All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2021:
Black Arrow and Prospero Fifty Years On (October)
All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2020:
Stellar Engines (August)
Cruising in Space (March)
All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2019:
The Holy Grail of Space (October)
Return to the Moon, 50 Years On (August)
SpaceX Dragon 2 Success (April)
Killing the Doomsday Fallacy (Feb.)
All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2018:
The Atheism Question (Oct.)
The Religion Question (Sept.)
I, Starship (June)
Back to 2017:
Comments by Alex Tolley (Oct.)
Elon Musk’s “Great Martian” (Oct.)
What is a Supercivilisation? (Aug.)
Back to 2016:
New in 2020:
2022: What’s to do on Mars?…
2021: New space company Planetopolis…
2020: Cruising in Space…
2019: The Doomsday Fallacy, SpaceX successes…
2018: I, Starship, atheism versus religion, the Copernican principle…
2017: Mars, Supercivilisations, METI…
2016: Stragegic goal for manned spaceflight…
2015: The Pluto Controversy, Mars, SETI…
2014: Skylon, the Great Space Debate, exponential growth, the Fermi “paradox”…
2013: Manned spaceflight, sustainability, the Singularity, Voyager 1, philosophy, ET…
2012: Bulgakov vs. Clarke, starships, the Doomsday Argument…
2011: Manned spaceflight, evolution, worldships, battle for the future…
2010: Views on progress, the Great Sociology Dust-Up…
Index to essays – including:
The Great Sociology Debate (2011)
Building Selenopolis (2008)
|Site home||Chronological index||Subject index||About AE|
Questions for Human Analogue Simulators of Mars
Next April the Mars Society is holding a Conference on Human Analogue Space Missions at the University of Cambridge, or CHASM for short.
I’ve been told that, since I’ve not been involved personally in any analogue missions, I won’t be invited. So I propose instead to hold a rival conference in Oxford, entitled “Questions for Human Analogue Simulators of Mars”, or QHASM (pronounced: kya-hazzum).
Anyone who’d like to join me that weekend is welcome to do so. We’ll find a venue in some suitably scholarly institution (such as the King’s Arms, the Rose & Crown or the Turf Tavern). The agenda will be as follows.
If present-day industrial human civilisation is to avoid the several global-scale existential risks that threaten it with decline and fall, it must continue to grow.
In order to grow, it must now begin the process of extraterrestrial colonisation, starting on Mars.
And in order to achieve that, there needs to be a demonstration on Earth that a remote, isolated, high-tech desert settlement is a workable and sustainable proposition – this even before tackling the Mars-specific features of low air pressure and gravity, high radiation, limited access and so on.
Complex systems can only be made to work through a process of incremental development. An isolated desert settlement can therefore only be successful after sustained work which encompasses all the relevant aspects – engineering, architectural, logistical, financial, organisational, biological, ecological, culinary, political and others.
If a remote desert settlement cannot be demonstrated on Earth – where transport costs are within thousands of pounds per person; access is possible all year round; communications are near-instantaneous; the surface chemistry, geology and gravity are familiar; and breathable air and liquid water are naturally available – then it is not credible that it will succeed on Mars – where, in addition to all the regular challenges that such a project must face, the transport costs reach or exceed millions of pounds per person; access is limited to brief opportunities at two-year intervals; real-time conversational communications with the originating civilisation are impossible; the surface chemistry, geology and gravity are unearthly; and all breathable air and liquid water must be artificially prepared and hermetically sealed off from the surrounding natural environment.
The most ambitious project yet designed to approach that demonstration – the Biosphere 2 mission of 1991-93 – was more fruitful in highlighting problems than in developing solutions. Yet its achievement in supporting eight people for two full years in a fair approximation to material isolation from Earth’s biosphere remains unparallelled. It is lamentable that no further progress on practical work in self-sufficient remote desert settlements has been made in the thirty years since the airlock door closed on the eight biospherians on 26 September 1991.
With SpaceX making great strides towards building an Earth-Mars transport system, but nobody yet in sight ready and funded to build the Mars settlement that system is supposed to support, we need to ask some searching questions of existing and future Mars analogue experiments.
Dennis Cooke wrote in 1971: “future efforts to construct a life support system by miniaturizing the biosphere and determining the minimum ecosystem for humankind is a goal that is as important for the quality of human life on Earth as it is for the successful exploration of the planets.” This is the dual vision that needs to be taken much further than it has so far.
I’ll have some more to say about the tasks awaiting explorers on Mars in my next post.
Dennis Cooke was writing in Eugene Odum’s Fundamentals of Ecology. Quote taken from Jane Poynter’s highly readable account of her Biosphere 2 experience, The Human Experiment (2006; Basic Books, 2009), p.62-63.
|Site home||Chronological index||About AE|