Moon, Mars, Asteroid and orbital colonzation and cities

Andy Weir wrote the Martian. His new book is about a lunar colony of 2000 people late in the 21st century.

He looked at the science and economics of a lunar colony.

Eighty-five percent of the rocks on the surface of the lunar highlands are anorthite, which contains aluminum as well as a massive supply of oxygen. Smelting aluminum in the quantities necessary to construct and maintain Artemis would produce so much excess oxygen—eight atoms for every two of aluminum—that they would be constantly venting it.

For every kilogram of payload, you need an additional 3.73 kilos of fuel. So a one-way ticket to the moon is calculated to eventually cost about $33,000.

Moon, Mars or Asteroids for colonies

Where will humans live in space? That was the focus of a good-natured debate that took place at this week’s “New Space Age” conference at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Chris Lewicki, president and CEO of Redmond, Wash.-based Planetary Resources, took up the case for going to asteroids and Mars. Seattle-area entrepreneur Naveen Jain, co-founder and chairman of Florida-based Moon Express, spoke for the moon.

John Logsdon, retired director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, argued for the null hypothesis: that humans would, by and large, stick with Earth for the foreseeable future.

Jain – the Moon has water for humans to drink and for fuel for spaceships. The moon has giant lava tubes to make protected habitats.
Lewicki – Getting water and resources from asteroids will be easier
Logsdon – bases built on the moon as well as Mars will be along the lines of Antarctic outposts than an underground metropolis.

Nextbigfuture believes we should colonize and develop all of the space locations.

Nextbigfuture and space colonization

We can look at the cost and tourists to dangerous and desolate locations to get an idea of the likely adventure market potential for lunar destinations.

Over 1 million people visited Death Valley last year, making this the eighth consecutive year that visitation to the vast desert park has increased. Last year saw 1.17 million recreational users visit Death Valley, a 6-percent increase over 2014. The costs are not that high but people are willing to go to more desolate locations.

Over 40,000 walk each year to Everest’s base camp. More than 4,400 people have successfully climbed Mount Everest (with some doing this multiple times, such as sherpas and climbing guides). It’s likely that around double this number have attempted the climb though, as the success rate can dip well below 50%. In recent years, around 500 climbers a year reach the summit.

Since records began 1922 until May 2016 – 286 people died on Mt. Everest. This around a 3.5% fatality percentage of those who climb the mountain. Some estimates peg the trip to the base camp has 2 to 3 casualties per year.

The typical cost when climbing the Everest with a Western agency is $45,000 and above. With a local Nepali operator it can be between $25,000 and $40,000. The cost includes the royalty fee of $11,000 for the peak.

It is about $1300 to go the base camp (not including flying to and from Tibet). The ascent via the southeast ridge begins with a trek to Base Camp at 5,380 meters (17,600 ft) on the south side of Everest in Nepal. Travelers would need to first make a few less demanding trips with ascents to 3000 meters.

Far larger and better telescope observatories can be made on the moon compared to Earth telescopes. Even larger observatories could be made in free space or lagrange points. Much of the construction will be automated but there will be a need for scientists and humans to oversee some research and facility work.

Astronomers such as Harlan Smith of the University of Texas and many others campaign for lunar-based astronomy. Telescope using a spinning disk of liquid with a reflective surface, lining the interior of one of the millions of bowl-shaped craters on the Moon. Such an instrument would extend for kilometers, making a gigantic “eye” to look at the universe. Liquid mirror telescopes already have been constructed on Earth.

Arrays of telescopes could be constructed at thousands of craters and hypertelescope arrays should be placed in free space or lagrange points.

The construction of tourist or science facilities will be made far cheaper using local moon, Mars or asteroid resources. This means developing larger and larger mining and industrial facilities at each space location.

25 thoughts on “Moon, Mars, Asteroid and orbital colonzation and cities”

  1. Aluminium electrolysis releases carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, not oxygen, assuming we want efficient aluminium production. The reactions we care about are Al2O3 + 3/2C = 2Al + 3/2CO2 and Al2O3 + 3C = 2Al + 3CO. Terrestrial aluminium smelting typically uses petroleum coke as the carbon source. The Moon does not appear to have any large extractable concentrations of carbon.

    Given a sufficiently large budget, there is no reason to expect we can’t design a system that captures most of the CO2 and CO released from aluminium smelting, removes the oxygen, then reuses the carbon. I expect the budget required to do this at a reasonable scale will run in the hundreds of billions. This does not include the equipment needed to turn aluminium into useful products. It makes more sense to send recycling and finishing equipment than to try to smelt aluminium on the Moon anytime soon.

