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I recently read an article on why humans can't get to Mars and begin to build colonies. In a quick summary, we can't get to Mars because:

  • People wouldn't be able to stay mentally sane. In closed areas, people would go insane.
  • The HUGE amount of fuel needed to make the journey would leak out over time. Also, a ship that requires so much fuel would be difficult to design and build.
  • A ship that big wouldn't make it off the ground due to size and weight.
  • Humans wouldn't be able to set up a reliable system to grow crops before everyone starves to death.

Please look over these statements and help me find alternatives, loopholes, and other possibilities that will lead to colonies on Mars. Thanks!!

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closed as off-topic by DaaaahWhoosh, Jim2B, bowlturner, Frostfyre, bilbo_pingouin Jun 16 '15 at 5:37

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If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ People don't typically go insane on nuclear submarines, which can remain under water for more than 90 days, or in Arctic & Antarctic research bases. Nuclear submarines are also pretty difficult to design & build. Also, a sensible mission would have the initial base set up robotically to ensure that the environmental facilities did work, and would have sufficient reserves stockpiled before the humans arrived. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 15 '15 at 2:52
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    $\begingroup$ Could you please identify the source of the article? It makes a difference whether it's National Geographic or National Enquirer. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jun 15 '15 at 3:09
  • $\begingroup$ I am sorry, but I cant. $\endgroup$ – Capt_gr8_1 Jun 15 '15 at 3:16
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  • People may but probably won't go insane. The main concern here is that people will either go crazy from isolation or from being stuck in a small space ship. Isolation is easy to fix, multiple astronauts go together or you can sent one mentally stable astronaut alone. Remember that sending only one astronaut means that they are a single point of failure, I recommend sending more than one astronaut. As Jimmy360 mentioned, Mars is a bit far for a realtime conversation via Skype. Video messages would become the equivalent of video e-mails, taking 3-21 minutes each way. Going insane from being cooped up is also a possibility, but as long as each astronaut can get away from the others for quiet time they won't go crazy. Sometimes people need to get away from other people! Both these problems are solvable. It helps to pick mentally stable crew members.

  • The fuel would only leak significantly if the engineers on the ground did everything wrong. In a liquid hydrogen fuel tank for example, fuel can escape from between the molecules of the tank but only if the tank walls are ridiculously thin, like a balloon. Fuel would also leak out if the fittings, valves, etc were bad, but that shouldn't happen either. Fortunately (for you and your astronauts) you can easily budget for some extra fuel if this becomes an issue or you can use a less acrobatic element for fuel instead (Methane for example). Carrying a bit of extra fuel might be useful for course corrections, but you shouldn't need much.

  • True, the ship wouldn't be able to take off from Earth. It is likely that any interplanetary spacecraft would be built in orbit, just like the International Space Station was. Parts, fuel, propellent, crew, etc would be ferried up into space and assembled in orbit.

  • Crops are a very inefficient way of growing food! At least when compared to growing algae in a tank. Hydroponically grown crops could also be used. The colonists/astronauts don't have to rebuild all agriculture on Mars, they can bring things with them on their ship.

  • This site says that it takes 150-300 days to travel from Earth to Mars. Astronauts have spent that long International Space Station before. That shouldn't pose a problem to potential astronauts going to Mars. The Mars One proposal is supposed to be a 210 day trip.

  • Radiation shielding is important and the Mars One plan involves some shielding provided by the spacecraft. The Astronauts are expected to be exposed to 386 +/- 63 mSv (Mars One figure, see bellow) during trip. That's could cause problems if administered (?) in a short period but the astronauts should be okay over 210 day trip. Remember that in space every gram counts and carrying a thick and heavy radiation shield will result in a heavier ship and you might have to trade off carrying a more useful tool or device. Some proposals for radiation shielding involve using something that would already be present on the ship, like the water supply, a fuel tank (maybe not a good idea) or even the crew's waste matter.

  • Another potential problem is loss of bone strength from living in space for a long period of time. Currently, this is countered with exercise and (apparently) food with extra Calcium and Vitamin D. On the ISS, astronauts exercise for about 2 hours every day. There is a great video of that here.

  • Mars one has a FAQ that might interest you, as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ Skype... remember the speed of information. Since it is finite Skype wouldn't work. Video messages would be possible, but they would not be real time. $\endgroup$ – Jimmy360 Jun 14 '15 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Jimmy360 Yes that's right (I feel dumb for forgetting that). Edited. $\endgroup$ – Amziraro Jun 14 '15 at 7:14
  • $\begingroup$ For going insane because there aren't enough people/social contact, consider that some people do things like sail around the world single-handed. Not everyone needs continuous human contact. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jun 15 '15 at 2:54
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf True, but it would surprise me if NASA/Mars One only sends one person to Mars, given that they sent 3 people to the moon. The OP asks about a colony so... $\endgroup$ – Amziraro Jun 15 '15 at 3:25
  • $\begingroup$ About the fuel leakage, this is a problem that far supercedes the mere idea of a "water tight container". Hypergolic fuels are able to escape from their (highly technologically advanced) container because they are so fleeting in nature, and the container is exposed to a vacuum. The most common example is how a completely tied off balloon still gets smaller in a day or two. If the balloon is filled with helium, it'll shrink at a faster pace that when it'd have regular air inside it. $\endgroup$ – Flater Jun 15 '15 at 14:45
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Getting to Mars has been conceptually possible since the 1950's. Wernher von Braun wrote a paper, as well a a novel outlining how to do it. Of course using 1950 era technology called for launching over 100 Saturn V sized boosters and building a fleet of interplanetary spacecraft carrying a combined crew of 70. On the other end of the scale is Robert Zubrin's "Mars Direct" plan, which calls for 4 astronauts in a relatively small spacecraft, but several robotic missions to arrive ahead of time to generate fuel and oxidizer from the Martian atmosphere for the return journey. Encyclopedia Astronautica (http://www.astronautix.com) has plenty of reference material to chew on.

