Friday, August 31, 2012

On Earth As It Is On Mars

"A day on Mars is a little longer than a day on Earth: 24 hours and 40 minutes.  A year on Mars is less than two Earth years: 686 Earth days, or 668 Martian days.  Mars is 6,787 kilometers in diameter, compared to Earth's 12,756 kilometers.  Its gravitational acceleration is 3.71 meters per second squared, or just over one-third of Earth's.  The atmospheric pressure at the surface of Mars averages 5.6 millibars, about one-half of one percent of Earth's.  The atmosphere is largely composed of carbon dioxide.  Temperatures at the "datum" or reference surface level (there is no "sea level", as there are presently no seas) vary from -130 to +27 Celsius.  An unprotected human on the surface of Mars would very likely freeze within minutes, but first would die of exposure to the near-vacuum.  If this unfortunate human survived freezing and low pressure, and found a supply of oxygen to breathe, she would still be endangered by high levels of radiation from the sun and elsewhere.

After Earth, Mars is the most hospitable planet in the Solar System."  --Greg Bear, Moving Mars

Some people see exploring outer space as a colossal waste.  Any numbers associated with outer space truly are mind-boggling.  Light, which could circle the Earth more than 7 times in one second, takes over two seconds to go to the Moon and back and over 8 minutes to travel from the Sun to the Earth.  Mars is 50% further away than the Earth, so you would have to wait from 8 to 40 minutes to get a reply.  Sending a package to Mars today would take at least 6 months and cost well over $10,000 a pound.  Even if you devised some technomagical teleportation system that just had to overcome the Earth's gravitational pull, at today's prices for electricity it would cost over $7 to send a gallon of water to the Moon.

Most people will agree that satellites have improved life here on Earth.  Many people use Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) to navigate.  Satellite TV is a popular option.  And virtually everyone who gets a weather forecast benefits from weather satellites.

Beyond satellites, though, the short-term benefits are dubious at best.  Even Gerard K O'Neill, one of the biggest early proponents of solar power satellites, projected that it would take at least 20 years before the program produced as much energy as it consumed.  Other projects have even worse economic projections.

Not all benefits can be measured economically, though.  There are the spin-off technologies such as photovoltaics, of course.  Some people fantasize about finding another Earth-like planet and finding a faster-than-light way to get there.  Even if that were remotely possible, it still wouldn't solve any of our problems.  But look at the threats facing us, and then compare them with what life on Mars would be like.  Nuclear meltdown?  EMP weapons?  Massive solar flares?  Mars doesn't have a magnetic field, you would need that kind of shielding everyday.  Desertification?  Mars is a desert.  Sea level rise?  Deforestation?  Loss of wildlife?  Loss of arable land?  Loss of industry?  Running out of oil?  Mars doesn't have any of those to begin with.

Every conceivable problem we face, short of a rogue black hole, would be much worse on Mars.  Logically, this means, if we can solve those problems so we can live on Mars, we can solve those problems so we can live on Earth.

Sometimes doing things just because they are hard makes the Long Ascent easier.

1 comment:

  1. There is an argument out there that the entire moon race was a sort of bubble that was then popped. To my mind the do-it-at-any-price thinking certainly set back the general approach as to how to get into space inexpensively.

    But you don't know what you don't know, and the same arguements against space travel, are the same arguments that Columbus would have faced.