  2. It’s silly to have the “what place is better?” argument before we know whether humans can be healthy in anything less than 1 gee of acceleration. If they can’t, the available colony sites are limited to free space, where rotating structures can provide the necessary 1 gee of acceleration, or maybe colonies floating in the upper atmosphere of Venus.

    Since this question trumps all other questions, it’d be nice to get it answered as soon as possible. Might I suggest that an orbiting gravity lab, where we can have crews live for long-duration missions at accelerations between 5% and 35% of 1 gee, is therefore the absolute highest priority for human exploration of space?

    • I argued against the ISS (before it was called that), wanting to spend the money on developing rotating 1 g, so that we would not have the problem! We still don’t know about 0 or low g, and could be well on our way with a working plan. The “silly” part is thinking there is an argument to be had. Forget planets!

    • I’ve drawn up basic plans for a rotating space hotel for tourists, using a counterweight. It would have two compartments on the inhabited arm, the closer one at lunar gravity, another at Martian gravity. Tourists could experience both, see how to walk (bunny hop like the astronauts on the moon?), and of course NASA could rent space for long-term tests, see if baby mice develop normally, plants can grow with sufficient stalk strength, etc.

      Assuming anything rotating under 2 rpm is tolerable, this doesn’t have to be a large structure and should be reasonable cost to build. You could also play with different RPMs and see what the effects are on human comfort levels.

      • Tourists are going to want as much microgravity as they can tolerate, and the minimum gravity required to sleep and/or recover from motion sickness.

        But that’s not the thing that’s standing in the way of colonization. That’s not a question of “comfort”; it’s a question of health. That probably means that your gravity lab should be optimized to support a particular acceleration for months or years at a time, but be able to change that acceleration for different long-term experiments. You can get all the data you need if you design for just lunar and Martian accelerations.

  3. Remote areas on Earth will be easier and cheaper to develop than either the Moon or Mars. On Earth, the oxygen is readily available. Water can be harvested from ice or sea water. Atmospheric pressure will not be a problem. Radiation from the Sun will not be a problem. Supplies will be far easier to obtain in Antarctica, North Canada or Siberia than on the Moon or Mars.

    • ” Remote areas on Earth will be easier and cheaper to develop than either the Moon or Mars. ”

      And so far, you have to kill people to get sovereignty over those places. Lots of them.

      In my view, if you can;t have sovereignty, there’s no point.

    • True enough (and you forgot international waters, which could be the most practical, especially for people searching for some kind of political or religious utopia).

      But it doesn’t protect humanity against the effects of an asteroid strike, a mad scientist perfecting a bio-weapon, the accidental runaway effect of some nano-bot in the environment, or an AI that turns against us. Having a viable population (>2,000 people, largely self-sufficient with a variety of crops and manufacturing ability) at an “off-site” location is the only way to do that.

  4. Thank you for acknowledging Harlan Smith. The far side observatory location should be named after him.
    On the broadest scale, this whole idea set has an obvious bias against O’Neill, whom Smith championed. There is no talk of free Space as a STARTING point! Build the FIRST ISRU telescope in orbit. On and On. Instead, the notion that a planet (or large moon) is the “obvious” place to start permeates the thought space. for Isaac Arthur
    You should notice how well Lunar Solar Power dot org fits into his 14:25 chart!

  5. Colonizing the Moon is (excuse the pun) Lunacy. WHY would anyone want to move to a giant airless, cold, Kitty Litter Box from a lush planet. 2nd, what ever happens to the Earth, will happen to the Moon (Solar Flares, the certain end of the Sun including it’s expansion out to Jupiter), 3rd the Moon is moving further and further from Earth and most planetary scientist believe that at some point the Moon will drift away from the Earth into cold cold black space bouncing around the solar system like a pin-ball game.

    • what ever happens to the Earth, will happen to the Moon (Solar Flares, the certain end of the Sun including it’s expansion out to Jupiter)

      Not true. Most nearer term existential risks aren’t automatically shared between worlds. Asteroid impacts, nuclear war, biotech plagues and a long etc. would be restricted to one planet, and even if not, the settlements could be as isolated from each other as much as they want.

      And there’s no atmosphere/hydrosphere to spread nuclear fallout nor runaway nanotech nor engineered viruses on the Moon either.

