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.

Baby it’s cold outside

About once a week, I like to have lunch at the sandwich shop by my work. They make fantastic potato soup and their sandwiches always hit the spot. They have a few newspapers around the shop that I’ll flip though while I wait for my food to be prepared. That’s how I found the editorial article in the Calgary Sun. The Edmonton Sun also ran a similar editorial. This level of scientific literacy published in the Sun is a public health risk.

Here are some examples of what I mean by science illiteracy being a public health risk

  • I know a guy who lived to be 80 and smoked his whole life. Cigarettes are harmless.
  • I heard a story where someone was uninjured in a car crash and wasn’t wearing their seat belt. No one should wear them.
  • There was a study that said my kid could get autism from vaccines. It’s not safe to vaccinate.
  • It’s cold outside today, global warming isn’t real.

These blanket statements use point data and extraordinary circumstances to describe an average. Climate change is an average. That doesn’t mean that every day will be hotter than the next. In fact, some places may get colder. It’s a global average. Mixing opinion and fact is dangerous and irresponsible.

So we hear from the environmentalists (loudly and frequently) when a hurricane blows across the Jersey shore or a typhoon roars through the Philippines, but not when thousands of communities across North America, Asia and Europe set record cold temperatures. How come one sort of weather is an indicator of impending climate disaster while mentioning the other is a sign of simple-mindedness?

That’s the sort of intellectual hypocrisy and arrogance Chu is up against

The problem here, is that science can explain the current weather. No simple-mindedness, no hypocrisy. Here’s a video from last year, explaining what’s going on.

From this source, we find out that some places will be warmer, and others colder. Climate Change. (Imagine me doing jazz hands)

NOAA scientist James Overland explains: “When the Polar Vortex — a ring of winds circling the Arctic — breaks down, this allows cold air to spill south, affecting the eastern United States and other regions.”

“This can result in a warmer-than-average Arctic region and colder temperatures that may include severe winter weather events on the North American and European continents.”

The Sun editorial continues it’s opinionated rampage.

There is no evidence severe weather is increasing in frequency. Indeed that past eight years since Hurricane Katrina has seen the lowest level of tropical storms in 70 years. But, as Chu correctly pointed out, you don’t hear much of that; just as there was very little reporting on the fact that this summer Arctic sea ice melted less than at any time in the past decade – perhaps the past five decades.

No evidence? This year Alberta saw the worse flooding in memory. That’s after we set new records in 2005. Do you have a short memory, or are you willfully ignorant? As for sea ice, your comment is misleading and outright false. You can do that, because it’s written in an editorial column. You endanger the public with popular lies.

I’ve met Sean Chu, he’s a nice guy. I’m glad he’s on the City Council and I think he’s got some really good ideas. Sean, please look at the science before you speak. You have an important position; pandering to the scientific illiterate is dangerous and does not serve the public. Please stop.

 

 

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.

mhconvo

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?