waving the Oil & Gas flag, I have to ask why. Bud Lyght, answer me this: with the knowledge you know have, why choose short term solutions when we could have unlimited energy for longer than either of us can imagine?

Mars Missions

I’m a big fan of all things Mars. I love that planet, with it’s mythologies, geology, water, possible life and similarities to Earth. I’m very excited about the new missions being brought to life. These new generation companies are much better at getting media attention therefore the general public is aware of them. That in and of itself is a victory. People love a good story, and companies like MarsOne are tapping into that.

MarsOne is currently accepting applications for one way colonization trips to Mars. There is a lot of negative press about the mission. Some people scoff at the one way trip, some complain about the gap in technology and others don’t buy into their financing model. A one way trip makes economic sense, and for an adventurer like me, it’s a non-issue. This is a major leap in the evolution of the human race… It’s a potential fork in the road. A hundred generations of humans living on Mars will create a Martian Race. There are currently gaps in the technology and the money from franchising and TV isn’t the greatest, however they are making an effort and that’s fantastic.

No new inventions are needed to land humans on Mars. There might be delays, there might be cost overruns, there might even be failures, but it can be done. -Bas Lansdorp MarsOne CEO

I’ve applied for my position on the mission and I’m currently working on my application.

Hand Held Printing

Take a look at the video below. It’s from a projected called 3Doodler. It’s a fantastic bit of technology that has tremendous consequences for the status quo of our everyday lives. Not directly because of the technology, but because of the inelastic nature of our lives.

This is amazing. I literally mean to affect with great wonder; astonish. There exists a device that you can hold in your hand that will create a 3D object. The creative minds of Star Trek didn’t even have a hand held one of these! The 3D printing consumer market has gone from DIY hacked desktop kits to a hold in your hand pen in fewer than 10 years. As I’m writing this, more than 20,000 people have put up nearly 2 million dollars to help fund the project. This is a technology that people are excited about!

Unfortunately incorporating technology this advanced will destroy the economy as we know it. We know trade as the exchange of  money for goods. The digital world turns that notion upside down because we are now trading knowledge. Sure, you can still charge for knowledge, but I can copy and infinite amount of knowledge with a click of a button. I can’t do that with physical goods. Until now. Not only are people sharing music, movies, TV shows, books and games over the internet, but now they are sharing objects too. Industries are trying to walk both ways on digital rights, trying to crack down on it even as the data shows providing digital content is what the consumer wants. This iron grip methodology is bound to fail with this as it did with .MP3s. This time the stakes are much higher. People won’t only be downloading music for their iPhone, they will be downloading the iPhone as well.

That’s not even the amazing part! That is what’s possible today; what’s really interesting is what will be possible tomorrow. I’m talking real science fiction type stuff. Researchers are already printing body parts and using stem cells as ink with 3D printers. How much longer until Johnson & Johnson come out with a bio-pen? Cuts and scrapes gone in seconds. Use the professional version to get a football player back in the game after breaking an ankle in the first quarter. A military grade device could be growing back limbs on the battle field.

The real amazing part of all of this is how unprepared our social, political and economic systems are for this new technology. The very fabric of our civilization depends on people becoming consumers of goods at a young age, and becoming dead when they can’t work anymore. Are we going to raise the retirement age to 150 when people are living to 200? What do we do when families stop consuming because they can recycle their old stuff into new stuff by using their household 3DPrinter? How do we measure GDP when information is our currency and it’s traded in a barter system?

These are questions that aren’t even on the radar, but the technology is at our doorstep.


Plasma Rain

No, this is not a new single by Prince. It’s a video of hot plasma being ejected from the sun and raining back down along magnetic lines. The really amazing part is when the Earth is shown to scale. Another amazing example that we are on a very small island in the middle of space.

It makes being late for work somehow less significant knowing that the sun regularly shoots out enough liquid fire to engulf our entire planet. (Liquid fire in the poetic sense)

Deodorant to the moon!

AXE has a new add out, and it follows the typical “sex sells” frame work until the last few seconds.

Love it. Astronauts are sexy. They fly SPACE SHIPS for god sake. Is there anything more manly then exploring what has never been explored before? Looking good at the beach is all fun and games, but astronauts change the course of human history. They live a life we can only begin to imagine.

Take this picture for example.

Now, consider who is taking this picture. When this picture was taken, every human being alive was in the view finder except him. In front of him was everything that history as known. Behind him is the vast unknown. At this moment in time, he is absolutely alone. Our galaxy is huge, and we spend all our time worrying about what happens on our blue dot. The amount of space yet to been seen by human eyes is literally unimaginable. What we know is insignificant compared to what exists.

We owe our continuing existence to the men and women who push technology and physiology to the limits. Damn straight they should get the girl.



In a few weeks the Mars Science Laboratory will land on Sol-3 and begin its mission to search for life. Code named Curiosity; the rover was launched in November of 2011 and has been travelling through space for 8 months. Its mission is to search for life and investigate the Martian climate and geology for future manned missions to the planet.  This is incredibly exciting for a space geek like me who’s been dreaming of living on Mars for quite some time. Curiosity is quite a bit bigger than other rovers and equipped with instruments much more sensitive than other missions. Hopefully NASA will use it to confirm past findings from other missions.

What findings? Well, some people believe life was already found on Mars. You see, data is a funny thing; if you can’t read it properly, you see nothing but noise. As an example, the first exoplanet was discovered using a special technique, and when the data was looked over, it turns out we had recorded evidence of several planets; we just didn’t know what we were looking for.

Back to Viking and its life signs. Turns out, 1 out of 4 tests were positive for life. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I got a positive result on a medical test, I would damn sure check again. For whatever reason, we’ve waited 36 years to double check. The data was also tested based on what we understood of life at the time, and since then it’s grown. (I’m so punny). So, we have new criteria and better instruments. Let’s just hope they don’t land in the desert.

Speaking of landing, Mars has a lot of ground to cover. It has roughly the same land mass as earth. There are many places on earth you could land and have a hard time finding life. However, if I was a betting man I would check where there were signs of life. Again, for some reason we have ignored the giant clouds of methane that are in the Marian atmosphere. Being that methane is a by-product of life, I would think that would be a place to check.

I for one, will be awaiting details.

The Dragon has landed

As you no doubt heard, SpaceX made history last month by launching the first commercial payload to the International Space Station. Just sit back and think about that for a second; we now have companies sending goods to people that are living in space. The sad part is of course that you may not have heard about it; it seems the event went by without much fanfare. People don’t understand the importance of this event. This is a company that is planning on sending people to Mars. Don’t you people want to go to Mars?

This event is much like the first New York to Paris flight or the completion of a rail road. This opens new doors and new possibilities. Anyone can ship or travel to space. Passenger liners will soon follow. (Most people don’t realize there are already two hotels in orbit.) NASA isn’t building rockets anymore. The Pirate Bay can put their file servers in orbit instead of using UAVs. Want to FedEx something to the moon? It will soon be a reality.

My genuine hope is that people don’t understand what happened, and not that they don’t care.