      And if you learn how to get a living on the Moon, you can do it anywhere much further than the Moon with similar conditions (lots of airless Moons on the outer Solar System), also preparing you to live in free space by giving you the resources to build O’Neill cylinders.

      The Moon is on the contrary, a rather indispensable stepping stone towards space settlement, being interesting by itself and for what it enables in the form of resources and technologies.

    • Kieth said: ” WHY would anyone want to move to a giant airless, cold, Kitty Litter Box from a lush planet. (?)”

      Because they want to get away from the hierarchy hacks that infest the species dominating this lush planet, a species of large, obstreperously violent primates. They anticipate doing things outside the biosphere here that the hierarchy hacks won’t let them do here, using the biosphere as an excuse. By the time, a billion years or more, the Moon retreats far enough to detach itself from Earth, we will be able to deal with that quite well.

      • If you expect space colonies to be some libertarian paradise, you’re out of your mind. We’re not talking about the wild west here; we’re talking about an environment where one person behaving badly–or even incorrectly–can get everybody killed. Space colonies will be a thicket of regulations, policing, peer pressure, and punishment for anybody who even has the potential to jeopardize the colony.

        It’s one thing to be a rugged individual living off the land by your own lights when the land will actually support you, and where your nearest neighboring rugged individual lives five miles away. It’s quite another when you might have 100 m³ to call your own and every essential to life depends on a logistical tail that’s millions of miles long and managed by decision-makers that can only think of the survival of the entire colony.

        • ” We’re not talking about the wild west here; we’re talking about an environment where one person behaving badly–or even incorrectly–can get everybody killed. ”

          Says yet another idiot conflating liberty and anarchy.

          • Please, o wise one, enlighten me:

            Tell me which of these you’d consider a normal governmental function, vs. something where you’d be infringing on individual liberty:

            Stiff punishments for violating regulations on recycling?
            How ’bout punishments for exceeding your water quota?
            What about hygiene standards in your personal living spaces?
            Restrictions on travel due to power or environmental constraints?
            What about simple things like refusing to obey an emergency order from a colony administrator?

            Space colonists will be subject to a degree of governmental control that an earthbound dictator could only dream of possessing.

    • Most of the American south-west isn’t lush in the natural state, and yet millions of people live there. Humans use technology to make comfortable living spaces. Doing so on the Moon, or in high orbits around the Earth just take a little more technology per person than a cruise ship requires.

      > 3rd the Moon is moving further and further from Earth

      At 38 mm per year. It will take 100 million years to get 1% farther away. That’s a non-problem on human time scales.

      > Moon will drift away from the Earth

      Nope. The recession will stop once the Earth becomes tidally locked the way the Moon is already. But long before that, 0.7-1 billion years from now, when the Moon has only moved 7-10% farther, the Earth will experience runaway greenhouse heating, because the Sun increases in brightness over time. That’s a much bigger and earlier problem.

      • “Most of the American south-west isn’t lush in the natural state, and yet millions of people live there. “

        Two things:

        1) The American Southwest was considerably lusher back in the good ol’ days, before the water table dropped. Sure, not exactly lush, but a lot more accommodating.

        2) The difference between surviving in an environment where a structural failure doesn’t instantly kill you, where any logistical shortfall can be remedied in a few hours, and one where the tiniest mistake will kill you, is pretty striking.

        • ” The difference between surviving in an environment where a structural failure doesn’t instantly kill you ”

          That’s any building over one story, and many of just one.

          • Don’t be obtuse. When was the last time somebody died on Earth because of a broken window or a bad piece of weatherstripping? Or from an HVAC failure? Or from a simple delivery failure of, say, a few tonnes of nitrogen?

  6. Or you can have all three positions simultaneously . I think more likely a mashup of AI , robotic telepresence and augmented reality can bring the space experience to earth. What is the real use of humans to be physically in space?

    • DR plan for our and other species. Also with new local comes new science and new discovery that arises out of the need to adapt. The economic and tech benefits would be astronomical (sic) and its likely the first with anybscale will largely own the future.

    • Might be a nice place to visit, providing you had a round trip ticket. Especially true if they build one of those giant caves to fly in, like in Robert Heinlein’s The Menace From Earth.

      But yes, other than short tours of no more than a few years, telepresence, especially with AI and VR, sounds fine.

      “You think that’s air you’re breathing now?” — Morpheus

    • Rbynum said: “What is the real use of humans to be physically in space?”

      Personal freedom of action. As the restrictions on that here on Earth grow, it will be gfound more and more sweet on the other bodies circling the Sun.

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