The only really invariant factor is the time involved to get to Mars. Using chemical or even basic Nuclear Thermal Rockets (NTR) generally means you will have to take a six month minimum energy orbit there, and depending on how you want to do it, a similar six month trip back (after spending 4-600 days on Mars itself, a "conjunction" mission), or spend 30 days on Mars and fly back on an "opposition" class mission, which includes a flypast of Venus.

To get around that, you need to have a much more energetic means of propulsion. Using currently known technologies (and a lot of engineering), VASMIR can potentially cut the travel time down to 39 days, but requires megawatts of energy. A solar sail accelerating at 1mm/sec^2 could swing by Mars in 120 days and release a payload, but for manned spaceships the sail would be on the order of several kilometres on each side, much larger than possible today. Perhaps a series of small sails carrying small "cargo" payloads might be useful in supplying an ongoing Mars mission. Farther in the future, more advanced nuclear propulsion systems like dusty fragment plasma, or nuclear fusion, will make travel possible in very short time frames.

As for the astronauts going "crazy", don't forget they will be constantly doing tasks ranging from cleaning the space toilet to detailed scientific studies on the way, so their time will be full of activities which keep them engaged. Far more difficult to protect against is personality clashes, and since for the foreseeable future astronauts will need to be strong type A personalities to deal with unusual and difficult situations under a lot of time pressure, that will probably be the most pressing problem for long duration spaceflight.

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  • People wouldn't be able to stay mentally sane. In closed areas, people would go insane.

There are some ways to deal with this. With the advent of VR, one solution could be to make people experience roomier areas than what they're used to.

Or, you know, medical sedation. Depends on how practical minded you are.

  • The HUGE amount of fuel needed to make the journey would leak out over time. Also, a ship that requires so much fuel would be difficult to design and build.

Given how space doesn't require aerodynamics, any fuel tank of any size, shape and mass could be strapped to the craft.

Leaking of fuels is relevant, but only for some types of fuels. I forget the name of the effect of leakage, but some fuels leak over time, others don't. I looked this up a few years ago when I was very much into playing Kerbal Space Program :)
Also, assuming a one way trip, the fuel would only have to not leak for about a year (probably less). Which is feasible, even if accounting for a minor amount (e.g. 5%) of fuel leaking.

  • A ship that big wouldn't make it off the ground due to size and weight.

It wouldn't need to. You can construct a ship in orbit. I point back to Kerbal Space Program for this, as I've done it multiple times.
Slowly building a ship in orbit around Earth would be an engineering challenge and will progress slower than on-Earth building, but there are so many ways in which a ship can be simplified.

We do not have to account for aerodynamics anymore. No way for the ship to survive air pressure, be attached to a launcher vehicle, ...
By removing all these engineering challenges from the puzzle, the resulting ship can be simpler than a ship that would still need to be launched.

Also, it being constructed in orbit means you can basically make the ship as large as you want it to be. You are only limited by the amount of resources you're willing to ship to orbit.

  • Humans wouldn't be able to set up a reliable system to grow crops before everyone starves to death.

Assuming in-orbit construction, it's possible to first set up the habitat and start the "space farming" while the rest of the ship is still being constructed.
This seems the way to go, as you can then use those crops to feed the builders instead of having to spend more rockets, continually bringing food up to the builders.

Once arrived in orbit around Mars, the habitat probably wouldn't survive entering and landing. But a smaller pod can go for the initial landing, and from then on pods with already full grown plants can be sent down to be added to the greenhouse that the initial landing party built.

Assuming you only send stuff to the surface, and not from the surface to orbit, this can be done by timing the release of the drop pod correctly so it always lands near the surface colony. It requires little to no energy, only timing.
This could be done by humans staying up on the orbiting ship, or e.g. a scheduled computer system that ejects pods when in position (or by radio request).

This way, we could already have full grown plants that feed the colony by the time we arrive (or even just leave Earth's orbit).

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I think colonizing Mars is, today, technologically plausible. I think we have the knowledge and ability to engineer such a feat. There are probably several solutions to the problem. I think the problem is funding. This would have to be an enormous international effort, involving a collective made up of many governments and companies. I think the main problem would be organizing all of this. It shouldn't involve making profit (which the companies would be interested in) or claiming Mars (which the governments would be interested in), but I believe those are the only incentives for which companies and governments would be motivated enough by to actually fund and go through with something like this.

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Many problems can be eliminated by inventing a way to preserve human bodies in a low-energy state (and of course a way to restore them). This would enable to lower the mass of the payload (much less food, water and air required), allow for much longer travel times that in turn reduce fuel requirements and negate some psychological issues.

I imagine the early settlers would only dream of crops, their sustenance would be algae that can be grown in simple vats by just exposing it to sunlight. Planting crops requires either suitable structures (huge, heavy, complex), soil reformation, irrigation systems, etc, or global climate engineering (considering we still can't do anything here on Earth, where we had lots of time, resources and manpower, I'd say terraforming Mars is pretty much impossible).

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