Friday, 20 June 2014

Martian Survival Classes

It doesn't take much research into the human and technical elements of colonising Mars to realise that huge numbers of people across the world are keen to see it happen. Many of them are using online forums to pool very practical ideas. 

What are the basic technologies that will keep colonists alive?

First of all is oxygen. The very thin atmosphere of Mars is mostly carbon dioxide. Water can be electrolysed into oxygen and hydrogen. So how will they find enough water?

- By digging it up! The loose Martian dirt, or regolith, contains a varying amount of water ice. Heat the regolith and collect the water vapour.
- By reacting the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere with hydrogen to make water and methane. The latter is useful as fuel for rockets and generators. But the need for a stock of hydrogen may make this impractical for long-term use.
- By 'adsorbtion' into a special kind of rock called zeolite. Zeolite is a range of minerals known to be good 'molecular sieves'. One of these has a certain atomic structure which allows water molecules to enter, but keeps out the larger carbon dioxide molecules. So it just sits there and soaks up water from the atmosphere.

How efficient is zeolite? According to a NASA fact sheet the atmosphere is 210 parts per million of water by volume. So to squeeze one litre of water vapour from the air, you'd have to pump about 5 cubic metres of Martian air through the zeolite. And when that water vapour condenses into liquid, it only makes about 1ml of water! (It's actually a lot less, because the density of water vapour would be very low at Mars's very low atmospheric pressure.) So you'd need a lot more than 5,000 cubic metres of air to make a liquid litre. Then again, that tiny amount of water vapour in the atmosphere will vary by season and location. A zeolite unit with an air pump may become standard survival gear aboard crewed Mars rovers.

All this is like continually planning a vacation that never comes. It will be intriguing to see how the first Mars pioneers solve their problems.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Changing The Sign

Just a quick change to this virtual meeting place - A café is more suited to customers of all ages than is a cocktail bar. Those customers chasing harder drinks please get back in your Mars rovers and drive east-north-east about 5 kilometres, where you will find 'Craig's Crater'. It's a friendly place, but beware the bar snacks.

Friday, 6 June 2014

ISS Astronaut Rediscovers Ancient Wisdom?

So I got last-minute tickets to a talk by Chris Hadfield at the local auditorium.

The matinee show was for school children, as shown above. Colonel Hadfield began his quest to become an astronaut at the age of nine, after watching Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the moon in 1969. I have dim, black-and-white memories of that, too, but I was only three. He is a great communicator, eager to pass on what he has learned and experienced to inspire the younger generation.

He weaved one topic into the next, stitching them with some great stories - stories from 400 kilometres straight up, during his missions aboard the space shuttles and the International Space Station. If you want to get a flavour, look here on YouTube. There's an amusing site devoted mostly to his book, An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth.

What did he have to say that makes any sense to us mere Earthlings? Quite a lot. Here are the headlines, each of which need a great deal of unpacking and serious thought: 
  • Head for a big goal and live in the light of it
  • And at the same time enjoy what you're doing every day
  • Train hard to become competent
  • Prepare in detail for what could go wrong 
From his book, I also found this surprising point (surprising coming from an astronaut): 
  • Aim to start off as a zero- serving others - don't be arrogant. Be a learner. A good team player can't afford a big ego.
Chris Hadfield believes that a good communicator uses art to affect people deeply with the message.
I've heard that last one before, phrased differently. Sounds like ... Sounds a lot like what you'll find in an old, old book that I read quite often. Chris Hadfield doesn't speak about religious faith or spirituality, but wisdom is still wisdom wherever it comes from.

I wonder how Mars One trainees will become this seasoned and wise in just five to ten years of training. I wonder how Elon Musk will fuse these realities into his plans for SpaceX and the colonisation of Mars. It took Chris Hadfield about 21 years of experience as an astronaut to discover all that. You can read wisdom in a book but it takes the ups and downs of life to become wise, often learning from mistakes. From making the right decisions. Like... right now. Should I just take another coffee, another chocolate? Should you play more World of Warcraft or get back to your studies, your work? Choice of breakfast cereal, choice of college program. The passion with which I want to reach my goal feeds power into my ability to make the right choices each step of the way.

Aiming for a great goal does give depth to your life. The greater the goal, the more inspiring, but the easier to become disillusioned if things don't go as we'd hoped. For about ten years of my life I determined to learn Arabic. Not only would I be able to speak and read Arabic, I decided near the outset, but I would learn it well enough to be able to write poetry in that noble language! Actually it was the desire to be able to communicate with ordinary people that drove me onwards as the years went by, and I never did become much of an oriental poet. That's OK.

I  hope any would-be astronauts and marstronauts happening to read this will plot a course towards a noble, realistic and enduring vision to power them through the many years of preparations. Train to be competent, prepare for every possible disaster, keep your ego on a tight leash, commit yourself to your team-mates' success, and have a great time while you're doing it all!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Japan's Vision To Reach The Red Planet

Great that the Japanese government is getting on board the vision to explore and settle Mars. Here's an article about that.

And here's a picture of them doing it!